Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

Looking back at India’s journey at the UN

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/indias-un-journey-from-outlier-to-the-high-table/article32932905.ece

Mains level : Paper 2- India's journey at United Nations

The article examines India’s journey at the UN as it enters it 75year. It also analyses the challenges India faced at the UN and tracks India’s transformation from being an outlier to the high table.

Three phases of India’s presence at the UN

  • Seven and a half decades of India at the UN may be viewed with reference to roughly three distinct phases.

First phase: From independence to 1989

  • The first phase lasted until the end of Cold War in 1989.
  • During this phase, India had learnt to explore and enhance its diplomatic influence in easing armed conflicts in Asia and Africa by disentangling them from the superpower rivalry.
  • India also leaned that the UN could not be relied upon to impartially resolve vital security disputes such as Jammu and Kashmir.
  • India strove to utilise the UN only to focus on common causes such as anti-colonialism, anti-racism, nuclear disarmament, environment conservation and equitable economic development.
  • India seemed to claim the moral high ground by proposing, in 1988 three-phase plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from the surface of earth.
  • But it resisted attempts by neighbouring countries to raise bilateral problems.
  • Defeat in 1962 war against China meant a definitive redesign of the country’s diplomatic style to privilege bilateral contacts over the third party role by the UN.

Second phase: 1990s

  • The 1990s were the most difficult decade for India in the UN.
  • The 1990s were marked by the sudden end of the Cold War, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the United States as the unrivalled power.
  • Besides, the uncertain political climate along with the balance of payments crisis constrained the country’s capability to be active in various bodies, especially in the Security Council (UNSC) and the General Assembly.
  • There was a change in India’s foreign policy: At the UN as India showed pragmatism in enabling the toughest terms on Iraq even after Gulf War or in reversing position on Zionism as racism.
  • At the same time, growing militancy in Kashmir in the early 1990s helped Pakistan to internationalise the dispute with accusations about gross human rights violations by India.
  • India to seek favours from Iran and China in the Human Rights Commission to checkmate Pakistan.
  • The violation of the sovereignty principle by NATO intervention against Yugoslavia in 1999 without the authorisation of the UNSC deeply disturbed India.
  • At the same time call for an end to aerial attacks on Yugoslavia did not garner much support in the UNSC.
  • India’s diplomatic difficulties was exposed when it suffered a defeat in the hands of Japan in the 1996 contest for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC.
  • India resolutely stood against indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995.
  • India strongly rejected the backdoor introduction for adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996.
  • It is against this background that India surprised the world in 1998 with its Pokhran nuclear weapon tests, ignoring the likely adverse reaction from the nuclear club.

Third phase: Rise in influence in 21st century

  • The impressive economic performance in the first decade of the 21st century due to economic liberalisation and globalisation policies, helped a great deal in strengthening profile.
  • This is only aided by its reliable and substantial troop contributions to several peacekeeping operations in African conflict theatres.
  • India has emerged as a responsible stakeholder in non-traditional security issue areas such as the spread of small and light weapons, the threat of non-state actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and the impact of climate change.
  • India has scaled up its contributions to development and humanitarian agencies, while India’s share to the UN assessed budget has registered a hike from 0.34% to 0.83%.
  • India’s successful electoral contests for various prestigious slots in the UNSC, the Human Rights Council, the World Court, and functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council indicates its growing popularity

Major unsuccessful initiatives by India

  • Two major initiatives India has heavily invested in are stuck:
  • 1) The draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism it drafted and revised with the hope of helping consensus.
  • It encountered reservations on provisions regarding definition of terrorist and the convention’s application to state armed forces.
  • 2) Second is the question of equitable expansion of the UNSC to enable India to attain permanent membership along with other claimants from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • The move has been stuck for more than 25 years because of a lack of unity among the regional formations.
  • It also includes opposition from some 30 middle powers such as Italy and Pakistan which fear losing out to regional rivals in the event of an addition of permanent seats.
  •  The only realistic possibility seems to settle for a compromise, i.e. a new category of members elected for a longer duration than the present non-permanent members without veto power.

Priorities at the UNSC as a non-permanent member

  • India’s future role will depend on its ability to deal  economic slowdown and a troubled relationship with China.
  • This is pertinent as India will soon begin its two-year term as a non-permanent UNSC member (January 1, 2021).
  • Its areas of priority will continue to be the upholding of Charter principles, act against those who support, finance and sponsor terrorists, besides striving for securing due say to the troop contributing countries in the management of peace operations.
  • It is reasonable to assume (based on earlier patterns) that India will work for and join in consensus on key questions wherever possible.
  • But it may opt to abstain along with other members including one or two permanent members.

Consider the question “Elaborate on the transformation in India’s role at UN. What are the challenges India may face as a non-permanent member of the UNSC” 

Conclusion

As a non-permanent UNSC member now, India needs to uphold the Charter principles in the backdrop of a turbulent world.

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