Global Policy Forum

Another Wake-Up Call


This article by a former member of the Pakistani Foreign Service critically examines Pakistan’s policy on Security Council reform. The author worries about China’s recent statement that it is not opposed to India becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. He criticizes the way the Pakistani government is handling the issue, only focusing on “pacifying domestic opinion”. According to him, Pakistan has to reconsider its strategy on the Security Council reform and make it clear it opposes the G-4 (India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil) ambition to create more permanent seats. The G-4 is mainly supported by small States - their “greatest weakness” - and still lacks the necessary two-thirds majority to implement a reform of the Security Council membership.

By Asif Ezdi

August 8, 2011

According to the Indian media, the top Chinese foreign policy official, State Councillor Dai Bingguo, last month assured Sitaram Yechury, a leader of the Communist Party of India (M), that Beijing is not opposed to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for India. Yechury, who was leading a CPI (M) delegation that was visiting China at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party, said that Dai had “bent over backwards” to explain that China has “no objection at all” to the Indian bid for a permanent seat, but was firmly opposed to Japan’s candidature because of its “historical baggage.” The reason why Beijing had not openly come out in India’s support, Dai reportedly explained, was that New Delhi had tied its candidature with that of Japan in the Group of Four (G-4), the collective initiative for permanent seats launched by India, Japan, Germany and Brazil in 2004.

It was never a secret that Beijing has been opposed to the G-4 plan not because of the Indian candidature but mainly because it is not prepared to countenance a permanent seat for Japan. If we in Pakistan did not know it, it is either because of our inability to read the coded language of diplomacy or an ostrich-like capacity for deluding ourselves and closing our eyes to unpleasant developments. Now, for the first time, a top Chinese official has let it be known with clarity that Beijing is not opposed to Indian ambitions; and suggested that India could have China’s support if Delhi were to delink its bid from that of Tokyo.

Dai’s message is the second wake-up call to Pakistan to reconsider its strategy on Security Council reform. The first warning was given by Obama last November when he pledged US support to the Indian bid for a permanent seat. The government’s reaction then was typically one of complacency. Instead of bestirring itself at the international level, our government focused its efforts mainly on soothing domestic public opinion. The foreign secretary expressed Pakistan’s disappointment to the US ambassador but the matter was not taken up, as it should have been, by Zardari, Gilani, or Shah Mahmood Qureshi, then foreign minister, with their counterparts in Washington. The National Assembly and the government passed resolutions denouncing US support for India. Washington treated these resolutions in the same way as it treats our protests on drone attacks – as steps aimed essentially at pacifying domestic opinion.

We do not know what our ambassador in Washington told the American officials. The State Department spokesman said that Pakistan had not expressed “any particular concern” at US support for India. David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post that Obama’s success in strengthening ties with India on his visit to that country without upsetting Pakistan – a “neat trick” as he described it – was one of the foreign policy achievements of the Obama presidency. The US has often played tricks with the Pakistani people but mostly with the complicity of our own government. This would be just one more instance.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi tried to reassure the public that it should not worry unduly. Pakistan, he said, had discussed the matter with China and the two countries had similar views. He was only partially right. The two countries agree, for example, that Security Council reform should only be pursued on the basis of a broad consensus among member states and that a decision imposed by a divisive vote would be counterproductive. But Pakistan and China have different perspectives on India’s bid for a permanent seat, as Dai’s assurances to the Indian delegation make clear. Our foreign minister seems to have been unaware of this.

Last month, our newspapers carried an APP story alleging that India had abandoned its quest for a permanent seat. This is dead wrong. India has not given up its bid but continues to pursue it furiously. It has been leading a push by G-4 for a vote on a short framework resolution calling for the expansion of the Security Council membership in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. The plan was to have it passed before the current session of the UN General Assembly ends in September.

This campaign has hit a roadblock and sponsors are still short of the necessary two-thirds majority – 129 votes from a total of 193 members. According to one reliable source, 88 or so countries have signed up. In addition, there are verbal promises of support. The foreign ministers of Brazil and Japan said last June that more than 100 nations support the resolution. They are close, but the magic figure of 129 is still not assured.

The main reason for the shortfall is that the African group, which has 54 members, is committed to the unrealistic demand for two permanent seats with veto powers and most African states are still undecided on the G-4 resolution. It is therefore no wonder that India and its partners in G-4 have recently discovered how deeply they love Africa and the Africans, and have been showering the continent with promises of economic handouts.

Recently, Nigeria and South Africa, the two leading contenders for the proposed African permanent seats, have been pressing for flexibility in the African position. Once a significant number of African countries can be persuaded by the G-4 to support their draft resolution, its passing would be assured.

Pakistan and the other members of the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group, which opposes the creation of more permanent seats, must devise a strategy quickly to meet such an eventuality. Above all, they need to do more to highlight the greatest weakness of the G-4 campaign: that support for the G-4 comes from small states, including nearly two dozen mini and micro states. All the “heavyweights” are either in the UfC camp or, like Indonesia and Egypt, have been sitting on the fence in the vain hope that they might get a shot at permanent membership. Once the penny drops and the fence-sitters realise that they stand no chance, they too would make common cause with the UfC.

The result would be to divide the UN membership into two irreconcilable camps. On one side would be the four to six countries hopeful of getting permanent seats, backed by a large number of small states; and on the other side would be a sizeable number of “heavyweights” excluded from permanent membership.

It is inconceivable that these “heavyweights” would consent to being reduced to the level of third-class states. They had no alternative when the UN was set up by the victor powers at the end of the Second World War. But now they have a choice. Some of them would exercise it by leaving the UN. Pakistan should let it be known that it would seriously consider this course. Such a step will not be without some price, but the costs of not taking it would be even greater.

Even if many of the heavyweights do not leave the UN, the result of elevating a few countries to permanent membership would be to fracture and cripple the organisation. This could spell the end of the UN as we know it, or at least deprive the Security Council of legitimacy, seriously compromising the ability of the UN to perform its primary task of maintaining international peace and security.

The challenge before the UfC is to bring home this message before a vote on Security Council reform takes place in the General Assembly. The G-4 foreign ministers are expected to meet again in New York this September to push their candidature for permanent seats. The UfC countries should consider holding a parallel meeting at the same level to reject the G-4 ambitions and serve notice that the creation of more permanent members would irretrievably harm the UN system. Washington and the others will have to listen and pay heed.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.