Jag Venugopal's Blog

November 8, 2010

Obama, India, and the United Nations Security Council

Filed under: India — Jag @ 12:34 am

News out of New Delhi is that President Obama has backed India for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. Doubtless, there will be a lot of self-congratulating in New Delhi, especially among the punditocracy in the press and on the television channels. But what does permanent membership of the Security Council mean, and what concrete gains does it bring India?

The United Nations Security Council is an anachronism. It gives five permanent members the power to veto any decisions made by the council. In an egalitarian world, having five members more equal than all others is a relic of the bygone days of imperialism, when the British and French ruled vast swathes of the world. To somehow imply that these five nations are imbued with greater wisdom than all others is nonsensical. Among countries that are not permanent members of the Security Council are Asian Tigers such as Japan and Korea. Then there is Brazil. Are these countries in any way inferior to the “veto five?”. And, quite frankly, the standing of Britain and France has changed since the days of WW-II. While no one would doubt that they are advanced countries with a high standard of living, so are Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Australia, Austria, and the list goes on.

Additionally, the veto right exercised by the five members does not mean much in practice. It did not stop Burma from becoming and remaining a dictatorship, and neither did it put the reins on Iran, Iraq and North Korea from pursuing various policies targeted at their neighbors. A veto from the Security Council will not see Kim Jong Il (or his apparently well fed son) becoming less of a despot. Neither will it see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad become less of a crackpot. The Security Council has also been singularly impotent in Pakistan’s transformation into a terror-jihad factory. Which raises the question — what does the Security Council secure?

Closer home, in India, permanent membership to the Security Council will not turn Indian politicians and ruling elite honest overnight. Neither will it bring good education, clean water, access to nutrition and health to India’s teeming masses (read: those not in the rich enclaves in big cities). And finally, it will certainly not imbue Indian oligarchs with a sense of architectural taste.

So — once the sugar rush has subsided, India would do well to focus on public probity, continuing to improve its economy (10% PA growth), and providing its citizens a path to a better life. My vision of India is that of a market economy, with good governance and genuine rule of law, where it is possible for people to advance through education and hard work, where sufficient amounts of food, clean water and air are available for its citizens, and where its multiple religions and communities and groups are at peace with each other. Now that would be something worth striving for and feeling proud about!

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