India & The UN Security Council: The Old Architecture

Earlier this week, 53 nations in Asia nominated India to a non-permanent seat on the prestigious United Nations’ Security Council. For many years, India has directly and indirectly lobbied to be recognized by the international community as a legitimate, democratic superpower with nuclear technology, and has thus coveted this seat and its veto power. That wish was sort of granted this week, although the term is only two years, compared to a country like France, which has its seat indefinitely. Since I don’t live in India, I can’t really test what the temperature in the country is to this news, though I would wager the majority view this as a significant step toward legitimizing India’s place in the world.

The problem with this thinking, however, is that during India’s lobbying campaign, the world has changed so damn fast, especially over the past decade, that the UN structure is completely outdated and ill-equipped to function in today’s and tomorrow’s realpolitik. As George W. Bush (in)famously demonstrated in 2002-03, any Security Council member country could bring an issue to the Council in good faith only to “got it alone” in order to preserve national interests. Even though this instance led to very questionable results — like a trillion-dollar Iraq war — I have to give Bush and his team credit for recognizing early that the UN architecture was crumbling and could not be held as a proxy for preserving national interests. (The Economist ran many articles on this, including one on July 3, 2008 titled “Reforming International Government.”)

India would have been wise to either (a) accept full membership, alongside China; or (b) to have rejected being one of the 10 2-year members. By choosing this latter path, India is sending mixed signals to its citizens about the reality of the complicated world in which it lives in, particularly their unique neighborhood. No major nation in this day and age would ever find itself bound by a UN resolution, which are basically the equivalent value of stock options giving out in Silicon Valley in the late 90s. UN resolutions are basically used to diplomatically hammer and punish less powerful regimes, but if a member country has an acute threat or vendetta, no archaic global architecture will reign in those desires, especially not one developed after WWII.