India seeks openness, and movement, in elusive UN reforms

How far will Akbaruddin’s enthusiasm, backed by the new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's push for reforms, move the IGN on the path to real negotiations that India so badly wants? asks Arul Louis in South Asia Monitor

Nov 21, 2017
By Arul Louis
For about a quarter of a century, India has been pursuing the reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the global organisation's core 15-nation body charged with maintenance of international peace and security, in hopes of getting for itself a permanent seat - currently limited to five countries - commensurate with its size and growing economy. But the prize has been elusive.
As the seemingly Sisyphian task of negotiating reforms got under way for the ninth time this month in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), India's Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin decried the secretive machinations hobbling the process – known officially as the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) – and called for opening it up to world scrutiny so everyone can see who was responsible for its failure so far.
The 193 members of the UN have not been able to agree on even a document that would be the basis of negotiating reforms. “We need to consider options of opening the process, so that others are aware of what is it that stops the current discussions from even beginning on the path of a negotiating text,” he said.
Taking a dig at the failure of UN diplomatic corps in proceeding with the reforms, Akbaruddin quipped, “Diplomacy, in the modern era, seems to have become too important to be left to the diplomats.”
There is a precedent for at least a little bit of openness in a traditionally highly secretive process.  Last year, the UN secretary-general's election was held with a degree of transparency never seen before. The candidates came under the scrutiny of global citizens in town hall-style meetings where they answered questions from civil society groups and people around the world on their agendas.
How far will Akbaruddin’s enthusiasm, backed by the new Secretary-General Antonio Guterres's push for reforms, move the IGN on the path to real negotiations that India so badly wants? During the last eight sessions of the Assembly, the Inter-Governmental Negotiations for reforms rolled the process onto the next year. 
After showing some signs of life during the 2013-14 UNGA session, the IGN was adrift in the last two. The General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak is now trying to reboot the reform process with a call for “real dialogue.” He has appointed Permanent Representatives Kaha Imnadze of Georgia and Lana Zaki Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as co-chairs of the IGN.
Former IGN chair Zahir Tanin came close to producing a negotiating text in 2010 and even a draft resolution for reforms. But the text was blocked by Uniting for Consensus. It is opposed to adding new permanent members and its strategy is to prevent the adoption of a negotiating text to stall any negotiations.
Under the leadership of Sam Kutesa of Uganda, the president of the 2013-14 session, and the IGN chair, Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica, the IGN came close to getting a negotiating text, backed by the then India's Permanent Representative Asoke Mukerji and the other diplomats of G4.
Rattray conducted a survey of UN members on the elements of reform and from the responses of more than 120 countries he came up with what became known as a framework document laying out the various options for reforms. 
India and some other countries wanted a distillation of the document to be the negotiating text – and even thought they had it. But Kutesa's term ended and the Jamaican government withdrew him from being the IGN chair, reportedly under pressure from China.
What could ultimately break down the opposition to moving the negotiations to a “credible” and “meaningful” phase that Lacjak wants would be the Africa factor: The resolve of the 54 nations of the continent and the shaming of those against giving that whole region even a single permanent seat. Besides the historic injustices done to Africa, it is the continent where the Security Council is most involved now. The Arab and Muslim nations too are shut out of the permanent membership, as are Latin Americans.
“Some of us are standing on opposite ends of the spectrum,” Lajcak acknowledged. But he said, “We too can come closer to the middle” with “Real dialogue. Real listening. And real interaction.” He suggested moving ahead through compromise and convergences.
Already moving in that direction, India and the G4 have, for example, agreed to initially give up veto powers if they become permanent members.
(The author is a New York-based non-resident Senior Fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at

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