About the Security Council

Step away from the NPT!

One of my favorite blogs,  Armchair Generalist,  has a blogpost out on President Obama’s endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.  The blogpost, while appreciative of  India’s desire of joining other permanent members at the UNSC, disagrees with the decision, at this time.  It reads:

It’s just that this action, at this time, reinforces the concept that the price of influence in international politics is possession of a nuclear weapon. This directly counters the message that the nonproliferation community has been trying to set for the last decade or more.  If India is “rewarded” with a permanent seat while not having to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke? It doesn’t make sense. If Obama is serious about changing the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, he needs to start with Brazil, Japan, and Germany. Reward those nations who want to follow international norms first. [Armchair Generalist]

Notwithstanding the tremendous odds that would need to be overcome for Mr. Obama’s endorsement to translate into reality,  I have several issues with the logic in the blogpost.

First, if the price of influence in international politics is indeed, the possession of a nuclear weapon, why haven’t similar cases been put forward for other nuclear weapons states? North Korea? Pakistan? Even Israel?  A country’s power and influence in international affairs is a function of multiple factors, –  economic, military and demographic – and all three have played their part in how India is viewed, by itself, and by the rest of the world, today.  Its growing economy has played a critical role in India’s elevated global profile — we’ve seen this at the more recent G20 summits, at Copenhagen and at the World Economic Forum. It is only natural, then, for India to want (and for its friends to support) a greater presence at the UNSC.

Second, about the NPT.  Armchair Generalist asks, “why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke,” if India were to be “allowed” to join the UNSC without signing the NPT.

Well for starters, both Iran and North Korea were signatories to the NPT when they embarked on programs that violated aspects of it.  While Iran today remains a signatory, North Korea withdrew its membership when it became an inconvenience.  India, on the other hand, while never actually signing the NPT (more on India’s opposition), has strongly adhered to many of its core principles (even moreso than some, ahem, NPT/UNSC permanent members).

Moreover, India has indicated on multiple occasions that it does want to join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state (NWS).  Of course, per NPT, the status of NWS was only accorded to countries that had tested or possessed nuclear weapons as of 1968.  Convenient. The solution to this though, is to structurally reform the NPT to allow post-1968 nuclear powers to gain membership as NWSs, and not to plug away with demands that a country do what it has already agreed to do, in principle.

There is a bigger issue here, though.  Let us not turn every Indian attempt at playing a role in shaping the global order into a debate about whether or not it must accede to a structurally flawed nuclear non-proliferation regime.  When the UNSC was established, membership to the council was not awarded solely on the grounds of countries possessing nuclear weapons (none of the UNSC members, with the exception of the U.S., had conducted nuclear tests prior to 1946).  Nuclear weapons were not the sole indicator of power or influence in the world back then, and they certainly aren’t now.  To that end, India as part of the so-called G4, has been unequivocal in its support for permanent UNSC memberships for Brazil, Germany and Japan.  The U.S.’s own support for Germany and Japan’s permanent membership dates back to the 1990′s.

Similarly, and by extension, accession to non-proliferation regimes was never a requirement during the UNSC’s formation (NPT was only brought into force in 1970); it would therefore be wrong to make this a requirement for future members. New Delhi seeks an expansion of the UNSC because it believes that for it to be an effective body, the council’s membership must reflect the shifts in global power and influence from being concentrated in hands of one or two superpowers to the presence of multiple power centers, of which India is one. It would be wrong to suggest that India’s quest, and the U.S.’s subsequent endorsement, is anything other than a recognition of this reality.

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5 Responses to About the Security Council

  1. Jason Sigger November 10, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    I am overwhelmed by your logic. I have to admit, my opinion on India’s joining the UNSC was shaped by nonproliferation advocates and other analysts who at least perceive the nuclear weapon as being the ticket for admission to the UNSC. Or perhaps, they fear that other countries will desire a nuke because all the cool kids on the UNSC have one. Either way, you make some good points about why the nuke issue shouldn’t block the issue of UNSC membership.

    Having said that, I would still side with my nonpro buddies in observing that the Bush nuclear technology agreement was all about getting US businesses some opportunities in India before other foreign nations got them, and that the agreement was not in the best interests of the nonpro community. But I suppose we’ll have to wait for the NPT reforms of which you speak.

  2. Jason Sigger November 10, 2010 at 7:02 am #

    I only meant to add, as far as the other NWS, North Korea is a pariah state, doesn’t play well with others, and it doesn’t have a nuke – yet. So it doesn’t get a permanent seat. Israel says that it doesn’t have a nuke (and no one should believe that), but it doesn’t need a permanent seat since the US government will stanchly veto any anti-Israeli resolution without fail (the issue doesn’t really matter, our govt is just stupid like that). Pakistan certainly has nukes, but I’m guessing that either it doesn’t want a permanent seat or that no one (other than China) would support such a move, considering the instability of that government at this time.

    As far as your last point, true, I didn’t consider that at the time of the UNSC forming, only the US had a nuke. Point taken. But more importantly, the membership was derived of the “winners” of the second World War. Military power, built on strong economic engines, does play a strong role in determining who gets the “veto” powers in the UN.

  3. Rohan Joshi November 10, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Jason, thanks for the feedback…big fan of your blog. Points taken on N. Korea and Pakistan.

    As you rightly say, military power built on strong economic engines plays a critical role in determining who gets “veto” powers at the UN. To that end, I’d still favor independence between efforts related to expanding the UNSC to better accommodate today’s regional/global military/economic powers, and reforming the non-proliferation/disarmament order (a never-ending battle, I’m sure, but encouragingly, one where the U.S., India and others have been working closely to shape).

  4. Rohan Joshi (@filter_c) April 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    @KabirTaneja This might interest you. http://t.co/OlbJmmENkA

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