Following the end of the Second World War (1939-45), the victor nations decided to set up the United Nations as a legitimate successor to the League of Nations, to maintain peace and order in the world. That there have been more wars in the post-1947 world than between 1918 and 1939 is a different matter. The Security Council is the executive arm of the General Assembly and it has been the most misused arm of the world body that one can think of, and it is a disgrace.
True, there hasn'tbeen another world war of major dimensions involving major powers, but there have been so many proxy wars discreetly engineered or supported by the same powers that should make any thoughtful international statesman want to hang his head in shame. When the United States lost out in the Security Council on the Korea issue in 1950, it went to the then US-controlled General Assembly of some 45 Members, most of whom were in some way or other beholden to Washington, to get its approval of the Korean War in total disdain of the Security Council. For years the Council has remained a tool of the United States and it has remained the most ineffective body that one can think of. And we know what followed then. Again, was the Security Council in any way effective in preventing the long-drawn out Vietnam War that cost the United States several thousand casualties and Vietnam itself reportedly a couple of million?
It is said that the US forces dropped more bombs on Vietnam than were dropped on Britain and Germany in six years of conflict. Again, was the Security Council able to prevent the Iraqi War? Could it prevent China from taking over Tibet? In the Bangladesh War of 1972 the United States even had the impertinence to send an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. Even worse, the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger was trying to persuade China to attack India to divert the latter'sattention from East Pakistan.
What this means is that the Security Council?like the United Nations?is a big joke. Its associate bodies like the WHO, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNICEF, FAO, UNIDO etc, may have done some good work?no one disputes that?but if one remembers how the United States at one point in time refused to pay its dues to the running of UNESCO, one realises how fragile the structure of the United Nations is and how much it is dependent on the United States. All this is not to say that the Security Council has been an utter failure.
In the case of the turbulence, upheavals and repeated outbursts of violence in the Congo from 1960 to 1963, for example, the Security Council did play a role. In many ways, too, the United Nations has been helpful in decolonising the world. It has helped in peace-keeping and India has played a prominent role in this field, whether in Korea, Congo or the Middle East. But what has that got to do with India'sMembership of the Security Council? In 1985, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Ceuller, in his report to the General Assembly deplored the ?reluctance of parties to some conflicts to use the machinery of the United Nations?.
He said that it is super power ego ?which is nibbling at the foundations of the world organisation?. Indeed, the very first Secretary General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie has been on record as saying that ?the United Nations was not equipped to act as a referee between the Great Powers. ?It was? he said, ?grounded upon the basic assumption that there would be an agreement among the Permanent Members of the Security Council upon major issues.? There seldom was any agreement, so then, the United States went its way as did China as well. There has been nothing to stop them. In the circumstances, Permanent Membership of Security Council is a chimera, if not a joke. Having a veto sounds great but what was the Security Council doing when George Bush waged war against Saddam Hussain, going to the extent of the seeing him killed? And what will it do if?Heavens forbid?his successor, Barack Obama wages war against Iran? Why can'tthe US leave Afghanistan alone? Not all the military forces arraigned against it will bring Afghanistan to its knees. Originally, the Security Council consisted of 11 Members?five Permanent ones (The United States, Soviet Union, France, Britain and China) and six Elected Members each with a two-year term. It is not so well-known that the seat occupied by China had originally been offered to India which declined it in China'sfavour?a most thoughtless thing to do.
Now China is reluctant to favour India'sentry into the club indicating both a lack of grace and gratitude. Now a plan is afoot to enlarge the Membership of the Security Council both in terms of Permanent and Elective Membership. It has been suggested that India pre-eminently deserves a Permanent Membership because of its population (1.2 billion), its long history of over 10,000 years, its cultural and civilisation heritage, its current economic status, its past services to the UN, etc. By any reckoning it deserves to be a Permanent Member with a veto over anyone else. Indeed, it has a greater right to be a Permanent Member than either France and Britain in current circumstances. The two are basking under past glory which is no longer applicable and should be questioned. Meanwhile, it is not India alone that is aspiring to be included in the additional Membership roll call. Brazil, Japan and Germany too are aspirants. India deserves to be the first choice even among the four and, as things stand, it seems to have gathered sufficient support.
What needs to be stressed is that the constitution of the United Nations, as originally devised itself needs to be changed, considering that Britain and France are not what they once were. Times have changed and the Security Council Membership must reflect that change. The unchallenged reign of White Powers has to be ended. The role of the United States which has often been that of a bully, unchallenged and unrepentant, also needs to be looked into. Perhaps the time has come for the setting up of ?continental? United Nations, with membership of each such body open only to the countries of that particular continent, without the presence of the United States or, for that matter, of the other Great Powers. Such continental United Nations can do a good job without the interference of the United States.
India'saspirations for Permanent Membership of the Security Council are laudable, but Delhi does not have to go begging for support. It is demeaning. It is no great honour to be a Permanent Member of the Security Council. Besides, one must remember that as a Permanent Member one would be constantly under pressure from the United States to follow its lead; we don'thave to be replica of Tony Blair'sUnited Kingdom. We have not only to be independent but must be seen to be so. And if one does not get along with Washington'sdirections, one may have to pay dearly for it.
What India needs to direct its immediate attention is to become a power in its own right to command respect and attention. And let it be remembered that the United States is slipping. It failed in Korea. It failed in Vietnam. It failed in Iran. (After Khomeini deposed the Shah, the latter was not even allowed to enter the US for medical attention and had to go to Egypt there to die in a Cairo hospital). It has now failed in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan. If India has to command respect, it must be out of America'sall-encompassing fold. It is wiser to stay out of the Security Council and maintain our self-respect. And as has been said, a word to the wise should be sufficient. Power does not automatically accrue from Permanent Membership of the Security Council. It comes from a trillion dollars foreign exchange reserve, a self-sustained economy and a dazzling democracy. India will then be respectfully heard even if it were just an ordinary member of the UN General Assembly.
(The writer is former editor of Illustrated Weekly and senior columnist.)