India’s UNSC Reform Agenda Amidst Regional Intricacies


The unresolved border disputes, past military interventions, and alleged espionage activities raise alarm bells about India’s ability to contribute to regional stability. Moreover, its tendency to adopt an assertive stance rather than addressing these issues transparently further clouds its credentials in global security affairs.

The landscape of global governance is marked by the influential presence of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and its five permanent members, known as the ‘Permanent Five’ or ‘P5.’ Comprising China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, these nations hold a unique position with permanent seats on the council, fortified by their status as World War II victors and nuclear-armed states.

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The power of veto bestowed upon them empowers any of them to halt the adoption of significant Council resolutions, irrespective of international consensus. As the remaining 10 members of the UNSC are elected by the General Assembly, the dynamics of global decision-making come into play. Analyzing India’s quest and pursuit of a permanent seat in the UNSC, reflecting its aspiration to ascend as a global powerhouse. The focal point of this analysis revolves around India’s contentions, strategic alliances, and the emergence of the ‘G4’, a coalition of four nations dedicated to advancing their candidatures for permanent UNSC membership. By examining India’s stance in this intricate diplomatic landscape, this article sheds light on the multifaceted dynamics that underpin India’s bid for an elevated role on the world stage.

India’s Pursuit of a Permanent Seat in the UNSC

As India continues to advocate for reform within the UNSC against the backdrop of geopolitical complexities, its endeavors intersect with a range of regional dynamics that merit comprehensive exploration. These include India’s role in Afghanistan, its strategic relationship with Pakistan, its alignment with China, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Additionally, India’s history of hard power intrusions, espionage activities, and alleged destabilization of Pakistan through actions like the Kulbhushan Jadhav case are vital elements that shape Pakistan’s perspective on India’s global aspirations.

Inconsistencies and Challenges

India’s repeated calls for UNSC reform, in line with its response to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, underscore its determination to rectify perceived inequities in the global order. However, from Pakistan’s viewpoint, India’s pursuit of multilateralism appears selective when viewed in light of its alleged destabilizing actions within the region. These actions, including espionage activities and military interventions, raise questions about the consistency of India’s rhetoric and actions on the international stage.

Afghanistan’s Tangled Web

India’s multifaceted engagement in Afghanistan spans developmental projects, diplomatic initiatives, and reconstruction efforts. While intended to contribute to stability, these endeavors raise concerns in Pakistan about India’s motivations. With the longstanding India-Pakistan rivalry, Islamabad is wary of New Delhi using Afghanistan as a platform to counter its influence and support anti-Pakistan elements. The intertwining of India’s Afghan engagement with its UNSC reform push adds layers of complexity to regional dynamics.

Hard Power & Regional Tensions

India’s history of hard power interventions, such as the cross-border surgical strikes and aerial incursions by the Indian Air Force, cast shadows over its pursuit of UNSC reform. These actions intensify tensions and contribute to Pakistan’s skepticism about India’s regional intentions. The Pulwama incident and subsequent military escalation in 2019 showcased the fragility of the region and the potential ramifications of such actions on the broader UNSC reform discourse.

Espionage & Destabilization

The case of Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a serving Commander in the Indian Navy, was working under the cover name of Hussain Mubarak Patel. Kulbhushan Jadhav was arrested in the Pakistan’s Balochistan province on charges of terrorism and spying for India’s intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Kulbhushan Jadhav arrested in Pakistan, remains a contentious issue that fuels Pakistan’s concerns about India’s destabilization efforts. Pakistan has provided evidence and dossiers that Jadhav was involved in espionage and subversive activities within its territory, further exacerbating bilateral tensions. The ongoing legal battle and diplomatic maneuverings surrounding the case deepen the distrust between the two nations.

SAARC & Regional Diplomacy

In the context of SAARC, India’s leadership role and its concurrent pursuit of UNSC reform invite scrutiny. Islamabad has reservations stemming from a history of Pakistan-India tensions affecting SAARC’s efficacy. As India seeks to shape global agendas while engaging within the regional framework, questions arise about the coherence of India’s regional and global strategies.

China & the Complex Equation

India’s strategic alignment with the United States and its geopolitical rivalry with China creates a complex backdrop against which its UNSC reform aspirations unfold. China’s role as a permanent member of the UNSC further amplifies the intricacies. Pakistan’s close partnership with China and its historical ties intensify the sensitivity of India’s reform efforts. India also has long-pending border disputes with China, which has resulted in armed conflicts and wars that have disrupted regional peace.

UNSC Reform: A Holistic Approach

To navigate these complexities and bridge the gap between India’s global ambitions and regional apprehensions, India must adopt a comprehensive approach. Acknowledging the concerns of neighboring nations, engaging in transparent dialogues, and fostering an environment of cooperation is imperative. India’s pursuit of UNSC reform must be complemented by a commitment to first addressing and resolving historical conflicts, including allowing Kashmiris to exercise their right to self-determination in line with the UN resolutions. New Delhi must also build trust with its neighbours, and create a stable regional environment in which it is not seen as attempting to establish hegemony in the region.

Disillusioned Aspirations and Harsh Realities

As India actively pursues reform within the UNSC, its engagements in Afghanistan, its western border regions, and incidents like that involving Kulbhushan Jadhav, stand as pivotal components shaping Pakistan’s viewpoint. Navigating the fine-line between aspirations for global leadership and the imperative of maintaining regional stability necessitates a tactful and nuanced diplomatic approach. India’s aspirations for regional dominance are evident not only in its attempts to secure water resources but also in its utilization of its economic and military prowess to leverage neighboring countries. This approach has created a complex web of issues with each of its neighboring nations, underlining India’s assertive stance and potentially destabilizing impact on the region.

India’s Quest for a Permanent UNSC Seat: A Self-Inflicted Struggle

For over a decade, India’s endeavor to secure a permanent seat at the UNSC has received international attention and excitement. However, additional apprehensions and serious concerns have arisen from nations that argue, that Hindu extremism is leveraging nationalism, with religionism, digital literacy, and national security to infringe upon minorities’ rights. Paradoxically, the root of India’s constrained progress resides in its own historical choices and restricted endeavors.

The Past Haunts The Present: India’s reluctance to replace Taiwan on the Security Council in favour of the People’s Republic of China and its rejection of a similar proposal from the Soviet Union in the 1950s has weakened its position. These choices have created a historical dilemma that diminishes India’s credibility in its pursuit.

Insufficient Arguments: India’s case for UNSC reform and permanent membership rests largely on its size and global stature. Yet, such arguments have become repetitive and unconvincing. To gain traction, India must offer novel contributions that showcase its unique capabilities and contributions to world affairs.

Lack of Global Public Goods: India’s role in global public goods, such as aiding during crises, has fallen short of its potential. While contributing to UN peacekeeping operations, India’s response to global challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic has been suboptimal. Its distribution of vaccines has been limited, underscoring the gap between potential and action, exposing the inefficiencies and corruption within the Indian ecosystem.

Comprehensive Engagement Needed: Even to make a case for itself, India needs first to exhibit a resolute commitment to embrace broader global responsibilities. This encompasses proactive engagement in international initiatives, adept coordination during pivotal crises such as the pandemic, and meticulous verification of the safety and potency of domestically manufactured vaccines before their global dissemination. Moreover, India’s stance and non-presence in the Ukraine conflict have left a discernible impact on its standing and approach to international peace efforts. The dual nature of its diplomatic maneuvers has been laid bare and met with disapproval within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (The Quad).

Building New Narratives: India must transcend past accomplishments and potential and offer fresh narratives that highlight its dedication to international collaboration and innovative solutions. However, this requires a balanced leadership in New Delhi, that can shed political baggage and embrace a global outlook — a trait not aligned and appreciated by the current BJP leadership.

India’s trajectory towards UNSC reform hinges on its capacity to navigate these complex dynamics, fostering a future where global aspirations coexist harmoniously with the interests of its neighboring nations and the well-being of the people in the entire region.

India’s aspirations for a permanent seat in the UNSC have generated intense debates, but critical concerns cast a shadow over its candidacy. The potential ramifications of India’s inclusion must be approached with caution, especially given its history of contentious relations with neighboring nations such as Pakistan and China. The unresolved border disputes, past military interventions, and alleged espionage activities raise alarm bells about India’s ability to contribute to regional stability. Moreover, its tendency to adopt an assertive stance rather than addressing these issues transparently further clouds its credentials in global security affairs. Internally, India grapples with religious extremism, minority rights violations, and socio-economic disparities, indicating a struggle to effectively manage its domestic affairs. The question then arises: can a nation grappling with internal challenges genuinely promote global peace?

Furthermore, India’s lukewarm responses to international crises, as evident in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and limited engagement in certain conflicts, raise skepticism about its commitment to being a provider of substantial global public goods. Granting permanent UNSC status to a nation confronting these internal and external concerns might inadvertently endorse such practices on a global platform. Moreover, there’s a valid concern that a more powerful India could prioritize its pursuit of global dominance, potentially triggering heightened militarization and an undesirable arms race. Rather than fostering cooperation, this scenario could disrupt international unity and contribute to destabilizing the existing world order.

Granting permanent status to a nation struggling with these concerns could inadvertently condone and even embolden such practices on a global stage. There’s also a legitimate concern that a more powerful India might prioritize its own ambitions for global dominance over collaborative efforts. Rather than fostering unity and cooperation, this could potentially lead to increased militarization and a competitive arms race, further destabilizing the world order.

In light of these critical considerations, the international community must exercise due diligence in evaluating the potential consequences of India’s UNSC permanency. It is imperative to weigh the benefits against the potential pitfalls, taking into account India’s ability to contribute to global peace, human rights, and international security. Ultimately, the decision to grant India a permanent seat should be driven not solely by its aspirations, but by a comprehensive assessment of its capacity to uphold the values and principles that the United Nations seeks to promote on the global stage.

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Amir Jahangir
Amir Jahangir
The writer is a global competitiveness, risk, and development expert. He leads Mishal Pakistan, the country partner institute of the Centre for the New Economy and Society Platform at the World Economic Forum.

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