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India as a great power has to be in the Security Council

March 26, 2009

By MV Kamath
Organiser (India)
March 29, 2009 Edition

What this means is that the Security Council
--  like the United Nations -- is a big joke. Its
associate bodies like the WHO, UNCTAD, UNESCO,
UNICEF, FAO, UNIDO etc, may have done some good
work—no one disputes that—but if one remembers
how the United States at one point in time
refused to pay its dues to the running of UNESCO,
one realises how fragile the structure of the
United Nations is and how much it is dependent on the United States.

By any reckoning India deserves to be a Permanent
Member with a veto over anyone else. Indeed, it
has a greater right to be a Permanent Member than
either France and Britain in current
circumstances. The two are basking under past
glory which is no longer applicable and should be questioned.

For years the Council has remained a tool of the
United States and it has remained the most
ineffective body that one can think of. And we
know what followed then. Again, was the Security
Council in any way effective in preventing the
long-drawn out Vietnam War that cost the United
States several thousand casualties and Vietnam
itself reportedly a couple of million?

The role of the United States which has often
been that of a bully, unchallenged and
unrepentant, also needs to be looked into.
Perhaps the time has come for the setting up of
‘continental’ United Nations, with membership of
each such body open only to the countries of that
particular continent, without the presence of the
United States or, for that matter, of the other Great Powers.

Following the end of the Second World War
(1939-45), the victor nations decided to set up
the United Nations as a legitimate successor to
the League of Nations, to maintain peace and
order in the world. That there have been more
wars in the post-1947 world than between 1918 and
1939 is a different matter. The Security Council
is the executive arm of the General Assembly and
it has been the most misused arm of the world
body that one can think of, and it is a disgrace.

True, there hasn’t been another world war of
major dimensions involving major powers, but
there have been so many proxy wars discreetly
engineered or supported by the same powers that
should make any thoughtful international
statesman want to hang his head in shame. When
the United States lost out in the Security
Council on the Korea issue in 1950, it went to
the then US-controlled General Assembly of some
45 Members, most of whom were in some way or
other beholden to Washington, to get its approval
of the Korean War in total disdain of the
Security Council. For years the Council has
remained a tool of the United States and it has
remained the most ineffective body that one can
think of. And we know what followed then. Again,
was the Security Council in any way effective in
preventing the long-drawn out Vietnam War that
cost the United States several thousand
casualties and Vietnam itself reportedly a couple of million?

It is said that the US forces dropped more bombs
on Vietnam than were dropped on Britain and
Germany in six years of conflict. Again, was the
Security Council able to prevent the Iraqi War?
Could it prevent China from taking over Tibet? In
the Bangladesh War of 1972 the United States even
had the impertinence to send an aircraft carrier
to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. Even
worse, the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger
was trying to persuade China to attack India to
divert the latter’s attention from East Pakistan.

What this means is that the Security Council --
like the United Nations -- is a big joke. Its
associate bodies like the WHO, UNCTAD, UNESCO,
UNICEF, FAO, UNIDO etc, may have done some good
work—no one disputes that—but if one remembers
how the United States at one point in time
refused to pay its dues to the running of UNESCO,
one realises how fragile the structure of the
United Nations is and how much it is dependent on
the United States. All this is not to say that
the Security Council has been an utter failure.

In the case of the turbulence, upheavals and
repeated outbursts of violence in the Congo from
1960 to 1963, for example, the Security Council
did play a role. In many ways, too, the United
Nations has been helpful in decolonising the
world. It has helped in peace-keeping and India
has played a prominent role in this field,
whether in Korea, Congo or the Middle East. But
what has that got to do with India’s Membership
of the Security Council? In 1985, the then
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier
Perez de Ceuller, in his report to the General
Assembly deplored the “reluctance of parties to
some conflicts to use the machinery of the United Nations”.

He said that it is super power ego "which is
nibbling at the foundations of the world
organisation." Indeed, the very first Secretary
General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie has
been on record as saying that “the United Nations
was not equipped to act as a referee between the
Great Powers. “It was” he said, “grounded upon
the basic assumption that there would be an
agreement among the Permanent Members of the
Security Council upon major issues.” There seldom
was any agreement, so then, the United States
went its way as did China as well. There has been
nothing to stop them. In the circumstances,
Permanent Membership of Security Council is a
chimera, if not a joke. Having a veto sounds
great but what was the Security Council doing
when George Bush waged war against Saddam
Hussain, going to the extent of the seeing him
killed? And what will it do if—Heavens forbid—his
successor, Barack Obama wages war against Iran?
Why can’t the US leave Afghanistan alone? Not all
the military forces arraigned against it will
bring Afghanistan to its knees. Originally, the
Security Council consisted of 11 Members—five
Permanent ones (The United States, Soviet Union,
France, Britain and China) and six Elected
Members each with a two-year term. It is not so
well-known that the seat occupied by China had
originally been offered to India which declined
it in China’s favour—a most thoughtless thing to do.

Now China is reluctant to favour India’s entry
into the club indicating both a lack of grace and
gratitude. Now a plan is afoot to enlarge the
Membership of the Security Council both in terms
of Permanent and Elective Membership. It has been
suggested that India pre-eminently deserves a
Permanent Membership because of its population
(1.2 billion), its long history of over 10,000
years, its cultural and civilisation heritage,
its current economic status, its past services to
the UN, etc. By any reckoning it deserves to be a
Permanent Member with a veto over anyone else.
Indeed, it has a greater right to be a Permanent
Member than either France and Britain in current
circumstances. The two are basking under past
glory which is no longer applicable and should be
questioned. Meanwhile, it is not India alone that
is aspiring to be included in the additional
Membership roll call. Brazil, Japan and Germany
too are aspirants. India deserves to be the first
choice even among the four and, as things stand,
it seems to have gathered sufficient support.

What needs to be stressed is that the
constitution of the United Nations, as originally
devised itself needs to be changed, considering
that Britain and France are not what they once
were. Times have changed and the Security Council
Membership must reflect that change. The
unchallenged reign of White Powers has to be
ended. The role of the United States which has
often been that of a bully, unchallenged and
unrepentant, also needs to be looked into.
Perhaps the time has come for the setting up of
‘continental’ United Nations, with membership of
each such body open only to the countries of that
particular continent, without the presence of the
United States or, for that matter, of the other
Great Powers. Such continental United Nations can
do a good job without the interference of the United States.

India’s aspirations for Permanent Membership of
the Security Council are laudable, but Delhi does
not have to go begging for support. It is
demeaning. It is no great honour to be a
Permanent Member of the Security Council.
Besides, one must remember that as a Permanent
Member one would be constantly under pressure
from the United States to follow its lead; we
don’t have to be replica of Tony Blair’s United
Kingdom. We have not only to be independent but
must be seen to be so. And if one does not get
along with Washington’s directions, one may have to pay dearly for it.

What India needs to direct its immediate
attention is to become a power in its own right
to command respect and attention. And let it be
remembered that the United States is slipping. It
failed in Korea. It failed in Vietnam. It failed
in Iran. (After Khomeini deposed the Shah, the
latter was not even allowed to enter the US for
medical attention and had to go to Egypt there to
die in a Cairo hospital). It has now failed in
Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan. If India has
to command respect, it must be out of America’s
all-encompassing fold. It is wiser to stay out of
the Security Council and maintain our
self-respect. And as has been said, a word to the
wise should be sufficient. Power does not
automatically accrue from Permanent Membership of
the Security Council. It comes from a trillion
dollars foreign exchange reserve, a
self-sustained economy and a dazzling democracy.
India will then be respectfully heard even if it
were just an ordinary member of the UN General Assembly.

(The writer is former editor of Illustrated Weekly and senior columnist.)
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