A party of victors: At the last count, the UNO, the largest non-governmental, voluntary organisation in the world had 192 nations as members. According to Article 23.1, Chapter V of the UN Charter, the Security Council shall consist of fifteen members. China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK and the USA are the five permanent members. The remaining ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms with “due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution”, with the retiring members being not eligible for immediate re-election.
How did the founders constitute the Security Council? Was it based on population? If they did they could not have ignored India as the combined population of four permanent members – France, Russia, the UK and the USA is less than the population of India. (See Table-1)
*Est. 1,200,000,000 in 2001
Table-1 Vital Statistics of UNSC Members
In fact the populations of many Indian states (AP, Bihar, MP, Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal) are larger than those of France, the UK and the USA and the population of Uttar Pradesh is larger than that of the Russian Federation. (See Table-2)
India – Nation and large states
*Est. 1,200,000,000 in 2001
Table-2 Vital Statistics of India – Nation and large states
Was the Security Council constituted based on geographical regions? If it was, then Europe is over-represented with three permanent members, Africa is not represented and Asia, which populates more than two fifths of global population, is under-represented. In addition to India, Brazil, Germany, Japan and Nigeria are the other claimants to UNSC membership.
Table-3 Vital Statistics of other Claimants to UN SC Membership
In point of fact the Security Council was constituted to include the victors of the Second World War, Britain, Russia and the USA. France was admitted, as a former colonial power, which fought alongside the Allies and China, was included at the insistence of President Roosevelt to avoid the body being dubbed as the ‘white-man’s’ club.
The weakness of an earlier world body known as the ‘League of Nations’, which eventually led to its failure, led the permanent members to award themselves with the power of ‘veto’. The objective of the veto power was to avoid the recurrence of a world war as a result of any decision taken against a major military power.
Does it mean that major military powers can wage wars against minor military powers? There are innumerable examples of major military powers either ignoring the world body or making it pliant for waging wars which they considered justified: from the Russian invasion of Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, to the US invasion of Viet Nam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Iraq (the last two authorised by a pliant UNSC), the British invasion of Falklands, the French interventions in Africa and the Chinese aggression into Indian territory.
If all this is true, the UNSC is neither democratically not geographically representative but just an ‘old-boys’ club’, utilised as a hand-maiden by the major powers when it suits them but ignored with impunity when it did not, why should India yearn for seat at its high table?
The answer is ‘why not?’ Which other nation is so eminently suited to a role in the governance of the world body? Its non-violent struggle for independence is a study in contrast to the use of ‘terror’ as a means of religious-ideological deliverance. It is the largest democracy. It is possibly to do with the nation’s collective ego or collective pride that the largest democracy with advanced technological capabilities, a booming economy and a de facto nuclear power yearns for a role on the world scene alongside other super powers. She has played conscientiously and with aplomb, various roles the UN assigned her, from the Chairmanship of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) founded to arbitrate between the Koreas in the fifties to peacekeeping missions in many parts of the world and in campaigns for disarmament, environment and upholding human rights.
It is another matter that though India championed the struggle for independence of many African nations, she has fought shy when it came to the formation of Israel and voted ‘against’ in the UN debate, continuing with the pernicious policy initiated by Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 when he supported the Khilafat movement in far away Turkey.
We shall see India’s contributions to the cause of world peace and various roles she played as a member of the world body in a separate piece.
The hurt at being left out in 1945 may have found expression in founding the largely effete alternative, the NAM wholly consisting of banana republics and dictatorships. Starry-eyed idealism or naïveté of India’s early masters might have coloured her abiding faith in the UN. Both the world’s super powers, on different occasions, extricated her from the mires she landed herself in due to ideological foolishness.
Indian naïveté: The accession of Kashmir to India in 1947 was unconditional. India has rebuffed the attack on its sovereign territory by Pakistan to wrest it in 1948. Instead of simply reoccupying the territory and putting an end to the issue she referred the matter to the UN. Call it political naïveté, starry-eyed idealism or a secret yearning for the Nobel peace prize, Jawaharlal Nehru inexplicably sought UN intervention thus sowing the seeds for a problem that boiled, festered and suppurated for over half a century. Nehru went to the extent of removing Kashmir from the States’ Ministry (now the ‘Home Ministry’) held by Sardar Patel for this. If only the Sardar was thus not pre-empted we would not have had a Kashmir problem today. We would not have had Hydearabad in India too if Nehru had had his way (Munshi 1967:175). But for Russian veto in the Security Council on more than one occasion, the aggressor in Kashmir would have had its way.
Our championing the cause of China in the UN was equally naïve and myopic if not cowardly to an extent. The US, as a measure of containing communist China, proposed in the tenth annual meeting of the UN in 1955 that India should take its place in the Security Council. Briefing Indian Chief Ministers about the proposal, Nehru wrote to them on August 2, 1955 (emphasis added):
“Informally, suggestions have been made that China would be taken in the UN but not in the Security Council, and that India should take her (China’s) place in the Security Council. We cannot of course accept this as it means falling out with China and it would be very unfair for a great country like China not to be in the Security Council. We have, therefore, made it clear to those who suggested this that we cannot agree to the suggestion. We have gone a little further and said that India is not anxious to enter the Security Council at this stage even though as a great country she ought to be there. The first step to be taken is for China to take her rightful place, and then the question of India might be discussed separately.” (India’s role in the United Nations… 2000).
With rare prescience, Sardar Patel warned Nehru about China’s bona fides vis-à-vis India and in a way predicted the Chinese war of 1962. In his, “Pilgrimage to Freedom”; K. M. Munshi reproduced the Sardar’s ‘Strictly Personal’ letter of Nov 7, 1950 to Nehru with the heading. “Sardar’s Warning Rejected” (emphasis added):
“…During the last several months, outside the Russian camp, we have practically been alone in championing the cause of the Chinese entry into the U.N.O. and in securing from the Americans, assurances on the question of Formosa. We have done everything we could to assuage Chinese feelings, to allay its apprehensions and to defend its legitimate claims, in our discussions and correspondence with America and Britain and in the U.N.O. In spite of this, China is not convinced about our disinterestedness; it continues to regard us with suspicion and the whole psychology is one, at least outwardly, of scepticism, perhaps mixed with a little hostility.
“…In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we know it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates. The Himalayas have been regarded as an impenetrable barrier against any threat from the north……… Recent and bitter history also tells us that Communism is no shield against imperialism and that Communists are as good or as bad Imperialists as any other. Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam.” (Munshi1967: 175-7).
When China fulfilled the Sardar’s prediction and the war actually happened twelve years later, it was the USA that has saved us the ignominy of defeat by enforcing a cease-fire. The Sardar’s prescience about Chinese perfidy was proved right again when China opposed India’s claim for UNSC membership in 2000.
If India were to get her rightful seat at the UN high table, pragmatism, and an understanding of global ‘realpolitik’ should replace starry-eyed idealism or the peevishness of the under-privileged, which led us into NAM. We must understand and practise the idiom of international politics, that ‘there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent national interests.’
India’s role in the United Nations with particular reference to her claim for permanent membership of UN Security Council. (Third Report). (2000) Standing Committee On External Affairs (1999-2000). Thirteenth Lok Sabha Ministry Of External Affairs. http://220.127.116.11/ls/committeeR/external/3rd.htm
Munshi, K.M. (1967). Indian Constitutional Documents. Volume-1. PILGRIMAGE TO FREEDOM. Bombay. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
United Nations Organisation website: http://www.un.org/english/