Asia-Pacific, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

POLITICS: India to Field Candidate for Top U.N. Job

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2006 (IPS) - When India ran against Japan for a non-permanent seat in the 15-member U.N. Security Council back in October 1996, it suffered a humiliating defeat.

The vote was a whopping 142 for Japan and a measly 40 for India in a General Assembly of 191 member states. By U.N. standards, it was a monumental political disaster.

As Dharam Shourie, a longstanding U.N. correspondent for Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency would recall, the news took even visiting opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee by surprise.

Asked for his reaction, the onetime Indian prime minister made the caustic comment: “The defeat was shocking. The margin was devastating.”

Since voting was by secret ballot, most of the countries that pledged their votes, including in writing, obviously reneged on their promises. Japan, on the other hand, using its economic clout and increased aid pledges, succeeded in garnering more votes at the expense of India.

As one of the world’s nuclear powers and a self-styled superpower in the region, India redeemed itself when it was recently elected to the new Human Rights Council with the highest number of votes for the Asian slate of candidates: 173, compared with Bangladesh (160), Pakistan (149) and Sri Lanka (123).

Asked for his comments, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Nirupam Sen told an Indian reporter rather gleefully: “It is poetic justice that the largest democracy (in the world) should have the largest pool of votes.”

The elections for the Human Rights Council were viewed by some diplomats as a political barometre for the proposed expansion of the Security Council: a proposal that is currently in limbo because of sharp division among the 191 member states.

All four countries aspiring for permanent seats in the Security Council – India, Brazil, Japan and Germany – were elected to the Human Rights Council. Of the four, India received the largest number of votes compared with Brazil (165), Japan (158) and Germany (154).

But still, the proposal for an expansion of the permanent membership of the Security Council has failed to get off the ground.

If both Japan and India fail to get permanent seats, the longtime speculation at the United Nations was that either of the two countries – or both – may be interested in fielding candidates for the post of U.N. secretary-general, since it is generally believed that it is Asia’s turn to head the world body.

Japan remains tight-lipped. But not surprisingly, the Indian government is expected to announce in New Delhi Thursday that it will support Shashi Tharoor, U.N. under-secretary-general for communications and public information, as its candidate for the post of secretary-general. The job falls vacant Dec. 31 when incumbent Kofi Annan leaves after his two-term, 10-year tenure in office.

Tharoor, the highest ranking Indian in the world body, has worked in the U.N. system since 1978, has a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the United States, and is author of several novels, including a political satire titled “The Great Indian Novel”.

So far, the three declared Asian candidates are: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala of Sri Lanka, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

India’s interest could also trigger a negative response from its longstanding political rival and neighbour: Pakistan. According to one political source, the Pakistani government may well nominate its own candidate merely as a political irritant to India’s candidature.

According to a time-honoured tradition – but not reflected in the U.N. charter – the job of secretary-general should not be held by any of the world’s major political or economic powers, thereby ruling out countries such as the United States, Japan, India, China, Germany, France, Russia or Britain.

As a result, former incumbents have come from Norway (Trygve Lie), Sweden (Dag Hammarskjold), Burma (U. Thant), Austria (Kurt Waldheim), Peru (Javier Perez de Cuellar), Egypt (Boutros Boutros-Ghali) and Ghana (Annan). But that tradition can be broken because it is not cast in stone.

The 15-member Security Council traditionally recommends one name which is usually approved by the 191-member General Assembly.

Last month, former Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan, who has served both in New York and Washington, laid out a possible scenario, perhaps reflecting the then unannounced views of the upper echelons of the Indian foreign service. He singled out Tharoor as a possible candidate.

“The dilemma for India is not about finding a suitable candidate to put forward,” wrote Sreenivasan. “It is about the incompatibility between seeking a candidature and aspiring to become a permanent member (of the Security Council).”

“But since that does not seem to be in the realm of possibility,” argued Sreenivasan, “we should not give up the option of putting up a candidate for the post of secretary-general.”

Since India has been cozying up to Washington with its nuclear deal – and more importantly, with its open criticism of Iran’s nuclear ambitions – “the U.S. is not likely to veto an Indian”, Sreenivasan predicted.

But the unknown factor is the Chinese veto. Although China has continuously reaffirmed its support for an Asian as the next U.N. chief, it may have second thoughts about an Indian secretary-general, particularly at a time when Washington is strengthening its relationship with India as a political and military counterweight to Beijing. There is no love lost between India and China.

A single veto can doom any candidacy. When Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt ran for a second term as secretary-general in late 1996, he lost the election despite the fact he got 14 out of 15 votes in the Security Council. The single veto by the United States killed his chances of continuing as secretary-general.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags