The diplomatic ball for the horseshoe table – analysis
India will serve a two-year term at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) beginning in January 2021. This will be the eighth time that the nation has attended the UNSC.
In addition to Permanent 5 (P-5), the UNSC has 10 elected members, five from Asia and Africa, two from Latin America and Western Europe and Others (WEOG), and one from Eastern Europe. Five of these elected members retire each year.
There are five regional groups in the UNSC, representing Asia, Africa, Latin America and in a throwback to the Cold War, Eastern Europe, apart from WEOG which includes the United States (USA), Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.
Most regional groups, apart from WEOG, generally endorse their candidates before the elections. This time, we were candidates for the Asian seat and obtained 182 out of 193 votes in the UN General Assembly. From WEOG, Norway and Ireland knocked out Canada for both group seats.
Although the elections are highly contested, the electoral process is fascinating. The ballot is a blank sheet. You are supposed to know who is running and write the name of the country of your choice on the ballot. Of course, you can vote for your own country.
India last served at UNSC during 2011-12. The team was led by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, now a minister in the government of Narendra Modi (full disclosure: he is also a cousin). I was his deputy. So, too, we were the only candidate from Asia and we had a record 187 votes out of 192 members. We had previously been to UNSC in 1991-1992 and were looking to return after a 19-year gap and a resounding defeat at the hands of Japan in 1996. India’s effort was to muster the maximum number of votes.
The widely publicized story after the election was about the Pakistani ambassador, Abdullah Hussain Haroon, who had shown around his seemingly marked ballot for India. There were others who took photos on their phones and showed them to us, indicating their support.
We lost five votes. Obviously, some were politicians. But strange things also happen. An African country received a vote on the Asian blackboard. Incredible, but the ambassador wrote the name of his own country on the ballot, thinking he had signed his support for India. Then, too, Canada was overtaken in the WEOG by Portugal and a late incoming Germany.
A diplomat from a small country told me that while awaiting instructions on his two votes, he was sure that one would be Germany; After all, its president was traveling in a Mercedes.
The elected members head the committees of the Security Council. P-5s refer to these as “goodies”. For us, obtaining the Chairmanship of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) was important. Interestingly, the British opposed this saying that we were involved in the matter. But, playing the diplomatic game in New York, Delhi and London, India prevailed. During the Indian presidency, we established the concept of “zero tolerance” for terrorism. The fight against terrorism will rightly be a focus for India during our next mandate at UNSC.
With multilateralism under pressure, particularly as a result of Covid-19, the UNSC also has its challenge set. India’s mandate at the United Nations Security Council will also coincide with the holding of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and G-20 summits. India should take the opportunity to present its case on Security Council reform to open the horseshoe table that sits the UNSC.
Manjeev S Puri is a former ambassador and former deputy permanent representative of India to the United Nations.
The opinions expressed are personal.