UNSC reform: an “adamant” India was biggest irritant for US: Wikileaks

The Americans saw India as the biggest stumbling block in their attempts to achieve a compromise over the expansion of the UN Security Council to include new members.

In diplomatic cables dating from 2007 — when the negotiations started gathering pace — to 2010, the US delegation to the UN variously characterised India as an adamant, aggressive, threatening, uncompromising and acerbic.

Out of the five actors — India, Germany, Japan, Brazil and Africa — pushing for expanding the Security Council, India and Africa were often singled out by US diplomats for being inflexible and pig-headed, according to the cables leaked by Wikileaks.

It may be noted that indeed India and the African Union were indeed the only two negotiators who refused to compromise on the issue of the veto and the absolute permanence of the new seats.

According to the veto provision, no decision of the UN can be passed without the assent of all the veto-holders (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.)

However, the vast majority of the UN members want the veto abolished and repeated the demand at various rounds of meetings.

The veto has come into disrepute as some of the five countries, the US in particular, have used the veto to prevent action against widely condemned atrocities by their allies (such as Israel.)

The reformers such as India, Africa, Brazil, Japan etc.. also want the veto abolished or controlled. If not, they want the veto to be extended to any of the new permanent members as well.

On the other hand, three of the veto powers — China, the US and Russia — were unwilling to surrender the veto power. At the same time, they were also unwilling to give the veto power to other prospective permanent members such as Brazil, India, Japan, Germany etc..

After a lot of negotiations, US officials felt that Japan, Germany and Brazil may be agreeable to an “intermediate” solution — a 10 or 12 year term without veto, followed by a review and modification of status for the new permanent members.

However, in a cable written in 2009, US officials pointed out that India and Africa continued to be adamant.

“Japan and Brazil also appear to be showing some flexibility towards an intermediate option, therefore leaving only India and the African Group as the main stalwarts insisting on additional permanent seats with veto.

“India could be the linchpin in determining how quickly or slowly this process moves forward. If India continues to insist on additional permanent seats, then negotiations will move slowly because the African Group will not be compelled to adjust the Ezulwini Consensus; however if India shows some interest in the intermediate option, negotiations could quickly accelerate,” it pointed out.

India, however, was far from ready to modify its all or nothing demand, as noted in another cable.

“At the end of the last session, the Indian Perm Rep underlined the “almost unanimity of unhappiness with the veto,” but the choice is either to extend permanence and the veto or to not extend either. (With that statement, the Indian Perm Rep firmly placed his country’s future permanent seat squarely with the African Group’s position — permanent seats must come with the veto. Given the Permanent-5’s resistance to veto extension, this will not likely prove a fruitful avenue of pursuit),” it noted.

The then Indian permanent representative to the United Nations Nirupam Sen was described as someone with a sharp tongue.

“The Indian delegation was the most rigid. Their acerbic interventions in the open ended working group [meeting] insulted the UFC [alliance led by Pakistan and Italy against India, Germany etc.], the President of the General Assembly, and irritated China.

“The Indian Perm Rep, who spoke after the Chinese DPR at the September 15 OEWG meeting, sharply criticized the Chinese position in support of [continuing with] the open ended working group and consensus deliberations, characterizing it as the “swan song of a declining organization (Security Council)” noted another bitter description of India’s position, in September 2008.

Indians continued to be derogatory and acerbic into the next year.

“The tone in these meetings quickly turned acerbic, beginning with the Indian Permanent Representative’s derogatory reference to the Italian Perm Rep as the “leading light of the UFC” who was arithmetically challenged.

“The Italian Perm Rep returned the compliment in the last session, referring to the Indian Perm Rep as the “lodestar of the G4” who did not correctly interpret his intervention even though a hard copy was provided,” narrated the then US ambassador to the UN, the Afghanistan-born Zalmay Khalilzad.

India was not only adamant about the veto and equality of status between the ‘old’ permanent powers and the new ones, it was also the most aggressive in pushing the UN General Assembly President to move fast with the negotiations.

It routinely issued threats to Srgan Kerim, the chairman of the working group discussing the issue urging him to move fast or it would go to the General Assembly with a half-baked proposal and put it up for voting.

A cable in 2008 blamed India for the haste shown by Kerim in the setting up of the intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) forum.

“India was particularly adamant about pursuing IGN and implied that it might put forward a draft resolution on UNSC reform if the negotiations do not begin soon. Uniting for Consensus (UFC) countries, led by Italy and Pakistan, along with Russia, China, and members of the Arab League, all expressed opposition to beginning IGN at this time because of the lack of an agreed text on which to conduct the negotiations.

“We believe Kerim is projecting confidence because he knows India will table its draft resolution mandating the start of negotiations if the PGA does not find a way to do so himself… [The Indian resolution,] even if it fails to be adopted, would move the discussion out of the working group and force a vote on UNSC reform for the first time in more than three decades,” an exasperated US delegation wrote home.

In fact, India’s hard-nosed negotiation style was starting to rub-off on its allies too, as shown in the following excerpt from an August 2008 cable.

“Kerim, who had just returned from a working visit to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, told the [US] Ambassador August 7 that the Brazilian Foreign Minister “showed his cards” and told him that Brazil would “behave like India” and join India in tabling a resolution if inter-governmental negotiations are not launched through the current process.

“Kerim said that he told them that the previous L.69 resolution [similarly put up by India] “spoiled a lot.” He said the Brazilian response was that the L.69 resolution had actually forced the opposition to include inter-governmental negotiations in the decision of the 61st session and that would not have happened without the pressure of the L.69 resolution.

“According to Kerim, the Brazilians are ready to join the Indians in playing the same card again. In a separate conversation earlier in the day, August 7, the Indian Permanent Representative told the [US] Ambassador that they planned to move forward with a resolution if inter-governmental negotiations are not launched,” it noted.