Friday, March 8, 2013

Delhi’s high-table hope springs back to life

- Caribbean surprise renews possibility of Security Council expansion but several stages lie ahead

New York, March 5: Eight weeks after India completed its two-year tenure as a member of the UN Security Council, New Delhi has leapfrogged to the next and most critical phase in its quest for a permanent seat in the Council.

In a dramatic development, a resolution has emerged and is being circulated among permanent missions at the UN headquarters here that mandates an expansion of the Security Council’s membership to 27 from its present strength of 15.

The draft resolution, which is being listed under agenda item 122 in the ongoing 67th session of the General Assembly, calls for two permanent seats and one non-permanent seat for Asia in an expanded Council. It is inevitable that these two permanent seats will go to India and Japan, respectively, while the non-permanent Asian seat will be filled by elections every two years.

When this resolution is put to vote and passed, it will not immediately grant India a permanent seat. Several stages, including ratification of an amendment to the UN Charter by member states and separate elections to fill each permanent seat by two-thirds majority in the General Assembly, will still have to be gone through.
But the resolution demands an amendment to the UN Charter within 12 weeks of its passage to incorporate the changes in the Security Council’s structure.

The latest developments are of great significance because a draft had eluded four years of intergovernmental negotiations here, frustrating progress towards Security Council reform despite every country in the UN paying lip service to change.
The draft resolution, to the surprise of many UN members, did not emerge from any of the major aspirants to Security Council membership, such as India, Brazil, Germany or Japan, collectively known as the Group of Four (G4). Nor did it come from the big five permanent members of the Council, the P5.

On the contrary, it was the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom), which sprang the resolution on the international community after its summit in Haiti a fortnight ago. The draft calls for veto powers for new permanent members on the same lines as the P5.

Armed with the Caricom draft, a group of 41 developing countries, including India, have already met Zahir Tanin, the permanent representative of Afghanistan, who has been chairing the Inter-Governmental Negotiations on Security Council reform on a mandate from the General Assembly. This group is known here as “L69” after the agenda number of a resolution on the issue, which they mooted in 2008.

There is much excitement in UN lobbies over the Caricom draft because it has broad convergence with Africa’s stand on Security Council expansion which had eluded a consensus until recently.

Caricom representatives are to meet nominees of the African Union shortly to co-ordinate their approach on the resolution.

There is optimism that once the African Union is on board, the L69, together with the Caricom group, will muster the 129 votes needed to pass the resolution and also amend the UN Charter.

Since there is no veto in the General Assembly, none of the P5 will be in a position to block the resolution even if they are opposed to it in parts or as a whole.

Consultations in the next few weeks are likely to address their concerns and the draft may undergo some changes in the process. But the overwhelming view among countries that are sincere about Security Council reform is that a clear “yes” vote with more than two-thirds support in the General Assembly will ensure that individual P5 states opposed to expansion will read the writing on the wall and fall in line.

One worry is that the government in New Delhi, which has lost the political will to move forward on critical issues, may be reluctant to take the gamble on a resolution such as this. But with the momentum at the UN being what it is, a decision to put the resolution to vote may well be out of New Delhi’s hands and may be decided by others.

If South Block chooses not to be proactive on the Caricom initiative, it may well be reduced to being a passenger on the ship of UN reform, swept up by the currents for change.

Simultaneously, opinion is growing in L69 lobbies that India should make a bid to return to the Security Council as soon as possible by seeking re-election to a non-permanent seat while the expansion process gathers steam. But that also requires political will in New Delhi that may be in short supply ahead of a general election.

Brazil, Germany and Japan, the other members of the G4, have already been elected twice to the Council in the new millennium. But India has had only one two-year term in the 19 years prior to its last successful election in 2010.

Another term at the UN’s high table would bolster New Delhi’s case for a permanent seat and would put it on an equal footing with the other major aspirants for permanent membership.

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