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India's risky UN Gamble

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.asiantribune.com/index.php?q=node/642 India s risky UN Gamble Sun, 2006-06-18 03:46 P R Kumaraswamy - Exclusive to Asian Tribune By deciding to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 17, 2006
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      India's risky UN Gamble
      Sun, 2006-06-18 03:46

      P R Kumaraswamy - Exclusive to Asian Tribune

      By deciding to field Shashi Tharoor as its official
      candidate for the post of Secretary-General, India has
      taken a risky, avoidable and potentially disastrous
      gamble at the UN. Official spin notwithstanding, the
      move implies that India has given up its aspiration
      for a seat in the UN Security Council. At least in the
      short run.

      Many countries both in Asia and elsewhere world will
      warmly endorse the Indian position of rotation “under
      which the next Secretary-General of the UN should be
      from Asia.” Indeed veteran socialist leader U Thant of
      the then Burma, now Myanmar, was the last Asian to
      occupy that position until he was killed in a tragic
      accident in September 1961.

      At the same time, many countries even within Asia will
      have serious reservations of New Delhi’s subtext that
      an Indian should be that candidate. If an Asian had
      not occupied that post for over four decades, it is
      equally true that no woman had ever occupied it since
      the founding of the UN more than 60 years ago.

      Tharoor, currently Under Secretary-General for
      Communication and Public Information, hopes to follow
      the footsteps of Kofi Annan. As under
      Secretary-General under Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Annan
      succeeded his boss. Since Dag Hammarskjöld of Sweden
      took office in 1953, every Secretary-General secured a
      second term.

      Boutros-Ghali was the only exception. Got carried away
      by the support he enjoyed among the Third World
      countries, he needlessly stepped on the American toes
      only to be denied re-election. Capitalizing on this
      situation, his deputy Annan of Ghana staged a
      spectacular backroom coup and got elected in 1996 and
      was re-elected five years later.

      Indian mixed signals

      By conventions, great powers, especially permanent
      members of the Security Council, have shied away from
      aspiring for the highest elected office in the world.
      Since the election of Trygve Lie of Norway in 1945, it
      has always gone to smaller, influential and often
      neutral countries. Over the years the UN and the
      office of Secretary-General has become highly
      politicized and proximity to a great power would only
      add further criticisms and impede the functioning the
      person holding that office.

      In throwing its hat in the ring, India has created a
      host of problems for itself. This move comes against
      the backdrop of its on going campaign for a permanent
      seat in the Security Council. Its ambition for a seat
      at the high table is visible and at times too blatant
      and brazen. Seen in the context of earlier refusal by
      the great powers to aspire for this position, one can
      draw two conclusions.

      Within hours after the Indian announcement Pakistan’s
      ambassador at the UN Munir Akram reminded the world:
      “It is a tradition that the permanent members of the
      UNSC or countries aspiring to be its permanent members
      do not field candidates for the post of the UN
      Secretary General.” Simple English? India has given up
      its Security Council aspirations, at least for now. As
      some have pointed out, Tharoor’s election could indeed
      be a liability for India’s leadership ambitions.

      Alternatively one could accept the contention of the
      Indian spokesperson that its desire for Security
      Council membership and its candidacy for
      Secretary-General “are separate issues and it is
      incorrect to perceive India’s support for one as
      dilution of our commitment to the other.” In that case
      this would mean India is consciously breaking the
      tradition set by the great powers even before its
      entry into the elite club!

      Lacking sub-regional consensus

      Secondly, India belongs to Asia but India is not Asia.
      The Indian move thus comes against the background of a
      number of other Asian candidates who had expressed
      similar interests. Among others, South Korean Foreign
      Minister Ban Ki-Moon, Thai Deputy Prime Minister
      Surakiat Sathirathai, veteran Sri Lankan diplomat
      Jayant Dhanapala and Singapore’s former Prime Minister
      Goh Chok Tong are mentioned as possible candidates. If
      India is there, Pakistan won’t be far behind,
      especially for such a heavy-weight contest.Islamabad
      has already indicated its desire to field a candidate
      for the job.

      In geographic terms it means candidates from major
      sub-regions of Asia namely, East Asia, South East Asia
      and South Asia. At present some have more than one
      candidate and need agree on a consensus choice who
      could then be the common candidate for Asia, should a
      context with other continents become inevitable.

      If this proves difficult then there could be more than
      one candidate from Asia who could be presented to the
      outside world. To reach such a continental consensus,
      sub-regional consensus becomes essential. Given their
      common political understanding and worldview,
      countries of the South East Asia might agree more
      easily than South Asia.

      Ideally the India should have worked quietly and
      announced a common candidate acceptable to all the
      countries of South Asia. Not only this did not happen,
      now there are two perhaps three candidates from the
      seven-member sub-region. It is also not clear whether
      India has consulted other potential candidates before
      announcing its decision. Most likely it did not.

      High-risk gamble

      By seeking a position thereto avoided by great powers,
      India is sending a wrong message to the smaller
      countries. Its leadership ambitions and this move do
      not synchronize and many would see it as a reflection
      of confused state Indian foreign policy.

      Furthermore, the Secretary-General is appointed by the
      General Assembly, on the “recommendation” of the
      Security Council. New Delhi should have taken a second
      look at the Boutros-Ghali episode. Despite the
      overwhelming support he enjoyed, his re-election
      ambitions were quashed because of the opposition from
      Washington. Even though he enjoyed the support of
      other great powers US President Bill Clinton squarely
      vetoed him. Even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s
      pleading did not change the situation.

      Right now it is not clear whether Tharoor’s candidacy
      was broached diplomatically with others or that India
      secured the support of the permanent members. So far
      the US is not prepared to disclose its views on any of
      the candidates, including Tharoor. It is safe to
      predict which way the east wind from China will blow.
      Electing an Indian to the Secretary-General would be
      seen as an international recognition of India not just
      of Tharoor, something Beijing would not like to

      Therefore, the Chinese endorsement of Tharoor will not
      be that easy and Beijing would extract substantial
      concessions or quid pro quo from New Delhi on other
      areas. If a Pakistani is in the race for
      Secretary-General, there is no need for second

      China’s long term interests lay in identifying,
      supporting and promoting candidates from small
      countries. This way it could present itself as their
      well wisher, champion and perhaps leader. With China’s
      veto power, it will not be easy for India to cross the
      initial hurdle and reach a contest stage.


      It is a high-risk gamble that India should have
      avoided. India no longer enjoys the overwhelming
      support of the Third World or non-aligned movement.
      Hence, a contest, if it eventually comes to that would
      reveal the extent of India’s popularity and standing.
      These are unchartered waters.

      On his own Tharoor is a well-respected, widely
      recognized and scholarly person who understands not
      only the nuances of high-profiled diplomacy but is
      also equally at home with the sufferings of the
      faceless, impoverished and illiterate millions who
      live in urban slums or rural landmasses far and wide.

      Tharoor perhaps has better chance of winning the
      converted post by playing up his UN credentials and
      underplaying his Indian connections. The central issue
      is not his personal qualities or qualifications but
      his Indian tag. Most scholars would be unable to
      identify the nationality of current chief Annan.
      Tharoor will not have that anonymity or luxury. There
      lies the real problem.

      P R Kumaraswamy, teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru
      University, New Delhi.

      - Asian Tribune -
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