New UNSC member India takes firm, ‘mature’ stances on international issues

By Nilova Roy Chaudhury
Indian Review of Global Affairs

A key new aspect of India’s foreign policy positions in 2011, to coincide with its assumption earlier this month of a non-permanent seat at the United Nations’ high table, will be “firmness and maturity”, a government official said, indicating that New Delhi would increasingly articulate positions on issues on which it would earlier have remained silent.

Whether it was an unequivocal condemnation of terror or quiet satisfaction at the exit of the UNMIN from Nepal, or the strong affirmation of support for the referendum in South Sudan while expressing “concern” over “a high and worrying level of violence in the region of Abyei which led to loss of lives” and urging an expeditious return to dialogue for “the situation in Darfur (which) also remains a cause for concern”, or firming up a position on issues as delicate as the report of the UN Security Council – mandated Special Tribunal on Lebanon on the Hariri assassination, India’s foreign office is working overtime to ensure it will not be caught unawares and will make its presence felt.

Hardeep Puri, India’s Permanent Representative at the UN, has articulated Indian positions strongly at every opportunity, most recently reiterating “India’s unwavering support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for a sovereign, independent, viable and united State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital living within secure and recognized borders, side by side and at peace with Israel as endorsed in the Arab Peace initiative, Quartet Road map and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” clearly indicating that New Delhi will not shy away from taking positions when required.

What will test this uncharacteristically forthright set of positions from South Block will be issues that more directly impact India’s bilateral relations with strategically sensitive countries, particularly like Iran and Myanmar. With the P-5+1 (five permanent UNSC members and Germany) countries beginning another round of talks with Iran about its nuclear programme on Friday, the issue will sorely test New Delhi’s diplomatic manoeuverability. However, according to senior officials, the idea is to show that it can take positions and be firm when required to do so.

Equally, sources indicated, India would not get provoked into responding to “regular pinpricks” from neighbouring countries like Pakistan, or to China’s aggressive, even expansionist posturing,  like the official launch this week by China of its state-run mapping website called ‘Map World’ (that Beijing has authorised to rival Google Earth), showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir;  two key areas of its long-standing boundary dispute with India; as part of its territory.

As it articulates its positions on strategic issues more strongly, India is also pushing an agenda for reforms of UN organs including the UNSC, a text of which is circulating with some speed among members of the UN General Assembly. Also, working with two key allies from the Group of four, Germany and Brazil, India is aiming to ensure that its non-permanent presence on the UN Security Council translates into a permanent presence by the end of its current tenure in December 2012.

The United States is clearly upbeat about India’s so-called “coming out party” with State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley saying, “India is an emerging global power in its own right, and it is increasingly involved and engaged in global challenges from regional security to the environment. So we value the role that India is playing on the world stage and look forward to working with India on the Security Council,” Crowley said. U.S. President Barack Obama had, during his visit to India in November, articulated U.S. support for a permanent place for India on the UNSC after reforms. Strong expressions of support have also been made by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

India’s neighbour China is, however, wary and has cautioned patience, though its Premier Wen Jiabao claimed Beijing “understood” New Delhi’s aspirations. The China Daily said reforms at the United Nations could not be achieved “overnight” and the complex issue requires a lot of patience.”UNSC reform will not occur overnight, or in a few years. It will require many rounds of thorough consultations and negotiations. Therefore any attempt to set an artificial time limit for UNSC reform is both far-fetched and reckless,” the state-run daily said in a recent editorial.

India, meanwhile, has been elected to chair several UNSC subsidiary bodies, including two crucial committees on counter-terrorism, a committee on sanctions against Eritrea and Somalia and a working group on additional measures against terrorism.

(The article originally appeared at USINPAC and IRGA are content partners.)

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