After being elected unopposed from the Asia-Pacific seat, India had begun its two-year tenure in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) from the onset of 2021. India, which had clearly stated its key priorities, had identified the achievement of N.O.R.M.S. (New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System) as the overall objective of its tenure. The first half of 2021 has witnessed a plethora of global developments ranging from deadlier mutations of the coronavirus to the heated Israel-Palestine conflict. As India nears the completion of six months of its stint at the most powerful UN organ, how has Indian diplomacy fared so far and where is it heading?
Focus on Priorities
India has always maintained a tough stand against international terrorism at the global fora. It chose to highlight “an effective response to international terrorism” as a key priority during its time at the horseshoe table. In the last six months, India has been able to amplify its voice in the fight against global terrorism and terror financing. India will also chair a key subsidiary body called ‘Counter Terrorism Committee’ (for 2022) at the UNSC. During the UNSC ‘Open Debate on Threats to International Peace and Security’, India urged all nations to “walk the talk against terrorism and commit themselves to the goal of zero tolerance.” In the remaining part of its tenure too, India is expected to draw international attention to terrorism and its proposed action plans for the same.
Another priority area that received India’s attention was “a comprehensive approach to international peace and security.” In this regard, the ultimate acid test for Indian diplomacy was the Israel-Palestine violence. New Delhi’s remarks in the UNSC were reflective of the balanced stance it intends to take on this sensitive issue. It had reiterated its commitment to a two-state solution while urging both parties to refrain from unilaterally changing the existing status-quo. However, this balancing-act has not completely satisfied both parties to the conflict. India will have to walk on a diplomatic tightrope in the UNSC meetings in the coming times. In other situations of conflict and instability too, India demonstrated keenness to push for a comprehensive solution towards peace and security. The political turmoil in Myanmar, as per certain sources, had led to India taking up a key role in shaping UNSC’s statement on the same. India, by virtue of its deep security and economic ties with Myanmar, needed to address the situation there promptly. Being in the UNSC helped India to endorse a statement which, inter alia, supported a peaceful democratic transition in Myanmar and condemned the violence against the peaceful protesters involved. Likewise in other questions ranging from Yemen (India reaffirmed its commitment to a “Yemen-led and Yemen-owned political process”) to Syria (India called for a “comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue”), India’s stand at the UNSC was guided by its adherence to a comprehensive solution towards international peace and security.
COVID-19 remained a key agenda at the UNSC as the virus continued to wreak havoc in the first half of 2021 as well. India, which has supplied anti-covid vaccines to more than 90 countries under ‘Vaccine Maitri’, has also contributed to the COVAX Facility. Not only was India able to use the UNSC platform to highlight its vaccine diplomacy, but it also demonstrated leadership by co-sponsoring the unanimous UNSC resolution 2565. This resolution, recognising that COVID-19 endangers the maintenance of international peace and security, supports equitable access to vaccines in conflict-ridden zones.
India is working on another area that it had prioritised- technology (with a human touch) for global solutions. India (in partnership with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Operational Support) is gearing up to launch a mobile tech platform (UNITE AWARE) that would provide life-saving information to the Blue Helmets.
India has taken some initial steps in pursuit of N.O.R.M.S. during its six months at the UNSC. At the beginning of its tenure, the Indian Permanent Representative to the UN- Amb. T S Tirumurti had stated that India’s UNSC tenure will be “a voice for the developing world.” Since then, India has brought up the topic of reformed multilateralism on more than one occasion. For instance, during a high-level debate on ‘Upholding Multilateralism and the UN-centred international system’, the Indian Foreign Secretary had stressed on India’s call for reformed multilateralism via reforms in the UNSC. He urged that the UNSC “must be made more representative of developing countries”, as only then can it garner the necessary trust and confidence to provide global leadership.
At the UNSC ‘Open Debate on Climate and Security’, India affirmed that climate change is a “wakeup call and an opportunity to strengthen multilateralism.” It encouraged seeking solutions that are equitable and inclusive in nature. Further, on the issue of the global welfare of humanity, India’s gesture of gifting 200,000 doses of the vaccine for UN peacekeepers was well appreciated and seen to reflect its “strong commitment to global peace and multilateralism.”
India had earlier stated that its approach during its UNSC tenure will be guided by “Five S’s”- Samman (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation) and Shanti (Peace), to create conditions for the achievement of universal Samriddhi (Prosperity). With three-fourth of its tenure left, it remains to be seen how India treads on a challenging path to contribute to reforming the multilateral system.
The Way Forward
As India heals after a deadly second-wave of the pandemic, it will have the task of powering its sustainable recovery. It is well acknowledged that the pandemic has resulted in “a more complex international economic and political environment” which has further limited the capacities of states to address the local, regional and global challenges. These along with the traditional global challenges will need to be tackled with greater cooperation. India (who is also to assume the UNSC presidency in August) must be looking forward to actively engaging with the powerful P5 (Permanent Five) at the UNSC to safeguard its interests and address the global issues that confront humanity.
Moreover, this tenure is important for India in terms of its ambition to secure a permanent seat in the UNSC. The leadership that India is able to demonstrate in its UNSC stint (which is also its 8th as a non-permanent member of the UNSC) has the potential to uplift its credentials for the same. With a quarter of its tenure over, India appears keen on making the most of its time at the horseshoe table.