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We have yet to learn to play the power game

By K Natwar Singh
October 04, 2010 12:54 IST
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Former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh believes that China will, in the foreseeable future, not agree to have India or Japan as veto-wielding permanent members.

SM Krishna, the minister for External Affairs, in his speech at the UN General Assembly on September 29, 2010 spoke about the expansion of the Security Council. Rightly so.

In 2005, the UN observed its 60th anniversary. It was then hoped that the Security Council would become more representative to reflect the present-day international reality. This did not happen.

The UN was founded in 1945. Its membership was 51. India was a founding member by virtue of her having been member of the League of Nations, which had proved to be a dismal affair. The Security Council was to consist of five permanent and six non-permanent members.

The permanent members were the US, the USSR, the UK, China and France. These five would have a veto. If one of them exercised the veto then no resolution could be passed. The US had made it abundantly clear that if there was no provision for a veto in the UN charter, it would not be member of the United Nations Organisation.

The UN charter can only be reformed/amended provided all five permanent members agree. A minor change did take place in 1963 when non-permanent members were increased from six to ten.

In 2004-2005, the foreign ministers of India, Brazil, Japan and South Africa spent much time and energy to ensure that the permanent members did not for all time retain their hold on the Security Council. The four did not succeed. The P-5 do not want their authority, influence and power to be diluted.

If ever the Security Council is to be expanded, it will require the approval of the P-5. Various formulas have been suggested. One, India, Brazil, South Africa plus Japan or Germany be added as permanent members. Two, Egypt and Nigeria be added. Three, the newcomers would not have a veto. Four, the P-5 would not in future exercise their right to use the veto. Five, the additional permanent members should serve for a fixed period so that other UN members also get a chance.

As external affairs minister, I had made India's position clear. We could accept being a permanent member without a veto. We could not be second-division players. One minority view was, "Let's accept what is being offered and ask for more later." The reality is that, "more later" is wishful thinking.

Of the P-5, Russia, the UK and France support India's bid for a permanent Security Council seat. That leaves the US and China. Neither has declared its support for India. The other day, an absurd theory was floated. US President Barack Obama, during his state visit to India, would suggest that if New Delhi settled the Kashmir issue, then the US would help India become a permanent member. Mercifully, the Ministry of External Affairs has rubbished this fanciful idea.

What about China? At the end of the state visit of President Pratibha Patil to China, it was proclaimed by some members of the delegation that Beijing had apparently assured our president that it would support India for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. This was a spectacular example of mixing facts with hopes.

At no time has China declared its support for India. Neither will it. China practises realpolitik. It is in the power game. We have yet to learn to play the power game. China today is the sole representative at the Security Council of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is a unique position. This is a wholly unfair arrangement.

One cannot, however, ignore reality. China will continue to say that it would like to see India play a more active role at the UN. I may not have got the exact words but the sense I have undoubtedly caught.

We should also bear in mind certain sensibilities of the P-5, especially of China, the UK and France. China will, in the foreseeable future, not agree to have India or Japan as veto-wielding permanent members. Argentina will oppose Brazil. So will Mexico. The UK and France will veto if any attempt is made to adversely affect their present status.

By any impartial criteria, neither of the two should be wielding the veto power. All one can say is, what cannot be cured must be endured.

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K Natwar Singh