Public Diplomacy Public Diplomacy

India and the United Nations

September 20, 2013

India and the United Nations: the quest for equity

by Archis Mohan*

The 68th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly opened on September 17 with the agenda to identify a path forward that may culminate into a consensus on the post-2015 development goals.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, slated to take the podium at the annual General Debate on September 28, and the rest of the Indian delegation comprising External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and senior officials would stress that the post-2015 development agenda should continue to have poverty eradication and inclusive growth on the agenda. India is of the view that principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) should be accepted as beacons of the post-2015 agenda.

The Prime Minister may also appeal the developed world to turn some of its gaze inwards to look at its own humungous consumption patterns. As is usually the case in multilateral forum meetings that the Prime Minister attends, his views on the current world economic situation would be sought out by other world leaders. The current crisis surrounding Syria and the post-2014 Afghan situation are other issues that would become important both at the main debate and the dozens of bilateral meetings between leaders on the margins of the UNGA Session.

Prime Minister addressing the 66th UNGA session in New York, October 24, 2011This would be the Prime Minsiter's fifth visit to the UNGA Session since 2004 having addressed the General Assembly in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011. External Affairs Minister Khurshid would join the PM in New York after completing his Canada visit.

The Indian delegation is slated to attend meetings of the officials of the other four BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries, as also that of the G4 (Germany, India, Japan and Brazil). The G4 has been calling for the reform of the UN, especially to expand the membership of the UN Security Council, to reflect today's reality instead of the international power balance as it had existed in 1945.

India and other G4 members have kept the issue of UN reforms alive in the past one year, and have regularly engaged with the L69 and C10 groups. The L69 is a group of 40 African, Latin American, Asia-Pacific and Caribbean countries which wants the UNSC expanded to include six more permanent members - four of G4 and two from Africa. The C10 or the African Union's proposal for UNSC expansion is on similar lines. The three - that is G4, L69 and C10 - differ with each other on the question of who should be entrusted with veto powers and who shouldn't.

Another area of concern for India as the biggest contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping operations is the changing nature of peacekeeping operations.

San Francisco Conference: India Signs United Nations Charter, 26 June 1945
Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar, Supply Member of the Governor-General's Executive Council and leader of the delegation of India, signs the United Nations Charter.
India is one of the founding members of the UN. It signed the Declaration by United Nations at Washington on 1 January 1942 and also participated in the historic UN Conference of International Organization at San Francisco from 25 April to 26 June 1945. India has consistently supported the purposes and principles of the UN and has made significant contributions to implementing the goals of the UN Charter, particularly in the field of peace keeping.

Some years back the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said: "Over the decades, India has made an enormous contribution to the United Nations, through the efforts of its Government, and the work of Indian scholars, soldiers and international civil servants. India's has been one of the most eloquent voices helping the United Nations shape its agenda on behalf of the developing world. And the experience and professionalism of its armed forces has proved invaluable, time and again, in UN peacekeeping operations - in which over a hundred Indian soldiers have given their lives."

India has contributed over 1,60,000 troops to 43 of 64 UN peacekeeping operations since its inception in the 1950s. Over 160 Indian armed and police forces personnel have laid down their lives while fighting for the UN's blue flag.

The first deployment of the Indian armed forces was during the Korean War of the early 1950s. Other peacekeeping operations in which Indian personnel have taken part include Indo-China (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), Congo, Mozambique, Somalia, Rwanda, Angola, Sierra-Leone and Ethiopia. Currently, Indian armed forces are part of seven of the 14 ongoing UN peacekeeping missions. Indian forces are in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Congo (MONUC), Sudan (UNMISS), Golan Heights (UNDOF), Ivory Coast (MINUSTAH), and Liberia (UNMIL). The first all women contingent in any UN peacekeeping mission, a Formed Police Unit from India, was deployed in Liberia in 2007 as part of the UN peacekeeping mission.

But the changing nature of conflicts where a peacekeeping force is increasingly being asked to do a lot more than its traditional mandate is an issue of concern to India, which it is likely to raise in the UN forums.

Over the years, India has viewed the UN as a forum that could play a role as a guarantor to international peace and security. In recent times, India has attempted to strengthen the UN system to combat in the spirit of multilateralism global challenges of development and poverty eradication, climate change, terrorism, piracy, disarmament, human rights, peace building and peacekeeping.

In the 1950s and 60s, India led the charge of newly independent countries in the UN to argue and secure freedom for still enslaved countries in Africa and Asia. India co-sponsored the landmark 1960 Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples which proclaimed the need to unconditionally end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations.

India was also at the forefront in the fight against apartheid and racial discrimination in South Africa. India was the first country to raise the issue in the UN in 1946 and played a leading role in the formation of a sub-committee against Apartheid set up by the General Assembly. India was one of the earliest signatories to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination adopted in 1965.

India has over the years also championed the cause of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. In 1996, India as part of a group of 21 countries submitted to the Conference of Disarmament a Programme of Action calling for a phased elimination of nuclear weapons (1996 - 2020). India is the only state with nuclear weapons that has consistently supported the call for total nuclear disarmament.

India's has always been a strident voice at the UN, a voice that was stronger as it founded the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of 77 developing countries that argued within the UN for a more equitable international economic and political order. Article 53 of the UN Charter states that the multilateral organisation would "promote higher standard of living, full employment and conditions economic and social progress and development".

Indian economists, Professor D.R. Gadgil and Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao, were closely associated with the processes of estimation of the official development assistance that developed countries, one per cent of their national income, required to transfer to developing countries. Of this one per cent, 0.7 per cent was to constitute the ODA.

Indian delegates also played an important role in formulation of the 'development decades'. The first 'development decade' was from 1961 to 1970 and the fourth in the 1990s. The post-Cold War era changed the North-South donor and donee equation with the developing countries realising they needed to restructure their economies to attract private foreign investment as direct foreign aid was a thing of the past.

The process culminated with world leaders signing the UN Millennium Declaration in New York in September 2000 where they pledged to meet time bound and measurable targets to reduce deprivation by 2015. It adopted eight Millennium Development Goals or MDGs. The current 68th session would mull the post-2015 agenda. India wants member countries to agree to an inter-governmental process to be set up, which should discuss the issues through 2014.

In recent decades, India has apart from calling for reforms of the UNSC and world financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, has also advocated "zero tolerance” approach to terrorism in all its forms. In 1996, India piloted a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) with the aim to provide an exhaustive legal framework to counter terrorism. India continues to work for its early adoption. Many of the features of CCIT have already been adopted.

India is also a major contributor to UN funds like the UN Democracy Fund that PM Manmohan Singh, US President George Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan founded in 2005. India today is the second biggest contributor to the Fund to engender democratic values and processes.

Former External Affairs Minister at the UN Security Council meeting in September 2012 India was a non-permanent member of the UNSC in 2011-12 and pushed for an open debate on maritime piracy in the region. India has served on the Security Council on seven occasions so far - in 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92, and 2011-2012.

India at the United Nations

  • India has been a non-permanent member of the UNSC seven times - 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92, and 2011-2012
  • India is one of the founding members of the UN
  • India attended the San Francisco Conference of 1945, its delegation led by Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Mudaliar
  • India is the largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping operations
  • India has contributed over 1,60,000 troops to 43 of 64 UN peacekeeping operations
  • More than 160 Indian defence and police personnel have laid down their lives serving under the UN's blue flag
  • Indian armed forces are part of seven of the 14 ongoing UN peacekeeping missions
  • India co-sponsored the landmark 1960 Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples
  • C.S. Jha headed the Special Committee to look into implementation of the declaration
  • India was one of the first countries to raise the issue of apartheid in South Africa at the UN in 1946
  • India was one of the earliest signatories to the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination adopted in 1965
  • India has pushed for total nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation at the UN
  • it is the only nuclear weapons state to demand total elimination of nuclear weapons
  • In 1996, India along with 20 other countries submitted an action plan for phased elimination of nuclear weapons (1996 - 2020)
  • India played a pivotal role in UN's ascertaining of ODA estimates for developed countries
  • India long with Brazil, Japan and Germany formed the G4 in 2005 to demand UNSC reforms
  • In 1996, India piloted a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT)
  • India founded in 2005 and is a major contributor to the UN Democracy Fund
(* Archis Mohan is a Free Lance journalist based in New Delhi. The views expressed above are the personal views of the writer)



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