Whenever India takes a seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), there is excitement about the possibility of it translating into permanent member-ship. When holding one of the rotating seats, it is
a sensible ambition to make the case, through diplomatic accomplishments, for being a permanent member. But expanding SC is a tortuous process. At present, the window of opportunity for SC reform is closed. Not one of the Permanent Five (P5) members is interested in its expansion. After a year of battling with nature, much of the world sees multilateral responses to climate and health as the heart of UN reform and SC expansion as a quixotic quest.
India’s agenda sensibly focuses on what is optically useful and realistically possible. New Delhi has a traditional multilateral agenda, which revolves around counterterrorism, peacekeeping, trade, and, negatively, opposition to an intrusive human rights regime. Much of this remains relevant, but the coming years should allow India to take up new issues. Climate, public health, maritime security and digital standards stand out among the century’s new challenges. Much of this is on the fringes of the UN, but there will be considerable spillover. Global climate cooperation still uses the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as its foundational understanding. India has made nascent multilateral contributions in this space, such as the International Solar Alliance, but needs to become more involved in rules-setting. New Delhi has called for reform of the World Health Organization, but is yet to provide details. Maritime security is increasingly intertwined with the need to uphold the UN Law of the Sea against the revanchist tendencies of China. Global trade will increasingly be about data, a domain where India’s capabilities and policies will win points with other developing countries.
Whatever the opposition put up by China, if India shows it has the diplomatic skills to get other countries to work together, the case for it being a permanent member will become irrefutable. Multilateralism is the most difficult form of diplomacy, and SC membership, even if non-permanent, is among the best platforms
to display India’s abilities.