Should India be Given a Permanent Seat at the United Nations Security Council?

Ideas On

An analytical piece of writing which contains clear opinions.

Established from the ashes of the League of Nations, in the aftermath of WWII the core body of the UN has changed little in composition. Currently there are five permanent members of the SC (Security Council), the UK, France, Russia, the USA, and China. This raises several questions, why are three of the five SC members western? Where is African and S. American representation?

It should be noted that the Security Council doesn’t just include the permanent five, and actually has 15 members in total. But the permanent 5 have much more power than the other 10 because of their veto. Therefore, this article will focus primarily on the 5 permanent seats and not the reform of the entire Security Council.

Before we discuss Security Council reform, we should first understand its role and history. Article 24 (Chapter V, UN Charter) states that the role of the Security Council of the United Nations is 'the maintenance of international peace and security'. Effectively this mean that, should a threat to international security emerge, for example a civil war, or violation of another member state's sovereignty (an invasion). It is the SC's job to de-escalate this conflict and hopefully resolve it. The most recent UNSC (United Nations Security Council) resolution, for example, is on 'The situation concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo'. A conflict that has been ongoing in one form or another since the early 2000s.

Permanent five members of the UN Security Council in 1945 (bear in mind the huge wave of decolonisation after this period).

But we need to put this into further context, for the world has changed much since the end of WWII. Today we are used to the idea that there is really only one superpower (USA) and a couple potential superpowers (China, Russia, the EU, and India). But 1945 was an era of three superpowers. Namely the UK, the USSR and the USA. In this context the make-up of the Security Council makes much more sense. The three superpowers are all represented so as to give the UNSC as much power (to solve crises) as possible. Though one may rightly ask why France and China were represented at this time. The fact is that France was admitted because she was an allied power, and though she had been invaded and defeated in WWII she was still much more powerful than your average European country. As a whole then, when we take the American sphere of influence, and then add to that the Russian (USSR), British and French Empires (which still existed at that time) practically the whole world was covered. Africa divided North South by the British and French, Oceania by both the British ( with Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand) and America (with the Philippines). The Asian world by the French (with Indochina), the Soviets (with Russian land that reaches all the way east), the British (with India and Burma), and the Americans (with South Korea, and Japan). Europe was broadly under American influence and protection (NATO 1949 onwards), and the areas that were not under American protection were under Soviet influence. South America was a similar story. China’s seat at that time is a little more difficult to explain. One may be tempted to say that she is therefore purely political in reasons. Because the seat was given to the government of what we now call Taiwan in the West due to the ideological similarities and fear of the local chinese opposition – the communists. The People’s Republic of China (today’s China) was not given the UNSC seat until 1971. The move to give the PRC the seat was thus a reflection of reality (China was communist not western).

Permanent five members of the UN Security Council in 2019.

Today, however, the UNSC is much less representative. Long gone are the USSR, and the British and French Empires. The post war period became synonymous with decolonialisation and the creation of brand new and independent nation states in Africa, Asia and Oceania. The UK can no longer claim to represent, in any way, the best interests of her old protectorates (Malawi, Kenya, etc..) or dominions (Australian, Canada, South Africa) and even less those of the Republic of India – a country very much on the path to superpower status. This equally applies to France and her old empirical lands. One might be tempted to say that this power has simply been passed on to the USA, and broadly speaking this is true. But America is not an imperial power, her ideology (not that she always follows it to the word) prevents full blown subversion of other countries. She prefers instead to use her political and economic influence when possible. America does not have colonies, and though she does regularly use her military, she has not since WWII taken full administrative control over another country (America did have colonies such as the Philippines circa 1898). In addition to this, many of the old colonial possessions have accumulated power themselves. Australia, New Zealand, and Canada are all wealthy countries with varying degrees of significant economic and political power within their respective geographical and economic circles. India is another excellent example of a successful ex-colony; her economy has grown ceaselessly since independence as well as her political and military power (she now has aircraft carriers as well as a nuclear arsenal). China, though not an ex-colony, has done much to slowly tip the balance of power away from the west. China is just about to finish her first supercarrier and has ambition to re-build the silk road (a project that would reroute much international trade through Asia). Also, much like the laws that govern the conservation of energy, global influence is always gained at the expense of another’s. The UK no longer has the largest navy in the world, today the Royal Navy only just retains the status of a Blue Water Navy — that is to say a navy cable of being mobilised at a moments notice to anywhere on the globe. The same applies to France who only has only one aircraft carrier – a key component of a Blue Water Navy. Today the UNSC’s permanent members can only reasonably claim to represent Europe, China and the USA.

This is where India comes into play. As already mentioned she is an up-and-coming power with a growing military and economy. Permanent membership for India would be an acknowledgement of the changing balance of power. Also, India happens to have the most international support amongst the other permanent members with the UK saying that she supports:

'new permanent seats for Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, alongside permanent African representation'

Her membership is equally supported by the USA, France, and Russia. The only real obstacle for India is China. France also supports the membership of Brazil, Germany and Japan alongside an African nation. But the biggest argument against such a move is that the UNSC would become ungovernable. A UNSC with ten permanent members, all with a veto, is less likely to come to a consensus that a UNSC with only 5 members.

There is, however, another suggested alternative to simply adding more permanent members. This would be to dissolve the UK and French seat into a European seat (something admittedly more difficult after Brexit, but not impossible) leaving only 4 permanents thus leaving space for India. This European seat would also act as a representative for Germany, thus withdrawing the need to have a German seat. Such restructuring of the permanent seats would much better represent the current balance of power and would not overly complicate the organisation or reduce the chances of consensuses within the UNSC P5. This would leave out Japan and Brazil as well as Africa, but as of yet, Brazil and Japan don’t have the military, political and economic growth of India. Japan is still in recession and is all but totally reliant on the US for defence. Brazil is in arguably more economic and political turmoil and has little military might. There is, to date, no African country that can realistically compete either. This is not to say that thing might not change in the future, Japan and Brazil’s economies can recover and their military and political influence still grow. What can be said without doubt is that the UNSC P5 must reflect the geopolitical reality in order to remain relevant and pragmatic, and to do so it must change.

Article updated on the 7th April 2019

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Written by Leon Davies

Editor Ideas On Info and Student studying History with Politics at the University of Buckingham.