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    South Asia
     Oct 16, 2010


Security Council seat will test India’s mettle
By M K Bhadrakumar

Joy erupted within the establishment in New Delhi late on Tuesday evening as news arrived from New York regarding India's election to a non-permanent two-year Asian seat in the United Nations Security Council. A dutiful media ecstatically tagged along. The infectious excitement was not without good reason.

A 19-year slice of memory was definitively breaking away - dating to the dark day when India was badly bruised as it contested against Japan and received hardly one-fourth of the total UN votes. Western powers led by the United States taught India its first harsh "post-Soviet" lesson for having been excessively friendly toward the USSR.

Since 1950, India had walked through the portals of the Security Council not less than six times - on a stunning average of every

 

seven years - with open support from the Soviet bloc. The humiliating defeat of 1992 hurt badly.

For the next 19 years, New Delhi couldn't muster the will to contemplate another attempt. It is a sign of the times that India returned to the arena and got elected on Tuesday with the impressive support of 187 out of 192 countries. Something has fundamentally changed - in India's self-esteem and, equally, in the international community's perception of it.

The hard part seems over. But actually, it is just beginning. What sort of Security Council member is India going to make? The setting is dramatic - a "post-Cold War" environment of multilateralism dominated by a superpower.

And the United States has let it be known that it expects India to play a "responsible role" so that it can judge whether Delhi is worthy of its claim to be inducted as permanent member in an expanded Security Council within the ambit of the broader UN reform.

However, that is only one quotient. The truth is that none of the five permanent members - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - genuinely wants an expansion of the exclusive club, no matter the changed realities of the contemporary world order. Thoughtful Indians admit that an expansion of the Security Council and their country's induction as a permanent member is a long haul.

Like the Tramp in the Samuel Beckett play, India needs to wait and Godot may take time to show up. Through the coming two-year period, meanwhile, India will be hard-pressed to "hold the terrible silence at bay" - to borrow Beckett's absurdist words. The American "silence" on India's claim for "permanent membership" will be the excruciating motif for New Delhi's diplomacy and it can affect the Indian stance on various issues that come up before the Security Council under light and shade through the next two-year period.

Stand up and be counted
Some are not-so-tricky issues where India will find itself in total harmony with the US - Somali pirates, for instance.

Then there are others, where India - although with misgivings - will probably acquiesce to the US agenda. Reconciliation with the Taliban is one such issue. The bottom line for New Delhi is that the US should in some form keep its military presence in Afghanistan in the medium term.

On the other hand, there are issues where the US won't take "no" for an answer - on Iran, principally - but if India bends, it looks obsequious. Iran could turn out to be the litmus test of the spunk of Indian diplomacy in New York. Especially when fearless actors like Brazil and Turkey are watching, and they are also currently represented as non-permanent members at the Security Council.

The Indian daily Hindu forewarned, "As a rising economic power that is seen as a strategic partner of the United States in Asia and routinely juxtaposed against China, India will be critically scrutinized for the stand it takes on the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sanctions and threats against Iran, the Darfur crisis in Sudan, and the Palestine question."

Also, four regional groupings that include India are bodily present in the Security Council at the moment - BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), RIC (Russia, India and China), IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).

A curious dialectic is at work here. While India's best case for a restructured Security Council is built around the inclusion of rising powers like itself, Brazil and South Africa - for which these regional groupings serve a purpose - it is the US that New Delhi visualizes as the ultimate arbiter in the matter, and America is not a member of any of those groupings.

The inescapable reality is the steady diffusion of power in global politics and India's US-centric foreign policy can become an impediment to it to performing optimally in the Security Council. The well-known American scholar and author Joseph Nye wrote recently, "Much of the work of global governance will rely on formal and informal networks. Network organizations are used for setting agendas, building consensus, coordinating policy, exchanging knowledge, and establishing norms."

The Security Council operates in a vastly different environment than when India was last represented. Russia is preoccupied with its reset with the US, through which it hopes to shore up its waning global influence. Compared with the Soviet era, Indians will find the Russians to be business-like and obsessed with a "convergence of interests."

Again, the Sino-Indian paradigm with its curious formula of cooperation and competition becomes a tantalizingly variable quotient for India. Equally, the India-Pakistan relationship remains highly problematic and unpredictable and the unrest in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir can very well intensify into a regional crisis.

Policy paralysis
There is virtual foreign policy paralysis in New Delhi on the crucial areas of China and Pakistan. Agencies of the government, including top bureaucrats, speak in different voices regarding China's rise and often enough private views are aired cavalierly via the media as considered policy.

As for Pakistan, India prefers to deal with its neighbor almost exclusively through the US and whatever residual bilateralism remains becomes a supplementary track that runs at American bidding. Clarity is lacking in how to stabilize the bilateral relationship by at least tackling a few "doable" things. Alas, New Delhi cannot even identify suitable, credible interlocutors - in a country of over a billion people - who could engage the alienated Kashmiri people in a purposive conversation.

Turkey and Brazil came to the Security Council to reap their "post-Cold War" dividend after doing painstaking homework. Turkey normalized relations with Greece, Syria, Iran and Russia and began reclaiming its Ottoman legacy in the Middle East. Brazil stepped out of the American canopy and magnificently spread its wings in places as far away as China and Iran.

Both Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva first embarked on a profound restructuring of their countries' foreign policy by giving it a strongly independent conceptual underpinning and dynamic orientation and once this task was successfully accomplished, they thought it fit to strive to play an effective role in the Security Council.

In comparison, for India what seems to matter is the status of the Security Council membership. Indian foreign policy perimeters have dramatically shrunk and are today largely catering to the interests of its elites, who like elites everywhere are principally self-centered.

A prominent Indian intellectual actually wrote in the Wall Street Journal this very same eventful week that India's "tryst with destiny" (to borrow India's first post-independence premier Jawaharlal Nehru's famous words) actually lies with the "Anglosphere core" - the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - which have a "belief in democracy and market economics", a "shared legal tradition" and are "among the most immigrant-friendly places on the planet." He argued: "India's interests overlap more with this largely notional grouping than with any other."

Thus, when Iranians or Palestinians speak passionately about justice, equity and fair play, it resonates with extraordinary vibrancy in Ankara and Brasilia, but falls to earth with a dull tropical thud in New Delhi.

Evidently, it is not only that the world changed when India was absent from the Security Council - India too changed.

All that Foreign Minister S M Krishna would say was that India was prepared to "establish its credentials and credibility in handling issues which come up in the Security Council with a degree of responsibility.” But that is a very low benchmark to set for an emerging power that the world is already inclined to take seriously.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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