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India Indian Power And The United Nations

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Indian Power and the United Nations

World Politics Review

Richard Gowan - 15 Nov 2010

President Barack Obama won fans in New Delhi last week with his call for India to take a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But while the president explicitly endorsed India as an "emerged" power, his declaration contained an implicit challenge as well.

Obama said that he wanted the U.S. to work with India on an "efficient, effective, credible and legitimate" U.N. Though phrased as diplomatic rhetoric, these words raised important questions that India's leaders must answer. Can India capture a permanent seat on the Security Council simply because of its growing economic leverage and military clout? Or should India invest more in terms of strengthening the U.N. to show that the country deserves its seat on the council?

India -- like Canada or Sweden -- is a country that many automatically associate with the U.N. Articles about multilateralism are, after all, often accompanied by photos of blue-turbaned Sikh peacekeepers. Yet New Delhi's policymakers are ambivalent toward the U.N.

It's true that India makes huge troop contributions to blue-helmeted peacekeeping operations -- Indians make up 10 percent of the 100,000 soldiers and police in U.N. missions. But this contribution is increasingly controversial at home. Worried by Pakistan's fragility and Chinese maneuvers in the Himalayas, some Indian officers want to repatriate their troops.

In early 2009, offended by Western criticism of its contingents' performance in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Delhi threatened to leave U.N. peacekeeping operations altogether. This summer, it pulled nearly 30 military helicopters from missions in Congo and Sudan.

Military analysts concluded that this was a pragmatic choice based on an overall shortage of aircraft. But U.N. officials remain nervous that India will disengage from peacekeeping efforts over the next few years. In private, some Indian diplomats argue that a big role in U.N. operations is incompatible with their ambitions to become a 21st-century military superpower.

When it comes to the U.N.'s direct contributions to India's national security, Indian experts are scathing. They are dismissive of the organization's state-building efforts in Afghanistan and its attempts to mediate with the Burmese junta. India worked hard to ensure that the Security Council did not intervene during Sri Lanka's assault on the Tamil Tigers last year.

India acceptance of the deployment of a U.N. mission to Nepal in 2007 to oversee the end of that country's 10-year civil war was unusual. But New Delhi insisted that the mission be kept small and placed political limits on its role. The resulting light-weight mission was a well-designed success, but the episode showed the limits of India's tolerance for the U.N.

India is even more allergic to suggestions that the U.N. assume a political role in the Kashmir dispute, notwithstanding a tiny U.N. observer force, launched in the 1940s, that is still in the region. It is also suspicious of the Security Council's engagement in nuclear nonproliferation -- a priority for the Obama administration -- fearing a threat to its own atomic {censored}nal.

Does all this impinge on India's claim to a full-time seat on the Security Council? Arguably, not at all. Sending troops on U.N. missions is hardly a prerequisite for permanent membership. After all, the U.S. has just 31 soldiers in blue helmets (.pdf).* And like India, all of the Permanent Five members prefer to deal with their vital national interests outside the council.

Indeed, one reason for India to want a permanent seat is precisely to ensure that its own interests are not compromised in the council in the future. In spite of Obama's emphasis on the need for an "effective" U.N., making India a full-time Security Council member could ironically be a formula for limiting U.N. engagement in security crises.

But India -- facing a protracted, frequently frustrating and perhaps even futile campaign to win a permanent seat -- could choose to take another approach to asserting its power at the U.N.: This would mean taking Obama seriously on the need to make the organization work properly, with a focus on fixing the many dysfunctional components of the U.N. system.

Instead of walking away from peacekeeping, for example, India could foster a strategic debate about how to adapt stability operations to new crises. In the past, major initiatives to streamline peacekeeping have usually come from the U.N. Secretariat or well-meaning European powers like Norway or the U.K. The next one should come from New Delhi.

There are some signs that India will play such a role, especially as it will hold a temporary Security Council seat in 2011-2012 -- a useful tool in the quest for permanent membership. Indian and U.S. diplomats in New York are developing increasingly close working relations. This should help add substance to the good mood engendered by Obama's diplomacy.

That doesn't mean that a U.S.-Indian alliance will become the new motor for the U.N. India remains far closer to China than to America on issues from climate change to human rights. But if India wants to show that it intends to be a decisive player in reshaping the international order, rather than just another power in search of recognition, it should link its ambitions for the Security Council to injecting some much-needed vitality into the U.N.

* Editor's note: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the U.S. only has 11 soldiers engaged in U.N. peacekeeping operations. WPR regrets the error.

Richard Gowan is an associate director at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, and a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
I am intrigued by this article. And I wonder about the author's allegiances. Here is one good reason for India to have a permanent seat on the Security Council. It is a nuclear power with 1/4 of the world's population within its borders, and a commanding economic and political lead in South Asia. To me it is crazy that France is a permanent member, but India is not. Please forgive me for being blunt.
I am intrigued by this article. And I wonder about the author's allegiances. Here is one good reason for India to have a permanent seat on the Security Council. It is a nuclear power with 1/4 of the world's population within its borders, and a commanding economic and political lead in South Asia. To me it is crazy that France is a permanent member, but India is not. Please forgive me for being blunt.

Going to have to disagree here...India is still just a regional power. They are able to project power (hard and soft power) to smaller places like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal and to some extent pak/Afghanistan, but thats about it. Their ability to grow militarily will ultimately enter them into the exclusive 5 member club, not their contributions to the UN itself or the amount of nuclear weapons they stockpile or babies they make.

France on the other hand spends twice as much as India on defence with GDP numbers that are twice as big as India's. I think their seat is safe for the time being considering they are also a charter nation of NATO and an EU leader. (whereas India's diplomatic ties are not as solidified with intricate diplomatic treaties and dominated historically with a stringent diplomatic policy of non-alignment)

i think it will still take a decade for india to catch up...then they should make a push for the seat

No doubt France's seat is safe!

my last post was a little silly

I do not think you can get rid of a permanent member. because each permanent member has veto rights and they can just veto the decision to kick them out. So expanding the permanent seats is the only way to go.

But i think that the more veto power you give the more gridlocked and irrelevant the system becomes. If India gets a seat then who is to decide that Japan, Brazil and Germany should not get one (also there is no african nation that can represent the continent, which is also unfair)

and there have been talks of giving India a permanent seat without Veto power (which is like giving a child a lolipop stick without the candy on top).

Personally i think nobody should have such draconian powers and permanent membership should be dissolved and the system should work in a parliamentary type of representation which would encourage more co-op (with larger countries with more seats or votes in the chamber...similiar to an electoral map).

i think the UN currently is a useless organization because of its constitution

there i said it! :a36: the UN is a pig


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Sinister ji

No doubt that the UN constitution is a stumbling block to constructive global problem solving in this contemporary era. The working theory then was that, as long as possible belligerents were talking to one another, they would not be planning the next war. What BTW are they talking about today?

The purpose of the original model for the Security Council (only 4 permanent members) was to enable the US/European axis to manage the cold war with Russia. Europe was divided into Eastern and Western blocs. Most of Europe was going through a painful post-war reconstruction: political - economic - social. What are now independent nations, in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, were still under colonial rule. Or they were protectorates of the Big 3. The "developing" world, the "third world" was just beginning to find its voice -- as client states of either the US or Russia, or as "troublesome" entities, (Nasser, pan-Arabism, in Egypt, e.g.) who were positioned to play the U.S. against Russia. This was in a post WW II environment. The Security Council was a kind of theater, where two superpowers played out their scripts. All that has changed. In some ways the world was more predictable and the UN worked as intended by its founders, based on the real politic of that time. Feel free to contradict or elaborate. I am only drawing from my personal recollections of international relations in the 1960's through the early 1980's.

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
UN has lost its marbles. It has become nothing but a place where "the in-laws" who hate each other meet a couple of times a year to spit their grievances out. It has become more of a Kabuki theatre with its papier mache allegory with no usefulness for the betterment of the world.

Organisations like Unicef, Unesco, WHO were true help to the poor countries long time ago and now they are involved in scandals like rapes, bribery etc. etc. which also include soldiers from India especially in the continent of Africa. There was also a big corruption scandal in the UN some years ago.

The emerging powers like Brazil, South Africa and India have no say in it nor do Japan and Germany the culprits of World War ll. It is also interesting to notice that after the break up of USSR which was the permanent member, Russia took its seat.

No one obeys the the UN resolutions that it passes anyway. The world would learn to become better without the UN and in my opinion it should be dissolved and all countries should be forced to bring their armed forces home from all the foreign lands they are in or they occupy. The tribes and the countries will learn to resolve their differences without any help from the power grabbing countries with their own self interests.

Tejwant Singh
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