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UN Reforms – All India Radio (AIR) IAS UPSC

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  • October 20, 2020
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UN Reforms

Search 22nd September, 2020 Spotlight here: http://www.newsonair.com/Main_Audio_Bulletins_Search.aspx     

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Role of UNSC; International organization
  • Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate. 

In news: India taking a seat at the powerful UN Security Council as an elected non-permanent member for a two year term beginning January 1, 2021.

As the UN marks 75 years of its existence, the 193-member UN General Assembly adopted a forward-looking political declaration that gave a clarion call for –

  • Strengthening mechanism to combat terrorism,
  • Reformed multilateralism, 
  • Inclusive development
  • Better preparedness to deal with challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Reform of the United Nations itself

How has International Politics affected UN functioning over the years?

  • Realism at the core of UN System: UN, was meant, by design, to be a concert of great powers who had a permanent seat in the Security Council. Cooperation among the great powers was the precondition for its success in the security arena.
  • During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow were at each other’s throats and the UNSC was deadlocked. 
  • During the brief unipolar moment of the 1990s, post-Soviet Russia was willing to acquiesce to the sweeping US agenda for global security. China was feeling its way around multilateral institutions and avoided any challenge to the US and West.
  • In 2000s, Russia and China began to offer resistance to US dominance. 
  • Present Situation is that of Political Fragmentation: The conflict between the US on the one hand and China and Russia on the other has become full-blown. To make matters more complicated, the West itself is divided

G4 countries call for urgent steps for reform of UN and Security Council

The move is in line with India’s position on the reforms of the UN, including the expansion of the permanent and non-permanent membership of the Security Council, its main decision-making organ.

The G4 countries – Brazil, India, Japan and Germany – have expressed disappointment at attempts to derail reforms of the United Nations and called for text-based negotiations within a fixed timeframe to revamp the world body. They highlighted the urgency of reforming the world body and updating its main decision-making bodies to better reflect contemporary realities.

“We cannot fight today’s challenges with outdated structures. Without comprehensive reforms, the UN faces a crisis of confidence.” – Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi

The world needs a reformed multilateralism that reflects today’s realities, gives voice to all stakeholders, addresses contemporary challenges and focuses on human welfare. The world of today is very different from what it was when the United Nations was created 75 years ago. There are more countries, more people, more challenges but also more solutions. Our working methods need to keep pace and adapt.

Opined that the expansion of the Security Council in both categories will be indispensable to make this body more representative, legitimate and effective, enhancing therefore its capacity to deal with the complex challenges the world faces today on questions of international peace and security.

Broader membership of the Security Council, with increased and enhanced representation of countries with the capacity and willingness to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, including from Africa, will allow it to preserve its credibility and create the political backing needed for the peaceful resolution of today’s international crises.

India and UNSC

  • India has been spearheading decades-long efforts to reform the Security Council, saying a structure set up in 1945 does not reflect contemporary realities of the 21st century and is ill-equipped to handle current challenges.
  • There is widespread support, including by four of the five permanent members of the Security Council – US, UK, France and Russia – for a permanent seat for India at the Council.
  • China, part of the permanent five (P5) of the UNSC with veto power, has been stonewalling India’s efforts to become a member of the UN’s powerful body for years, pointing to lack of consensus even though the other four members have supported New Delhi’s membership.

Did You Know?

  • In 2020, India was the only candidate for the vacancy from the Asia Pacific and was endorsed unanimously by the Asia Pacific group, which comprises 55 countries, including Pakistan and China.
  • India has earlier been a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12.

Significance of India’s win 

  • India’s Growing Credibility: Broad based support for India’s candidature means world places faith on India’s commitment to multilateralism and reforms.
  • Diplomacy with agenda: A “new orientation for a reformed multilateral system” (NORMS), as laid out by India’s Minister of External Affairs, would be India’s overall objective during the two-year tenure
  • Voice of developing countries: UN’s agenda has often been hijacked by the interests of five permanent members. India win means that it has got a platform to voice the issues of emerging countries.

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.

Challenges Ahead

  • Implementation hurdles: Achieving the objective laid out in NORMS, would depend on how India will conduct diplomacy in the global body, build alliances and raise issues that go beyond the interests of the big five
  • Declining Multilateralism: The COVID-19 pandemic has already shaken up the global order and sharpened the rivalry between the U.S. and China. This has opened up fresh debates on strengthening multilateralism and multilateral institutions. 
  • Polarised world: India should avoid the temptation of taking sides at a time when the Security Council is getting more and more polarised, especially in the wake of US-China tensions

Connecting the Dots:

  1. WHO and its funding
  2. What are some of the longest pending and most pressing reforms in the United Nations (UN)? Is UN losing its significance? Critically comment.
  3. Does the composition and rights in the Security Council represent 21st century world dynamics? Critically examine.

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