RSTV IAS UPSC – UN Security Council Reforms

  • IASbaba
  • June 8, 2019
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The Big Picture- RSTV
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UN Security Council Reforms


TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Role of UNSC; International organization

In News: The push to expand the UN Security Council

  • France has emerged as a leading voice to expand the powerful global body with its envoy to UN underlining the need to place India, along with Germany and Brazil, as permanent members.
  • India is at the forefront of efforts at the UN to push for the long-pending reform of the Security Council, emphasising that it rightly deserves a place at the UN high table as a permanent member.
  • A total of 113 member states out of 122, which is more than 90% of the written submissions of the member states support the expansion in the security council.

Do we need to expand UNSC?

  • France has maintained that if the crisis of recent times has confirmed the centrality of the UN, they have also reinforced the need to make the organisation more effective and more representative of the current balances in the world.
  • UN cannot be recognised as a centre of gravity for multilateralism throughout the world unless it can step-up partnerships and focus should also be made on openness to civil society, business world, NGOs and trade unions, which are all stakeholders that breathe life into the UN.

The History: India & UNSC

The idea of India being a permanent member of UNSC was first floated in 1950 by the US. The UNSC had been formed a few years ago after the end of the Second World War with the US, the Soviet Union, the UK, China and France as its permanent members. However, things became complicated after the communist revolution in China in 1949. The old leadership escaped to modern-day Taiwan, forming the Republic of China (RoC). Meanwhile, a new communist leadership established the People’s Republic of China  (PRC) in mainland China. As US foreign policy was driven by curbing the spread of communism, it did not recognise the legitimacy of the PRC and ROC continued to represent China at the UNSC.

In January 1950, the USSR even walked out of the UN in protest against the US refusal to recognise the PRC. It was in this backdrop that the US approached Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Nehru’s sister and diplomat, with the idea of unseating China from the UNSC and putting India in her place. India was seeming to be a potential ally for the US in an Asia that was rapidly becoming red. This seemed even more plausible after India supported a few US-backed resolutions in the UNSC to thwart North Korean aggression in the Korean War.

But to the US offer, Nehru responded to Pandit saying: “India because of many factors, is certainly entitled to a permanent seat in the Security Council. But we are not going in at the cost of China.” Nehru held the UN to be a robust forum for conflict resolution and its sound functioning required it to be truly representative of the world’s nation states. So, the representation of PRC at the UN was a vital component of his foreign policy. He also did not wish to build any animosity with India’s biggest neighbour by delving into Cold War politics. Moreover, by the time the idea was put forward, USSR was back in the UNSC and even if India would have responded positively, the Soviets would have vetoed it. So, the matter ended there.

In 1955, Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin brought up the same issue on Nehru’s visit to Moscow. Their exchange has been recorded in verbatim. It has not been reproduced here for the sake of brevity but when Bulganin indicated that Soviets have considered proposing India’s place in the Security Council, Nehru responded by saying that this would only create tensions between India and China, and it should not be done until China’s admission into the body. In response, Bulganin agreed that it was not the right time to push for India’s membership. The exchange gives the impression that the Soviets were only testing India’s views on the matter and the offer was not sincere. Even if it was, the US would have vetoed it since India’s relations with them had deteriorated by then.

Thus, India was seemingly offered the UNSC membership twice but in both cases the offer could not have materialised since multiple forces were at play. History can, therefore, be a tough taskmaster if inferred without context. The history wars that are increasingly taking place in the current political arena should be wary of such limited outlook. It is crucial that through these dialogues, Rawls’ reasoning be followed and sweeping judgements with the benefit of hindsight be avoided. When history is distorted to be used for partisan battles, the people risk losing their touch with the past and with it a sense of commonality and belonging.

What’s really in it for India?

  • For India, the membership is a shortcut to becoming a regional hegemon in Asia, especially against China’s proliferating strategic clout in the Indo-Pacific, and Saudi Arabia’s influence over the global economy.
  • Most international observers believe that when and if India is elevated to the table, its policies will be moderately revisionist—redefining the norms of international engagement insofar as they suit its own global vision to expand geopolitical and economic clout—without seeking to overthrow the current international system.
  • This is based on trends of maximum support displayed by India in the General Assembly while resorting to minimal resistance in the Security Council. New Delhi has also made significant strides in striking key trade, defence and strategic partnerships with the P5 (except China) over the years.
  • On India’s legitimacy as a P5+ candidate, the Ministry of External Affairs has explicitly said, “By any objective criteria, such as population, territorial size, GDP, economic potential, civilizational legacy, cultural diversity, political system and past and ongoing contributions to the activities of the UN—especially to UN peacekeeping operations—India is eminently qualified for permanent membership.”
  • India’s latest stint at the Council during 2011-2012 was viewed as a “rehearsal for permanent membership” and yet, its bilateral and multilateral strategies for UNSC reform continue to hit roadblocks.

Challenges and the road ahead

  • India commands the status of the sixth wealthiest economy and the largest arms importer in the world today. It is also seen as a proliferating nuclear power. It is this last point that many analysts view as an obstacle to India’s UNSC aspirations.
  • To grant it a permanent seat without asking for any steps to cap its nuclear capabilities is a threat to global security, a Brookings report states. “India will not abolish its nuclear arms. But it should renounce testing, stop producing fissile material that could be usable in weapons, and agree to cap the size of its arsenal at or near its current size of several dozen weapons,” it adds.
  • There are other factors hindering its cause, for instance, India has not engaged with the normative aspects of many UN Security Council issues enough.


Keeping in step with the decolonising world, restructuring of the UN’s most important organ will serve as the most exemplary of reparation efforts at this point. The potential of UN reform in resolving armed conflicts and humanitarian crises, especially in the Middle East and Africa, should not be stifled at the cost of status quo bias.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. Does the composition and rights in the Security Council represent 21st century world dynamics? Critically examine.
  2. Comment upon the efforts of the United Nations (UN) in peace keeping post Word War II.    

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