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UN Reforms and India: Need for Calibrated Prudence

Cmde C. Uday Bhaskar (Retd) is former officiating Director of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • May 24, 2005

    Ms Shirin Tahir-Kheli, the special adviser to the US government on UN reforms, will be in Delhi this week, beginning Monday, and clearly of the 101 proposals in six different areas made by the High Level Panel, the one that will attract the most attention will be the question of the Security Council expansion – and India's status in the matter along with that of Japan, Germany and Brazil -- the so-called G 4.

    It is instructive that on May 15 it was reported that the US had cautioned the G 4 that they may aspire for UNSC membership – but even if granted, this would be without the critical veto. The privileged status of the veto will remain the exclusive turf of the Permanent 5 -- the P 5 -- who are also the Nuclear five as recognized in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the N 5.

    Ms Tahir-Kheli's visit is important for she will advise the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the matter and, to that extent, UN reforms apart, the resilience of the bilateral relationship with the USA will also be on the anvil.

    The US has repeatedly stated that it supports the candidature of Japan alone among the G-4 about entering the UNSC and that it would prefer a consensus regarding other entrants -- a 'consensual' position that Washington shares with Beijing, even though both are diametrically opposed about Tokyo's candidature.

    China has vehemently opposed Japan's inclusion at the high table of the UN and hence consensus on the issue will remain elusive. The US is averse to unambiguously supporting India's candidature when Pakistan is so viscerally opposed to such inclusion and hence there will be no major change in the Bush policy in this regard.

    However, as Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran observed in Washington on Friday, India will not let the bilateral relationship be predicated on a single issue and that the reform of the UN – to which the US is committed goes beyond the expansion of the UNSC.

    In short, despite the resolve of the G -4 to mobilize support for their inclusion which is unexceptionable, realpolitik will dictate otherwise and this reality cannot be refuted. But the additional reality that cannot be ignored is that the UNSC as it is structured today remains an anachronism and while those who are inside are opposed to any expansion or dilution of their special status, the power and relevance grid of the world has changed radically.

    Currently, there are six nodes of criticality in the global system that is located within the overall context of globalization and related trade and economic interdependence and these include the USA, complemented by its strategic allies the European Union, and Japan, and the more autonomous powers Russia, China and India.

    While there are noticeable asymmetries by way of individual military, economic and socio-political indicators, this is the new hexagon of global relevance and on current evidence it is almost inevitable that by 2050, the US, China and India will be the three major economies and will constitute the equivalent of a tri-polar world order.

    Hence, there is an existential reality about India that has to be acknowledged and this is India's USP. Thus acquiring a certain relevance in the global economic matrix that has evolved from G 7 to G 8 to include Russia is axiomatic and working towards a G 10 that includes China and India is the more prudent direction to pursue.

    In the strategic domain, it is pertinent that the global community is currently engaged at the UN in the last lap of the NPT Review Conference that concludes on May 27 and again India is not a member of this regime but has an abiding interest in the issue of nuclear non-proliferation.

    India's relevance in the global nuclear matrix was noted in May 1998 and it is a travesty that the NPT does not recognize the de facto reality of the global nuclear order since it has kept India, Pakistan and Israel -- the three other nuclear weapon states out of its purview.

    Thus we have a make-believe global framework wherein the UNSC on one hand and the NPT on the other attempt to defy the logic of empiricism and irrefutable reality – the King Canute syndrome.

    India has reiterated its commitment to contribute to global strategic stability and this was reflected in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's remarks on May 17 when he asserted that India is willing to shoulder ''its share of international obligations as a partner against proliferation provided our legitimate interests are safeguarded.''

    In the same period, India has also adopted necessary legislation to bring its export control laws to global levels of stringency and this in turn should give a fillip to the strategic dialogue with the US.

    Given India's holistic military profile and fledgling military-industrial base, it would not be invalid to suggest that by the end of this decade, the world will have four nodes of military relevance namely -- the US (complemented by the EU and Japan), Russia, China and India -- the equivalent of an M 4. One dimension of this was acknowledged in the December 2004 tsunami disaster.

    Thus the G 10 and the M 4 will become representative of the global reality as opposed to the P5 and N 5 and it would be prudent for India to make itself more relevant in this framework as opposed to expending its diplomatic energies in resurrecting moribund organizations that are fast losing their salience.

    It is encouraging that India has already signalled its willingness to join those structures that protect the collective interest without jeopardizing its own and the Container Security Initiative (CSI), where Delhi is cooperating with Washington, is case in point.

    In like fashion, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) accords an opportunity for advancing India's credentials in managing regional turbulence and exigencies. Consequently, it would be prudent for India to calibrate its response to UN reforms per se and internalize the tenet that quiet and confident power indicators are inherently recognized by the peer group and that pique or petulance is unbecoming of what Delhi seeks.

    Hopefully, Ms Tahir-Kheli will become more aware of this mismatch between global strategic reality -- perceived and emergent – during her interaction with Indian interlocutors.