Realism of India’s UN ambition
By Shaukat Umer
AN astute Cuban diplomat, with long experience of the United Nations, once described the decision making process in the Security Council by drawing an enigmatic mathmatical equation: 1+1+3+10=15. He deciphered the riddle as follows; on any major issue one must first get the support of the United States. Britain will automatically follow suit. France, Russia and China would come along after offering varying degrees of resistance. Thereafter the 10 non permanent members would be left with no option but to join the permanent five.
That was in 1993, when the successor state to the erstwhile Soviet Union was in shambles and American supremacy virtually unchallenged. The world has moved on from there but the fundamentals of my Cuban friend’s formula remain valid even today.
India’s initiative to secure the UN secretary-general’s post shows keen appreciation of how the Security Council functions. If its nominee Shashi Tharoor, an under- secretary general and Kofi Annan’s close confidante, had obtained even an implicit assurance of US support prior to announcing his candidature, the remaining numbers in the puzzle, with the possible exception of China, should be expected to fall in place. Britain and France have openly supported India’s claim for permanent membership of the Security Council and enjoy the closest of relations with that country. The two are also supportive of the Indo-US nuclear deal and are expected to lobby for it in the Nuclear Supplier’s Group once it is cleared by the American Congress.
Russia, despite India’s recent closeness with the United States, remains a strategic ally and the supplier of most of India’s weaponry. China’s attitude would be decisive provided it is prepared to cast a negative vote against the Indian nominee in the Security Council. Even if China abstains, Shashi Tharoor would not be thwarted, since a veto is necessary to disable a candidacy. Given the growing political and economic ties between India and China, it is this writer’s assessment that a Chinese veto, particularly if the other P-4 are in agreement, would be inconsistent with the content and the emerging trend of bilateral relations between the two countries. It would also be at variance with China’s traditional aversion to taking positions of strident opposition unless its vital national interests are seen to be in jeopardy.
This takes us back to the first number in the equation, the United States. Since there were already three Asian candidates in the field, namely the Deputy prime minister of Thailand, the foreign minister of South Korea and Dhanapalan an accomplished Sri Lankan diplomat, what prompted Tharoor to stake his own claim?
India was quick to lend him its wholehearted official support. Tharoor is a UN insider and a shrewed tactician. Why did he choose to enter an already crowded arena? Just to try his luck?
Or is his and India’s decision the outcome of prior consultations and some understandings with the P-5, more specifically the US. An accurate answer to this query would comprise the first test of our diplomacy in the opening moves of what promises to be an absorbing and intense diplomatic tussle.
One might be wondering that for such a major appointment, easily the most prestigious in the multilateral system, why has the constituency been limited to a mere five countries with a pronounced accent on just one. What about the General Assembly, where the entire UN membership of 191 countries is represented and which has been designated by the UN Charter as the final authority for appointing the secretary-general? The reader’s bewilderment would be dispelled by a short analysis of the manner in which the secretary general is appointed.
According to the Charter he is appointed by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the Security Council.
In practice, however, since the inception of the United Nations, the General Assembly has never overturned a candidate recommended by the Security Council. In recent decades, the Assembly has not even asked to take a vote on the Council’s nominee preferring to express its approval by acclamation. There is considerable logic behind this practice.
To take a vote, one or more countries would be required to formally ask for it. Since the Council recommends only one candidate, no country considers it worthwhile to challenge the Council’s nominee regardless of how distasteful that person might be.
Because such a challenge is most likely to be beaten, even an adversarially inclined delegation considers it in its interest to avoid causing offence and stay on the right side of the prospective secretary- general. So on the specific issue of selection of the secretary-general, the table needs to be slightly amended; 1+1+3+10=191.
There have been widespread calls to reform this process by making it transparent and giving the General Assembly a more meaningful role in the secreta