So much is made of French, British, even reluctant Chinese, support to India'sclaim to Permanent Membership of the Security Council that one begins to wonder whether one is not giving too much importance to the very concept of the United Nations, now in its 63rd year, having been set up in 1945 following the end of the devastating second world war. The League of Nations, set up in 1918 following the First World War died a premature death with Hitler'sattack on Austria and Poland and barely completed two decades of existence. That the United Nations has survived for six long decades of turbulence is itself a miracle.
It has seen the collapse of colonialism and imperialism, the birth of many independent nations mostly in Asia and Africa and steady globalisation of not just the economy but also of environmentalism. Importantly?and within the short period of a decade?it has seen the emergence of China and India as powers in their own right and not beholden to anyone. The world today is not the world when Britain and France could strut around as Great powers. They have been overtaken even if they continue to maintain their bygone imperial status. The Soviet Union, too has lost much of its pre-eminence as a global power having disintegrated to an unprecedented degree. Today'sRussia is a far cry from Stalin'svast Soviet empire. India, it may be remembered had become a member of the UN even before she achieved independence. And it could have become a Permanent Member of the Security Council as well, way back in1955 when the US proposed its name to the seat allotted to China. That Jawaharlal Nehru declined the honour remains a poignant fact we have now come to rue. Nehru may have declined it in good faith, but India has paid for it dearly since then.
India has in recent times been trying to win back a permanent seat and has been lobbying hard with considerable success, though the United States has not yet made any commitment. Given India'sstature, it is unlikely that Washington would like to concede veto power to Delhi. It has been, on the other hand, advocating the case of Japan to Permanent Membership in part because it has been a substantial financial supported of the UN which, cash-wise has long been in the doldrums. Even now it owes India about $ 230 million for helping in peacekeeping operations.
If the Security Council, as part of the restructuring of the entire United Nations is enlarged and the number of existing Permanent Membership raised from the present five to say, ten, Indian Permanent Membership should be automatic and unchallengeable. Otherwise, even its role as one among 193 members of the General Assembly becomes irrelevant. As things stand, it is the United States that for all practical purposes runs the UN. It was rightly acknowledged as such by former Secretary General Boutros Ghali who, in his memoirs entitled Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga said that the US has been using the UN as ?an extension of its own foreign policy?. That is the bare truth, even if one does not want to acknowledge the hard fact.
It was certainly made plain by President George W.Bush while seeking a second resolution of the UN authorising the US to use coercive power against Saddam Hussain'sIraq. In his address to the UN General Assembly in September 2002 the US President said he was trying to find out whether the world body was able to function as a peace-keeping body as it headed for the 21st century or whether it was gong to the irrelevant. The irrelevance was implied if the UN declined to support the US in its misadventures in Iraq and the US went its own way irrespective of UN support. May it be remembered that in the case of sectarian violence in Kosovo, it was the NATO that sent its armed forces to that state without any previous UN sanction. If this is going to be the rule in future and not an exception, what relevance can the UN legitimately claim? Why should India supinely agree to American hegemony over the UN? Again, if India is not granted Permanent Membership of the Security Council on an equal footing with others, that is, with the right to Veto, why seek that phony membership at all?
If nations like Britain and France can have veto rights, why should not India? If there is reluctance to treat India on equal terms on the part of the Big Five, India may as well remain quiescent and mind its own business. This is where one has to conceptualise the future. In any effort to restructure the UN?if, that is, the US is agreeable to the proposition?the aim should be to democratise the organisation rather than merely to enlarge the Security Council, worthwhile though it is. And democratisation implies that no country should have the right of Veto Democracy and autocracy cannot go together. At the same time, all decisions should be taken by majority vote and the will of the 193 members should be respected. If the Big Five (the US, Britain, Russia, France and China) are not agreeable, then the time has come to think of alternative arrangements. One of them would be the setting up of several continental united nations, such as United Nations of Asia, or Africa or Latin America, which would exclude the Great Powers from internal interference.
The United Nations of Asia, for example, would included all Asian nations with none having any veto power in policy matters. The UNA will have no Security Council and no member, howsoever powerful?and that would include Japan, China and India?would have individual power to over-ride majority decisions. It would be in the nature of an Asian replicate of the European Union. It would function through consensus and not through political bullying by any one nation, and it should be headquartered not in Delhi or Beijing or Tokyo but in one of the centrally located smaller states such as Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia.
The running of the institution should be financially bearable and membership affordable even to small states which presently can'tafford to have offices in New York. Additionally, they would feel freer and out of the shadow of Washington, which has often indulged in arm-twisting to get its point accepted. That would put the US in its place. The UNA can serve as an Asian Parliament which would fit in with the concept of globalisation. This would any day be better than the current situation with small states often feeling helpless and over-shadowed by the Big Powers. It is time for them to strike out on their own. And it is time for the concept to be debated in Asian capitals with have long been marginalised at the United Nations headquarters in New York.