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[RSTV Archive] UNSC Presidency: India’s Agenda

India has assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of August and is set to organise key events in three major areas of maritime security, peacekeeping and counter-terrorism. In this article we will discuss and analyse all aspects of this issue.

Key agendas on the table

During its Presidency, India will be organizing high-level signature events in three major areas:

  • Maritime security
  • Peacekeeping and
  • Counterterrorism

However, in the closed meeting, Afghanistan is the first item on the agenda of the Security Council.

About United Nations Security Council

  • The UNSC is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions.
  • It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • The Security Council consists of fifteen members. Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States—serve as the body’s five permanent members (P5).
  • These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General.
  • The Security Council also has 10 non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.

India and UNSC Presidentship

  • This is India’s eighth tenure as a non-permanent member in UNSC.
  • India had been elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12.
  • Each non-permanent member gets the opportunity to operate as president of the UN Security Council during the two years it is part of the grouping.
  • The presidency of UNSC changes hands every month between its members in the English alphabetical order of the member states’ names.
  • India will be in line for the presidency again in December 2022.

Powers of the UNSC President

  • The presidency derives responsibility from the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the UNSC’s practice.
  • The holder of the presidency is considered to be the ‘face’ and spokesperson of the UNSC.
  • The UNSC president is also authorized to issue both presidential statements (subject to consensus among Council members) and notes, which are used to make declarations of intent that the full Security Council can then pursue.

Responsibilities of the UNSC president include:

  • Calling meetings of the UN Security Council
  • Appealing to parties in a conflict to “exercise restraint”
  • Reading statements of the UN Security Council to the press
  • Approving provisional agenda (proposed by the secretary-general)
  • Presiding at UNSC meetings and deciding questions relating to policy and overseeing any crisis

Issues with UNSC

(1) Non-representative

  • UNSC in its current form is not representative of the developing world and global needs — with the primacy of policy being a political tool in hands of P5.
  • By 1992, India, Brazil, Germany, and Japan (referred as G4) had put up their claims and logic for demanding inclusion as permanent members.
  • India has been part of UN since its inception and has contributed maximum peacekeepers to UN so far, has a strong case.
  • Brazil is the largest country in Latin America (unrepresented continent) and fifth-largest in the world. Japan and Germany are one of the largest financial donors to UN.

(2) Rivalry with G4

  • The pitch for reforms of G4 was lowered by their regional rivals like Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt.
  • They started formulation of another interest group, known to be “Uniting for Consensus” opposing G4 becoming permanent members with veto power.

(3) Rigid framework

  • Reforms in the UNSC also require an amendment to the UN charter, in accordance with Article 108.
  • This highlights that any reform of the Security Council not only requires the support of at least two-thirds of UN member states but also all the permanent members.

(4) Veto power

  • The stance of P5 members to expansion has been varying as per their national interest, like most P5 members agree to Indian inclusion, except China.
  • It becomes obvious that even if one member of P5 doesn’t agree to any reform, the UNSC cannot be reformed.
  • There have been many proposals since its inception from totally abolishing veto power to selectively using it for vital national security issues.

(5) No consensus

  • It has been seen in past that the UNSC, in some of the major global security issues, could not arrive at a consensus and interventions that happened by countries mainly from P5 without UNSC resolution.
  • US entry in Iraq war or Warsaw Pact war in Afghanistan are few cases in point.
  • The UNSC has thus become an organization, which can pass strong resolutions against weak countries, weak resolutions against strong countries and no resolution against P5 countries.

Suggested reforms

  • Expansion: Besides the existing P5 members, an expansion of UNSC from five to 10 permanent members, with the addition of G4 and South Africa. This will provide equitable regional representation besides balancing the developing and developed world to meet the aspirations of humanity.
  • Abolition of veto: The expansion of P5 without veto power makes very little impact on the problems, because of which the reforms are required. Ideally the veto power should be abolished.

Conclusion

  • Under the given charter, articles and structures, there is very little hope for UNSC reforms in near future.
  • The lack of reforms can push the credibility crisis of UN to a degree that it becomes unsustainable for it to function, or incidences of side-lining the UN increase manifold.
  • If the UNSC does not appoint new permanent members then its primacy may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries.
  • There is also a possibility that if UN doesn’t reform itself, it may lose relevance and alternate global and regional groupings may assume greater importance.
  • No P5 member is likely to compromise this power in its own national interest, which is generally prioritized before global interest, thus making the reformation process a mirage.
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