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The lesson from New York
M K Bhadrakumar
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October 03, 2006
The outcome of the fifth successive straw poll of United Nations Security Council members on Monday endorsing the candidacy of South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon for the post of UN secretary general comes as no surprise.

Ban put up a strong showing securing the support of 14 Council members while one unnamed country cast a 'no opinion' vote.

It was just as well that Indian candidate Shashi Tharoor dropped out of the race. He could secure only 10 votes but, more importantly, three negative votes were cast against him including one by a permanent veto-holding Security Council member.

Dr Tharoor rightly said he considered it a great honour to have been 'the bearer of India's nomination.'

All the same, the time has come for the government in Delhi to take stock where things went so comprehensively wrong in deciding to pitch forth into the circus arena with an official candidate. Clearly, India gained virtually nothing out of its entry in the race for the secretary general's post -� except, arguably, a handful of lessons from the searing experience.

There was a flurry of speculation at one time that Pakistan would oppose India's candidacy. Some even did kite flying about the likelihood of Pervez Musharraf [Images] proposing some potential Pakistani 'candidates'. Evidently, Islamabad thought it completely unnecessary to indulge in any such wasteful effort, comfortable in the early assessment that Dr Tharoor's candidacy was in any case bound to wither away with the passage of time.

The point is with all the formidable track record of being a successful UN bureaucrat over three decades, Dr Tharoor was still running in a pack that included statesmen of the first league -- including at one time titillating names such as (former US president) Bill Clinton [Images] and (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair [Images].

Delhi could have, and should have, come up with an alluring name that was more than a match for the presidents and prime ministers and princes and foreign ministers in the reckoning. In a country of a billion people, that shouldn't be difficult.

A candidate doesn't have to be necessarily a high flier. The Chinese ambassador's comment about Ban is very revealing.

'I believe, among the 5-6 Asian candidates, each had advantages,' Ambassador Wang Gunagya is reported to have commented. But, Ban has 'experience'. Wang meaningfully added: 'He (Ban) is low-key but firm, and he is decisive. Sometimes Asians show their quality in a different way.'

Without doubt, against the backdrop of a world order that is struggling to be born, China holds definite views about the qualities of the incoming secretary general.

By the very decision to put forth a candidate, Delhi exposed itself badly. Somehow, whether one likes it or not, the race in New York is a barometer of a country's global standing -� despite Wang's un-Marxian stress on personal qualities.

The vote against Dr Tharoor by a veto-holding UN Security Council permanent member must give some food for thought for the government.

In life perhaps, but in diplomacy certainly, the explicit is best avoided. Delhi should have gained more by basking in the limelight of the carefully cultivated image of the country as an influential player on the world stage, and a potential permanent member of the Security Council at that, rather than putting the image to such an early test.

We saw how alluring an image of a 'Shining India' could be -� so long as it remained on billboards.

A larger question will always remain. Would India have indeed stood to gain by having Dr Tharoor elected as UN secretary general?

There is no evidence that Egypt or Myanmar or Peru or Ghana gained anything worthwhile out of their nationals having occupied the post of UN secretary general at one time or the other. They still remain where they have been -- in the backwaters of the international system.

On the contrary, Delhi must ponder what pays for it to be an influential player on the chessboard of world politics. Most certainly, a strong economy would help. Ban apparently offered a lot of development assistance to the developing countries by way of boosting South Korea's claim to world leadership.

It cannot escape notice that despite being a staunch and longstanding ally of the United States, South Korea realised the importance of networking with the developing world. Well ensconced within the OECD club, Seoul had every reason to have fancied that God was in heaven, George W Bush [Images] was in the White House, and so long as South Korea unfailingly cared to nurture the Washington end of its foreign policy, it had no reason to take notice of the moth-eaten countries of the developing world -- be they of the Non-Aligned Movement or the Organisation of Islamic Conference.

As the inheritor of millennia-old wisdom, South Korea could see the strength of numbers was irreplaceable in times of trial and tribulations such as in New York on Monday, and, therefore, it was important to bond. Thus, Seoul would bond with Damascus or Teheran as much as with Washington.

Equally, one should not bond only when a need arises. One should bond in anticipation of needs that may or may not arise. Of course, there is nothing like it if a country bonds regardless of the exigencies of international life, on the basis of principles.

Such bonds steeled in the smithy of friendship will have durability. And, who knows, they may have good value for money if a need arises. We cannot lose sight of the lesson from New York -� that all King's men and all the King's horses in Washington might have been by the side of Dr Tharoor, but it still fell far short of the need on the ground.

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