Why is permanent membership of the UN Security Council such a big deal
news Sunday, April 12, 2015 - 05:30
India’s tryst with permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is very closely tied with China, which is today apparently stalling what may otherwise have been a done deal. Of the five permanent members, all except China have clearly stated that they would support India’s bid for a permanent seat at the ostensible high temple of world power.  India’s bid for the seat is not new. Many believe that the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru reportedlydeclined the offer in 1955, and which then created an opening for China. China has said several times that it supports a greater role for India at the UNSC, but always stops short of unequivocal support. What are the obstacles to India’s membership? In order to have a permanent seat in the UNSC, none of the five members with veto powers should oppose it. At present, China is not in full support of India’s bid.  China is the only Asian member in a highly unrepresentive body – African, West Asian, and Latin American countries are simply not in the picture. It is unlikely to be happy about competition from India. China and India have several points of friction including territorial disputes and economic competitiveness, even though the two countries often vote similarly at the UN. India is part of the G4 – the Group of Four, along with Germany, Brazil and Japan – which is lobbying for UNSC reforms along with other countries to make the body more geographically representative, and to also to counter western domination in the UNSC. All four countries want permanent membership. Although Japan has been one of the longest serving members of the UN General Assembly along with Brazil, China is unlikely to give its assent , given its historical relationship with Japan. Brazil is being opposed by Argentina and other Latin American countries.  The loudest and most uncompromising opposition to India’s membership comes from Pakistanwhich has cited India’s alleged non-compliance of UN resolutions on the self determination of Kashmir. It has also conveyed the same to American President Barack Obama.  What does the Security Council do? According to the website of the UNSC, it has the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”, and all Member States are obligated to comply with Council decisions.  It has the powers to use force and also arbitrate disputes: “The Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. In some cases, the Security Council can resort to imposing sanctions or even authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security.” And everybody knows that the five permanent members have veto powers. Therein lies the critique  One criticism of the security council is the lack of adequate representation from across the globe. The G4 and other countries, including African, West Asian and Latim American countries have argued for UNSC reforms to make body more geographically representative, and to also to mitigate western domination in the UNSC.  Others have raised more fundamental critiques of the body. Linguist and critic of American foreign policy Noam Chomsky says that the five permanent members would never give up their veto powers as it would harm their interests. Giving the example of the United States, Chomsky says that since the 1970s, it has exercised its veto powers more than the other four countries. He says: “if we don’t like what the UN is doing, the UN can go down the tubes – we just ignore them, and that ends the matter. You don’t kid around with eight-hundred-pound gorilla, you know.” Chomsky says that given America’s position of power in the aftermath of World War II, all countries voted along with the US. It only began to change around the 1960s as numerous countries joined the UN in the 1960s as a result of de-colonization.  Former diplomat Neelam Deo also points out the tendency of all permanent members to act in their own interest: “It is worth noting that although matters of war and peace are the core function of the UNSC, it has not been consulted on any of these issues. The most blatant instance was Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly on September 24, where he defended airstrikes on Syria and Iraq. The U.S did not deem it necessary, once again, to seek the approval of the UNSC. Sadly, UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon was pressured to support the U.S.’s unilateral actions, though he expressed the vain hope that the UNSC will lead the effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Deo also points out that China has rejected international arbitration to resolve its territorial disputes with maritime neighbours, and Russia’s stand off over Ukraine.

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