India’s election last week to a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council gives this country a new opportunity (and new ways) to demonstrate its importance on the world stage.
This is a chance for India to register its independent thinking on major issues and help shape a new international order based not on unilateralism, but on the kind of cooperation that reflects the views of many of the countries who have until now been marginalised in international politics.
Hailing the fact that India secured the support of 187 out of a possible 192 member votes, Foreign Minister S M Krishna said India now had a chance to establish its credentials as a country that can handle key international issues responsibly.
But will it fulfil this potential? If it’s going to, it may well need to take a more independent line on major international issues like Iran. In 2005, 2006 and 2009, India toed the US line by voting against Iran at the IAEA, censuring the Islamic nation over its controversial nuclear programme and demanding that it stop its uranium enrichment. The willingness to follow the US lead at every turn has raised questions about the independence of India’s foreign policy, and many Indians have seen it as a betrayal of developing country solidarity and as undermining the traditional bond between the two countries.
That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of people in this country who believe strong ties with the United States are a must if India wants international recognition and influence (and wants US support for a permanent seat). But our failure to express ourselves properly on the international stage has served us badly and has done nothing to help the many tens of millions around the world who don’t necessarily agree with the US on key issues. For example, we failed to take a firm stand when the United States and its allies decided to attack Iraq, an attack that was in complete defiance of the wishes of the majority of UN member states and which was an insult to the Security Council.
In addition, India no longer takes up the issue of the Palestinians and the Israeli atrocities that have been committed in the occupied territories. India is supposed to be a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, yet it has abandoned its role as a voice for developing nations at a time when the country is economically and politically more powerful than it was when the NAM was formed.
But as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, India now has a chance to work with emerging economies like Brazil and Turkey and others in shaping a new discourse at the international level.
Until now, India’s foreign policy hasn’t kept pace with the way India has been changing in so many ways. But this seat, which comes at a moment when all of the BRIC and IBSA trilateral countries are represented in the Security Council, is a chance for some genuine fresh thinking.