Although the trip in general is important, Obama’s address to Indian parliament--following a 2006 speech by President George W. Bush--was not groundbreaking. According to the Wall Street Journal, the two presidents’ speeches were quite similar, from the “oldest democracy in the world” spiel to the not-so-subtle references to Indian icon Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi. Obama’s address, however, stands out for its clear acknowledgement of India as an emerging power the US needs to form better ties with, as he backed India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
"The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate,” Obama told the Indian parliament. “That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."
According to the UK newspaper, The Independent, “a senior aide said the president's words amounted to a "full endorsement".”
Obama’s support for India’s UN aspirations is not surprising. Currently, the Security Council’s permanent members are an almost entirely Caucasian Justice League, with China arguably providing the requisite political correctness expected in the UN. Ideologically, too, China is an outsider, though Russia’s past socialist leanings likely provide some comfort to the openly communist Chinese government. Introducing in India as a sixth permanent member would definitively establish a democratic ideology as the majority on the council, not just in terms of Council membership, but possibly in terms of population, too.
But even if Obama’s motives in backing India are US-centric, the move is a welcome one. Asia, aside from China, is underrepresented on the Security Council; Germany, a newly elected non-permanent member intends to spend its two year term lobbying for change at the UN. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, is already in talks with counterparts from Japan, India and Brazil according to the German news site, DW-World. Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan comprise the Group of Four, or G4, a group of emerging powers with not inconsiderable political and economic sway actively campaigning for permanent membership on the Council.
"Today's Security Council reflects the world's power architecture after World War II. It should reflect the power structure of today's world," Westerwelle said in New York last month. We feel Asia is under-represented.” Britain is also throwing support India’s way.
Despite the current slew of press coverage, it’s unlikely India will be granted permanent membership on the Security Council overnight. The UN has a history of long reform processes, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by world leaders.
"More than 15 years of negotiations have proven that the membership is profoundly divided," said Italy's Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini.
"It is no longer acceptable… that permanent membership of the Security Council...remains subject to obsolete rules of an era that is long gone," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abdoul Gheit told news site IPS. "It is similarly unacceptable that the work of this council or its mechanisms remain characterized by the lack of transparency or balance."
Not everyone is as happy about India’s shot at permanent membership. Pakistan, a member of the so-called “Coffee Club”, a group of nations opposed to the G4’s bid. Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari is expected to speak with Chinese president Hu Jintao to discuss blocking the bid while visiting China for the 16th Asian Games this month.