Recently President Barack Obama promised American support for India’s bid to gain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Yesterday, according to leaked cables posted on the WikiLeaks site, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton called India a “self-appointed front-runner.” Supporters of India’s bid point out that it is the second-most populous nation, the largest democracy, a nuclear-power with the world’s second largest standing army, and the fourth largest economy (after the US, China, and Japan).
The current five permanent members yielding powers to veto any substantive resolution are (in no particular order) the United States, Russia (which inherited the seat from the Soviet Union), China, United Kingdom, and France. If you can live with the idea of Security Council with permanent veto-yielding countries, then for various reasons you could probably also argue that United States, China, and Russia all belong in this exclusive club. But France and Britain?
France is the country most likely to bring baguettes to the table. There is a long-running joke about France capitulating to any power that ever threatened it, which is reinforced by World Wars I and II, and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Its most famous elite military unit is called the Foreign Legion and comprises mostly foreigners. Recently, the country was paralyzed by strikes because the retirement age was increased from 60 to 62. Those baguettes can’t be that good.
What about the Britain? Its sole reason for being on the Security Council is to cast a vote in line with the United States. That way if the Permanent Representative from the United States gets drunk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side the night before an important resolution and has a terrible hangover, she can just text the chap from the other side of the pond in the morning and go back to sleep.
Okay, so I’m being a bit facetious, but my point is that neither France nor Britain yield the global influence they did when the UN Security Council was formed.
Along with India are three other countries with a head-start in the campaign for permanent membership – Japan, Germany, and Brazil. Of course there are a number of countries opposed to each of the main contenders. China objects to both Japan and India. Pakistan doesn’t want to see India in the Security Council either. South Korea isn’t so keen on Japan’s bid. Mexico and Argentina don’t like Brazil. Italy doesn’t want Germany, but would like to see inclusion of the European Union. (Keep in mind that France is already a permanent member, so that just sounds plain weird). Given that over forty countries are currently opposed to any piecemeal expansion (and perhaps, rightly so), it might be an academic exercise.
Ultimately, America’s support of India’s inclusion might be just a friendly gesture. Given the current anachronistic setup of the Security Council, disbanding or heavily reforming it might be the best way forward. But if expanding it is on the cards, the arguments supporting India’s bid should not be dismissed with prejudice.