Blogs > Cliopatria > At the Grown Up Table

Apr 14, 2005 8:59 am

At the Grown Up Table

The Group of Four vs. the Coffee Club. India vs. Pakistan. Japan vs. China. History vs. Politics. It plays out like a grand opera of broken trusts and rebounded relationships but it is the very realpolitiks surrounding the reform and expansion of the United Nations Security Council. I know that this isn't the sexiest of topics and that the UN is as popular in the States as Kevin Federline is sincere. But, for the rest of the world, it remains a vital organization. So let's take a look at what is at stake.

The brief overview is that UN wants to reform itself. The report on reforms by Kofi Annan [pdf] includes the provision for an expansion of the Security Council. Two competing proposals are on the table: One is to expand it by six permanent members- India, Japan, Brazil and Germany [the Group of Four or G-4] are championing this; the second proposal - spearheaded by Pakistan's Coffee Club coalition of 54 countries - is to add eight semi-permanent seats and divide them among across various nations of Africa and Asia. The two sides have been debating on and off the floor with states announcing their intentions all across [Qatar supports India! Austria supports Pakistan!]. All this while John"There is no such thing as the United Nations" Bolton's confirmation hearing as the UN Ambassador plays out on a cable channel near you.

I will restrict myself to India's claims to the seat. It is a controversial claim in some circles. As the most populous democracy and rising economic power, India feels that it has a legitimate role to play in world politics. The detractors are wary of Indian regionalism-gone-amuck. More interesting is the question why would India want this role? India has always had a warm but distant relationship with the United Nations. Led by the idealism of Nehru [non-alignment, anti-colonial, anti-aggression], India sought to project itself on a higher moral ground for most of his tenure while adhering closely to Indian self-interest. Nothing out of the ordinary in that. What was extraordinary was Nehru's firm belief that India, of all the recently minted states, belonged with the elite nations and that it was not just another"little nation". Indian delegates spoke of"the ancient land" and the India's"rightful and honored place in the world". They consistently sought to present their arguments before the world audience [as well the national audience] and projected the image of global leader [especially under K. Menon '52-'62]. For Nehru's India, the only way to project more power than it possessed was to uphold moral and idealized positions without cavorting with the great powers. Kashmir, and to a lesser extent Goa, became the sticky wicket. While India itself had referred Kashmir to the UN, it found very little sympathy among the international community. And it had to rely on Soviet vetos again and again. Still, with the rise of the Cold war, India consistently sought to keep the balance of influence within the Security Council. It was an ardent supporter of China's bid to be recognized even when border tensions along the Sino-Indian borders were rising.

The onset of hostilities between India and China in 1962 destroyed Nehru's idealized world view. China's aggression - a clearly political show of force - showed India that the stark reality behind its global and regional influence remained its lack of power. China took all the land it wanted and"offered" peace. It was a calculated ploy by Mao to expose the"paper tigers" of the world [Nehru and the Soviets]. Nehru's illusions were shattered [and K. Menon's career ended] and he died soon thereafter. The nonaligned nations had done nothing. Soviets had turned mum. All this led to the marked withdrawal of India from the World/UN stage. The wars of '65, '71, the nuclear boom in '74 robbed any remaining shine off of International India. Things weren't so good at home anyways, so who cared? But, the '80s and '90s have slowly brought India back on the world scene.

But, just as China had once pushed India off the UN/World map, it is now putting India back by supporting India's bid for the SC. Wen Jiabao's recently concluded visit to India resulted in a host of agreements and pacts ["The two sides declared 2006 as the"year of China-India friendship"] and China declared that it"supports India's aspirations to play an active role in the UN and international affairs". This vague statement is understood to be Chinese backing of an Indian permanent seat.

Of course, Pakistan is leading the charge against Indian acceptance to the SC. Their argument, pivots on the Kashmir issue. Totally predictable. Also, predictable are the Indian complaints that the US position is being influenced by the Pakistani-born advisor to the President and Rice, Shirin Tahir-Kheli. Be that as it may, India does have a legitimate claim to leadership on the world stage. More than anything, the 2004 election proved that Indian democracy can play a vital and vibrant role among the totalitarian dictatorships surrounding it. I believe that they fully deserve a seat at the SC.

There is more to the Security Coucil story. Historical memory is at stake between China and Japan which may endanger Chinese support of India as well. That story will, hopefully, be told by Jonathan Dresner. x-posted at Chapati Mystery

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More Comments:

Manan Ahmed - 4/14/2005

You are just about right. The Nation-State, sadly, has yet to have its last hurrah. But, we are trending...

chris l pettit - 4/14/2005

were never addressed and will not be given to any new permanent members. So while we can chat all we like about the reform of the UN, it is sad to note that precious little will change. From a legal perspective, the "recommendations" were a joke, to be perfectly honest. It is hard to find an international lawyer worth their salt who actually believes any of this is anything other than political posturing. The US will still veto anything on Israel, the P5 will veto anything sanctioning or censuring themselves, and the powerful will continue to dominate. The only hope here is that the GA starts to utilize their right to issue legally binding resolutions if an issue is being held up by a veto in the Security Council.

The other problem is that we are still approaching all of this from a nation-state perspective. How ironic is it that most of the commissions that exist to research and come up with ideas regarding human rights, security, the environment, refugees and immigration, etc...that are staffed by the best and the brightest scholars and authorities available...are disregarded and their proposals looked upon as "soft law?" For instance...the right to water as a basic human right was confirmed by the Commission on ESC rights in 2002, thereby obligating states who have ratified the UNCESCR to ensure clean water to their populations and submit comprehensive reports if they had not. Has anything been done? Of course not...because politics trumps academics and law every day of the week. Power relationships rule the day, and ethical and legal justifications go out the window. It is unfortunate that some would see this as "hope" for the UN when in reality it is just political window dressing that does not remotely address the core problems of the UN. The US will continue to be able to complain, as will the G77, as will the "terrorist" states that the US violates international law to invade.

My question is this: when will we ever descend from the real of power politics and nation states masquerading as billiard balls jostling for position and realise that the UN is an INTERNATIONAL governing body and community which is meant to be built on cooperation and co-existance, including ALL of the international community, not just self interested nation-states and their representatives? It is meant to be built on the rule of law, not nationalistic ideological positions that have no basis in ethics, reason, or law, but merely are power positions taken by self interested governments.

Sadly, i still don't hold out much hope for the near future...although ignorance does wear away eventually...some people once thought the world was flat, some once thought that leaders had divine inspiration (I guess one still thinks he does), some now think that nation-states are the end all and be all...things change for the better eventually...