Monday, November 8, 2010

Obama, India and the UN Security Council

. Monday, November 8, 2010

It was 7am this morning and I still hadn't been able to fall asleep. I turned on the tv and flipped through the cable news channels to see if anything could put me to sleep and stumbled upon Morning Joe who had Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas on talking about US foreign policy, international trade and foreign presidential trips. Decent discussion of past foreign trips, some talk on Afghanistan and a debate (not very spirited) on what would change now that the Republicans had taken over the HoR. Haas left and I thought to myself, "perfect, they'll bring on some 'strategists' that will start spewing some totally wrong 'analysis' that'll put me right to sleep in no time."

But the foreign policy morning theme continued. It turned out that President Obama was before the Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house of parliament and was going to give a speech around 7:15am. (So that's why Haas was on and they weren't talking about American politics. Damn! There goes my hope for cable news putting me to sleep.) The President's speech was rolling along like any other US presidential speech to the parliament of a strategic ally: lots and lots of butt-kissing, nice words regarding current and future strategic partnership between the oldest and largest democracies, praise for India's ability to raise so many out of poverty and of Indian business and technological advancement.

But then, out of absolutely nowhere it seemed like, President Obama announced that the United States endorsed a permanent seat for India on the United Nations Security Council. I almost fell off the couch. Not because I don't like the idea. In fact, I think it's a great idea and something that is long overdue (along with permanent seats for Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa) for a variety of reasons. But for an American president to endorse the expansion of the Security Council and to give a permanent seat to a rising power was unprecedented. But it also makes a heck of a whole lot of sense (nice carrot for future US-Indian cooperation, increases legitimacy of the Security Council by including rising powers and expanding voting members, etc.)

The most appealing and likely plan for UN Security Council reform would expand the council to 24 members, increasing the number of permanent members from 5 to 10 and the number of rotating, non-permanent members from 10 to 14. Some proposals call for the new permanent members to also have veto power while others give them only permanent status and reserve veto power for the original five permanent members. The trickiness in the Obama endorsement this morning was that he said "permanent" member which opens the door to including India and placating its demand for a seat in the forum but not watering down US (and other current permanent member) power by adding more states with veto power. The key is in the veto power and not necessarily in increasing the amount of seats or including new permanent members.

Developing (this is going to take a long time to happen) in a very interesting way...


Obama, India and the UN Security Council




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