In his speech to the Indian Parliament earlier this month, US President Barack Obama held out the tantalizing possibility of India eventually joining the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member. Since that dramatic announcement, there’s been fevered commentary, especially within India, about the prospects for such a move and the terms under which the country might be allowed to enter this hallowed realm.
Much of the discussion and debate has centred around the time horizon this might occur, on whether or not India would be granted the coveted veto and on the likely objections from India’s principal long-term adversary, China. These exchanges are entirely apposite and topical. However, they frustratingly overlook one key point: India’s claim to permanent membership is already as good—if not significantly better—than China’s.
India was a founding member of the United Nations even though it hadn’t yet obtained its independence from the United Kingdom. Subsequently, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proved to be an ardent supporter of the organization and its activities. To that end, India played a vital role in the International Control Commission along with Poland and Canada in Indo-China, it played a mediatory role in the Korean War and was one of the original contributors to the UN peacekeeping contingent in the former Belgian Congo. Later, India played a vital part in supporting a host of peacekeeping missions across the world. Even today, close to 10,000 Indian troops are involved in UN peacekeeping operations globally.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
China, of course, initially enjoyed a seat at the United Nations but not on the Security Council—it obtained that only when the US derecognized Taiwan in 1979. Yet despite this dramatic shift in US policy in its favour, China’s record of co-operation with the United States at the UN during the remainder of the Cold War was no better than that of India, and arguably, considerably worse. Since the Cold War ended, it hasn’t gotten any better.
But despite this record, and Obama’s public (albeit qualified) endorsement of India’s cause, there are influential commentators and analysts in the United States who remain steadfastly opposed to making India a permanent Security Council member. Indeed, it might be the US experience with China that has made some so reluctant to take a chance with India.