Two Year Membership of UNSC: Euphoria Over Crumbs!!!
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Issue Interview in | Date : 01 Jul , 2019

There has been much euphoria in the media over India being backed by 55 members of the UN for a seat as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for which votes will be cast in June 2020 for a two year tenure starting from 1st January 2021.

India has been a non-permanent member of the UNSC seven times earlier starting way back in 1950-51.

The non-permanent membership is only a window-dressing; a sop dished out to nations as appeasement with no real power or pelf, because the power continues to be firmly entrenched with the five permanent members who wield ‘veto’ powers.

The forerunner to the UN was the League of Nations. The death and destruction inflicted on innocent civilians besides millions of young men drafted to join the huge armies fighting each other shocked world leaders and lawyers into seeking an organisation for peace as early as in 1915. Under the resolute leadership of US President Woodrow Wilson, a draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations was ready by February 14, 1919 followed by final amended text adopted on April 28, 1919. The original members consisted of all signatories of the peace treaties and 13 nations that were neutral. The Covenant forming the League of Nations was included in the Treaty of Versailles. Between 1920 and 1939 63 states became members which included British India. The League failed in its mission to solve disputes before they erupted into a war, because in September 1, 1939, Germany began the Second World War by attacking Poland.

From 1941 onwards efforts to re-establish by some international body had begun. The Declaration of St. James’ Palace between USA and Britain paved the way for furthering the cause. Incidentally, in June 1941 London was home to nine governments in exile as Europe had fallen under the heels of the jack-boots of Hitler’s armies.

On October 30, 1943, the Moscow Declaration was signed by Vyaches Molotov (Russia), Anthony Eden (Britain), Cordell Hull (United States of America) and Foo Ping Shen, the Chinese Ambassador to the Soviet Union.   The Declaration pledged further joint action in dealing with the enemies’ surrender and, in clause 4, proclaimed:

“That they [the Foreign Ministers] recognize the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organization, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security.”

It is interesting to note the inclusion of Chinese representative. This was because Chinese Kuomintang forces were deeply engaged in the war against the Japanese along with the Americans so it is no surprise to see the Chinese being represented at these meetings.

In 1944, representatives of US, Britain, Russia and China met in Dumbarton Oaks a private mansion in Washington D.C. for the opening session of the “Conference on Security Organisation for Peace in the Post-War World”. They laid down the principles of the world organisation-to-be. On October 7, 1944, the proposal for the structure of this world organisation was submitted by these four powers to all United Nations governments for their study and discussion. The critical issue of voting in the Security Council was resolved by the leaders of USA, Britain and Russia meeting at Yalta and was to be finalized in the next meeting at San Francisco on April 25, to June 26, 1945. In all 50 nations participated and after deeply involved discussions the UN Charter was accepted. India was there as an original member. The Indian representatives were Arcot Ramaswami Mudaliar and V.T. Krishnama Chari.

The San Francisco Conference was not only one of the most important in history but, perhaps, the largest international gathering ever to take place. The heads of the delegations of the sponsoring countries (USA, Britain, Russia and China) took turns as chairman of the plenary meetings: Anthony Eden, of Britain, Edward Stettinius, of the United States, T. V. Soong, of China, and Vyacheslav Molotov, of the Soviet Union. At the later meetings, Lord Halifax deputized for Mr. Eden, V. K. Wellington Koo for T. V. Soong, and Mr Gromyko for Mr. Molotov.

At the end of the Second World War China had established itself as a close ally of the US. However, soon thereafter a civil war broke out in China between the Chinese KMT forces and the Communists forces that had taken shape as the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). The communists succeeded in ousting the KMT forces from the mainland to the island of Formosa (later Taiwan). KMT declared itself to be the real China and was named as the Republic of China (ROC). At the same time Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The US was confronted with the dilemma of which of the two was to claim the Chinese membership in the UNSC. At that time US gave the advantage to its ally KMT. Considering the situation prevailing at that time US offered the seat as a permanent representative in the UNSC to Nehru who declined it and recommended Communist China as a more deserving member!! The Soviet Union again made a similar offer in 1955 which was once again politely declined.

The Security Council with its ‘veto’ power to the “Big Five” had generated heated argument at the San Francisco Conference in 1945 and had even threatened to break up the conference.  The smaller powers feared that when one of the “Big Five” menaced the peace, the Security Council would be powerless to act, while in the event of a clash between two powers not permanent members of the Security Council, the “Big Five” could act arbitrarily. They strove, therefore, to have the power of the “veto” reduced. But the great powers unanimously insisted on this provision as vital, and emphasized that the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them. Eventually the smaller powers conceded the point in the interest of setting up the world organization. With the power of “veto” so deeply entrenched, these “Big” and some “Not so Big Powers” do not want any change in existing status. Incidentally, France was rescued from German clutches in the World War; it was not a power by any reckoning in 1945 but bagged a seat in the UNSC was it because it was a “disabled” ally of the Allied Forces!!?? 

An organisation set up to ensure world peace is, today, not in sync with the geo political realities of the day. UK is a nation holding on to its seat by the seat belt of its past colonial glories. Today it has no military force worth the name. It claims its strength with a handful of nuclear weapons and by it being a global financial capital of sorts. BREXIT might even dethrone it in this arena. To have France and UK as permanent members of the UNSC is actually a conspiracy against the more deserving nations. EU has been contemplating on collective security for some time now. In that eventuality the EU can claim one seat for all its members and forego seats presently held by two of its members – France and UK.

In 1992, Germany, Japan, Brazil and India demanded a permanent seat in the UNSC based on their financial contributions (Germany and Japan) and based on size of territory (Brazil) and population (India); a group known as G4. Certain countries led by Pakistan, Italy, Indonesia, Mexico and Egypt opposed this demand and came together as “United for Consensus” (UfC), also dubbed as the “Coffee Club”.  Of the five permanent members of the UNSC China continues to oppose India’s candidature for the same. China deliberately equates Pakistan to India pushing forward this dyad for its mischievous diplomatic games – whether for membership in SCO, NSG and even UNSC. Pakistan, a battered, dysfunctional state, would only further China’s nefarious aim to obfuscate the functioning in these organisations.

Undoubtedly, there is need for a reformed structure of the UNSC. The new structure of the UNSC could comprise US, Russia, China, EU (or France, Germany and UK), India, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria/Egypt/South Africa. The single “veto” as a knocker has no relevance in a multilateral global environment. These “mighty” five should move over and allow an “almighty” group of nine (or even 13) countries to vote based on a more democratic process of two-third majority to carry an issue through or to quash it.

Of late, the global environment is dominated by individual powerful countries unilaterally instituting measures and in the process damaging the very institutes they had set up to ensure lasting peace in the world. Revamping the UNSC is one of the ideas whose time has come. The concept of veto also needs to be adapted to a more democratic format – two-third majority against the one ‘veto’ system. A non-permanent member seat for India is no victory – it is just being fed crumbs.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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