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'UN's permanent members do not want any change'

November 10, 2014 18:24 IST

UN Ebola mission chief Anthony Banbury (on screen) speaks to members of the United Nations Security Council during a meeting on the Ebola crisis at the UN headquarters in New York. Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

'If we get 129 states of the United Nations to vote in favour of reform, India has hope'

'There is no controversy over India and peace-keeping missions -- we are just trying to protect the rule of law and the traditional principles of peace-keeping'

'The permanent members do not want any change, they do not want to share their responsibilities with other countries'

The Security Council as it is today is unable to bring peace and security in the world and so there is reason for countries like India to become members of the Council, Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji tells Sheela Bhatt/

Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, image, left,Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations has served in London, Moscow and Washington, DC, among many other places. In Moscow he negotiated the defence systems with Russians and while serving as ambassador in Kazakhstan he negotiated the acquisition of India's first Caspian Sea oilfield. He opened and headed India's embassies as charge d'affaires in the newly independent Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan in 1992.

Ambassador Mukerji is now busy developing consensus among the UN's member nations to declare June 21 as International Yoga day.  

In Dubai as consul general he introduced the first-ever public-private partnership welfare scheme for the one million Indian workers in the UAE. From counter-terrorism to cyber security, SAARC issues to WTO, he has tackled it all as a diplomat. He has published five books, Stamped in Memory: a Postal History of Dubai 1909-1999; India through the eyes of Russian Artists; India House, London; Mahatma Gandhi in London; and Valour and Sacrifice: the First Indian Soldiers in Europe 1914-1916.

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi goes in for seniority in the selection of the next foreign secretary then Mukerji is all set to to succeed Sujatha Singh in August 2015.

Mukerji spoke to Sheela Bhatt/ in his expansive office in New York

These are changing times in India and global politics. What is your take on the ongoing talks of UN reforms and expansion on the UN Security Council? What is India’s stand?

We are now at the closing stage of the 10-year period when the mandate for reforms at the earlier Security Council was given to the experts by all presidents and prime ministers.

It is our intention to report back to our leaders on the way forward when they meet in 2015 for the UN’s 70th anniversary summit. On the negotiating table will be a paper on which countries can give and take positions which will be then be sent to the heads of the governments -- PMs and presidents -- for their approval.

At the moment there are 12 to 14 countries that do not want any change and they are well-known. They are united on a consensus that they do not want any reform in the permanent membership of the council.

But the vast majority of countries that have participated in these negotiations have supported expansion in the numbers of both permanent and non-permanent members. We are soon going to restart the final round of negotiations and our intention is to produce a report for the heads of states who come in September next year to give us the green light on how to implement this.

Out of the five permanent members of the UNSC, the United Kingdom and France have publicly supported the expansion of the number of permanent members. They have welcomed India, Japan, Brazil and Germany as the new permanent members. So two out of five permanent members have publicly supported India.

Around 12-14 countries called the United for Consensus Group, which include Italy, Pakistan, South Korea, Mexico, Columbia and others, do not want any permanent members.

There has been a lot of debate in the last few years that India made a mistake by clubbing the G4 nations. What is your stand on that?

The G4 platform was developed in 2005. There was a specific setting and context of 2005 because it was the time when a lot of reform took place in the UN system. You had the creation of the Human Rights council in Geneva, which has 47 countries. You had the creation of peace building fund of the UN, you had the creation of UN women, which was created in 2010, but the proposal was given in 2005, you had the introduction of responsibility to protect civilians. This issue came up in the 2005 summit.

There was a churning at that time. The G4 came in to focus on the need to expand the members of the Security Council and these were the four countries (India, Japan, Brazil and Germany) that said they were ready to take up the responsibility of the permanent membership of the Security Council.

The world has changed as you said and the need to reform the Security Council in 2015 is greater than it was in 2005 because crisis in the world has grown.

The Security Council as it is today is not able to bring peace and security in the world. So there is reason for countries like India to become members of the Security Council to help bring peace and security. That’s the way we see it.

If you see the focus given by the PM (Narendra Modi) in his speech at the UN, on non-violence, dialogue… that is India’s USP. India is known for its dialogue for sustainable peace and this is what we hope to get to the Security Council when we become a permanent member.

China will have a problem with Japan becoming a permanent member. Then there is the issue of the US which has policy of pick and choose. In that sense when India is clubbed with people with whom others have issues, India’s own case is weakened.

The answer for me is quite logical. There is no understanding that all the four countries will enter like a group into the Security Council. The charter of the UN requires each candidate to fight an election and get 129 votes of the 192 states -- a 2/3 majority in order to be elected. And even if you look at the last time the Security Council was expanded, only for the permanent members in 1963, the same process was followed. So there is no question of the four or five countries coming together as a group without any elections. And each election is fought by a country individually

What is the crux of the problem?

The permanent members who are sitting there do not want any change, they do not want to share their responsibilities with other countries.

But from America to China, all are ready for an expanded role for India.

Exactly! That is an important point because all the permanent members know that without the process of expansion, no expansion can take place. The process requires the amendment of the charter of UN. Unless there is agreement to amend the UN charter, there will be no outcome.

What is the deadline?

Until two years ago there was no deadline, but India took the initiative in April 2013, and proposed the 70th anniversary of the UN as the deadline. I think it is reflective of the way in which we can convince others that the vast majority of the General Assembly today is looking at 2015 as the deadline.

The manner in which international affairs are changing and diplomacy is now majorly about economic power, the disproportionate representation of the permanent membership is very obvious. In view of that, is there any other way to put pressure on these five stubborn members by the rest of the world?

The only precedent we have seen is in 1963 when the permanent members did not agree to the reform. But because the 2/3rd majority in the general assembly voted in favour of reform, the permanent members had to accept it. This is the only precedent by which we can go by in 2015. If we get 129 states of the UN to vote in favour of the reform we have hope.

What are the possibilities?

The possibilities are there. We are looking at our brothers and sisters in Africa which are 54 countries, Asia Pacific has 54 countries, so between the two they are more than 110. East and central European countries are not represented in the Security Council, Latin America has no representation. So the area is very large.

Let me come to the subject India is interested in. PM Modi in his speech brought in a very fresh subject, of yoga. So tell me the background for it and how you are going to take the issue forward.

Yoga was put up by the PM in his speech as a part of the holistic approach that India has consistently projected in international affairs. Life cannot be compartmentalised and segregated, it has to be approached holistically. This proposal to give focus to yoga and for the UN assembly to declare an international day for yoga is part of this holistic approach. Since the PM put it in his speech, we are talking about sustaining the environment but without looking at the individual, you cannot look at the nature outside without the individual. Nature is part of individual and individual is part of nature. And that is the perspective from which we are approaching this issue.

The subject will come up in the General Assembly as it has started its work and the way forward for us is to propose a resolution to be adopted by the General Assembly declaring June 21 as international day of yoga. June 21 in the northern hemisphere is the longest day. That is one of the reasons to celebrate it.

What’s the diplomatic reference to the context of yoga?

It is part of the approach in which you look at the issue of health and environment in a holistic manner. Unless you are able to provide a sustainable basis for the individual to live his/her life, you cannot expect the environment to be dealt with in a sustainable manner. I think if you look at the paragraph in the PM’s speech, it is very clear.

Fijian UN peacekeepers released by Al-Qaeda-linked group Nusra Front in Syria arrive in Israeli-held territory on the Golan heights. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters

There is controversy about the Indian peace-keeping mission.  

There is no controversy over India and peace-keeping missions. India is the largest contributor to UN peace-keeping. Every year 10,000 soldiers from India participate in peace-keeping missions. By now 170,000 soldiers have served in UN peace-keeping missions from the time it was started in 1948.

Indian peace-keepers come for UN operations on a clear mandate, they are there to maintain peace. There has to be a ceasefire between two countries or there has to be an agreement between two countries that there is a requirement to maintain peace and peacemakers come from outside to maintain it.

The issue that is coming up now in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the introduction of the new idea of making the UN peace-keepers fight for peace. We have said the Indian soldiers have not been sent to the UN to fight, they have been sent to keep the peace. That’s the vital difference in the mandate. Linked with the issue of peacekeepers is the change in the world around us in which UN peacekeepers are being targeted by armed gang or terrorist groups.

This has been faced by India in South Sudan, where we lost seven of our soldiers in one year to armed groups. And we have called for the Security Council to take strict action against these armed groups. The Security Council has been slow to react but after what happened in Golan heights in Syria, where 46 soldiers from Fiji were taken hostage, the Council has come up with a firm call for taking action against the armed groups.

In the case of Syria the armed groups are recognised as terrorist organisations by the Security Council and are known as the Al-Nusrah front. The point we are making is that peace-keepers have to be protected by the rule of law and the states of UN have to fulfil their commitments to use the rule of law against terrorists, because that is a part of international law. There is no controversy -- we are just trying to protect the rule of law and the traditional principles of peace-keeping.

Issue like the ISIS, Somalia pirates, Ebola and Ukraine expose the UN's limitations.  

I understand what you are saying and the response I will give is that it appears to be so because the people who decide what the UN does do not represent the world as it is today. The only body of the UN whose decisions are binding on all the countries of the world is the Security Council. It is article 24 of the charter and act 47 of Indian Parliament, for example, that makes it mandatory for India to follow all the decisions of the Security Council. Unless we are in the Security Council how can we influence its decisions? It has a direct impact on us as well. 

What are the practical and realistic chances of India getting permanent membership and by when?

If it was up to India alone, I would say September 2015 (smiles), but we have to negotiate with 192 other countries. The outcome and process would depend on the movement of each of these 192 States. Our job is to galvanise an opinion, to push it toward an outcome. In that we are helped by our relationships, the group of four you mentioned or the group of 42 developing countries called the L-69 group. The L-69 group has countries of all continents. So I think together we can reach an outcome by September 2015.

How interested is Narendra Modi in it and how far is he going to take it?

He has given his speech in the UN General Assembly and has made two references to the reform of the Security Council. The last paragraph of his speech clearly says, let us reform the Security Council by September 2015.

Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi