Great power, greater responsibility

To merit UN permanent membership India needs to demonstrate that it has the gravitas to play a bigger role. Countering IS through its vast Islamic scholarship, and offering Europe help in dealing with the refugee crisis are two areas where the country can display global leadership. India could make common cause with Germany — the one country that has demonstrated a spirit of willingness to accommodate several hundred thousands refugees — and mobilize global opinion to help deal with the crisis. Apart from the unwillingness of the existing UNSC permanent members to admit new entrants, each of the new claimants face opposition from their respective neighbors.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his two-nation visit — to Ireland and the U.S. — on September 22. It is the U.S. visit that is clearly the more critical of the two. In the Prime Minister’s own words, “the visit seeks to build on the substantial ground covered” during their previous exchange of visits. On this occasion, the Prime Minister is to address the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Summit and attend the Summit on UN Peacekeeping hosted by President Barack Obama, apart from a bilateral meeting with the U.S. President. He will also meet a galaxy of U.S. CEOs and visit the Silicon Valley to meet up with the movers and shakers in their respective fields.

It is interesting that Prime Minister Modi will be in the U.S. at the same time as Chinese President Xi Jinping. U.S. dexterity in simultaneously dealing with leaders of the two Asian giants is certain to be carefully analyzed. India-U.S. relations are today on an upswing. U.S.-China relations, for all the bonhomie on display, are not in the best of health. Prime Minister Modi is coming to the U.S. laden with gifts — the $3.1 billion deal for attack and heavy lift helicopters, for instance. The Chinese President, on the other hand, will need to battle U.S. doubts about its cyber-snooping, and dispel increasing U.S. concerns about its aggressive intentions, the symbolism of the recent massive parade in Tiananmen Square, the display of state-of-the-art military hardware, as also China’s reiteration that it would not brook interference in its zone of strategic concern.

Negotiating text on UNSC reforms
Prime Minister Modi’s visit coincides with a propitious moment in India’s diplomatic history, namely, the adoption of a ‘negotiating text’ for UNSC reforms by the UN General Assembly. The resolution was adopted despite protests from China, Pakistan and Russia, and will now form the basis for further discussions at the Intergovernmental Negotiations Group. Prime Minister Modi will be hosting a Summit of G-4 leaders (India, Brazil, Japan and Germany) in New York in this connection and also raise the issue in his address to the Special Summit of the UN General Assembly. All this has given rise to hopes of an early entry for India into the Security Council.

It will be premature for India, however to sing hosannas just yet. There are many obstacles to be overcome. Significant among these is a patent unwillingness on the part of the current Permanent Members (P5) — the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China — to share or dilute their privileges for any newcomer. The five possess the ‘right of veto’, which gives them an exalted status. No less important is the degree of hostility and jealousy that prevails among countries across the globe to the upgradation of a select few to membership of the Council. Objections derive from ongoing conflicts between certain states and differences of principle as to which country has the right to represent a region or a continent.

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It has taken more than a decade for the G-4 to reach this stage. The G-4 idea dates back to 2004, and has witnessed some changes during this period. In the initial period, Germany displayed considerable enthusiasm but, under Chancellor Angela Merkel, it has proven less enthusiastic. Japan under Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe — in his first term — was very keen, but after Mr. Abe stepped down as Prime Minister (in 2007), his successors showed less interest. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil was a strong votary, but Brazil’s economic problems in recent years have taken a toll. Buoyed by its economic resurgence, India did believe that the moment had arrived for reshaping the Security Council so as to better reflect current economic and geopolitical realities.

Even then, there were many skeptics who felt that India should not waste its energy on chasing a chimera. Apart from the unwillingness of the existing Security Council members to admit new entrants, each of the new claimants face opposition, individually and severally, from other claimants. Italy is hostile to the idea of Germany’s inclusion. China is opposed to Japan’s entry. Pakistan is against India’s elevation, as also is China, but the latter tries to mask its opposition. Brazil faces opposition from other Latin American nations like Argentina. Africa demands a seat, but South Africa’s claims are contested by countries like Nigeria.

Notwithstanding last week’s UN General Assembly resolution, most of these parameters have not altered. The U.S., France and the U.K. even today remain less than enthusiastic about change. Russia’s attitude seems to be changing. President Vladimir Putin and his aide, Sergei Ivanov, had previously pledged their support to India’s candidature but now the support appears to be wavering. China’s current enigmatic attitude hardly conceals its hostility to India’s claim.

Hence, instead of waiting interminably for the final outcome, it might be advantageous for India to demonstrate to the world that it has the necessary credentials — and the gravitas — to occupy a seat on the Council. India needs to carry and express the conviction to the world that, apart from its recent economic resurgence, it is capable, and willing, to shoulder additional responsibilities regarding geopolitical and related matters.

Some modest beginnings are already evident. In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, India had been invited, and agreed, to be a member of the G-20 to help the world tide over a difficult situation. Around the same time, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group invested India with the halo of ‘a state with advanced nuclear technology’ and sanctified India as a responsible member of the nuclear community.

A great deal more, however, needs to be done. Unfortunately, there is an impression that India feels comfortable in its role as ‘a recessed power’ — more intent on treading the path of ‘least activism’. This has to be dispelled. Towards this end, India must engage along many fronts. This should reduce resistance to its entry into the Security Council.

Scholarship as antidote to violence

Two issues immediately come to mind. One is the expanding writ of the jihadist group, Islamic State (IS), across a wide swathe of territory that is of crucial importance to India — parts of West Asia, Yemen and areas around the Caspian Sea, pockets in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. India has possibly the world’s largest population of moderate Sunni Muslims, and a long history of Islamic scholarship. It is thus uniquely placed to deal with the challenge posed by the IS, which has baffled much of the world.

The choice of wrong means, including the use of armed force and bombing raids, has only encouraged more and more young elements to join the ranks of the IS. Only scholarship and an ideational approach can possibly blunt the jihadist group’s offensive, one that masquerades as upkeep of purist Islamist ideology. India with its intellectual depth in Islamic matters can provide the necessary strategic flexibility.

The current refugee crisis in Europe also provides an occasion for India to showcase its inherent strengths, derived from ancient civilization traditions. The European crisis has all the makings of a monumental human tragedy. The avalanche of refugees (in terms of numbers) is fast approaching what we witnessed during the East Bengal crisis in the early 1970s. India had then shown both capability and remarkable resilience, and India’s experience would prove useful for countries in Europe, and the European Union itself, which has, so far, proved to be totally inept.

India could make common cause with Germany — the one country that has demonstrated a spirit of willingness to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees — and mobilize global opinion to help deal with the crisis. Additionally, India with its human resources and skills could offer to help out. The important point is that by doing so, India would demonstrate that it is both willing, and eminently suited, to take on global responsibilities, and of a kind that very few other nations can.

If India succeeds in enlarging the ambit of its role, the world will begin to view it through an entirely new prism. Apart from the relevance of size, ancient wisdom, culture and current economic strength, India’s role as a vital 21st century problem solver cannot but add weight to its claims to membership of the Security Council.

(The author  is India’s former National Security Advisor and former Governor of West Bengal.)

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