Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Hold your peace

Reform of the UN Security Council is on the cards says Jason Miks, and giving India a permanent seat would be a good start

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With the United Nations Security Council likely to expand following recommendations by a sixteen member panel, commissioned by Secretary General Kofi Annan in September 2003, now seems a good time to start thinking about who those new members should be.

The panel was tasked with reviewing the policies and challenges the United Nations is likely to face in the 21st century with a view to updating and strengthening its institutions and processes.

There were more than 100 recommendations made in all, on issues including human rights and post-conflict peace building. However, much of the interest has centred on reform of the Security Council, the structure of which has remained unchanged for forty years.

The current Council membership, with its five permanent and ten non-permanent members, reflects the political realities of a bygone age. If the UN is to maintain any sort of relevancy and confront dangers such as weapons proliferation and terrorism effectively, then reform of the body with primary responsibility for international peace and security is essential.

In order to regain this relevancy the Council needs to produce a better reflection of the world today. There were some moves towards this with an expansion of membership in 1965, but the veto-wielding permanent members have remained the same since the UN’s creation.

A change is therefore long overdue, and when considering the merits of the many countries that covet permanent member status, particular attention should be paid to the world’s largest democracy, India.

With its increasingly prominent status on the world stage, India has lobbied hard for a seat on the Council in recognition of its growing regional influence – an effort, which is supported by the British government amongst others. In addition to an expanding economy, relative political stability and a large pool of well-educated workers, India has also developed a skilled and effective military, which has been widely praised for its peace-keeping efforts in countries including Angola, Bosnia and Kuwait.

But its growing maturity is perhaps best reflected in its response to the recent tsunami.
Writing in the New Republic, Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University argued that India’s reaction may have signalled the country’s ‘coming of age as a regional and even global power’, pointing out that despite losing 15,000 of its own population, it moved quickly to assist its neighbours. Within 48 hours of the disaster India had sent around 8,000 troops not only to the affected parts of its own country, but also to help other nations including Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives.

India has also burnished its multi-lateral credentials by signing up as a strong supporter of the Kyoto protocol, and although it has resisted sending troops to Iraq in the short term, the Indian government has signalled its willingness to help train Iraqi police officers and to supply reconstruction assistance to the country.

Ultimately, any bid for permanent membership is likely to need at least tacit support from the United States. This seems more likely than it would once have been, with both the Clinton and particularly the Bush administration making a concerted effort to engage constructively with India as both an economic and military partner. Indeed the US Embassy in New Delhi released a book last year entitled People, Progress and Partnership: The Transformation of U.S.-India Relations.

The US has already voiced some support for the candidacies of Germany and Japan. Yet although both these countries would be worthy additions to the Council and will likely be granted their place at the table, including them would do nothing to increase the UN’s legitimacy in the eyes of developing countries in the way that a place for India would. Of course India must avoid using a council seat simply as a stick with which to beat Pakistan. But the signs so far from the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, are that India is willing to take a constructive approach to potential flashpoints like Kashmir. And the peaceful and orderly election of the new government last year– no mean feat in a country of well over a billion people – was in itself a testament to the nation’s organisational skills.

As the panel’s report points out, this is a world of evolving threats, many of which could not be anticipated when the United Nations was founded in 1945. If the UN is to meet these challenges it too will have to evolve both in its structure and the mind set of its member states. The inclusion of a developing and, importantly, a democratic nation like India would go a long way towards sending out a clear message that the UN has both the desire and the capacity to adapt to the needs of a changing world.

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Jason Miks

Jason Miks is a parliamentary researcher

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