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With the start of the New Year, India officially began its two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador T S Tirumurti installed the tricolor. India will sit in the 15-nation United Nations Security Council for the 2021-22 term as a non-permanent member. This is the eighth time that the country has had a seat on the powerful horseshoe table. Later, in August this year India will be the UNSC President, and will preside over the Council again for a month in 2022.

UNSC Non-permanent membership:

  • India’s election to the U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member is a significant diplomatic victory for the country, which has long been pushing for reforms at global institutions.
  • The victory wasn’t unexpected as India was the only contestant for the Asia Pacific seat. But the Indian foreign policy establishment took no chances as the election would be done by secret ballot at the UN General Assembly and two-thirds of the votes were needed for victory.
  • Mexico, Norway and Ireland were also elected as non-permanent members.
  • While Mexico won the Latin American seat uncontested, Norway and Ireland emerged victorious from a three-way contest for the Western Europe and Others Group seat. Canada failed to win enough votes in this group. Neither Kenya nor Djibouti, which were contesting the seat from Africa, won a two-thirds majority.
  • India sought the support of member countries by highlighting its commitment to multilateralism and reforms.

India’s overall objective ahead in its two year term:

  • Ahead of the vote, India had launched a campaign brochure which highlighted its demand for transparency in mandates for UN peacekeeping missions and push for the India-led Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, and called for joint efforts for UN reform and expansion of the Security Council.
  • A “new orientation for a reformed multilateral system” (NORMS), as laid out by External Affairs Minister, would be India’s overall objective during the two-year tenure that will begin next year.
  • Achieving this would depend on how India will conduct diplomacy in the global body, build alliances and raise issues that go beyond the interests of the big five.
  • India has long been of the view that the structure of the UN Security Council doesn’t reflect the realities of the 21st century.
  • It has also got increasing support from member countries for its push for reforms. But the five permanent members of the Security Council have resisted these attempts.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has already shaken up the global order and sharpened the rivalry between the U.S. and China. It has also opened up fresh debates on strengthening multilateralism and multilateral institutions.

India qualifies for UNSC Permanent membership:

  • India in many ways is a sui generis country. It’s a country of a billion-plus, it’s a country which is a democracy, perhaps the only example in history of a billion-plus people working together in a democratic framework.
  • We will bring to it those values and strengths of being able to work cohesively among disparate entities.
  • One of the biggest issues that will confront all multilateral organisations and certainly the security council will be issues which are beyond borders.
  • Issues of the global commons, whether it is in cases of public health as we are now seeing in the current pandemic, but other issues, for example, cyber [issues]. There are no regulatory mechanisms or no rules on that, and that’s another.
  • A third one is issues of high seas. Again, beyond your EEZ [exclusive economic zone], there is very limited understanding of what states can do and what states can’t do.
  • Ungoverned spaces lead to opportunities for those who are inimical to global governance to breed, whether it is in states or it is beyond state boundaries, this has been the experience, and therefore, we as a country would like to focus on these things.
  • Another area of interest would obviously be technology with a human touch. Increasingly, resilience of human beings is an important factor that all of us have been confronted with where there are disasters, can we have a more humane approach to these, etc.

Relevance of UNSC in contemporary time:

  • The UN Security Council remains the supreme decision-making body in the area of international security.
  • It is a forum where political understanding can be hammered out among major powers and then, if their national perspectives can be reconciled, codified in decisions that are published, affording a degree of transparency.
  • Security Council decisions remain the most appropriate way to ratify and codify the appropriate major power responses.
  • UNSC reforms will take certain time, till then flexible ways need to be found to sustain a continuous engagement with the new major powers, both regarding what constitutes a threat to international peace and security and in crafting a response.

Way forward and Conclusion:

  • In this context, the challenges before India are many. The Security Council is one of the most important multilateral decision-making bodies where the contours of global geopolitics are often drawn.
  • India should avoid the temptation of taking sides at a time when the Security Council is getting more and more polarised.
  • To serve its interests and push for its agenda of multilateralism and reforms, India should adopt value-based positions that are not transactional, aspire for the leadership of the non-permanent members of the Council and be the voice of the weaker nations.
  • India has been actively pursuing its quest to be included in the reformed United Nations Security Council for many years.
  • The argument of including new members is that UNSC has to acknowledge the current geopolitical realities which are very different from the time when UNSC was formed.
  • The current permanent members of the Security Council are the five nations that were made permanent members in the charter when the United Nations was founded.
  • The UNSC tenure is a good moment for India to intensify India’s engagement on peace and security issues in Africa at bilateral, regional and global levels.