Ever since taking over the leadership of the world’s largest democracy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has doggedly concentrated on giving a new shape to India’s foreign policy. Modi’s global aspirations and desire for international recognition became known the moment he extended a formal invite to the leaders of neighbouring South Asian countries to attend his swearing-in ceremony at Raisina Hills last year.
Modi has repeatedly struck one masterstroke after another during the course of his foreign trips. Be it addressing a public meeting of NRIs inside jam packed stadiums in USA and Australia or articulating the nation’s external policy at the United Nations or National Assemblies of Nepal and Bangladesh, Modi has made the world take notice of his eloquence and oratorical skills. He has been exceedingly sharp in visiting places which were mostly off the radar of Indian diplomats be it the state of Mongolia which is strategically sandwiched between Russia and China or the energy rich nations of Central Asia ie Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
Prime minister’s foreign visits have been high on symbolism and soft power. He has been quick to sight old ties by invoking the teachings of Buddhism and Islam. He hasn’t missed out on an opportunity to visit a temple or gurdwara and successfully steered the holding of the first ever International Yoga Day. Predictably, foreign policy is one area where Modi has tasted relatively more success as compared to domestic issues. The hateful rhetoric of the Hindu right concerning love jihad, ghar wapsi and forced sterilization definitely embarrassed the ruling establishment headed by Modi and the impasse in Parliament on the issue of Lalitgate has sent the much awaited reforms in cold storage. Amid all this gloom, Modi can stare at the horizon of foreign policy and give himself a pat on the back.
But Modi will have to do a lot more if he wishes to establish India’s position as a country wielding global clout. The simplest way of achieving that objective would be by attaining a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) which Nehru allegedly turned down in the 1950s. India has served seven terms as a non-permanent member of UNSC and has echoed the need for expansion and reform in the Security Council. A permanent seat in UNSC would elevate India to the status of USA, UK, France, China and Russia in the diplomatic sphere and warrant India a critical say in all global matters that matter globally.
Interestingly, India is not the only country in the world eyeing a spot in UNSC. Other competing nations include the likes of Japan, Germany and Brazil. The very notion of a reform or expansion in UNSC leads to the rise of a few fundamental questions: How many countries will join the existing brigade of P-5? What will be the basis of inclusion of more countries in UNSC? Will it be economic status, regional parity or human development? If another Asian country is to be included in UNSC then will it be Japan or India?
India commands three distinct characteristics which make its case for a permanent seat compelling. Currently having a population of 1.28 billion, India will become the most populous country in the world by 2022. Such a large portion of the planet’s population cannot be altogether ignored or kept at a distance from the decision making table of UNSC which brings with itself the “veto” power. Secondly, India happens to be the second fastest growing economy in the world making it an ideal destination for foreign investment and future growth. Thirdly, India is ruled by a democratic, secular government which has never been upstaged by an army coup and can be labelled as a “responsible” nuclear power.
India’s last stint as a non permanent member of UNSC in 2011-12 was supported by regional rivals Pakistan and China but Pakistan might turn out to be a big thorn in India’s way if a global consensus is reached in providing India with permanent membership. Pakistan is bound to raise the issue of regional imbalance if India is in a position to acquire permanent membership and draw the world’s attention towards the persisting Indo-Pak conflict regarding Kashmir.
Despite prospects of a bright economic future, India has reasons to fear competing powers Japan, Germany and Brazil. India’s GDP (nominal) makes it the ninth biggest economic power in the world. At present, Japan, Germany and Brazil’s economic size is bigger than that of India with Japan being the third largest in the world and second largest in Asia after China, Germany being the largest in Europe and fourth globally, while Brazil commanding pole position in South America and seventh globally.
As far as per capita income is concerned, India is nowhere on the list. As per International Monetary fund (2014), India ranks 125 globally with a per capita income of mere $5,855. Japan, Germany and Brazil rank much higher at 18, 28 and 74, respectively. Human Development Index Report (2014) of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks India 114 in the category of “medium human development.” Japan and Germany are countries with “very high human development” ranking 6 and 17, respectively whereas Brazil ranks 51 and is christened as a country with “high human development.”
Simplistic breakdown of facts and figures certainly lowers India’s prospects of a permanent seat when compared with its rivals. But India has a silver lining when it comes to its track record in terms of its contribution to UN Peacekeeping forces which have played a pivotal role in combating violence and maintaining peace. India is the fourth largest contributor to UN Peacekeeping behind Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Pakistan. Though India has a large physical presence in UN Peacekeeping, it finances a minuscule 0.13 per cent of UN peacekeeping operations. The P-5 has lesser boots on the ground but rules the roost when it comes to financing peacekeeping operations with USA pitching in with over 28 per cent financial contribution. Japan comes in second with 10.83 per cent followed by other permanent members.
It is a complex situation. India is growing economically but lags being when it comes to per capita indicators. Owing to its military strength, it is contributing in huge numbers to peacekeeping but cannot match up to the financing levels of P-5 or Japan in relation to peacekeeping operations. The story is a paradox. But the most important element of the story is yet to be spoken about ie P-5. A reform in UN Security Council would necessitate the need for an amendment in the UN Charter which is possible only when a resolution is adopted by two-third member nations in the UN General Assembly. It has to be further ratified by the constitutional process of two-third member nations including P-5.
Will the P-5 agree to share their power and authority with other nations? White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is on record stating “President (Obama) would support the inclusion of India in that process (reform of UNSC)” but cables leaked by Wikileaks quoted Former US Secretary of State and arguably the next American president Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculing countries like India as “self appointed front-runners” for a permanent membership of UNSC. The two statements, one on-record and the other off-record, hint at the underlying duplicity of USA. If the “Great Indian Dream” of attaining permanent membership has to be accomplished then India will surely have to cultivate a global consensus which will include the P-5. The penultimate question is: Can Modi pull off a Himalayan miracle?
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)