Gujral in the United Nations

Print edition : October 04, 1997

PRIME MINISTER Gujral's address to the 52nd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was clear-sighted, well-crafted and concise, although perhaps delivered not as effectively as it might have been. It ended with a quotation from Jawaharlal Nehru's 1960 address to the UNGA highlighting the need to shape not merely a world "where war is kept in check for a balancing of armed forces" but a world "from which the major causes of war have been removed and social structures built up which further peaceful cooperation within a nation as well as between nations." It was clear from the substance and tenor of Gujral's remarks that that far-out dream remained unrealised.

Gujral made three significant points in his Nehruvian address.

The first concerned the imperative of reforming and revitalising the United Nations as "a more vibrant organisation for the world community as a whole," that could better serve "the core needs of the world community," be more responsive to the needs of all its member-states and "the priorities identified by the overwhelming majority of its membership," and "make the dreams of the hundreds of millions come true."

Addressing the crisis, including the financial crisis ("given the inability of some to fulfil their Charter commitments, and from the laying down of preconditions to meet them") that faced the U.N., the Indian Prime Minister apprehended that the world body was "in danger of being marginalised as the global forum where decisions can be taken that truly respond to the challenges of globalisation." While being suitably diplomatic, he implied dissatisfaction with the scope and substance of the reform proposals made by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

This connected with the growing view within the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 that Annan has been influenced far too much by the Western position and that his proposals fail the overwhelming majority of the U.N. membership by not laying enough emphasis on programmes to support development.

Gujral underlined the inextricable link between "international peace and security and development," pointing out that it was impossible to achieve one without the other. Unless "the underlying causes of underdevelopment, poverty and social alienation" were effectively addressed and removed, "this emphasis will remain unrealised." He proposed that "the single most important target" that the U.N. should set itself was "the promotion of sustained economic growth in developing countries that will lead to the eradication of poverty."

As for the issue of Security Council expansion on which any semblance of practical agreement seems far away, Gujral reminded the world that India has been an announced candidate for permanent membership from 1994. "We are the largest democracy in the world, with ancient civilisational values and attainments, and a world view based on a universalist inspiration, participative governance, respect for diversity and pluralism, as well as a readiness for constructive engagement in the world's affairs." He offered these strengths as "an asset to an expanded Security Council."

The second point made sharply by the Indian Prime Minister was about the unequal global nuclear bargain. While the international community had decided to outlaw the production, possession and use of chemical and biological weapons, with respect to weapons of mass and total destruction "the global community has lived for too long on a diet of empty promises." The "pretexts for clinging to nuclear arsenals," questionable at any time, had now vanished; "non-proliferation treaties," masquerading as disarmament measures, only served to "entrench a nuclear monopoly"; and no credible steps towards a nuclear weapon-free world were so much as contemplated.

The clear implication was that under these unedifying circumstances, India would strive for movement towards real disarmament. But there was no question of its acceding either to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to NPT equivalents (like "fullscope safeguards" and a South Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone) or to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or to the fissile material cutoff convention that has not yet been negotiated.

The third significant point made by Gujral in his UNGA address concerned "the core" of India's foreign policy: "our keenness to pursue close ties and build confidence with our neighbours, recognising fully that we are the largest country in the region, not only in terms of size and population, but also economic capabilities." India extended without reservation its "hand of friendship" to its neighbours and was resolved to strengthen the "trend of cooperation in our region".

An implied caveat was on "incitement to terrorism, and complicity and participation in terrorism across borders" - a veiled reference to Pakistan. Otherwise, Gujral's address was the more striking for not responding in kind to Nawaz Sharif's loaded and propagandistic speech, a third of which was devoted to attacking India, and its Kashmir policy, by name.

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