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Rahul Raj Mishra asked: What can India and Indian actors do to strengthen the system of collective security based on the United Nations Charter?

Arpita Anant replies: First, a point of clarification. In the realm of security, the United Nations (UN) continues to retain a predominantly inter-governmental character, thus giving more space for states to act and in some instances even influence certain matters. India and those representing it, therefore, too have some space and opportunity to influence the working of the Charter system. However, Indians in the UN system/bureaucracy and those who are members of the UN panels must be treated separately.

Second, some points about collective security. The system of collective security envisaged at the time of the founding of the UN was to prevent the recurrence of systemic wars. Thus, “collective security” then had a specific meaning. Given the vicissitudes of the Cold War in the shadow of nuclear weapons, the system worked quite imperfectly. Rather, in case of conflicts where the ‘third world’ was involved and the superpowers were there by proxy, actions by peaceful means under Chapter VI or the use of force under Chapter VII became impossible to implement due to lack of consensus within the Security Council. Peacekeeping, as we know today, was thus conceived as something between Chapter VI and VII. This form of collective security too morphed in the post-Cold War years, with peacekeeping mandates tending towards use of force in largely internal conflicts, at times accompanied by peacebuilding.

At an ideational or discursive level, India, which has contributed to peacekeeping and thus the working of the system of collective security, can push for improving peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Indeed, an issue that India has been actively pursuing in the UN. In the contemporary context, stretching the notion of collective security to non-traditional issues, India can continue to push for concerted global action against international terrorism under the aegis of the UN, as distinct from actions by ‘coalitions of the willing’, on a threat that looms over the collective of humanity. It can do much more in terms of raising issues related to the root causes of the local grievances, both domestically and in other developing countries, to securitise development. And finally, it can engage and debate more on the role of regional organisations in maintaining peace and security.

However, India cannot do so single-handedly. It needs to coalesce with like-minded nations. Such ideational partners are hard to find in international politics. Moreover, the UN system has limitations that are difficult to transcend.

Posted on April 07, 2017

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