INDIA AT THE UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
India assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 1st December 2022.
This leads to very significant visibility for India on the global stage. India has been a non-permanent member of the security council for around two years now, and will now preside over the Council with its presidency.
In January 2021, India had joined the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for its eighth term as a non-permanent member. India secured 184 votes in the 193-member General Assembly, including all the 55 votes of the Asia-Pacific Group. This massive support can be seen as a befitting acknowledgment of India's growing prominence at the high tables. India's membership came at a time of intensifying great power rivalry and increased anti-multilateral sentiments. The Ukraine war, for instance, has exposed deep divisions in the UNSC. In addition, issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have exacerbated the predicament of multilateral institutions. Consequently, the challenge before India was to help the UNSC to reinvigorate multilateralism. India’s voting response and its August 2021 presidency show that India contributed to expanding the UNSC agenda.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN) and is charged with ensuring international peace and security.
It also recommends the admission of new UN members to the General Assembly, and approves changes to the UN Charter. Its powers include establishing peacekeeping operations, enacting international sanctions, and authorizing military action. The UNSC is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states.
Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created after World War II to address the failings of the League of Nations in maintaining world peace. It held its first session on 17 January 1946 but was largely paralyzed in the following decades by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (and their allies).
Nevertheless, it authorized military interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in Cyprus, West New Guinea, and the Sinai Peninsula. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, with the Security Council authorizing major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Composition of UN Security Council
The UN Security Council is composed of 15 members, including five permanent member states - China, France, Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom – and 10 non-permanent member states elected by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Each non-permanent member gets the opportunity to work as UNSC president.
Ten non-permanent members are elected to the UNSC every year for a two-year term. India's current term began on January 1 of this year and will last until December 31, 2023.
The 10 non-permanent seats are distributed among the regions of the world: five seats for African and Asian countries (three are for Africa and two for Asia), one for Eastern European countries, two for Latin American and Caribbean countries, and the remaining two for Western European and other countries.
The Africa and Asia Pacific group takes turns every two years to put up an Arab candidate.
Before applying, each country must obtain the votes of two-thirds of the member states present and voting at the UN General Assembly, to secure a seat on the UN Security Council. To break it down, this translates to a minimum of 129 votes to win a seat if all 193 UN member states are present and voting.
How does the presidency of UNSC rotate?
Each non-permanent member gets the opportunity to operate as president of the UN Security Council during the two years it is part of the grouping.
The presidency of UNSC changes hands every month between its members in the English alphabetical order of the member states' names.
In August, the presidency was passed on from France to India. Similarly, Ireland is slated to take over the presidency from India in September.
India is thus in the presidency again now.
The country's last term as a non-permanent member of the UNSC was in 2011-12, which was preceded by stints in 1991-92, 1984-85, 1977-78, 1972-73, 1967-68, and 1950-51.
Powers of the UNSC President
The presidency derives responsibility from the Provisional Rules of Procedure of the United Nations Security Council as well as the UNSC's practice.
The holder of the presidency is considered to be the 'face' and spokesperson of the UNSC.
Responsibilities of the UNSC president include
- Calling meetings of the UN Security Council
- Appealing to parties in a conflict to "exercise restraint"
- Reading statements of the UN Security Council to the press
- Approving provisional agenda (proposed by the secretary-general)
- Presiding at UNSC meetings and deciding questions relating to policy and overseeing any crisis
Some of the significant roles of the UNSC broadly include maintaining “international peace in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations,” and “to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken.”
UNSC meets regularly to assess the security scenario in the world and take measures against nuclear proliferation, gender-based crimes, human rights violations and civilian killings at the time of war, etc. This all lies under the purview of the council. UNSC strives to maintain a peaceful world. UNSC is allowed to use sanctions to change the behavior of a country or regime, involved in the above-mentioned cases. It believes that sanctions are one method to keep non-compliant entities in line and adhere to what UNSC considers is helping in maintaining international peace and security. The first sanction ever to be used by UNSC was in 1966 on Southern Rhodesia condemning the illegitimate seizure of power.
One more method to maintain stability around the world, used by the Security Council, is the deployment of the Peacekeeping Forces. Peacekeeping missions mean that the UN designated army and police will be sent to these disturbed areas to confront the forces that disrupt the country by inflicting violence.
All of this seems good only on paper, and not in reality, because of the Veto Power enjoyed by the permanent members of the UNSC. Many times, this power wielded by the P5 has been used by them to protect their own interests, keeping the larger global cause at stake.
Veto power of UNSC member states
The UN defines 'veto' as a "special voting power", which provides that "if any one of the five permanent members cast a negative vote in (UNSC), the resolution or decision would not be approved".
However, the "veto power" is restricted to P5 member states of the UN Security Council. Non-permanent members of the UNSC do not enjoy this privilege.
Article 27 of the UN Charter says each member of the UNSC shall have one vote and that decisions on "procedural matters" shall require no more than the affirmative vote of nine out of the 15 members.
Decisions on any other matter need not only an affirmative vote of nine members but also the concurring votes of the permanent members.
Table: An overview of India’s past UN presidencies
Month and Year of Presidency
Major topics in meetings
Resolutions and Statements
National Issues: Complaint of aggression on the Republic of Korea
Two resolutions (Republic of Korea)
No resolutions adopted
National Issues: Namibia and Cyprus
Two resolutions (Namibia and Cyprus)
National Issues: South Africa; the question of the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights
One resolution (South Africa)
National Issues: Middle East; Chad
No resolutions adopted
National Issues: Cambodia; Cyprus; the situation between Iraq and Kuwait
Four resolutions (Cambodia, Cyprus and, Iraq and Kuwait)
National Issues: Somalia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Items relating to the situation in the former Yugoslavia; Cyprus; Mozambique; Angola; the situation in the occupied Arab territories
Thematic Issues: An agenda for peace: preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peace-keeping
Six resolutions (Somalia, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Arab territories)
Four presidential statements (Angola, Cambodia, an agenda for peace, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
National Issues: Somalia; Central African Region; Middle East situation, including the Palestinian question; Kosovo (Serbia); Libya
Thematic Issues: United Nations peacekeeping operations
One resolution (Middle East)
Two presidential statements (Middle East,UN Peacekeeping operations)
National Issues: Somalia; Libya; Timor-Leste; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Sudan; the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question; Congo; Iraq; Sierra Leone
Thematic Issues: Maintenance of international peace and security; Women and peace and security
Six resolutions (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, Congo, Somalia)
Two presidential statements (maintenance of international peace and security, Sierra Leone)
Source: United Nations
India as a Non-Permanent Member in 2021–22
For the 2021–22 UNSC term, India's primary objective in the UNSC was to implement a new orientation for a reformed multilateral system. This approach was guided by the “five S’s”, as set out by the Indian Prime Minister (PM): samman (respect), samvad (dialogue), sahyog (cooperation), shanti (peace), and samriddhi (prosperity). India had also identified five priorities for the current term: seeking responsible and inclusive solutions; result-oriented measures to counter international terrorism; reformed multilateralism to reflect contemporary realities; streamlining peacekeeping; and technology with a human touch. Moreover, in January 2021, India was elected as the Chair of the Taliban Sanctions Committee, the Chair of the Libya Sanctions Committee, and the Vice-Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC). It was also elected as one of the Vice-Chairs of the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Committee and the working group to monitor the implementation of UNSC sanctions on Al Qaida and the Taliban.
In January 2022, India assumed the Chair of the CTC. India's first month in the Council showed its ability to pursue the stated priorities. For instance, in a ministerial-level meeting on terrorism, India proposed an eight-point action plan for countering terrorism. India also requested all nations to commit their actions to the goal of zero tolerance for terrorism. The following months were eventful, mainly due to developments in Afghanistan and Ukraine, which were reflected in India's UNSC responses. From January 2021 to April 2022, India abstained from voting on UNSC resolutions five times. The first abstention came in May 2021, when the UNSC voted for the US-drafted resolution on the effectiveness of sanctions in South Sudan. The second was in December 2021 on illicit trafficking of arms. The other three abstentions were on the Ukrainian crisis in February and March 2022.
During the term, one of the most significant occurrences was India's UNSC presidency in August 2021. India undertook its tenth tenure as President of the UNSC in August and organized three signature events: open debates on maritime security, peacekeeping operations, and terrorism. Under the Indian presidency, the UNSC adopted five resolutions and four unanimous presidential statements. The resolutions were related to peacekeeping operations, Mali, Lebanon, the extension of United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), and Afghanistan. Sudan and South Sudan, maritime security, peace and consolidation in West Africa, and peacekeeping operations were the subjects of presidential statements.
On August 9, PM Narendra Modi chaired the high-level open debate on maritime security, becoming the first Indian PM to preside over a UNSC meeting. He also outlined a five-principle framework for the discussion: removing barriers to maritime trade; resolving maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law; jointly tackling maritime threats from nonstate actors and natural disasters; conserving of maritime environment and marine resources; and responsible maritime connectivity. Interestingly, this was the first standalone discussion on maritime security in the UNSC, which rightfully showcases India’s strong determination to play a leading role in envisioning a global roadmap towards configuring a robust maritime security construct.
Under India's presidency, the UNSC also adopted a statement recognizing the importance of technology in peacekeeping. In the open debate, India proposed a four-point framework for UN peacekeepers to meet contemporary threats. First, employing operationally proven, cost-effective, widely available, environment-friendly, reliable, and field serviceable technologies. Second, need for a sound information and intelligence foundation to ensure early warning and mobilizing early response. Third, ensuring technological improvements are continuous and are available on the ground. Fourth, consistent training and capacity building of peacekeepers in the realm of technology. All these points were further emphasized in the unanimously adopted presidential statement on peacekeeping operations. It is important to note that the presidential statement on peacekeeping during India's presidency was the first standalone presidential statement on peacekeeping in the UNSC.
In addition, India drafted a resolution on peacekeeping, and the Council unanimously adopted it. The UNSC Resolution 2589 was the first resolution initiated and negotiated by India during the current term. It set out specific obligations on member states to ensure accountability for crimes committed against UN peacekeepers. It also called for prosecuting the perpetrators of such crimes and bringing them to justice by the member states. The open debate on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist attacks was held on August 19, on the eve of the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism.
In the meeting, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar reiterated his eight-point action plan for counter-terrorism and demanded the early adoption of a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. The other two significant issues which came to the UNSC during the current membership were the crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine. The crisis in Afghanistan unfolded with the withdrawal of the US–NATO troops and the Taliban's subsequent takeover of the country in August 2021. This coincided with India's UNSC presidency. As the President of the Council, India organized a briefing, issued two press statements condemning the terrorist attacks, and introduced a resolution to tackle the Afghanistan crisis. In the meetings, India emphasised that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used by terrorist groups to threaten or attack any other country. India also called for an inclusive dispensation representing all sections of Afghan society. This was reiterated in the August 16 statement that called for the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative, including the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women. India also succeeded in passing Resolution 2593, which demanded that the Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country, shelter or train terrorists, or plan or finance terrorist acts. The Resolution reiterated the vital importance of respect for the rights of Afghan people, including women, girls, and minorities, and called upon the relevant actors to provide and ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people in need.33Later, in December 2021, India voted in favour of the UNSC Resolution that enabled the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through an exemption to the sanction regime. India also supported a central role of the UN in Afghanistan as part of the renewed mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
India's approach to the Ukrainian crisis, especially its responses in the UNSC, shows its independent and neutral foreign policy. Since February 2022, the UNSC has convened 13 meetings on the Ukraine issue. In all these meetings, India has consistently called for restraint on all sides. In the first meeting on February 17, India stated that the Minsk Agreement provides the basis for a negotiated and peaceful settlement of the crisis, and discussions under the Normandy format will further facilitate the implementation of Minsk's provisions. India also said that its interest is in finding a solution that can provide for the immediate de-escalation of tensions, taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries and aimed towards securing long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond. On the February 21 and 23 meetings, India reiterated its position and stated that the well-being of more than 20,000 Indian nationals living in Ukraine is of priority for the country. On February25, when the UNSC considered a draft resolution tabled by Albania and the US demanded immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, India abstained, along with China and the United Arab Emirates. In its explanation of vote, India said that all efforts should be made for the immediate de-escalation of violence and hostilities and requested the conflicting parties to return to the path of diplomacy. India also expressed its concern over the Indian community in Ukraine. Moreover, on February 27, India abstained from voting on a UNSC.
In August, India voted against a Russian proposal to block a speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the UN Security Council.
In October 2022, India joined more than 100 United Nations member states to reject Russia’s call for a secret ballot in the General Assembly on a draft resolution to denounce Moscow’s “illegal” annexation of four Ukrainian regions, after New Delhi expressed concern at the escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
Reform of UNSC
Reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) encompasses five key issues:
- Categories of membership,
- The question of the veto held by the five permanent members,
- Regional representation,
- The size of an enlarged Council and its working methods, and
- The Security Council-General Assembly relationship.
The current composition of the Security Council reflects the geopolitical situation of 1945. The Council’s present composition is no longer representative of a world that has seen 142 new countries join the United Nations since 1945.
Asia's inadequate representation poses a serious threat to the UN's legitimacy, which will only increase as the world's most dynamic and populous region assumes an increasingly important global role. One possible way to resolve the problem would be to add at least four Asian seats: one permanent seat for India, one shared by Japan and South Korea (perhaps in a two-year, one-year rotation), one for the ASEAN countries (representing the group as a single constituency), and a fourth rotating among the other Asian countries.
India has time and agian emphasized UNSC reform for greater representation of developing countries and the need for a rebalanced and multipolar world.
Expansion of the permanent and non-permanent bodies is long overdue; they must include countries such as India, considering its geographical size; enormous population; economic growth; democratic system; political stability; soft, military, and nuclear power; apart from its undisputed role in South Asian affairs.
The United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia — the Security Council’s permanent members — have periodically misused their veto power. Most of the P5 has vetoed resolutions to protect their and their ally’s interests. Like, Russia and China use this power to reject any resolution which is against the Syrian regime.
There have been several instances when personal biases of the five UNSC representatives, have trumped as a priority over a humanitarian crisis. The US has used its veto power many times to protect Israel from the condemnation of its armed actions in the Gaza Strip.
Veto Used Against the Interests of India
After the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, which was orchestrated by the JeM founder Masood Azhar, India started its effort in the UNSC to designate Masood Azhar as a terrorist. This move has been stalled by China by using its veto power.
Note: Any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states in a vote in the General Assembly and must be ratified by two-thirds of Member States. All of the permanent members of the UNSC (which have veto rights) must also agree.
What are India’s priorities as the Council President?
India will focus on two major themes. First will be an all-encompassing theme focused on building a new orientation towards reformed multilateralism, while the second theme will focus on an approach towards global counter-terrorism.
The paralysis of the Council, the UN's highest decision-making body that is charged with taking action to end conflicts and ensure international peace, has brought a sense of urgency to the reform process.
Amid the myriad crises facing the world, "the Security Council - the main guarantor of international peace and security - has remained blocked, unable to fully carry out its mandate.
India's agenda during its presidency will also be to focus on UN reforms for a more equitable representation of the new global order.
India has been advocating for the need to expand the P5 for some time now. Over the years, other countries have also been pushing for India to be included in a reformed, expanded UN Security Council.
India was not in the room when the Kashmir issue was raised behind closed doors in the UN Security Council. With India now part of the discussion, it is likely that Pakistan will try similar moves through its ally China, a P5 member state.
An open debate on the “maintenance of international peace and security” through “new orientation for reformed multilateralism” and a briefing on “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” which would involve discussions on principles and way forward through a “global counter-terrorism approach” remain key to the Council.
Wrapping it up
India’s focus areas—as compared to its past presidencies—reflect the immediate developments in the world stage, such as the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the UNSC has been frequently criticised for its inability to take on controversial issues and its archaic membership structure. India, along with other members of the G4 (Brazil, Japan, and Germany) support the expansion of the UNSC’s permanent membership—a move that is yet to materialise. As such, the presidency offers a unique opportunity to India to display leadership skills, establish itself is a responsible stakeholder, and indicate its commitment to global governance.