India assumed the monthly presidency of the UN Security Council after a gap of 18 years (last held in December 1992) in August 2011, traditionally a vacation month in the Council. The presidency of the Security Council is important as the role involves setting the agenda, presiding over its meetings and overseeing any crisis that might arise. The president is authorized to issue both presidential statements (subject to consensus among Council members) and notes which are used to declare some intent that the entire Council can then pursue. The presidency is evaluated on the basis of how it receives the issue, moulds the discussion and the kind of response to the crisis it permits.
On the eve of taking up the presidency, the Indian permanent envoy to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “We are hoping to utilize our stay on the (UN Security) Council not only to re-establish our credentials but also to see what can be done for us to have a more enduring presence.”1 The country was to also demonstrate political maturity and project itself as a strong contender for a permanent seat in the Council. India had envisioned its presidency around the debate on peacekeeping with other important issues like Sudan and Libya. At the same time, one of the issues that gained prominence during the month within the 15-member Council was the Syrian crisis.
For a Council that had not passed any resolution and remained almost silent on the Syrian situation, India permitted a discussion on the issue at the very beginning of the presidency and shepherded a cautious and measured presidential statement. Proving its mettle as a nation that has zero tolerance towards human rights violations, it went ahead with a presidential statement and not a resolution in order to break the prolonged stalemate that had prevailed on the crisis within the Council. India was also determined to not allow itself to be used as ‘cannon fodder’2 for the advancement of Western interests in Syria. New Delhi prudently used this as an opportunity to provide diplomatic alternatives to western policies3 , thus breaching the P5 monopoly over decision-making. 4
During its presidency, India organized the first open debate on peacekeeping for 2011 in the Council. The main issues that were debated included the issue of consent from the country that will host the peacekeeping operation and its implications on state sovereignty, the severe mismatch between the resources and mandates of peacekeeping operations, improving consultations between the troop contributing countries and the police contributing countries (TCC/PCC) and the Security Council, the issue of joint deployment with regional security organizations and the adoption of a capability-driven approach to peacekeeping that is demand-driven and responsive to national priorities. The presidential statement delivered by the Indian envoy reiterated the need to focus on the above issues. India’s country statement in the debate reinforced its concerns on the resource gap in peacekeeping. Other issues like consent, non-use of force and partnership with regional organizations for peacekeeping were also raised. 5
The only new subject dealt with in an otherwise generic debate was the element of communication between the Council and the TCCs. Despite newspapers reporting India’s commendable performance in the Council on the Syrian issue, it came under the scanner for the not-so-impressive debate proceedings on peacekeeping. For a nation that has demonstrated impressive credentials with regard to peacekeeping, India’s stand lacked teeth when compared to Guatemala’s statement. 6 Though the peacekeeping debate was timely, given that a possible UN mission for Libya is in the offing, according to some critics, the debate ‘shied away’ from addressing critical issues such as quality of mission leadership and troops and multiple interpretations of a particular mandate. 7
Other routine matters that came up for discussion in the Council during the period were Libya, Sudan, Liberia (UNMIL), Somalia, UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), Haiti (MINUSTAH), the situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian question, Kosovo (UNMIK) and the assessment report of the Secretary-General on the status of the negotiations in Cyprus.
Having completed a month of presidency at the principal organ of the United Nations, has India projected itself to be “truly deserving” 8 of permanent membership of the Council? One month of presidency may be insufficient to decide whether India is ‘deserving’, but nonetheless it has made a good start. However, it has to be acknowledged that one successful diplomatic initiative in the case of Syria (the crisis however remains unabated) is inadequate for India to advance its claims to a permanent seat in the Council.
India has already completed one-third of its term in the Council and its performance thus far has been encouraging. It will head the Council proceedings as the president once again in 2012. The world is observing and expects India to take firm and clear stands. Indian diplomacy will be put to test in terms of its ability to manoeuvre through conflicting positions of the other 14 members, especially of the P5, and its deftness in steering the Council to reach a consensus on crucial issues. In the meantime, a well-formulated stance on issues without being indecisive would make India’s case for a permanent seat at the horse-shoe table well-earned.