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Misplaced Priorities

Misplaced Priorities

November 02, 2010

Is there any value to India's election as a non-permanent member to the UN Security Council?

India has recently been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for a period of two years. This has been the cause of much joy and jubilation in government circles and media outlets. It’s being hailed as an extremely successful culmination of a long and large effort, which will allow India to earn its rightful place and respect within the larger world community of nations. A closer look at the issues involved reveals a slightly different picture.

At the end of WWII, nations came together to help maintain world peace and decided to set up the United Nations. The Security Council (UNSC) was setup to act as a watch dog over conflicts throughout the world. The structure of the UNSC represents the geo-political realities in the aftermath of WWII. The power structures and alignments have changed significantly in the last 65 years and so the structure of the UNSC is not only archaic but exclusive in nature (existence of veto powers for the 5 permanent members). The UNSC is like a special club which allows commoners to peep in once in a while, but does not let anyone come in. Based on the history of the world in the last 6 decades, it is quite obvious that the UNSC has failed miserably as an organization to satisfy its Charter requirements. The UNSC has taken action led by one of the large powers only when its interests were at stake and only very rarely when they were not. The Kuwait issue brought about a swift reaction whereas thousands of people died in Darfur before anything substantial was done. People who want to create trouble still do so with impunity. The UNSC is like a toothless tiger, nay a toothless goat which bleats useless and ineffective resolutions at offenders. Winning a seat on the council is like being selected as an extra player on a Division IV team which has been disqualified.

In spite of this, the media and the government have been drumming this up as a “great victory” and that it will put India at the helm of world affairs. This seems like a typical reaction from the center where people think that an official position is what puts you at the "helm" rather than the ability to bring about meaningful change. Winning a seat is also more tangible to the general public than establishing a very favorable free trade contract with a country. This also allows the politicians to toot their horns, based on this seemingly important announcement. Based on media reports, there was an amount of effort put into garnering this position. There is an opportunity cost associated with this, which needs to be looked at. The foreign ministry could have utilized its resources and energy in trying to build better diplomatic relations with other countries, focus on humanitarian issues (e.g. Myanmar) and provide help in establishing economic ties with other countries with respect to R&D, training, free trade etc. It is important to know that India will become a heavyweight in the world and gain respect not by occupying useless positions in organizations, but by a vibrant and growing economy, stable and fair democratic institutions, intellectual capacity and strong relations with the world.

What is really needed is a very rational approach to foreign policy which is very pragmatic, which relies on substance and economic sense, protects India’s long term interests and does not rely on holding inconsequential positions. This will help the country turn into a big and strong, yet responsible tiger in the long run.


  • anjali
    11.11.10 11:14 AM
    yaa..........i agree that india has so many things to focus but as u know that we are surrounded by so many countries who didn't work in our favor and usually create problem whether it 26/11, migrations from myanmar and bangladesh or problem of china .So in short , to make india stronger in the international arena it is important.........

    will catch u soon with some more facts.
  • Rhishi Pethe
    Rhishi Pethe
    04.11.10 07:17 PM
    I agree that 188 out of 192 countries voted for India, but just because lot of people agree with something does not make it appropriate for your interests. India should focus on more important things like its economy, education, institutions, trade with other countries etc. None of these interests are served by being a non-permanent member at the UNSC.
  • anjali
    03.11.10 05:57 PM
    Highly Valuable.......................As india is second fastest growing economy and quite a developed one among the south asian countries and the greatest of all is that it has influenced the world so much that it is able to grab 188 votes out of 192 countries........

    It will be able to represent asia better from any other nation in asia.
  • Nice
    02.11.10 04:41 PM
    Very interesting article. I initially had thought it was a good thing in terms of gaining a foothold on the world stage. But as you say, the UNSC may well be a toothless tiger.

    However, it does seem that they get to pick the battles that do get fought. Surely being part of making that decision can only be good for India? I disagree with these clubs in the first place and their membership since the memebers here are arrogantly stating that they know best for the world and everyone should fall in line with them. Also, of course, they will work to preserve their own interests ultimately.

    But given that that is the case, perhaps the best way to influence these clubs is to be a part of them and change them from the inside, since that is where the power rests?

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