Why India does not deserve to be Permanent Member of the UN Security Council

Image result for pics of modi at the UN

(Prime Minister Modi addressing the UN General Assembly)

The Indian ambassador to the UN in New York, Syed Akbaruddin, made the predictable pitch on behalf of the so-called G-4 — India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany, at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) debate on UN reform a couple of days back for these countries to join a revamped UN Security Council as Permanent Members but with a twist. “Naysayers”, he fumed, the frustration showing in his voice, “cannot be allowed to cast a dark shadow over the entire membership and hold the overwhelming majority back.” India’s position that all the tarrying and prevaricating and delaying tactics should end, and that a vote on the UNSC expansion issue be called soonest in the UNGA, where each UN member state has one vote and no country has veto.

Delhi/MEA surely isn’t so dense that it can’t see the obvious, that the 12 state ‘United for Consensus’ group, headed by Italy and including Pakistan, which opposes any reconfiguring of the UNSC, is not primarily to blame — though the procedural wrangles instigated by this group have pretty much tied up the deliberations in the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) forum set up to resolve this issue. IGN has been working for several decades with little to show for all the verbiage that’s been expended. The riposte by Maleeha Lodi, the Pakistan ambassador, was that if differences are found difficult for the US, Russia and China to reconcile in the present Security Council, enlarging the body with more permanent members would only ensure a complete gridlock or worse.

The principal hurdle specifically to India’s entry, however, are the two countries the Indian government in the new Century, helmed by both the BJP and the Congress party, has bent over backwards to appease — the United States and China. The Trump Administration has made it plain it supports only a “modest” increase in permanent seats. This by way of saying that Washington would happily countenance its treaty allies, Japan and Germany, in the UNSC but not India or Brazil — though to the Indian PM’s face US functionaries have assured support.  China, on its part, has declared it is against “arbitrarily launching text-based negotiations” in IGN as demanded by India; the larger reason, of course, is to deny both its Asian rivals a leg up. Again, Beijing does not say it’s not for India at the high table but hints at its unwillingness to see Japan in the Council, knowing fully well that no move will ever be made to just ease India’s entry into UNSC.

India’s yearning for a permanent seat in the Security Council raises the pertinent question whether India deserves it. Because the five current permanent members  (P-5) — US, Russia, China, UK and France are great powers and have traits in common (including the last two which are long into the imperial dusk). They all have hefty nuclear forces, modern militaries to reckon with, are security providers with extra-territorial military presence, with France even in the Indian Ocean (on Reunion Island in the French Indian Ocean Territories and the Heron base in Djibouti), generate advanced technologies in all fields and are frontline technology innovators, have a whole bunch of Third and Fourth World states the world as arms dependencies, courtesy vigorous arms sales schemes, are large foreign aid donors with extensive and tested development and infrastructure assistance programmes, high volumes of global trade and extremely strong and active economies, and relatively high standards of living. So, does India, other than possession of simple, low yield, nuclear weapons (that in quality, perhaps, lags behind a lowly Pakistani arsenal), meet any of these metrics?

Our case rests on the following arguments: that India (1) boasts of a large fraction of the world population, (2) is a “responsible state”, (3) is a longstanding democracy and an exemplar of liberal values (4) contributes disproportionately to UN peacekeeping missions, (5) shaped the post-WWII international system by championing anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, (6) is a steadying influence in a disordered world, (7) has always taken taken the lead role in furthering universal good — disarmament, climate accord, solar alliance, etc., (8) has never been expansionist or coveted foreign territories, but has no neighbour at peace with it,  and (9) is a trillion dollar economy, except 40% of its population is below the poverty line.

The P-5 and India are divided neatly in the nature and the attributes of power they exercise — the former wield hard power which also helps their soft power to be more effective. India is a power mostly limited to the subcontinent, its impact and influence outside of it being iffy at best.

And yet the Indian political class and the bureaucrat-dominated system remain entirely innocent about the main ingredients of great power and what the country needs to do to become one. The irony is India has all the requirements of great power except the crucial ones — the political vision and will, the ruthlessness and drive, the resolution to not take guff from anyone, selectively to strengthen only military wherewithal with strategic reach and clout, the cussedness and single-mindedness to slyly but consistently prosecute disruptive, risk-acceptant,  policies, that upend global regimes and upset every inimical P-5 state’s apple cart. That’s how China became a great power and now dictates to the world.

But India, alas, has no Dengxiaoping, no leader to challenge the world and motivate the Indian people to work for the nation’s cause, only gasbags furthering their advantage in domestic politics while using India’s democracy as an excuse for the country remaining a perennial also-ran.

Surely then such a country cannot credibly ask in good faith for a permanent seat in UNSC to preside over a world it had no role in making, and has even less of a role in running. The P-5 have to feel sorry enough for a “flailing” India to accommodate it, which won’t ever happen. So India is fated to remain on the outside, like a beggar with face pressed to the windows of a posh eatery.



About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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15 Responses to Why India does not deserve to be Permanent Member of the UN Security Council

  1. devraj says:

    Sir,why indian defense sector is fully opened for private companies as it gives jobs to thousands of educated indian engineers and scientist and encourage private companies to produce world class defense product due to tough and healthy competition.same privatisatio followed by usa and result is they have world class companies like boeing lockheeld martin and products like f35 f22 etc.then why not india

    • Apna says:

      The private sector arms industry has produced billions of dollars in graft and products at exorbitant cost and doubtful ability.
      Example: the so called 5th gen substitute of F-22, the F-35 — a big zero. Americans are fed up of exorbitant wasteful military industrial corruption .
      Other countries can manage with much lower cost but the US has the advantage of printing 86 billion dollars per week since 1998. It can do so because 3rd world states like Indian are forced to keep their have reserve in dollars, otherwise they can affect regime change or revolution or even launch an attack or invasion.
      There are many in the 3rd world who are not ignorant of all this but deliberately side with America because of their inferiority complex.

  2. Bharatkumar says:

    Is it true that india declined permanent seat with veto ….. by nehru? If yes why??

    • joe says:

      So, what is your point exactly .India did veto to China ,but thankfully they did because they have done awful things to Pakistan and other countries !

    • Brian Burgess says:

      That’s a big fat lie – India was never worthy to become a member of the would be P6 because they have had NO worthy contributions in WW2

      India has the people yes, but not the GDP, lack top end technology, is corrupt, and just look at the current issue with COVID-19, sheesh.

  3. vivek says:

    if india manage to refined tn weapons and develop mirv icbm that can reach all over world , why does it needs permanent seat ?

  4. LD Sharma says:

    Nation needs to develop its hard Power immensely and perhaps present dispensation is working hard towards this.

    • One had hoped fervently that this was the case, but it isn’t so. The Modi govt has, alas, continued with old policies.

      • Deb says:

        I have been reading most of your posts and podcasts..my basic understanding is that it is required to neutralise the hostile population in our western border and Coopt the Chinese now than the other ways..it’s better not to stand in the way of the Chinese asking for a confrontation…history shows us that most of our threats are from west…Lalitadiya even though being a Tang vassal took the fight to the Turks in Central Asia..what he should have been done is strengthen the Kabul Shahis against the Abbasids and Sammanids..but alas he took the fight to Yashovarman…without securing Hindu kush it will be foolish to overreach in the way of the Americans and chinese playing hardball geopolitics..how the hostile population can be neutralised under Geneva convention is unknown though

  5. TPS says:

    Sant Kabir Das Ji wrote a couplet in Hindi;
    “Nindak Niyare Rakhiye, Aangan Kuti Chavay: Bin Pani Sabun Bina Nirmal Karo Subhay”
    Translated into English, it means “In order to improve decision making keep the person, who is critical of your actions in close proximity”. Prophetic words indeed!
    But self proclaimed military strategists have misunderstood Sant Kabir’s teachings and they consider denigrating own country and its leadership as their birth right. Title of the article by Sri Bharat Karnad is an outstanding example with the author denouncing his nation by choosing words viz “–DOES NOT DESERVE—“.
    I consider it derogatory use of language undermining national prestige. But he is not the only one. A peep into the past would reveal many such outstanding personalities, our first Prime Minister being one of them. His actions were detrimental to overall Indian interests then and even now.
    First Prime Minister of India Shri Nehru, who considered himself to be apostle of peace, left many legacies, paramount among those was his uncanny knack to do the impossible insofar as insane decision making was concerned. For instance his refusal to accept USA and the then USSR offer to become permanent member of UN Security Council. In fact he insisted that China should not be unseated from UNSC to make way for India. Yet another remarkable decision was to run to UN, while Indian Army was knocking at the perimeter of Muzaffarabad, and stop the advancing Indian Army in its tracks. Icing on the cake, perhaps, was non-use of IAF to decimate the Chinese in 1962. Incidentally all such actions by Pandit Nehru were taken by him to bolster his case of Nobel Peace Prize, while riding on the PANCHSHEEL band wagon, which never happened.
    On the issue of permanent seat in UNSC, Pandit Nehru said:-
    “It would do us little good and it would bring a great deal of trouble in its train….India, because of many factors is certainly entitled to a permanent seat in the Security Council. But we are not going in at the cost of China.”
    His legacy still lives on. We have plenty of pseudo-intellectuals and self proclaimed military strategists, who are willing to keep the flame of Nehruvian legacy burning.
    It should be a matter of pride to every Indian that we make the most significant contribution in terms of numbers in UN Peace Keeping Force deployed around the world. During last seven decades India has provided nearly 2,00,000 troops during various contingencies. Currently nearly 8,000 Indian troops are deployed in over a dozen missions worldwide. It may be of interest to know that presently UN Peace Keeping Forces are deployed in 17 locations. As an Indian I, therefore, fail to understand as to why we cannot project our legitimate case of joining the UNSC. P-5 nations, on the other hand cumulatively account for less than 50% of troops as deployed by India.

    Pakistan would always oppose India’s entry in UNSC for obvious reasons. Should that be taken as a barometer of India’s quest to enter UNSC? Recent endorsements by USA, Russia and UK that the time is now ripe for India to sit at the top table in UN. Entry into NSG and waiver of MTCR are significant changes in the prevailing policies of western nations. Merely because a conglomerate of 12 nations has different views should not govern our legitimate demand. The most important fallout of India entering UNSC (with Veto Power) would be Chinese (probable help) to Pakistan in the event of any future war. The prevailing myth of ‘TWO FRONT WAR’ would be consigned to dust forever.

    In the prevailing geo-strategic scenario, it is imperative that post 2nd world war precepts must be given a decent burial. ‘Cold War’ was essentially a continuation of 2nd World War for nearly four decades until USSR disintegrated in 1989. Should we then allow the same to recur may be in different form viz trade war and so on? In order to reconstitute the UNSC, a look at the globe is essential. Except China, the other four nations Russia, USA, France and UK occupy only a fraction of the globe. South American continent, entire Africa and far east including Australia does not find any representation. Gone are the days of Ist and 2nd world wars when military power dominated everything else. India is no longer the land of ‘snake charmers’; it is a leading space power and fully entrenched nuclear power. Non acceptance by many nations that India is now a Nuclear Weapon State (NWS) is of no consequence. While creating/altering a new dispensation few hurdles/impediments are a natural by product. Does that imply that we ourselves deny us a place ‘in the sun’ as Mr Karnad has advocated.

    Learned author has indeed missed the ‘proverbial bus’ by categorizing nuclear weapon states as ‘HEFTY’ (and possibly lean) while comparing Indian capability. Any nation which has ‘SECOND STRIKE CAPABILITY’ is as good as her adversary having ten times the nuclear warheads. Needless to labour the issue any further. Our delivery vehicles of Agni series can already reach targets located 5000km away. Agni VI under development will give us a true ICBM capability in near future. Comparisons invariably are odious, false comparisons leading to inaccurate deductions is professional sacrilege.

    The author like many of his contemporaries fails to mention the most resounding accomplishment of our great nation; CREATION OF Bangladesh in 1971 and more importantly ‘WALKING OUT’ from the freed territory and allow the new nation to decide and govern her own future. While talking about poverty in India, author perhaps has deliberately ignored the acknowledged fact that nearly 17% American citizens would go hungry if state sponsored ‘SOCIAL SECURITY’ concept is discontinued. Since he has talked about poverty, should he not mention the case of Chinese living in West-North-West region of China? Sound and unbiased professionals present complete facts before making a case. Selective amnesia does not serve the purpose.

    India is the only nation in the world, which has de-facto acquired the status of NUCLEAR WEAPON STATE without signing the NPT and CTBT. Should it not be a matter of pride for us that we have declined to submit to the dictates of powers that be? Of course there are serious shortcomings that we must try and overcome. One of which is in the field of indigenous Defence Equipment production. We do not produce any ‘BIG TICKET’ conventional weapon platform, be it a tank, submarine, aircraft carrier, heavy lift aircraft, helicopters and/or strike elements viz modern fighters. We thus have become largest importers of defence equipment. But there is a ‘flip side’ to being the largest defence importer and that is the fact that India has attained the status of ‘PROVERBIAL OXYGEN GIVER’ to defence industries around the world be it USA, Russia, UK and so on. These nations, if they want their heavily invested defence industry to survive economically will be ‘OBLIGED’ to sell their wares to us. Recent acquisitions tell and substantiate the story. I am not advocating that we continue this way. But our defence equipment requirements/dependence must not be viewed in a negative way only. It also enables us to keep calling the ‘shots’ in international arena.

    The author believes that China has become (or is on the way) a ‘super’ super power and is dictating to the world. It makes me rethink on whether I too am living on the same planet. China is virtually on her knees in the context of ongoing tariff war (read trade war) with USA. On the issue of South China Sea the stance of China can be easily understood by the fact that Chinese Premier paid a state visit to Phillipines only recently, which had challenged Chinese territorial claims and won the case adjudicated by an international body. China’s ‘IRON-FIST’ and ‘IRON –CURTAIN’ policy does not allow the democracy and free speech. It is only a matter of time before the Chinese bubble bursts. We in India are enamoured by cheap Chinese goods, picture post cards from Shanghai, spread of bullet trains and so on. We do not try to peep into central and western China, north-western region in particular. As compared with China we are a far better and homogeneously developed nation. Measures adopted by the Modi government has produced results in less than five years.
    Author’s tirade is actually not against India. It is against Modi. No wonder then the mention of Dengxiaoping has been made. I totally endorse his views; we have no Dengxiaoping. We don’t need one as long as we have Modi. The author does not remember liberation of Bangladesh, saving Maldives, helping Sri Lanka to fight internal insurgency by LTTE to mention a few international/regional accomplishments. The most notable and credit worthy action of India in all these cases was total and absolute commitment that India had no territorial ambitions outside her designated borders. Former Secretary General Late Sri Kofi Annan said “If we don’t change the council, we risk a situation where the primacy of the council may be challenged by some of the new emerging countries”.
    India, therefore, has every reason to aspire for a seat in UNSC. We match the best in the world in areas of contribution to UN peace keeping activity (the corner stone of existence of UN), technology in diverse fields, size of the nation and above all aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians. None among us, therefore, has the right to say that ‘India does not DESERVE to be in UNSC’. Dislike of political leadership cannot, should not, and must not be allowed to blind one’s vision and allow it to be translated into one’s angst against the nation. A proud Indian will never denigrate his/her nation.
    Indian Military will take care of external threat to our territorial integrity, it is the threat from ‘within’ in form of pseudo-intellectuals that may/will not allow India to occupy the place she deserves in comity of nations.
    Gp Capt TP Srivastava

    • A lot of the same old, same old, signifying nothing laced with wrong information, unfamiliarity ( like on nuclear deterrence) and absence of historical grounding from an impassioned ex-serviceman. Will not attempt to address here each point — my books have dealt with them in extenso. But to distill a basic fact at the core of international affairs: Hard power necessarily means complete arms self-sufficiency which alone will permit the country to be genuinely sovereign and disruptive of the regional and international orders and regimes that are not conducive to this country’s national interest. This is something few Indians generally, including within and outside the government and military, understand. It is a prime reason why things remain unchanged year to year, decade to decade, and then we collectively squawk that India is not getting its due!

      • TPS says:

        An ideal response by an ULTRACREPIDARIAN, who considers himself to be God’s Gift to mankind and believes that nobody has a right to disillusion him.

  6. devraj says:

    Sir ,Will russia regain its ussr era financial and military strength in near future and will world ever see bipolar system where russia will be equall to usa .once ussr was.its very sad that russia is weak.

  7. Deb says:

    I have been reading most of your posts and podcasts..my basic understanding is that it is required to neutralise the hostile population in our western border and Coopt the Chinese now than the other ways..it’s better not to stand in the way of the Chinese asking for a confrontation…history shows us that most of our threats are from west…Lalitadiya even though being a Tang vassal took the fight to the Turks in Central Asia..what he should have been done is strengthen the Kabul Shahis against the Abbasids and Sammanids..but alas he took the fight to Yashovarman…without securing Hindu kush it will be foolish to overreach in the way of the Americans and chinese playing hardball geopolitics..how the hostile population can be neutralised under Geneva convention is unknown though

  8. Pingback: Resolved: The United Nations should grant India permanent membership on the Security Council. (Bibliography) - Millennial Speech & Debate

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