India has pitched itself as “a voice of reason and a votary of international law” ahead of the June 17 election for five non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). India is the sole candidate vying for the seat reserved for the Asia-Pacific region. If elected, it will have a two-year term beginning in January at the global body.
The Indian government unveiled a campaign brochure on June 5 listing key issues it plans to highlight during its tenure, including reformed multilateralism, international terrorism, UN reforms as well as expanding the Security Council and technology-led initiatives. India has long campaigned for an expansion of the UNSC, as well as a permanent seat at the Security Council for itself.
“The normal process of international governance has been under increasing strain as frictions have increased. Traditional and non-traditional security challenges continue to grow unchecked. Terrorism is the most egregious of such examples,” India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, when presenting the brochure.
“Unreformed and under-representative” global institutions and the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic would increase challenges for the world, he added.
The brochure states India’s overall objective during this tenure will be the achievement of “NORMS: a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System”. It would do so relying on a five-S principle: Samman (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation), and pursuit of Shanti (Peace) to create conditions for universal Samriddhi (Prosperity).
India’s UNSC candidature comes amid an upsurge of narrow nationalism across the world, which has led some countries to turn their back on multilateralism.
There is also an ongoing fundamental shift in the balance of power, prompted by the rise of China and a resulting pushback by the United States. Tensions between these two permanent members of the UNSC have been further aggravated in recent months because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In such a context, analysts say, India can use its status as an emerging power to reform and help revive multilateralism, as well as bridge the trust and working deficit between the US and China.
“(India) will reflect the concerns of a large number of countries which are not permanent members of the Security Council but are deeply concerned about the manner in which a new Cold War is emerging,” Dr Amitabh Mattoo, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told The Straits Times, referring to the ongoing tensions between the US and China.
“The articulation of this (concern) – even if you don’t have a veto – will bring a certain sense of balance and greater sensitivity… In such a situation, there is a space for a country like India, which may be closer to Washington but is not an alliance partner of the US, and one which has concerns about China but is not at war with China. So, it can bring about a certain balance,” he added.
India’s candidature was unanimously endorsed in June last year by 55 members of the Asia-Pacific grouping. It is more or less guaranteed a place in the UNSC as it is the sole candidate from Asia-Pacific, but it still needs a two-thirds majority at the UN General Assembly to be elected. A non-permanent member of the UNSC on seven previous occasions, most recently in between 2011 and 2012, India won 187 of the 190 votes polled when it stood for the UNSC in 2010.
In its brochure, India has made a call for a comprehensive approach to international peace and security, one that is “guided by dialogue, mutual respect, commitment to international law”.
“The commitments made by India in its brochure, including equal rights of all countries and equal freedom to all, are those that guide its Indo-Pacific strategy,” said Mr Gurjit Singh, a former Indian diplomat who served as India’s ambassador to Indonesia as well as Asean.
This approach seeks to keep the Indo-Pacific region free, open, inclusive and tethered to a collaborative rules-based order.
Mr Singh noted that India will also undertake practical steps, such as more robust joint exercises and maintaining a greater presence of the Indian Navy in the region. “We would like more cooperation, we would like more dialogue and would like the maintenance of peace,” he told The Straits Times.
Another key focus for India in this region will be South-South cooperation, especially regarding the impact of climate change on small-island states. India had in September last year organised a meeting of leaders from the Caribbean Community and Pacific Small Island Developing States, an occasion when it announced a US$26 million (S$36.1 million) grant for high-impact developmental projects in areas of their choice.