UNITED NATIONS OR THE UNITED P-5? UNDERSTANDING INDIA’S PERMANENT MEMBERSHIP BID TO THE UNSC
(Authored by Kartikeya Garg, an LLM candidate ’21 at the Graduate Institute, Geneva specializing in International Law)
Recently, it was announced that India had been elected to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member starting from 2021. However, prior to this, a heated topic of discussion that has dominated both international and domestic news in the last few years had been India’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
After World War II, the victorious Allied powers, sought for the establishment of an international forum where countries could resolve disputes peacefully, through dialogue and diplomacy rather than by waging war. The UNSC was created as one of six Organs of the UN by the Charter of 1945 and is accorded with a wide range of powers. Originally consisting of 11 member States, its primary responsibility is to maintain international peace and security through prompt and effective action. [i] Since the victorious Allied powers of the USA, UK, France, Russia and China, at the time, were the most powerful countries in the world, they were self-appointed as permanent members of the Council, while the other 6 members were elected from the UNGA for a period of 2 years.
THE CONTROVERSIAL VETO POWER OF THE UNSC
The most important and controversial power accorded to the permanent members (commonly known as the P-5) is the ‘veto power’ which allows any member of the P-5 to block the passage of any Security Council Resolution if it deems fit, thereby rendering the UNSC ineffective. Although not explicitly stated in the UN Charter, this power stems from Article 27(3) of the Charter, stating that “Decisions of the SC on all matters (other than procedural issues) shall be made by an affirmative vote….including the concurring votes of the p-5.” [ii] It is this veto power that constitutes the primary distinction between the P-5 and non-permanent members, and it is precisely why there are so many countries bidding to become a permanent member.
INDIA'S UNSC MEMBERSHIP CLAIM
India’s claim for permanent membership is quite logical. Since the advent of the 21st Century, India has played an increasingly important role in economical and political world affairs, becoming one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and possessing one of the largest militaries in the world. Therefore, in the current socio-political climate of the world, India exercises enough, and arguably more influence than some of the existing P-5, to be conferred permanent status.
There are, however, various factors that have to be considered, for India and the UN itself, before such membership can be conferred. India has used the power conferred to the P-5 as a justification for not entering into treaties of immense importance on various occasions.
For instance, The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regardless of the number of states that hold nuclear weapons, recognizes only the P-5 as nuclear weapon states. This means that every other State that is party to the treaty has to pledge to never stockpile and use nuclear weapons (which is rather ironic since the only time nukes were used were by the USA). This is the sole reason why India and other nuclear weapon states have not signed on. While they would be prevented from even possessing nuclear weapons, the P-5 are allowed to increase their nuclear weapons stockpiles, all while proclaiming “world peace”. If India is accorded the status of a permanent member, would it be bound by the provisions of the NPT? Or would the treaty have to be amended and ratified again, recognizing India as ‘nuclear weapon state’?
The Rome Statute was enacted to prosecute world leaders who are perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression by establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). India, rather surprisingly, has chosen not to sign the treaty.
While negotiating the provisions of the treaty, India had serious reservations to the powers that would be accorded to the UNSC under the treaty. [iii] Under the Statute, the UNSC is empowered to refer cases to the ICC, which India found unnecessary since individual States could also refer matters. Furthermore, the UNSC has the unilateral power to block ICC proceedings for a period of 12 months, which was arbitrary and unreasonable. Lastly, India opined that the UNSC’s power to bind non-parties to the Statute, which was violative of international law.
If India is accorded the status of a permanent member, would it still have the same reservations to the Rome Statute?
Another important consideration is the composition of the UNSC itself. The UNGA had increased the composition of the UNSC from 11 to 15, increasing the number of non-permanent members from 6 to 10. If India is accorded a permanent status, would the composition of the UNSC be increased once again? Or would the seat of an existing non-permanent member be given to India?
These considerations don’t end here. Conferring India with a permanent status would open a pandoras box, with other similarly placed countries like Brazil and Japan also demanding permanent membership. There would be a constant claim for permanent membership, unsettling the very foundations of the UN and the UNSC.
India’s bid for permanent membership is thus, much more sensitive than it is perceived to be. It requires serious discussions and careful deliberations between not only Indian politicians, but also world leaders. Only then can an effective mechanism be put in place to ensure that all countries can benefit, which is the primary reason for the existence of the UN in the first place.
However, the inextricable link between international law and international politics means that India would, at least for the foreseeable future, must be satisfied with a seat as a non-permanent Member.
[i] Article 24, UN Charter, 1945.
[ii] Article 27(3), UN Charter, 1945.
[iii] United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Summary records on the plenary meetings and of the meetings of the Committee of the Whole, Official Records Volume II (15 Jun. - 17 Jul. 1998), p. 122.