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Tag Archives | UNSC

India and the Golan Heights

India’s peacekeepers are at risk as the security situation deteriorates amidst UNSC’s squabbling.

Things aren’t looking all that great in Syria.  The UN now estimates that 93,000 people have been killed in the two year-old civil war.  The Alawites and their allies, propped up by Iran and Russia, and the various Sunni Islamist factions are butchering themselves to oblivion.

But the prolonged bickering in the UN Security Council and the Council’s inability to pass a resolution to bring this war to an end and prepare for an inevitable post-Assad Syria is extending the political and humanitarian crisis in that country.  The U.S. drew “red lines” for intervening if the al-Assad regime used chemical or biological weapons against its people.  But when it turned out that Bashar al-Assad had ordered the use of sarin on rebel forces, the U.S.’s response was muted: it held joint military exercises with its ally in Jordan along the Syrian border.

Russia, other the other hand, has consistently threatened to veto resolutions at the UNSC to enforce a no-fly zone.  So the UN has been ineffectual and bodies like the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference have done little more during this period than underscore the irrelevance of their existence.

Meanwhile, the  risk of the war spilling over into the Golan Heights along Syria’s border with Israel has increased.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has historically been supported by contingents from the Philippines, India and Austria charged with maintaining the peace in the buffer zone, has come under attack from Syrian rebel forces. Peacekeepers from the Philippines were detained (and subsequently released) by Syrian rebels in March 2013.  But the very structural composition of the UNDOF, as envisioned in the 1973 UN Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces is problematic under the circumstances (emphasis added):

The function of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) under the agreement will be to use its best efforts to maintain the Ceasefiie and to see that it is scrupulously observed. It will supervise the agreement and protocol thereto with regard to the areas of separation and limitation. In carrying out its mission, it will comply with generally applicable Syrian laws and regulations and will not hamper the functioning of local civil administration. It trill enjoy freedom of movement and communication and other facilities that are necessary for its mission. It will be mobile and provided with personal weapons of a defensive character and shall use such weapons only in self-defence. The number of the UNDOF shall be about 1,250, who will be selected by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in consultation with the parties from members of the United Nations who are not permanent members of the Security Council. [United Nations]

Effectively, this means that non-UNSC members are entrusted with maintaining the peace in a volatile region while having no influence in bringing about conditions for peace.  The Austrians have already withdrawn their contingent from Golan.  The Indian contingent is the second-largest in the Golan Heights (after the Philippines), with about 200 peacekeepers. The Philippines has already warned that it may pull out its peacekeepers as well.

With the security situation deteriorating and no end to the UNSC’s internal squabbles, it is time we considered a full pullout or at the very least, a substantial reduction in our footprint.  This will not, in and of itself, hasten the UNSC to act decisively in Syria, but there is no need for India to put its troops in harm’s way while the situation deteriorates in the region.

 

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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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On Indo-US ties

India needs to do its share of heavy-lifting too.

News trickled in yesterday that New Delhi shorlisted two European fighter aircraft — Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon as prospective candidates for the highly publicized $10 billion Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRA) competition.  My Takshashila colleagues Nitin Pai and Dhruva Jaishankar have two excellent posts on India’s MMCRA decision.  Significantly, this decision meant the downlisting of two American firms competing for the MMRCA contract — Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed’s F-16.

It is not everyday that countries sign $10 billion contracts for fighter aircraft.  The sheer scale, value and nature of the MMRCA competition meant that geo-strategic considerations ought to have outweighed purely technical determinants.  And while very valid concerns about U.S. fine-print have been raised, India has faced similar difficulties with less transparent suppliers, and that too, after signing substantial contracts (lest we forget the small matter about us having to pay $3 billion for an antiquated ship that we were initially supposed to receive for free).  The truth is that India’s severely shackled defense industry necessitates entering into contracts for arms and equipment with foreign suppliers under conditions not entirely ideal.  But deriving benefits from domestic defense industry liberalization — if and when this happens — will take several years.  How does India fulfill its defense requirements in the interim?

U.S. ambassador to India Timothy Roemer was quoted as saying that he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.   The downlisting of Boeing and Lockheed is but the latest evidence of ties between the world’s two largest democracies being somewhat adrift after Mr. Obama’s visit to India last year.

The civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. was meant to be the cornerstone of a new age of Indo-U.S. ties, leaving behind decades of mutual mistrust, lecturing and moral posturing.  The deal offered benefits to both India and the U.S. — for India, it meant international recognition as a de facto nuclear power, and for the U.S. it meant nuclear commerce with an emerging economy. It took the U.S. exercising its political clout to see that a waver based on Indian exceptionalism was granted at the NSG, which also required a last-minute call by George W. Bush to Hu Jintao to prevent China from stonewalling the vote.

However, today, U.S. firms are effectively non-participants in nuclear trade with India because of supplier liability imposed by India’s Nuclear Liability Bill.  Globally, suppliers are unable to obtain insurance coverage for nuclear trade.  Both Russian and French firms compete in India’ s nuclear market because they are essentially underwritten by their respective governments.  And even then, the Russians have apparently made it clear to New Delhi that nuclear commerce with India is unsustainable in the long run under such circumstances.

Today India aspires for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council; but reforming the UNSC remains a distant dream. Even so, during Mr. Obama’s visit last year, India joined a select group of nations whose candidature the U.S. endorses.  In its current stint as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, India must make its voice heard and break from a tradition that encourages prevarication and moral posturing.  As I pointed out in a previous blogpost, it’s no use saying India deserves a permanent seat at the UNSC because it represents 1/6th of humanity, if that 1/6th of humanity seldom expresses an opinion.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be differences in opinion between India and the U.S.  Indeed, it is easy to focus on contentious areas (and there are several) — David Headley, climate change, Pakistan, Iran,  Burma, to name a few.  We need not agree on every aspect of global affairs, but as two large and pluralistic democracies, we share common values and interests, and ought to build our relationship on these shared ideals.  And while it is important not to put undue focus on transactional aspects of our strategic partnership with the U.S., the MMRCA deal will have an impact on the trajectory of this relationship.  And this we knew well before a decision on the shortlist was made.  Indeed, Ambassador Roemer’s resignation hours after India’s announcement of the MMRCA shortlist is probably not a coincidence.

It is certainly conceivable that some of the momentum towards expanding this partnership will be tempered.  Worse, when considered alongside the Nuclear Liability Bill, U.S. companies might soon conclude that the attractiveness of the Indian market is significantly less than the bandwidth they dedicate to it.  After all, interest in India cannot be sustained merely by the “promise” of the Indian market, if none of those promises are materialized.  We have always been eager to deliver our litany of demands to the U.S. — from Afghanistan, to pressuring Pakistan on terror.  But how much are we willing to give in return?  We need to ask ourselves if India is doing its share of the heavy-lifting in  this bilateral relationship.

 

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India at the UNSC on Libya

India’s 50-50.

There has been considerable uproar on India’s decision to abstain from voting on the imposition of a No Fly Zone (NFZ) in Libya at the UNSC.  Some have suggested that the decision to abstain doesn’t bode well for a nation seeking a place at the high altar in the congress of nations.  India’s non-vote however, has short- and long-term implications, which need further consideration and analysis.

UNSC’s resolution No. 1973 on Libya reads as follows:

[T]he Council authorized Member States, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory — requesting them to immediately inform the Secretary-General of such measures. [UN]

India, in its explanation for abstaining from the vote indicated that its reservations were based partly on “far reaching” measures adopted by the UNSC.  Indeed, there is now indication that the inclusion of the phrase “all necessary measures” went beyond what the Arab League initially envisaged when it first appealed to the UNSC for an NFZ in Libya.  The resolution, for instance, did not rule out airstrikes against Col. Qaddafi’s land forces advancing towards  Benghazi.  It also empowered a collection of states (e.g., Britain and France, the Arab League) to act unilaterally against the Libyan army as it saw fit.

There now appear to be considerable gaps in perception on approach and objectives among the primary actors, U.S., Britain and France, and the Arab League.  The question that India must answer is whether or not it is in India’s interests to see a change in regime in Libya.  To be sure, Muammar Qaddafi has been a thorn in India’s flesh for many years — on clandestine nuclear co-operation with Pakistan, on Kashmir — but how certain is India that the alternative to Col. Qaddafi couldn’t be as bad, if not worse?

For many reasons, India’s economic interests in Libya are minimal.  Bilateral trade has steadily declined over the past several years.  Libya just about figures among India’s top 50 import partners*, right below the People’s Republic of Congo (we also export less to Libya than we do to any other Arab country*). India’s energy interests in Libya are not substantial when compared to other countries in the region, and recent reports indicate that ONGC Videsh and OIL had, or were in the process of  relinquishing their stakes in at least four exploration blocks in Libya.

On security issues, Libya has had a history of cooperation with Pakistan on financing and acquiring nuclear technology.  However, under agreement with the U.S. and in an apparent bid to end its international isolation, Tripoli surrendered its nuclear weapons components —  including centrifuges, uranium and sensitive documentation —  in 2004. Though, to be fair, Col. Qaddafi’s calculations on the utility of nuclear weapons may change, should he survive the uprising.  As for Col. Qaddafi’s periodic rants about Kashmir at international forums, they are about as likely to have an impact on the status of J&K as OIC’s time-honored traditions have had of routinely issuing statements of concern at the behest of Pakistan about J&K all these years.

Taking these arguments as a whole, India’s decision to abstain from the vote may not have been imprudent.  However, the issue of whether and to what extent the ruling coalition’s stance was influenced by what it considers “domestic political compulsions” requires discussion.  In the long-term, it raises troubling questions on what sort of a role India will likely play in shaping the world’s security.

If the ruling government abstained from the Libyan vote because of domestic sensitivities, then what is to stop it from doing likewise on any future UNSC votes against nations that may happen to be Arab?  To be candid, it is not Saudi Arabia that is going to favorably influence the UNSC to grant India permanent membership, even if a UNSC expansion were remotely likely.  Secondly, if India is going to abstain from every vote on contentious issues, they why even ask for a permanent seat at the high altar?  Contentious issues will always be put to vote at the UNSC, by the very nature of the Council.  The UNSC is hardly going to sit around debating whether India should be playing an extra bowler vs. Australia in the quarter finals of the World Cup.

It is no use saying India deserves a permanent seat at the UNSC because it represents 1/6th of humanity, if that 1/6th of humanity seldom expresses an opinion.  UNSC membership is not granted based on entitlement — if it were, there would be no place in it for either Britain or France.  While it would be impractical to expect domestic political compulsions not to play a role in how India conducts itself in international affairs, it must also recognize that its aspirations to be regarded as a global actor are untenable if it is not willing to pursue those hard choices that promote its national interests, but impact international or domestic political considerations.

* Department of Commerce, April 2010 — September 2010 figures

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