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Mainstream, VOL LV No 51 New Delhi December 9, 2017

A Long Road Ahead

India’s Candidature for Permanent Membership of the United Nations Security Council

Sunday 10 December 2017

by Prabira Sethy and Rakesh Kumar


India has been pitching for a permanent seat since 24 years in the expanded membership of the United Nations Security Council arguing that the existing body does not truly reflect the contem-porary world realities. India—along with Brazil, Germany and Japan—has formed the Group-4 to press for speedy UNSC reforms and their inclusion in the powerful organ of the world body. India’s demand for a permanent seat in the UNSC with veto rights is a symbol of power, not power itself. It would be an ultimate recognition of our stature. India missed its opportunity at the end of the World War to get a bigger stake in the UNSC when the former United States President, John F. Kennedy, offered to help India in the matter. The UNSC expansion is tied to the sharpening competition for global influence. The powers of the day wield the power of might. And that “might” is not just the musculature of the state but a genome of manipulated frenzy, which the ‘throne’ feeds and is fed by.

While membership of the UN has increased nearly fourfold since its birth in 1945, the UNSC has been expanded only once in 1965 by increasing the number of non-permanent seats from six to 10. Thus, there is an imperative need to undertake further expansion of this body to reflect the current global dynamics and to give equitable representation to different geographical regions in the world. But the existing permanent members are not interested in their primacy and power getting diluted by the addition of new countries in their group. In this context India’s objective should be to ensure that it gets its rightful and equitable place on the world stage.

History of India’s Quest for UNSC Membership

India’s own candidature for permanent member-ship was announced by the erstwhile Congress Government (1991-96) as a national policy at the highest political level. This policy was also formed part of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the subsequent United Front Governments. After that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also promised in its election manifesto to launch a vigorous campaign for permanent membership of the UNSC. In the past, Nikolai Bulganin, Prime Minister of the former Soviet Union, proposed for India to become the sixth permanent member of the UNSC. India was among the countries which initiated the proposal for the SC’s expansion at the 1993 General Assembly (GA). India had officially announced its candidature for permanent mem-bership of the UNSC during the 49th GA in 1994 and this has been reiterated in subsequent sessions of the UN and at various other fora. But the reform of the Council has been stalled due to disagreements among the United Nations’ 188 members on how to proceed.

The Group-4’s own initiative has had only limited success. At the 2005 World Summit, all the heads of state and government unanimously called for UN reforms, even highlighting the fact that changes in the SC were necessary in acordance with the overall plan. It was a significant development but the momentum couldn’t be sustained. Again in 2008, the UN’s Intergovernmental Negotiations for Comprehensive Reform began but it was not until September 2015, seven years later, that a negotiating text was finalised. On September 14, 2015 the text was adopted by consensus by the UNGA. This was a big step forward. But the reforms process faced stiff opposition from the entrenched powers that benefit from the current system.

Even though most of these powers had supported the call for reforms in public, they frequently sought to scuttle the process behind closed doors. For instance, just before the reforms text was being finalised, the UNSC’s permanent member China, with the full support of Russia, sought to tweak the text in a manner that would drown it in unnecessary technicalities. India led the fight back and even protested outside UNGA President Sam Kutesa’s residence and eventually convinced him to remove the problematic insertions.

Moreover, at the Group of Four or G-4 summit, which was held in New York in 2015, the leaders called for urgent reforms of the UNSC in a fixed time-frame expressing disappointment that no substantial progress had been made in the past decade on the issue. They also emphasised that they are the legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded and reformed SC and supported one another’s candidature.

India has All Necessary Criteria to become a Permanent Member of the UNSC

India’s claim for permanent membership of the UN SC emanates from a variety of factors:

Major Contributor to Peace-keeping in the World:

It is a fact that India is a major contributor to peace-keeping in the world. It is ironical that the major powers initiate the peacekeeping motion and then expect the global South to provide the cannon fodder as they do not want their troops to risk their lives. India’s first and major contribution to the UN’s peacekeeping mission was in Korea way back in 1953. To date, India has participated in 43 UN missions over a span of 68 years, contributing over 1,60,000 Indian soldiers besides a large number of police personnel.

In 2014 alone, India contributed 7860 personnel with 10 UN peacekeeping missions of which 995 were police personnel including the first female police unit formed under the UN. It was stated that this was done because of the responsibility we have on our shoulders for being one of the founder-members of the UN.

India has one of the highest numbers of soldiers in Africa under the UN flag. Defence analysts say that “at present, almost 6000 Indian soldiers are deployed as part of the UN peacekeeping force across Africa. Bulk of the soldiers are in Congo (about 3000) and South Sudan (about 2200), while the remaining are in Sudan, Ivory Coast and West Sahara.” Our soldiers are very well respected in Africa due to their professionalism and better understanding of these countries than many others. But we have also lost 159 soldiers over the years while fighting the battles in Africa alone because of our “obligation in the maintenance of international peace and security”.

The task of performing as the Custodian Force was indeed a delicate one for which the Indian contingent earned the first of many post-independence accolades in the international military arena.

Thereafter, Indian contingents and observers were requisitioned for all major UN missions. Despite the solid support readily provided by India for the UN’s peacekeeping missions, it failed to gain the UNSC’s permanent membership.

Foreign Policy based on Peace, Disarmament, Democracy and Development:

Since independence India has articulated its foreign policy on the basis of the components of peace, disarmament, development, democracy and human rights. These components underline the philosophy of the UN as well. PM Narendra Modi has energetically expanded the political, security and economic reach of Indian diplomacy. He has travelled extensively to many countries, taken open positions on issues of strategic significance, offered economic opportunities and easiness of doing business to would-be participants in his several development campaigns, and has wooed Indian communities abroad in an unprecedented manner. The PM has made a unique international impact by having the UN declare June 21 as the International Yoga Day. Besides, the Africa Forum Summit, which was held in October 2015, has boosted India-Africa ties.

The Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh is another foreign policy highlight as is India’s membership in the Shangai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Further, Modi dramatically underwrote India’s outreach to Pakistan by halting at Lahore to greet Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif on his way back from Afghanistan, with which India’s strategic engagement found fresh breath. India needs to adopt a more positive sum approach, pursuing shared interests and seeking common ground, and showing a greater willingness to make concessions and com-promises.

Interestingly, India has long assisted Nigeria in military training and capacity-building for fighting the Boko Haram terrorist group. Meanwhile, India is committed to support the fight against HIV/AIDS in the combined resolve to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 in Africa.

In 2015, PM Modi signalled New Delhi’s renewed interest by hosting the India-Africa Forum Summit securing the attendance of 54 African nations, modestly higher than similar summits hosted by the US, China and Japan. By the time most African nations gained sovereignty, India had also established itself as a strong development partner within the model of South-South cooperation. Presently, India has military-to-military cooperation (mostly training) with more than 30 African nations. Indian defence training teams are deployed in such countries as Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho and Seychelles.

Fastest Growing Major Economy in the World:

We have an economy which is growing at 7.5 per cent—one of the few economies growing at that rate. Recently, the World Bank (WB) has anticipated that India’s economy will grow at 7.6 per cent in 2016-17 retaining its position as the fastest growing major economy in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated that India’s global growth averaged 3.1 per cent in 2015, declining from 3.4 per cent in 2014. India has made very good progress in its contribution to the global growth of gross domestic product (GDP) in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. India’s share has increased from an average of 8.3 per cent during the period 2001 to 2007 to 14.4 per cent in 2014. India’s share in world GDP has increased from an average of 4.8 per cent during 2001-07 to 6.1 per cent during 2008-13 and further to an average of 7.0 per cent in 2015 in current PPP terms. It is against this background that the Indian growth story appears very bright.

When the world is slowing down and the world environment is not only unsupportive but at times obstructive, for an economy to grow is most challenging.

Another aspect of the Indian economy is its demographic capital. India is house to 1.25 billion people, second only to China. Sixtyfive per cent of this population is below 35 years of age. This will yield rich demographic dividend for India. India benefits from a demographic dividend as an unusually young country in a greying world and it will stay so till 2050, morphing into a consumer market for the world. Its middle class is already larger than the United States population, and expected to swell to 580 million in the next two decades.

Largest Diaspora in the World:

The Indian diaspora is estimated to be the largest in the world and has a diversified global presence. The diaspora, estimated at over 25 million, is spread across more than 200 countries with a high concentration in regions such as the Middle East, the United States of America, Malaysia, and South Africa. The Indian diaspora has not only increased in numbers but has been gaining universal recognition for the unique contributions to its host countries. PM Modi has reached out to the Indian diaspora and has appealed to the diaspora from 45 countries to use their soft power to spread the message of humanism and Indian values. The world is looking at India with optimism.

The Indian diaspora is playing a very important mainstream role while discharging responsibilities in their adopted countries, helping shape the destiny of these states. The President of Singapore, Governor-General of New Zealand and PMs of Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago are all of Indian descent. When people of Indian origin are held in high esteem, respect for and understanding of the country go up. The influential Indian diaspora affects not just the popular attitude, but also government policies in the countries where they live, to the benefit of India. India benefits tremendously through these people in luring large multinational companies and entrepreneurial ventures.

Playing a Crucial Role in New Global Order:

India has been playing a very crucial role in the new global order. India’s image has improved a lot across the world. In his aggressive worldwide pursuit of external relations PM Narendra Modi has surprised political observers and great politicians across the world.

It is very important to note that the Narendra Modi-led Indian Government is closely working with Pakistan along with six other member-countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in raising a common disaster response force on the lines of the UN Peacekeeping Force for specialised response to natural and man-made disasters. India’s initiatives and its capacity building have already been recognised by the UN. By evacuating Indian and foreign nationals from civil war-hit Yemen and trembler-hit Nepal in large numbers, PM Modi has projected India’s speed, scale and skill in handling natural and man-made disasters. For example, under his leadership the first Indian C-17 Globe-master aircraft with skilled National Disaster Response Force teams and medical equipment landed in the mountain nation within five hours of the calamity in Nepal. Besides, New Delhi was involved in the rehabilitation of the Himalayan nation for months. So the facts say that India now has the capacity and capability to project its benign power anywhere in the world.

Largest Vibrant Democratic Nation on Earth:

India is largest vibrant democratic nation on earth. On secular tolerance, on freedom of speech, on institutional functioning and on other liberal democratic indicators, India’s image has been very remarkable. The progress made by the country in moving towards the developmental goals set by it for itself are substantive. The success of Indian democracy has been possible by the genius of the Indian people in making their efforts to grapple with the serious problems that afflict them and in having sustained the developmental process without having compro-mised on fundamental freedoms and human rights.

That they have done this by making the Constitution they gave themselves work and without succumbing to authoritarian and dictatorial models is highly commendable. In addition, the country has been able to make significant shifts in policies without subjecting its people to the traumas and crises with which those in some others have been afflicted.

It is the innate strength of Indian democracy that helps when it singles out the judicial arm of the Indian state for special mention in enforcing the rights of the people and when it refers to the good work done by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the press, they have been allowed the space and freedom to do so. Moreover, the success of the genuine efforts made in India to empower women, such as through reservations in Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs), is in advance of many developed countries. Besides, it is the only land where four of the world’s great religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism—were born. It also has the second largest number of Muslims on the planet. Thus, India’s claim is that as the largest democracy in the world, it deserves a permanent seat in a reformed UN SC.

History of Service to the World:

It is very significant to mention here that the thousands of years of Indian history is testimony to the fact that it has never indulged in aggression ... About 1000 Indian soldiers got martyred while fighting alongside France in World War I. It was not only in France, Indian troops were also deployed in other theatres of war in Europe including the western frontier in Belgium to fight against its invaders in 1914 and 1915. Furthermore, despite political unrest in the country against the British colonialists, Indians extended their total cooperation to Britain during the World War in the fervent hope that they would be subsequently rewarded with at least self-government, if not full independence. But the expectations were belied.

As pre-war fears of unrest subsided, Britain took many troops out of India for battle against other troops in other areas. India contributed 15 million men of which 74,187 lost their lives, and 67,000 were wounded. Every sixth man on the battlefield was an Indian. They fought in most theatres of war including Gallipoli and North and East Africa. India spent £ 250 million and provided significant supplies and animals towards this war effort. Such was the cost of war that India’s economy was pushed to near bankruptcy.

Given this backdrop we can proudly say that there is hardly any other country in the world which has such a moral authority as the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha. This history of service definitely qualifies India to be a permanent member of the SC of the UN. There was also genuine appreciation for India’s role in the emergence of a post-colonial Africa and its continued support as a development partner. It is well known that Indian and African leaders worked together to fight against foreign rule and brought freedom and prosperity to their people.

At its 1928 Annual Session in Calcutta, the Indian National Congress (INC) officially linked the Indian freedom struggle to the global fight against imperialism. Later, a new independent India, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, continued to lead the global anti-colonial struggle from the front. It promoted the African cause at international forums, placed the anti-colonial movement at the heart of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and also provided active support to African liberation groups.

An Appraisal 

India craves for a permanent seat status in the UNSC because it offers a short-cut to enduring acclaim—the halo of international power even in the absence of true world power. For years, India has used these above mentioned attributes to claim to a permanent seat at the UNSC. It has not been successful.

There are several reasons, including lack of unanimity, on which other countries should make it. The idea that the permanent segment of the SC must mirror ethnic and regional diversity is ridiculous. The enlargement of the SC—even a proposal to create a new cadre of permanent members without veto power—has lost its way when it comes to the “who” and the “how”.

It has also led to the alternative argument that India shouldn’t bother lobbying for a permanent SC seat at all. It should simply build its economy and capacities and wait for the world to inevitably rearrange frameworks to accommodate it. We should pay sufficient care to promoting India’s potential role as a hard power that can contribute to the global order. Therefore, a permanent place in the SC is not the verdict of a popularity contest. It is recognition of the world’s paramount military powers.


The preceding discussion ensures that India’s bid to become a permanent member in the UNSC is based on strong foundations. India is not only a young Republic but also an ancient civilisation. It is the world’s largest functioning democracy; it is an ancient land, with a culture that is marked by antiquity, diversity, assimilation, continuity and peaks of unparalleled refinement; it is a country which has consciously chosen the path of respect for plurality; it is a nation which believes in religious tolerance; and finally, it is a country that is essentially liberal in its outlook, with space for dissent and debate, and therefore, unrelentingly opposed to the monolithic funda-mentalisms that are sweeping now across large parts of the world.

Keeping the above in view and taking into account the 1.27 billion population which is one-fifth of the world’s population, and its growing economic and political influence, its ability to be a successful role model for a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, the largest democracy in the world with the highest tolerance level, impacting directly on South-East, West and Central Asia, India must be suitable as a natural candidate for permanent membership in the Council.

India has been an active participant in the UN’s peacekeeping operations, whether in the Korean peninsula, Indo-China or Africa. It provided the largest contingent of peacekeepers to the UN’s operations in Congo in the early sixties and now has been actively involved with the UN activities in different continents. Besides, India contributed a lot to the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNMSL) although it had to decide to withdraw its troops from there later. The world community has always appreciated the role India has played by deploying efficiently its troops to deal with different crisis stretching from Haiti in Latin America to Cambodia in Asia. One exceptional thing to mention here is that the Indian Government makes no money from UN operations. Rather, it spends money and is a net contributor to peacekeeping, much like rich countries and unlike other developing countries. Generally speaking, India has been the largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping missions since the inception of the world body.

In the recent past, India has done a commen-dable job in evacuating its citizens and other nationals from conflict-hit countries such as Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. India’s claim to a permanent SC seat is based on the strength and global reach of our foreign policy, our commitment to the UN processes, our conviction of strength in the democratic functioning of multilateral arrangements. And it has always been found supporting decolonisation, while opposing apartheid and racial discrimination in Africa and Asia or leading the Non-Aligned countries into a full-fledged movement for asserting an alternative voice in the global paradigm. The emergence of India as a major player in the software and information technology (IT)-enabled services sectors has raised India’s economic profile, and it is now being seen as an economic superpower in the making. India’s case gets further strengthened when one considers the fact that it is one of the founding members of the UN, steadfast in a host of initiatives blending the moral with the practical: Gandhian non-violence with a definite touch of pragmatism.

As a permanent member of the UNSC, India will be able to play a larger role in pressing international issues. But the latest developments show that the path will not be smooth. India’s deserving and strong candidature for permanent membership in an expanded UNSC hinges on an expansion that is miles away. India should still continue its efforts to build a democratically evolved global consensus on restructuring the SC. The permanent members ought to realise that there are much more serious issues at stake globally than their own so-called prerogatives, and they should be flexible in addressing those issues. Thus, we continue to have the confidence that on any objective ground, criterion and belief in strengthening the work of the Council, it would be concluded that India possesses the necessary attributes for permanent membership of an expanded SC.


Ganguly, Swagato (June 16, 2016), “Hesitations of History”, New Delhi: The Times of India, p. 12.

Singh, K. Natwar (March 30, 2015), “The United Nations Must Hit a Six”, New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, p. 12.

Suresh, K.G. (April 20, 2016), “India’s Right to a Permanent Seat”, New Delhi: The Hindustan Times, p. 10.

Sibal, Kanwal (December 31, 2015), “Many Hits and Some Misses”, New Delhi: The Hindustan Times. p. 8.

September 28, 2015), “Leading from the Front: At G-4 Meet Modi Walks the Talk on UN Reform”, New Delhi: The Pioneer, p. 8.

Mukherjee, Mayuri, (October 30, 2015), “Redefining India-Africa Ties”, New Delhi: The Pioneer, p. 9.

Prabira Sethy is an Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Maharaja Agrasen College, Delhi University. Rakesh Kumar is an Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Maharaja Agrasen College, Delhi University.

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