NEW DELHI: Membership of the UN Security Council had become a permanent and key focus of India’s foreign policy goals for over a decade. India’s position is that it would like the UNSC to have a P-9 with it and Brazil, Japan and Germany added to perpetuate the old system. To that extent it is not a reform of the Un system but a little tweak to it. This idea has so infatuated us that we now insist that support for India’s membership is a part of every joint communiqué with any foreign government. Except for an obvious handful most governments oblige. Even China, which probably most resists the expansion of the P-5, says it would like to see India on the UNSC.

Even President Donald Trump with his many pre-occupations supports a seat in a reformed UNSC and in other multilateral institutions like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Following Trump’s support Prime Minister Modi visited the White House to thank him. Inevitably the India-US joint statement reflected this. "President Trump reaffirmed the support of the United States for India's permanent membership on a reformed UN Security Council." How this support translates in real life is something else.

When US President Barack Obama last visited India he said that he supported a reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member. The last US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers however stated: ”It is very critical that any reform proposal enjoy broad consensus among member states.” This position takes it very close to the proposal of nations under the banner Uniting for Consensus Group, which is opposed to the expansion of the UNSC by adding the G-4 of India, Germany, Japan and Brazil to it. Now even this discussion about UNSC reforms has stalled, if not stopped.

The Uniting for Consensus Group led by Canada, Italy, Colombia and Pakistan, has made a counter proposal that envisages an enlargement of the number of non-permanent members from ten to twenty. The non-permanent members would be elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term and would be eligible for immediate re-election, subject to the decision of their respective geographical groups.

In a bid to get the reform discussion moving, India and other G4 nations even said they were willing to not exercise “veto” as permanent members of a reformed Security Council until a decision on it has been taken. But that too seems to have disappeared in the maze of regional animosities and interests. Italy has reservations about Germany, Colombia has reservations about South America being represented by Brazil, and Pakistan that definitely does not want India is also China’s proxy against Japan and India. Why Canada in this group no one knows?

The Chinese want “small and medium-sized countries to take turns to serve on the UNSC.” Russia, while not opposed to any expansion has taken the position that the powers of the members of present UNSC should remain the same with full veto powers meaning there could be two or three classes of UNSC members. The G-5 with veto powers, the G-4 permanent members without the veto, and whoever else may be elected by the General Assembly.

The creation of the United Nations to preserve world peace began in October 30, 1943 when Britain, China, Soviet Union and USA signed the Moscow Declaration on General Security. The signatories then met continuously from August to October 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC and fashioned a basic plan for the UN. The centerpiece of this plan was a Security Council in which the USA, USSR, Britain, China and France would be permanent members.

As an immediate response to a destructive world war, the UN reflected the reality and ethos of that age. Nothing reflected this more than the composition of the permanent members of the Security Council. Four out of the five were “white” nations. Two, China and France, were defeated nations. Two, Britain and France, were colonial powers. The other ten members of the Security Council are elected members from the various regions. These are members are without the veto and with little voice or clout.

It might be pertinent to add at this stage that the US has for long felt that the representation in the UNSC P-5 was inadequate. In his book, "Nehru — The Invention of India," Shashi Tharoor, then a UN Under-Secretary General Tharoor writes that Indian diplomats who have seen files swear that Jawaharlal Nehru "declined a United States offer" to India to "take the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council" around 1953 and suggested that it be given to China because "the seat was held with scant credibility by Taiwan."

While it can be argued that a Security Council of a smaller number of countries is desirable to make the UN effective, it must also reflect world realities and be more representative of its diversity. For instance Africa and Latin America are not represented in the P-5. Likewise the Islamic world does not find a place.

India, which has a fifth of the world’s population, does not find a place. The biggest economy in Europe, Germany, does not find a place. On the other hand with two members, UK and France, Western Europe is over represented. With Russia added Europe has three members. Clearly this is not a satisfactory arrangement. The UNSC does not reflect the world order or its diversity.

In the Cold War era veto powers ensured that one bloc could not override the interests of the other one. The veto thus came to be used 252 times since 1946. Since 1996 Russia has not exercised the veto even once whereas the USA has used it six times and China twice.

This presumably reflects the settled shape of the world order now? Clearly the use of the veto itself must be reviewed. One nation alone must no longer be allowed to block the consensus of the UNSC. Its time a threshold of members to collectively enforce veto is discussed.

The times have also changed. The USA is no longer the dominant economic and political power it was. The G-4 nations are all bigger economies than Russia, France and Britain. They possibly have bigger global footprints than them. How can the power to veto be justified for these three and denied to the G-4?

In the past few years, India’s diplomacy has centered on a craving to just become a member of the UNSC. It seems a second-class membership is now feasible. The big question then is whether this is what India wants? Or do we want a greater democratization of the UNSC to reflect the status and size of the G-4?