Reform it, don’t wreck it - Asif Ezdi - Monday, April 18, 2011

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.

India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council got a major boost with the declaration of support announced by Obama last November. Delhi has since then been leading an effort of the Group of Four (G-4) countries – Brazil, Germany, India and Japan – to give fresh momentum to their so far stalled bid to join the exclusive club of permanent members. The foreign ministers of the quartet declared after a meeting in New York last February that they would take steps to get permanent seats at the earliest and for this purpose would work towards a ‘concrete outcome’ in the current session of the UN General Assembly, which ends in September.

An earlier initiative by the G-4 for permanent seats flopped in 2005 because of opposition from the United States and China. Washington felt that the addition of six new permanent members as proposed by G-4 would make the Security Council too unwieldy, while China was staunchly opposed to giving a permanent seat to Japan. In a July 2009 cable, Hillary Clinton described the G-4 countries as ‘self-appointed front-runners’ for permanent seats. But US is today more open to the admission of new permanent members, as manifested in its support for India and last month – though somewhat mutedly – for Brazil.

Intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform which began in 2009 have also made progress. The latest text is a five-page document, which lists the various options of expanding the Council; and Joseph Deiss, the UN General Assembly president, expects that the negotiations will get ‘real’ this year.

Besides, for the first time this year, the Security Council membership includes most of the ‘hopefuls’: India, Germany, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria. G-4 is hoping that this constellation would give a new vigour to their campaign.

Because of all these developments, the momentum for the creation of more permanent members is building up again. It is something which Pakistan must try very seriously to counter. But there is no evidence that our dysfunctional government is aware of the magnitude of the challenge, despite the wakeup call given by the US endorsement of the Indian bid. India meanwhile has feverishly been pressing ahead with its campaign.

India already claims the support of more than 120 countries, including four of the five permanent members. Among India’s most enthusiastic supporters are France and Britain. Both these countries realise that if a reform of the Security Council is delayed for much longer, their own positions on the P-5 would be seriously challenged in view of their shrinking international stature. French President Sarkozy has now pledged to use his dual presidency of G-8 and G-20 to push for new permanent members from the emerging powers including India.

France’s claim to a permanent seat, as a ‘victor’ in World War II, was always founded on fiction. The recent actions of its mercurial president, such as the Nazi-style expulsion of more than a thousand Roma people (‘gypsies’) last July, and continued support for dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in the face of popular revolutions, had raised fresh questions about France’s suitability for the Security Council. To bolster its ‘great power’ pretensions, France has therefore been trying to flex its muscles in Libya and Ivory Coast.

In Libya, France has been joined by Britain, another declining ‘great power’ keen to burnish its tarnished image. The last time the two countries collaborated in a military adventure was in the 1956 Suez crisis which ended ignominiously for both of them and for ever closed the chapter of their imperial glory. We do not know yet how their Libyan escapade will end.

The important decisions on Security Council will in any case not be taken in Paris and London but in other capitals. For India, the most important holdout is China. The Indian prime minister pressed India’s claim when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India last December. But Beijing has remained ambivalent, saying only that it understands and supports India’s desire to play a bigger role in the UN, including the Security Council. Indian officials have given a positive spin to this stance, saying they are confident that China will not stand in the way of India getting a permanent seat when the matter came to a vote.

For the present, though, China is pressing for a broad-based consensus on reform and opposes a rush to obtain specific outcomes. Commenting on the G-4 statement calling for permanent seats for the four members of the group, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that his country was in favour of a broad-based consensus taking into account the concerns of all parties. “Forcing premature plans,” the spokesman said in an indirect reference to the G-4 proposal, would ultimately harm the UNSC reform process itself.

Besides China, India is focussing on two large voting blocs: the African Union (which has 53 votes) and the Least Developed Countries or LDCs (48 in number). India held its first summit meeting on “South-South cooperation” with Africa with great fanfare in 2008 and another India-Africa Summit is to be held next May in Ethiopia. In February, India also hosted a meeting of foreign ministers and UN envoys of the LDCs and promised more development aid and other benefits.

Pakistan’s response in the face of the growing momentum for reform leaves a lot to be desired. The foreign ministry, the national assembly and the cabinet expressed their concern and disappointment at the support expressed by Obama for India’s Security Council bid last November. But the State Department seems to have treated all this as a largely pro forma exercise, something akin to Pakistan’s protests at drone attacks.

The State Department spokesman said on November 12 that Pakistan had not expressed any particular concern over the US decision to back India’s bid for a permanent seat. “I think they understand what we told them,” Crowley said. It was, he said disingenuously, a reflection of the growing importance of the region to the rest of the world, and Pakistan should not see it as something that comes at its expense.

We clearly need to rethink our entire strategy on the issue of the Security Council expansion. By now, most countries have already taken a position one way or the other and are unlikely to change their views. Our best hope for stymying the Indian ambition lies in forging a strong united front among the dozen or so mid-size or ‘threshold’ countries who would be left in the cold under the G-4 plan. This list includes Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Italy, Spain, Canada, Mexico and Argentina.

Not all of them are in the United for Consensus group which opposes the creation of new permanent members, because some of them still harbour the false hope that they might somehow get a permanent seat. If all or most of these threshold countries come together on a common platform in opposition to G-4, it would not be difficult to thwart the ambitions of the quartet. But this united front must be formed quickly and at the summit level or at least that of foreign ministers. The message must go out from them that the UN would forfeit their support if any new permanent members are created and that such a step, far from reforming the UN, would wreck the world organisation founded in 1945.

Meanwhile, in order to bring home its concern to the US, Pakistan should tell Washington that if India is given a permanent seat, Pakistan would seriously consider leaving the organisation; and that some others might follow. There is a precedent for such a step from the history of the League of Nations. Brazil left it in 1926 when it was not admitted as a permanent member of the council together with Germany.


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