Indian Decade

A Pointless Abstention

India’s decision to abstain in the UN Security Council vote over Libya was shortsighted and counterproductive.

India’s abstention in the vote on UN Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized the use of ‘all necessary means’ to prevent the slaughter of the anti-Gaddafi rebels in Libya, will ill-serve its moral and political standing in the world.

India returned to the UNSC as a non-permanent member after a hiatus of 19 years. During this time, its policymakers had demonstrated much pragmatism in the realms of both foreign and economic policymaking, thereby enhancing India’s stature in the global arena. Consequently, many analysts—at home and abroad—welcomed India’s return to the Council. However, some commentators had expressed concern that India might yet adopt idiosyncratic positions when it felt that it was being called on to make a tough choice. Sadly, its initial abstention on this critical resolution, and its subsequent shrill criticism of the UN-supported actions, confirms the misgivings of those who doubted the country’s willingness to make difficult choices.

Bluntly stated, the rationale of the Indian position is untenable. Its exhortation that all parties to the conflict abjure from the use of force is little more than a counsel of perfection designed to accomplish little or nothing. Instead, it suggests that India is incapable of taking a clear-cut moral stance against a dictator intent on crushing a challenge to his regime. Nor is this an especially pragmatic stance as it puts India at odds with one of its principal strategic partners, the United States. Merely underscoring that Germany, a US ally, also chose to abstain from voting on the resolution won’t exculpate India’s inaction.

If India hopes to be counted as a state that can play a meaningful role in shaping the emerging global order, it will need to demonstrate more gumption that it has shown during this unfolding crisis.