India at the UN – challenges, significance and way forward

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This article is based on the recent Indian Express article India at UN high table.

Recently India has been elected as a non-permanent member to UN Security Council for the 8th time.

The United Nations is the most powerful International Organisation that ever existed in the history of mankind. 193 members of the UN have participated and contributed their part to make the UN a truly global organisation. India as a country and a member have participated and contributed significantly to the United Nations.

About United Nations (Source)

  •  The name “United Nations”, was coined by then US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Declaration during the peace declaration of Second World War, where the representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against global challenges.
  •   As an International Organization, The United Nations was founded in 1945.
  •  The powers vested in the UN Charter facilitate the United Nations to take action on a variety of global issues such as peace, security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, global governance, food production, etc.
  •  The Six major organs of UN are
  1. UN General Assembly (UNGA)
  2. The UN Security Council (UNSC)
  3. Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC)
  4.  International Court of Justice (ICJ)
  5.  UN Secretariat
  6. Trusteeship Council

All the six were established in 1945 during the formation of the UN.

  • Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.  The UNSC has 15 Members of which 5 are permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK, and the U.S.) and other 10 are non-permanent members elected for 2 year terms. Each Member has one vote and the permanent members have Veto Powers.

History of India’s participation at the UN:

India is a founding member of UN. India signed the UN charter on 1945. Since the Independence the participation of India in the UN is huge and highly commendable. The participation can be divided into 3 Phases.

    1. During Cold war period (1947 to 1990)
    2. A decade of economic reforms in India (1990-2000)
    3. The phase of New India (Since 2000’s)

During Cold war period (1947 to 1990):

    • In 1950-51, India, being a  President of UNSC, India presided over the adoption of resolutions asking for a cessation of hostilities during the Korean War and also for assisting the Republic of Korea.
    • In 1967-68, India co-sponsored a Resolution for extending the mandate of the UN mission in Cyprus.
    • In 1977-78, India was a strong supporter of Africa and spoke against apartheid, and also raise concerns for the independence of Namibia.
    • In 1984-85, India was leading supporter in the UNSC for the resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, especially Palestine and Lebanon.

A decade of economic reforms in India (1990-1992):

    • India suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of Japan in the 1996 contest for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC.
    • India stood against indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT)in 1995, and rejected the backdoor introduction for adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) in 1996
    • With the objective of providing a comprehensive legal framework to combat terrorism, India piloted a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in 1996.

The phase of New India (Since 2000’s)

India’s Economic policies and globalization strengthened India’s role and negotiating powers in the UN.

    • Gradually India became a strong voice for the developing world, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, and concerns about the problems in the African nations.
    • During the 2011-12 term, India chaired the UNSC Committee concerning Counter-Terrorism, a Working Group concerning the threat to international peace and security by terror acts, and Security Council Committee concerning Somalia and Eritrea.
    • India worked closely with its supporters in the UNSC and in May 2019 India succeeded in placing Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar under the UNSC’s 1267 Sanctions Committee concerning al-Qaida and ISIS and associated individuals and entities, The action which was pending since 2009.

Significance of India to the UN:

    • Firstly, India is the 3rd largest economy in terms of GDP (PPP) and the 2nd most populous nation.
    • Secondly, India is a founding member of the UN, and India has been a  non-permanent member of the UNSC for the 8th term and also a member of other international structures such as MTCR, The Wassenaar Arrangement, etc.
    • Thirdly, India enjoys the backing of major powers including four permanent members other than China and also the African Union, Latin America, Middle Eastern countries, and other LDCs from different parts of the globe.
    • Fourthly, India provides large numbers of soldiers to the UN for peacekeeping missions,
    • Fifthly, India is a responsible nuclear nation, which has stated a clear no-first-use policy and also followed the same in spirit and soul.
    • Sixthly, India’s success in space technology is another point for its candidature.
    • Lastly, India has been a responsible power and it has contributed significantly to global peace efforts and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief measures in various countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, South Sudan and the majority of the South Asian nations, etc.

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What are the Challenges to India at the UN?

  • Firstly, the China Factor: China does not want India and Japan to join the UNSC as permanent members. China is against India for reasons such as
    • On the issue of cross-border terrorism, China continues to protect Pakistan.
    • China tried to get the UNSC to focus on India’s constitutional changes in Kashmir.
    • China uses India’s non-membership in the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as the reasons to deny India’s entry into UNSC.
  • Secondly, Challenge to multilateralism– There is a rift between the permanent members of the Security Council. For example,
    • China has stepped in to take advantage of the West’s retreat from multilateralism and China is also flouting international law and order.
    • BREXIT has shown that nationalism still remains a strong factor in Europe.
    • The recent Coup in the USA and the global wave of right wing politics failed to reach a consensus on critical issues.
  • Thirdly, change in Contemporary geopolitical realities:The global power matrix has moved towards multilateralism but the UNSC and UN’s power matrix concentrated on select countries.
  • Fourthly, under-representation of Countries: The regions like far East Asia, South America, Africa have no representation in the permanent membership of the council which can push for reforms at the UN level.

What are the solutions for India?

    • Firstly, making the UN effective. India needs to carve out a larger room for itself and try to create an atmosphere of cooperation as done by the US and USSR on nuclear proliferation.
    • Secondly, making the UN more representative. India should push its efforts in partnership with Brazil, Germany, and Japan (G4 countries), to expand the UNSC.
    • Thirdly, India has to deal with China’s growing enmity: By presenting the real facts on the issue of cross-border terrorism and the constitutional changes in Kashmir.
    • Fourthly, India should renew its ties with African Nations:  60 percent of UNSC documents and 70 percent of its resolutions are about peace and security in Africa. So there is an opportunity for India to deepen ties on peace and security issues in Africa at bilateral, regional, and global levels.
    • Fifthly, P5 has to be realistic: The UNSC’s Permanent members have to accept the present world’s challenges and the significance of co-operation at multi-level, especially the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fault lines and the need for a multilateral collective solution.

Way forward:

UN should not merely be an institution but also an instrument for positive change. But the UN as an institution for conflict resolution has not developed as desired and India along with other nations should try to reform the UN structure.


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