October 25, 2021

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India does not need to break off from G4 and obtain permanent status in UNSC

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This article is written by Vedant Saxena from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. It tries to explain why India does not need to strive for permanent status in the UN Security Council by breaking off from G4 and winning over China.

Table of Contents

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The United Nations has arguably been the greatest achievement in the context of international peace since the failure of the league of nations. It came into being as a result of a multilateral treaty ratified by a number of states across the globe. Over the years, there has been a great deal of debate on whether India should be granted a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. On June 17, 2020, India was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the eighth time. Being one of the founding members of the UN, home to one-sixth of humanity, the world’s largest liberal democracy and having the world’s fifth-largest economy, such status hardly seems adequate enough. However is such status really necessary to assert dominance on the global centre-stage?

By the culmination of the second world war, much of Europe and Asia, and parts of Africa, lay in ruins. Combat and bombing had flattened cities and towns, destroyed bridges and railroads, and scorched the countryside. The war had also taken a staggering toll on both military and civilian lives. Shortages of food, fuel, and all kinds of consumer products persisted and in many cases worsened after peace was declared. These horrific scenarios made a number of states realise that antagonism and violence against one another would only lead to chaos, turmoil and destruction. This realisation led to the establishment of a number of peace treaties between various states.

For instance, a Test-Ban treaty, signed on August 5, 1963, between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States prohibited the right to test nuclear weapons except for underground testing. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which has been signed by 191 countries, including the 5 nuclear states, prohibits the acquiring of nuclear weapons by non-nuclear states. The Security Council, an efficient executive organ of the United Nations, was handed over the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security.

Composition of the Security Council

The council currently consists of 5 permanent members ( US, UK, France, Russia and China), and 10 non-permanent members. The permanent members possess the power to veto any decision on a non-procedural matter made by the council. The UN Charter does not contain any such condition that the current 5 permanent members shall continue to be the only permanent members of the council. However, the complicated mechanisms for the amendment of the Charter, coupled with the existence of the veto, make any change difficult.

There have been a number of proposals made with regards to the inclusion of new states as permanent members. For instance, being a founding member, leading the peace-keeping operations of the UN and upholding the principles & credentials of the UN, India has been regarded as one of the prime candidates for obtaining a permanent seat in the council. However, China’s use of its veto has been stonewalling India’s efforts for years.

Maintenance of international peace and security

Article 33 of the UN Charter says that the security council is to maintain international peace and security ‘by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements or other peaceful means’. Through Article 24, the members of the UN agreed to hand over to the council the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security, and through Article 25, they agreed to abide by its decisions. However, mere recommendations by the council were not considered binding on the member states. Discerning a decision from a recommendation would mean analyzing each particular case, ‘having regard to the terms of the resolution to be interpreted, the discussions leading to it, the Charter provisions invoked and, in general, all circumstances that might assist in determining the legal consequences of the resolution of the Security Council’.

Under Article 34, the council has the power to delve into any dispute or situation which it considers likely to bolster international friction, in order to determine whether such dispute or situation possesses the ability to endanger international peace and security. Under Article 36(1), the Council possesses the right to intervene at any stage of a dispute which it considers a likely threat to international peace and security. Under Article 37, member states can refer a dispute to the council if they fail to reach a consensus under any of the methods contained under Article 33.

However, once the council is convinced that a dispute or situation has led to a breach or a threat to breach of international peace and security, it may pass decisions binding on the parties under Chapter 7 of the Charter. 

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In 2005, the G4 (Group of 4) came into being with an agreement between Brazil, India, Germany and Japan. Through the agreement, the 4 states agreed to lend out support to each other’s bid for permanent seats in the UN Security Council. According to the G4 nations, it is very important to expand the Council, in order to enhance the equitable representation of different regions of the world such as Africa, Asia-Pacific, and Latin-America. The reform of the Council will ensure the effectiveness of the organization as the council was established after World War II and in that time the situation was different in the world but now the situation is completely different.

Countries such as the UK and France have supported the G4’s bid for permanent seats in the council. The US and the UK backed Japan’s bid for permanent status in the council. India has garnered constant support from the permanent members of the council. Even China has recognized India’s importance in maintaining harmonious conduct between nations. A number of top Chinese officials have made clear that they “sincerely want to see a qualitative improvement in relations with India.” State Councilor Dai Bingguo, China’s highest-ranked diplomat, said that China’s reluctance to support India’s bid is not due to any personal tensions, but rather on account of India’s association with Japan.

China has opposed Japan’s candidature on account of historical reasons. Liu Zongyi, the research fellow at the state-run Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, wrote about the status quo in an article published in the Global Times. “India’s biggest mistake is to ally itself with Japan, Germany and Brazil. First of all, these three countries have opponents in the region. Japan’s bid for permanent membership will definitely invite strong opposition from China and South Korea,” he wrote. 

Initially, when G4 came into being, India was not perceived by many as the weakest candidate for obtaining permanent status in the council. However, over the years, this view has taken a complete detour. Owing to a significant strengthening of foreign ties and conducting a number of diplomatic exercises, India has clearly outmatched its co-members in this regard. In 2015, India overtook China to become the world’s fastest-growing economy with a 7.5% estimated GDP rate (mid-year terms).

The UK-based Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) recently published a report on this matter. India has decisively overtaken both France and the UK to become the world’s fifth-largest economy in 2019. It is expected to overtake Germany to become fourth-largest in 2026 and Japan to become the third-largest in 2034,” the report said.

The International Herald Tribune recently stated: “Clearly, a seat for India would make the body more representative and democratic. With India as a member, the Council would be a more legitimate and thus a more effective body…”

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said: “Sometimes I wish that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council could be chosen…with a vote by the fans… Then the permanent five would be Russia, China, India, Britain and the United States. That’s more like it. India is the world’s biggest democracy.”

India’s former Ambassador to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, told a leading Indian newspaper: “A billion-plus people not being permanently in an organisation which starts with, ‘We the peoples of the United Nations’…. You can’t have that dichotomy between an organisation, which says, ‘I’m ready, I work on behalf of the peoples of the world,” and keeps such a big country representing more than a billion people out.”

A few benefits could certainly be associated with India’s hypothetical permanent status in the security council. The most significant one would certainly be its ability to veto any decision made by the security council. Other than that, a permanent seat would globally help expand India’s geo-economic and geopolitical influence, transform India’s status to a global rule-maker from being a stakeholder and would help prevent any possible intervention by the permanent member of UNSC, China. However, these contentions do not seem convincing enough. In order to announce its arrival at the forefront of the international domain, India does not need to strive for obtaining a permanent seat in the council. 

Obtaining permanent status would mean more of a psychological sense of ‘arriving’ on the global centre stage, rather than assuming actual dominance. The only true merit of possessing a permanent seat is the ‘power of vetoing’ on any substantive draft resolution. The question is, does that really matter? Israel has emerged as a powerful, persuasive and progressive power that has made significant gains for itself, in spite of a number of resolutions being passed by the UN condemning Israel. In the last 46 years, as many as 46 anti-Israel UN resolutions have been passed.

However, this has only strengthened the core of the unconcerned Jewish state, as the rest of its neighbourhood is self-combusting in its own flames of irreconcilable, revisionist and contradictory politics. Germany, in spite of qualifying all necessary sovereign instincts, presuppositions and behaviours and contributing more to the United Nations budget than Great Britain, France or Russia, is denied a rightful seat among the permanent members of the council. However, this denial has hardly come in its way of becoming the de facto powerhouse in the European Union and amongst the most stable, future-ready and influential countries in the globe. Just like so, Japan has emerged as an economic powerhouse over the years, with a GDP that is only lower than that of the United States and China.

Even though a permanent seat would help India divert the security council’s attention to personal issues, having a binding decision to be passed would still require an affirmative vote by China. It may also be argued that permanent status would give India leverage with other nations outside the Security Council, which might ask for India’s help in lobbying within it. However, this hardly seems to be a compelling argument, for two reasons. Firstly, the UN’s relevance in dealing with conflicts has been undermined by the US attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. Second, nations are more likely to spend their efforts in trying to convince the most influential members of the council rather than its newest members.


Relations with Japan

In order to obtain a permanent seat in the council, India would have to win over China by breaking off from G4. This would mean severing relations with Japan, a global power that has played a significant part in the transformation of India over the years. India and Japan have been partners in peace, with a common interest in and complementary responsibility for the promotion of security, stability and prosperity of Asia as well as in advancing international peace and equitable development. In the financial year (FY) 2012-13, India-Japan bilateral trade reached the US $ 18.61 billion as against the US $18.43 billion in FY 2011-12. During FY 2012-13, India’s exports to Japan were the US $ 6.1 billion and imports from Japan were US$ 12.51 billion. India’s primary exports to Japan have been petroleum products, iron ore, gems and jewellery, marine products, oil meals, ferroalloys, inorganic/organic chemicals, etc.

India’s primary imports from Japan have been machinery, transport equipment, iron and steel, electronic goods, organic chemicals, machine tools, etc. Japanese FDI into India reached $2786 million in 2012, showing an increase of 19.8% over the previous year. According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), the number of Japanese companies in India reached 926 in October 2012 as against 812 in October 2011. Japan is the largest bilateral donor of India. Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) has been supporting India’s efforts for accelerated economic development particularly in the infrastructure sector.

A cumulative commitment of ODA till March 2013 reached Yen 3807.763 billion on a commission basis. As of February 6, 2013, 66 projects were under implementation with Japanese loan assistance. The loan amount committed for these projects is Yen 1640.099 billion. These figures are competent enough to portray the cordial relationship between the two Asian giants, and its massive benefits to both nations.

Owing to the contentions stated above, it could be concluded that India does not need to adhere to China’s demand of breaking off from G4, for a permanent seat, it is neither necessary nor the only way for India to assert its arrival on the global centre-stage. 

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