Written by Jyotsna Iyer, a second-year undergraduate student
Before knowing what the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is, let’s quickly understand what the UN is.
What is the United Nations?
The United Nations (UN) is a multi-national organization where member states gather to discuss matters of global importance. It is open to all nations becoming member states, given that they agree to the organization’s core principles as laid out by the UN charter.
The UN charter is the founding document of the United Nations and codifies the principles of international relations. The organization was founded in 1945 when the aftermath of the Second World War was prominent and devastating. The global political scenario was fragile as the end of World War II coincided with the decolonization of numerous countries in Asia and Africa.
The United Nations was formed with the aim of achieving global peace and security, promoting intergovernmental dialogue, and prevent wars. Currently, the organization has 193 member states.
Bodies of the UN
The UN has 6 main bodies that were established under the charter, during its foundation. These include the General Assembly (UNGA), Security Council (UNSC), Economic and Social council (UNECOSOC), the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the UN Secretariat. Each of these bodies has its own mandates, which list its function and the agendas under its jurisdiction.
What is the United Nations Security Council?
The UNSC is considered to be one of the most powerful bodies of the UN for multiple reasons.
Here are a few key facts to know
- UNSC is the body of foremost priority in meeting to take decisions in matters of urgency and international security.
- According to the International Court of Justice, UNSC resolutions are legally binding on the member states, while most United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions are recommendatory in nature.
- Resolutions refer to official documents that are formulated as a result of debates and deliberations within the committee. Each resolution pertains to a specific agenda, and often provides solutions to said issues, or prescribes a way forward. When one says that a resolution is legally binding, it means that all member states are bound to abide by the resolution, and can be held accountable if they fail to do so.
- The UNSC also recommends the appointment of the UN Secretary-General to the UNGA and plays a part in electing the judges of the ICJ. The Security Council also has the power to recommend and urge military action for peacekeeping purposes.
What does a UNSC membership mean?
The Security Council is composed of 15 members, with 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members. The five permanent members include the USA, the UK, Russia, China, and France.
These nations are said to have been allotted permanent status on the basis of their importance in the aftermath of World War II. The permanent members (P5) enjoy the Veto right, which refers to the power to single-handedly reject a proposal that they do not agree with. The Veto rights give the P5 nations immense power to shape the decisions of the UNSC.
The non-permanent members of the UNSC are elected for two-year terms. This is the 8th term for India as a non-permanent member of the UNSC. Each non-permanent member gets an opportunity to act as the president of the Security Council, and the presidency changes hands based on the English alphabetical order of the member states’ names.
India holds the USC presidency for August 2021 and will be in line for it in the month of December 2022 once again. On August 9, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over an open debate about maritime security in the UNSC. This was the first time that an Indian prime minister presided over an open debate in the committee.
India’s agendas for its presidency of the UNSC
In the course of this one-month presidency, there are three major points on India’s agenda for discussions in the SC. While the proposed agenda is of high priority to India, it also calls for international attention and discussion. This agenda includes:
- Maritime Security: This refers to regulating security and peace in the world’s water bodies. Oceans and seas are major international trade routes, and maritime peace and security is a strong determinant of maritime trade. Hence, it is important to resolve international disputes overseas (maritime disputes), to establish this peace. The UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) is an international treaty that lays down accepted norms for maritime security, maritime trade, and dispute redressal.
- UN Peacekeeping: UN peacekeeping refers to the UN missions across the globe aimed at establishing and maintaining peace. This also includes the deployment of military force against aggressors who distort peace in conflict-prone areas. India is an active contributor to these peacekeeping missions and deploys a large number of military personnel for the Peacekeeping force. The discussions under this agenda encompass measures to ensure better protection for UN peacekeeping personnel.
- Counter-terrorism: Counter-terrorism is a high-priority agenda in the UNSC, and India has been one of the major stakeholders in these discussions. India’s proposed discussion on counter-terrorism would entail discussing the sources of funding for terrorist organizations, state financing of terrorism, the impact of the pandemic on terrorism, and post-pandemic financing of terrorism.
Why does India want a permanent seat in the UNSC?
The larger goal for India is a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. As forementioned, the SC is a body of the UN with immense responsibility and power, and the permanent members have the means to strongly influence the committee’s decisions. The two major reasons for this are that their seat in the most powerful committee in the UN is guaranteed, and the right to veto. If India attains permanent membership, it will be able to initiate action in cases of global conflict, which would help the nation to protect its citizens who are caught in the crossfire overseas. Moreover, the veto power would give India a position of strategic advantage in all sorts of international negotiations.
India has been of the opinion that the expansion of the Security Council is not something that benefits India alone, but is integral for global dialogue. The existing system of permanent membership and veto power, according to India and some other nations, is discriminatory in nature. Maybe it was relevant in the period immediately after the Second World War, but decades after the socio-economic-political scenario of the world has evolved, the UN needs to evolve as well. Hence, the expansion of the UNSC and a permanent membership are agendas of high priority to India. With the position of presidency, it is possible that India would be able to catalyze this discussion in a favorable direction.
Does India hold the position to demand a permanent membership?
According to Syed Akbaruddin, India’s former permanent representative at the UN, India qualifies for a permanent membership based on any present-day calculus. He backed this argument by stating India’s large population and its democratic nature. Apart from this, India hosts a large cultural diversity. India is also a founding member of the UN, it is an active participant in UN initiatives, and has also attained the status of a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS). The existing P5 nations are all NWS.
What is blocking India’s path towards a permanent seat?
Despite the strong arguments from India, there are numerous issues that stand in the way of India’s aspiration for a permanent UNSC membership. First, India’s claim faces hostility from China, a P5 member with veto rights. Secondly, India often refrains from taking a strong stand in matters of international importance that do not concern India directly. These include conflicts in the middle east, human rights violations in Syria, etc. In order to establish itself as a key member in global politics, India needs to reform its foreign policy and take a clear stand in these matters. Third, while India’s macroeconomy (overall economy) earns it a high position globally, there are high levels of inequality (social as well as economic) and poverty in India. This causes it to rank significantly worse in socio-economic indicators such as the Human Development Index. Fourth, India is competing with other nations such as Japan, Brazil, and Germany for permanent membership. Fifth, India has not signed the NPT (Non- Proliferation Treaty), which is an international treaty that regulates the possession, manufacturing, distribution, and usage of nuclear weapons.
In conclusion, permanent membership of the UNSC is highly integral to India, and an expansion of the council, for better functioning of the UN. While there are numerous criteria on which India qualifies for this seat, there are counterarguments as well. Along with giving India the opportunity to promote international dialogue on matters of importance, the UNSC presidency also gives it the opportunity to put forth its claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council.