A long way to the high table

Published : Sep 09, 2005 00:00 IST

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, right, addresses the African Union's summit as A.U. chief Alpha Oumar Konare listens in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on August 4. - XINHUA, XIONG SIHAO/AP

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, right, addresses the African Union's summit as A.U. chief Alpha Oumar Konare listens in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, on August 4. - XINHUA, XIONG SIHAO/AP

India's bid to wrest a permanent seat in the Security Council as part of a four-member group, without campaigning for comprehensive United Nations reforms, suffers a setback.

DEVELOPMENTS in the first week of August have dented India's hopes of bagging a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. The African Union (A.U.) refused to endorse the Group of Four (G-4) resolution on the expansion of the Security Council . A day before the decision, the United States and China had announced jointly that they would block a G-4 plan to add six new permanent members to the Council. The G-4 consists of Japan, Germany, Brazil and India. The four countries had launched a high-profile diplomatic campaign to lobby for permanent seats for themselves in an expanded Security Council.

Interestingly, Washington had supported Japan's entry into the Security Council initially while Beijing opposed Tokyo's bid. Senior Bush administration officials had rejected Germany's claim for a seat while indicating that India's case would be considered more sympathetically at a later stage. The Chinese Ambassador to the U.N., Wang Guangya, told the media in New York that the two countries were motivated by different considerations. Wang emphasised that on the issue of U.N. reforms, Washington and Beijing would be working in "parallel" and not together because they had "different friends in different parts of the world". Wang made it clear that the immediate objective of the two countries was to "oppose the G-4 to make sure that they did not have sufficient votes to take the risk to divide the house".

Wang Guangya worked in tandem with the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. - the controversial John Bolton. The Bush administration has made it clear that the enlargement of the Security Council is very low on the priority list of reforms it envisages for the world body. Its main priority is "budget, management and administrative reform". The Bush administration also wants the creation of a new human rights council, which would effectively debar countries opposed to it such as Cuba and Iran from membership.

The extraordinary A.U. summit was held in Addis Ababa amidst deep divisions on the subject. Important countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Kenya and Zambia were not happy with the recent developments. Algeria was among the first countries to go public with its reservations about the G-4 proposals. Its position paper on the issue stated that it stood with the so-called "Coffee Club" whose leading members are Pakistan and Italy. This grouping wants 10 new "rotating" non-permanent Security Council members to be added to the existing 15-member Council.

There are suspicions in the A.U. that Nigeria, a front-runner for a permanent seat from the continent, had come to an "unofficial" understanding with the G-4 to bolster its own chances. Recent statements from Nigerian officials indicated that their country was willing to sacrifice the veto power to get into the Security Council. An agreement was reached in late July between the G-4 and the A.U. to present a joint resolution on the expansion of the Council. From available indications, Nigeria, the current chairman of the A.U., had not taken the majority of A.U. members into confidence while reaching a compromise with the G-4. There was a danger of African unity being impacted adversely, going by the strong statements emanating from various capitals. In the end, it was decided at the emergency Addis Ababa summit that the continent would stick to its demand for two veto-wielding permanent seats.

"Africa has come together with a consensus, which is to push Africa's case of getting two permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council with veto powers," Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said after the decision was made on August 4. An Egyptian diplomat was quoted as saying that 90 per cent of the members voted in favour of the decision.

A debate in the last week of July in the U.N. General Assembly generated a lot of heat. Italy's Ambassador to the U.N. Marcello Spatafarora alleged that the G-4 was "resorting to improper and unethical behaviour" to buy seats in the Security Council. The G-4 countries were quick to refute the allegations.

The G-4 wants to add 10 more permanent seats to the 15-member Security Council. Out of these, it envisages six permanent members without veto powers and four non-permanent members. Under this plan, besides seats for the G-4 members, two permanent seats would go to Africa. The A.U., on the other hand, wants 11 additional seats, six of them permanent. The majority of the African countries were upset when the G-4 unilaterally gave up the demand for "veto power". Many developing countries that otherwise had cordial relations with India were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes diplomatic wheeling and dealing. Many diplomats belonging to non-aligned countries were of the view that India's primary focus should have been on the need for fundamental reforms in the U.N., starting from the General Assembly level.

It is now obvious that the G-4 will have to wait for some time. Some Japanese observers are predicting a wait of more than 10 years for the expansion of the Security Council. Without the support of the 53-member African nations group, it will be impossible to gain the two-thirds votes necessary in the General Assembly. Japanese officials have already indicated that they may not put the G-4 resolution to vote. Yasuhiko Yoshida, Professor of International Studies at Osaka University, told Japan Times that Japan had virtually no chance of joining the Council as a permanent member. He said that even if Japan managed to drum up support on its own from African countries, its candidature would still be vetoed by the U.S. and China during the ratification procedures.

According to diplomats, Japan was the best placed among the G-4 countries to get a permanent seat, given the amount of aid it doles out to developing countries. However, the strong Chinese resentment against Japan has for the time being proved to be an insurmountable hurdle. In the process, countries such as India and Brazil have also suffered. The Chinese government had indicated that it was not happy with India teaming up with Japan to lobby for a Council seat. In the last couple of months, the Chinese government had used its considerable diplomatic leverage in Africa to arrest the diplomatic momentum the G-4 had gained. India's External Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying that the A.U. decision was "a matter of regret". According to many diplomats from African and Arab countries, India would have had a better chance of clinching a seat if it had gone alone instead of forming a quartet. Some diplomats said that India overestimated its influence in the developing world. "Reforming the whole U.N. system is more important. The Security Council has any way been hijacked by the U.S. The Council was created for ensuring global peace and security, not waging war. New Delhi put the cart before the horse," said one diplomat.

In recent years, African sensitivities have been routinely ignored by India as it single-mindedly seeks a power profile. No senior Minister from the government turned up to sign the condolence book at the Sudanese Embassy after the death of Senior Vice-President John Garang. The previous National Democratic Alliance government was no better. Nobody from that government bothered to turn up at the Tanzanian High Commission after the passing away of Julius Nyerere.

Despite the setback, India is putting up a brave front. Indian officials said in the third week of August that there had been a "steady accretion in support" for its Security Council bid. They maintain that there is "no question" of India breaking away from the G-4. According to Indian officials, the G-4 countries are actively engaged in convincing the A.U. to give up its insistence on "veto powers" for the new permanent members. The current permanent members have indicated that they are against the veto power being extended to any of the new entrants.

With the chances of winning a permanent seat now being remote, External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh said recently that the "window of reforms for the U.N. as a whole" had now been opened. Many diplomats are of the opinion that India should have from the outset talked about the need for comprehensive U.N. reforms instead of focussing solely on a seat at the high table.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment