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Syria-na

Say it ain’t so, India.

Another “inconvenient vote” at the UNSC and another instance of India wiggling out of its responsibilities as a member of the Council.  On Tuesday, India chose to abstain from a vote in the UNSC condemning the brutal suppression of human rights by the al-Assad regime.  As an explanation of its vote (or lack thereof) the External Affairs Ministry released the following statement:

India’s traditional position on country specific resolutions is well known. We do not regard spotlighting and finger -pointing at a country for human right violations as helpful. We believe that engaging the country concerned in collaborative and constructive dialogue and partnership is a more pragmatic and productive way forward.  This is what India along with its partners in IBSA, Brazil and South Africa has done.

However, since some members of this Council have found it necessary to propose a country specific resolution, it would have been desirable had this been done by consensus, without resorting to a vote, to reflect the shared perspective and unanimous views of the council. This has regrettably not happened.

We hope that our position on the vote is not misconstrued as condoning violations of human rights in any country, including Syria. On the contrary, we believe that it is imperative for every society to have the means of addressing human rights violations through robust mechanisms within themselves. International scrutiny should be resorted to, only when such mechanisms are non-existent or have consistently failed.

For the aforementioned reasons, India will be abstaining on the vote. [MEA]

India rationalizing its decision by pointing to Brazil and South Africa, its fellow-abstainees, is a nonstarter.  For one, while Brazil and South Africa are also permanent seat aspirants, neither one of them has made as much progress as India in garnering support for a permanent seat, should the necessary structural changes be implemented in the UN.

And if India abstaining from the vote wasn’t bad enough, this is what VP Haran, India’s ambassador to Syria had to say about the brutality of the al-Assad regime (per Ms Suhasini Haider, Senior Editor, CNN-IBN):

Indian Ambassador to Syria tells CNN-IBN: some of the reports of HR violations are ‘highly exaggerated’.Of 1950 killed, 600 are security

He would later add that President al-Assad had responded to pressure and had announced a timetable for elections.  Apparently, our ambassadors are turning into spokespersons for countries of their posting.  It is a morally reprehensible position for India to take.  Further, any ambiguity that India sought to create over its position on Syria should be effectively discarded, given the ambassador’s statements.  And this is after the very responsible statement put out by the External Affairs Ministry in response to the Syrian Vice Foreign Minister’s visit to New Delhi seeking India’s support, earlier this month.

For the record, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights indicates that the 1,900 killed in Syria excluded the approximately 400 military and police fatalities (August 18).  So much for the ambassador’s “clarification.”  And India’s absence of leadership at the Security Council, or its ambassadors’ shadow fighting on behalf of oppressive regimes cannot be blamed on New Delhi’s preoccupation with l’affaire Anna Hazare.

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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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In Pragati: The return of the Ottoman

In the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I review Turkey’s transformation from a status-quoist, West-leaning, secular-nationalist state to one that seeks to become a regional power and indeed, a “Muslim superpower.” Its confrontations with Israel, most recently over the Gaza flotilla raid, involvement in negotiating a way forward in Afghanistan, and its attempts, along with Brazil, at brokering a deal with Iran over the nuclear impasse all point to a Turkey eager to break the shackles of the Kemalist ideology that has guided it since its birth in 1923.

But Turkey’s geo-strategic reorientation has consequences far beyond its region.  Indeed, its involvement now in Afghanistan, historic cultural and military ties to Pakistan and its location at the crossroads of Central Asia’s energy trade make it very important to India.  How must India view Turkey’s rise and what opportunities and challenges exist in India’s bilateral relations with Turkey?

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative, endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys in Ankara.

Read more about it in this month’s Pragati ( PDF; 1.3 MB)

Turkey’s strategic reorientation is also significant
to countries outside its region. Two aspects of Turkey’s
rising profile stand out for India—regional stability and
energy security. On regional stability, Turkey historically
has had close cultural, ideological and military ties with
Pakistan. It has provided arms, equipment and training to
the Pakistani armed forces. Turkey came to Islamabad’s
assistance during the latter’s 1965 war with India and
provided it with significant quantities of ammunition. A
member of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference
(OIC), Turkey routinely supports Pakistan’s narrative,
endorsing a plebiscite and voicing concern over “the use of
force against the Kashmiri people.” The exclusion of India
from the Istanbul Summit on Afghanistan at the insistence
of Pakistan, also underscores the leverage Pakistan enjoys
in Ankara.
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