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Is Obama backing India's UNSC bid merely symbolic?

November 09, 2010 11:43 IST

The announcement by United States President Barack Obama that his administration endorses India's bid for a permanent seat at United Nations Security Council is more of 'symbolic' in nature and lacks 'substance,' American experts have said.

But senior administration officials quickly dismissed such line of thought stressing that any announcement by the US in this regard carried a lot of weight at the international level and it would be incorrect to say that Obama's statement is symbolic in nature.

At the same time it is conceded that there is long way to go before India gets its rightful place at the UN Security Council, given the current political set up, the divergence of views among the community of nations and lack of a strong consensus in this issue at the world body.

"I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member," Obama said in his address to the joint session of the Parliament amidst thunderous applause.

With this the US has become the fourth country, after Britain, France and Russia to endorse India for the UN Security Council.

"This is not the most important issue in the world right now, more symbolic than anything, but symbols seem to be very important for MEA and the Indian media class," said Stephen P Cohen, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institute, and a noted scholar on South Asia.

Obama's announcement did not surprise Cohen. "The problem was not US support, but opposition to India in particular by others, and the whole problem of UN reform," Cohen said.

Echoed Robert Hathaway of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a major Washington-based think tank.

"Many Indians will regard the President's pledge to support India's bid for a permanent UNSC seat as the highpoint of the visit. But since no one believes Indian membership in the Security Council is imminent, in some ways this was merely a symbolic step, albeit a truly important one," said Hathaway, Director, Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Beyond deepening the US-India strategic partnership launched by the Bush administration, the Obama announcement may help break the logjam that has kept the UNSC's permanent membership mired in the world of 1945, said Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Affairs.

He urged the Obama administration to follow its endorsement with an initiative to gradually expand the UNSC based on clear criteria for permanent membership.

"From India's perspective, Obama's endorsement for India to obtain a permanent seat on an expanded UN Security Council is the most symbolically important statement he made. The reality, however, is that UN Security Council Reform is likely still years away," Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation argued.

Officials of the Obama administration did not agree with such a characterisation. "I would have to tell, when the United States stands up and says that a particular country has earned the right to be considered for UN Security Council membership, I think that's more than symbolic," a senior administration official maintained in a response to a query posed by the PTI.

"Since, we are a member of the P-5 (Permanent five members of the Security Council), we have influence and we will use our influence as we consult others on Security Council reform. But the reality is there are a number of countries that we think are potential models for additions to the Security Council and lot of different countries have a lot of different views on how this would proceed. We have some ability to influence this process but not an exclusive ability," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"We made clear our support, but this is a matter under active consultation at the United Nations. A variety of countries would have their views on how to reform and who are the kinds of counties that needs to be added to the reformed Security Council," the official said.

"So, we can't dictate a solution (to the UN Security Council reform), but have made clear our views," the official said, adding that the process of reform has been going on for some time. It is likely to continue for a period of time, the official asserted.

"We are committed to reform, but how that reform is carried out will take some time," the official said. The President has indicated that the US is supportive of India's addition to the Security Council and has not changed our policies with respect to other countries, the official said, adding that other countries would take note of the new American position on the Security Council reform.

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