India in the UN Security Council: Monthly Recap for February 2021
Focus on Covid, Climate & Conflict-Resolution
With India in its eighth two-year tenure as an elected-member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), following is the second analysis in the ICWA series of ‘India in the UN Security Council: Monthly Recap’ by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.
The second month of India’s term as an elected member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) was influenced by the pro-active Presidency by the United Kingdom (UK), one of the UNSC’s five permanent members (P5). The UK’s stewardship of the Council during the month reflected the inbuilt advantage of any P5 member in conducting Council proceedings under the threat of their veto power under Article 27.3 of the UN Charter.
The UK’s Presidency was remarkable for three reasons. First, the UK was chairing UNSC meetings for the first time after Brexit, providing a platform for it to showcase the multilateral priorities of its “Global Britain” foreign policy. Second, the Presidency was the first test of the diplomatic skills of the newly appointed British UN envoy Dame Barbara Woodward, a seasoned Sinologist. Third, with the UK’s high-profile diplomatic, scientific, and commercial interests in countering the Covid-19 virus, the Presidency gave it a window to create a more coherent political response from the UNSC than in 2020 to counter the pandemic.
The UK identified three priorities for the UNSC in February 2021 from the large list of country-specific and thematic issues inscribed on the Council’s agenda. These were Covid-19; the link between peace, security, and climate change; and the resolution of conflicts (especially those where the UK plays a behind-the-scenes role of “penholder” like Yemen).
India benefited from the UK’s prioritization of the UNSC’s deliberations on Covid-19. Participating in the UNSC meeting presided over by UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on 17 February, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar highlighted India’s assistance to almost 75 UN member-states within a few weeks in supplying anti-Covid vaccines made in India. Not coincidentally, one of these vaccines (Covishield) is a product of joint manufacturing between the UK’s AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India. India’s offer to gift 200,000 vaccines to the approximately 90,000 UN peacekeepers deployed by the UNSC in violent conflict situations across the world underscored her commitment to enhancing the effectiveness of UN peacekeepers, as well to the objectives of “reformed multilateralism”, which prioritized global human welfare.
India’s capacity as an elected member to implement UNSC decisions was recognized with her co-sponsorship of the unanimous UNSC resolution 2565 (proposed as a Presidential text by the UK) on 26 February supporting equitable access to vaccines in conflict zones. The wider impact of this outcome will be tested by processes within the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization, which are responsible for supporting the implementation of the global objective of ensuring easy and affordable access to vaccines for most of the global population.
A High-Level Open Debate of the UNSC on Climate and Security was held on 23 February, presided over by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. India has been among many UN member-states wary of widening the scope of the UNSC’s Charter mandate for “maintenance of international peace and security” to include new areas which have (or which need) their own framework structures for global governance. Climate issues are firmly within the legal treaty framework of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where the UNSC does not have any direct role to play.
India’s participation in the debate illustrated her concern on an exclusive focus on climate issues by the UNSC without a “common, widely accepted methodology for assessing the links between climate change, conflict and fragility”. Speaking on the occasion, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar emphasized that while “climate change does not directly or inherently cause violent conflict, its interaction with other social, political and economic factors can, nonetheless, exacerbate drivers of conflict and fragility and have negative impacts on peace, stability and security.” This reflected the declaration in the Preamble of Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development, adopted unanimously by world leaders in September 2015, that “there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”
In the third priority area identified by the UK Presidency, India participated actively in discussions on issues related to conflicts, especially in Asia, inscribed on the UNSC’s agenda for February 2021. Two policy perspectives were highlighted by India. First, the continued non-resolution of these conflicts generated the potential for increased activities of trans-national terrorism. Second, sustainable political solutions to such conflicts needed an inclusive nationally driven process on the ground, which would uphold the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and socio-economic development of the member-states under focus.
The UNSC met on 10 February to consider the UN Secretary-General’s 12th biannual strategic level report on the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). India’s envoy Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti urged the UNSC to enhance coordination with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to counter the financing of terrorist groups like the LeT and JeM operating against India. He expressed concern on two issues related to the Af-Pak region. One was regarding the UNSC “proscribed Haqqani Network and its supporters” including Pakistani authorities, who “have worked along with prominent terrorist organizations like Al-Qaida, ISIL-K etc. in South Asia”. These terrorists were using “safe havens in Pakistan” to orchestrate “violent attacks in Afghanistan that have disrupted the peace process”. The second was “the relocation of terror groups to Afghanistan especially in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, across the Durand Line”. India emphasized that “not to name them in this report is doing a disservice as it gives only a partial and a biased view of the situation in the region”. India’s clear focus vindicated the trust reposed in her by Afghanistan in projecting its national interests into the UNSC proceedings on countering terrorism in the Af-Pak region.
India participated in an informal “Arria-formula” meeting on 24 February convened by fellow elected UNSC member, Mexico, on the topic of the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter. India asserted that the right to self-defence applied in response to attacks by states as well as non-state actors to protect the affected state’s “national integrity and sovereignty”. Though informal, “Arria-formula” meetings (named after Diego Arria, the Venezuelan President of the UNSC in March 1992) have played an increasing role in preparing the ground for discussions and decisions by the UNSC subsequently.
February saw UNSC discussions without any major decisions on a quartet of high-profile West Asian conflict situations. On 9 February, India highlighted the need for a political process for resolving the Syrian conflict, cautioning that violations of Syrian sovereignty created lack of mutual trust for a political settlement, giving a fillip to terrorist acts. Earlier, speaking on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria in a meeting on 3 February, India spoke with the credibility of being “one of the first State parties to be declared a chemical-weapon free State” in calling for “an impartial and objective investigation” into the allegations. She cautioned that “politicization of the issue will result in parties taking extreme positions”, which would jeopardize efforts to resolve the issue, and potentially create conditions for “weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorist organizations and individuals”. India has contributed $1 million to the multilateral OPCW Trust Fund to help destroy any chemical stockpiles and related facilities in Syria. On 25 February, India expressed concern at “those who advocate linking of humanitarian assistance to their expected outcomes on the political track”, opposing the continuation of unilateral economic sanctions on Syria which were felt by the entire population. India announced supplies of more than 2000 metric tons of rice and 10 metric tons of medicines, as well as of Made-in-India vaccines to counter the Covid pandemic in Syria.
India supported steps through the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) in the meeting on 16 February to sustain the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democratic transition underway in Iraq. India’s contributions to strengthening Iraq’s democratic structures have included training independent Iraqi electoral officials and sending election observers to Iraq. India has contributed $30 million for Iraq’s relief and reconstruction through the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq, the World Food Program and under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program. Over 10,000 Iraqi nationals who had travelled to India during the past four months alone had been provided medical services.
At the UNSC discussion on Yemen on 18 February, India called for a “peaceful political settlement through broad-based dialogue and consultations”. She supported the role of the UN as a “facilitating partner” for a “comprehensive peace process” which should include “regional countries with influence on various Yemeni parties”. India felt that any sustainable political framework solution to the Yemeni conflict must integrate the interests of women and youth. It should prioritize ameliorating the world’s largest humanitarian crisis that had impacted on 24 million out of Yemen’s population of 30 million people.
At the regular UNSC debate on the situation in the Middle East including the Palestinian Question held on 26 February, India reaffirmed her “support to the Palestinian cause and the establishment of a sovereign, viable and independent State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel”, emphasizing that “only a two-state solution will deliver peace that the people and Israel and Palestine desire and deserve.” India supported the Cairo Agreement between the Fatah and Hamas Palestinian groups on forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections among the 5 million Palestinian people. To bridge over the drastic financial shortfall compounded by the Covid pandemic on the activities of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) for Palestine, India announced an annual financial contribution of $5 million for the next two years to the Agency.
The military-led coup in Myanmar on 1 February 2021 was an unexpected crisis for the UNSC. India joined the consensus text of a UNSC Press Statement successfully issued by the UK on 4 February, which “emphasized the need for continued support of the democratic transition in Myanmar”, including the need to “uphold democratic institutions and processes”. The UNSC’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Myanmar” provided a framework for dialogue to resolve this crisis, including through ASEAN, of which Myanmar is a member. India’s position reflected her diplomatic outreach to Myanmar, focused on supporting the peaceful democratic transition process in Myanmar, which was targeted by the coup.
India participated in UNSC discussions on conflicts in other regions of the world beyond Asia. She supported UNSC-led assistance in strengthening national governance structures of member-states facing conflict situations on the UNSC agenda. These discussions included the situation in Haiti (22 February), the Central African Republic (24 February) as well as in the Sahel region (2 February).
India expressed particular concern on 22 February at the breakdown of peace and security in Somalia following delays in implementing its scheduled election program, supporting the continuation of the African Union led peace mission (AMISOM). India’s note of caution was grounded on her historical experiences of having to restore peace in Somalia in 1993-94 through the contribution of Indian UN peacekeepers, including 12 who laid down their lives while deployed as part of UNOSOM-II. Stability in Somalia is critical for India’s current strategic focus on the western Indo-Pacific, where she has deployed naval assets since 2008 to a UNSC-mandated Contact Group on Piracy to secure vital sea lanes of communication linking India to the Red Sea.
India made her first statement in the UNSC on the situation in Ukraine during a discussion on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements on 11 February. Drawing upon her own experience in resolving conflicts through a politically negotiated bilateral agreement in Simla in July 1972, India said that “such agreements take precedence even over resolutions adopted by the Security Council, since these agreements are not externally imposed but are mutually agreed between the parties concerned and hence have every chance of success.”
India’s track record for February 2021 as an elected UNSC member highlighted her commitment to seeking ground-based inclusive political solutions to conflicts, especially in Asia, which impact adversely on the socio-economic development of the region. Her interaction with the P5 in successfully co-sponsoring the only resolution adopted unanimously on Covid-19 and conflict zones, provided a harbinger to her growing capacity to deploy her diplomatic, human, economic, and technological resources to maintain international peace and security.