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Keynote address at the Seminar on United Nations Security Council reform: Perspectives and Prospects

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  • Sujatha Singh, Foreign Secretary
    February 12, 2014

    Shri Arvind Gupta, Director General of the Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses (IDSA)

    Directors General for International Organizations from Brazil, Germany and Japan

    Your Excellencies Ambassadors and other distinguished members of the diplomatic corps

    Representatives of academia, civil society and media

    Dear Friends,

    1. It gives me great pleasure to be here with all of you this morning to share views on a subject that has for long occupied the attention of the international community. The fact that a solution has eluded us so far does not make the subject any less important. Nor does it in any way make us believe in the inevitability of the continuation of the status quo. India’s own history provides us with a counter example. Independence for us did not come quickly, nor did it come easily. The continuation of status quo was, however, never the inevitable; freedom was. And so on the question of the Security Council, it is equitable representation and logical expansion that is the inevitable.
    2. We have a Security Council today that is clearly one of the most troubling anachronisms of our times. As a body mandated with the primary responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security, it is critical that it should represent today’s geo-political realities and today’s world and not a world that existed at a particular point of time over half a century ago. It is also important that it conduct its business in a transparent manner reflecting present day working methods and diplomatic procedures of consultation and cooperation. The Council’s present composition and working methods do not command credibility; it’s functioning with respect to some of the troubled issues in recent years has been clearly less than effective.
    3. Given this scenario, it is not surprising that there is today a widespread acceptance of the necessity of the reform of the Security Council in order to change its composition to one that is more reflective of the vastly expanded membership of the UN and consequentially more responsive to a world that is very different from the one that existed in 1945. This is the only way to impart legitimacy and balance to the Council and restore its credibility as the prime organ of the UN charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.
    4. When we speak of reform of Security Council, it is important to understand that the process cannot even begin if the developing world continues to remain marginalized. The post war conditions that existed in 1945 are long gone. The Council’s actions today are primarily focused on developing countries whether they be Mali, DRC, South Sudan or Syria. It is there that the manifold impact of its actions is felt. The Council’s actions as we know, are also not divorced from the functions of the other organs of the UN. Multi-dimensional peacekeeping or peace-building with complex mandates impacts on various other aspects, be they poverty eradication, development, humanitarian assistance and even governance. The vast majority of developing countries however have little say in the formulation of these mandates which are increasingly becoming more complex and robust.
      As a leading troop contributing country, India cannot but also comment on the manner in which the Council mandates peacekeeping operations. This is the most visible manifestation of the Council’s attempts to maintain international peace and security. Consultations with troop contributing countries are limited and, at best, perfunctory. There is a near complete absence of genuine partnership between the Security Council and Troop Contributing Countries. Complex and dangerous operations like those in the DRC and South Sudan are mandated by those who have no boots on the ground. The absence of real life experience, and hence of genuine concern and understanding by the ‘pen holder’ of these mandates cannot bode well for the operations that they govern.
    5. The need for increased representation of developing countries is widely acknowledged, and even promoted, by both the North and the South. It is this understanding that forms the basis for India’s partnership with Germany, Japan and Brazil in the G-4 format. This is a partnership that bridges the divide between the North and the South, between East and West. It is inclusive rather than divisive in its approach. After all, a spirit of inclusiveness cannot but be essential if we are to have even modest expectations from the pre-eminent world body entrusted with the responsibility for maintenance of international peace and security.
    6. While need for reform of Security Council is widely acknowledged, the prescriptions to cure the disorder also vary widely. This is not surprising. We cannot but expect the diversity of the world to also be reflected in the solutions that are advocated. But just because the prescriptions are varied, this is no reason for us to reflect on them interminably. To do so would be to fiddle, while the world burns.
    7. Despite the widespread expression for reform of the Security Council, there is also, one must acknowledge, a constituency of ‘naysayers’. There will, regrettably, always be those who will only look at the issue from the point of view of their narrow self-interest.
      The reform of the Security Council has been on the agenda of the UN since 1993 when discussions first commenced in the format of the Open-Ended Working Group. The mounting frustration with prolonged and inconclusive debate led to the launching of Inter-Governmental Negotiations, or the IGN in 2007. Progress in the IGN, however, has so far only been incremental. The task before the IGN today is clear: to begin actual text-based negotiations where genuine differences of view can be addressed and resolved. Only if we do this can we hope to come up with a concrete result by the time the UN meets for its 70thanniversary in 2015.
    8. Important as Inter-Governmental Negotiations may be, the constituency of belief in this most challenging of issues, needs to be expanded beyond Governmental negotiations. There is a pressing need to take this issue to the people it directly impacts. The involvement of thinkers, opinion makers and communicators is crucial. It is in this spirit that we have organized this seminar with the cooperation of the IDSA following up on an initiative taken by Brazil last year. The programme gives ample opportunity for a fruitful exchange of views and we look forward to receiving your ideas, inspiration and guidance. The timing of this event is crucial as the discussions in New York are at a well-developed and critical stage. A push in the right direction will be in the interests of the UN, a body we are all committed to believe in and work for. I wish the deliberations all success.

    Thank you.