Weighing India's Chances For Security Council Seat

During his visit to India, President Obama announced U.S. support for India to join the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member. That statement in his speech to the Indian parliament brought loud applause. But India's participation as a permanent member of the council would have to come as part of a larger reform of the Security Council, and that will be complicated, to say the least. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to David Bosco, who writes The Multilateralist blog for Foreign Policy magazine and is an assistant professor at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D.C., about the prospect of India as a permanent member of the U.N.'s most powerful and exclusive body.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, more on this statement of President Obama's that received the most applause in New Delhi.

President BARACK OBAMA: I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.

SIEGEL: The U.N. Security Council consists of five permanent members and ten members elected to two-year terms, and the permanent members are the U.N.'s most powerful and exclusive club. They reflect the U.N.'s founding at the end of World War II - the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China.

David Bosco of American University in Washington, D.C. has written about the U.N. Security Council. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID BOSCO (Assistant Professor, American University): Thanks very much. Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: How realistic is it that India might become a permanent member of the Security Council?

Prof. BOSCO: I think it's realistic in the longer term. It's not realistic in the next couple of years. The U.S. may have decided that India is a good candidate, but the broader U.N. membership has not made up its mind yet.

SIEGEL: But President Obama's endorsement of this is considered meaningful?

Prof. BOSCO: I think it's definitely considered meaningful. It certainly was highly sought after by the Indian government and I think it's a great decision also. I mean, India is the world's largest democracy, consistent supporter of U.N. peacekeeping. But it's going to be a very long process because there's so much resistance in the U.N. to adding to this elite club.

SIEGEL: Is Indian enthusiasm for this, is it simply a matter of prestige? Is it saying we'll finally be able to veto whatever the Pakistanis think they can get out of the U.N.? What's their interest in being a permanent member?

Prof. BOSCO: Well, it's kind of a complicated question, because so many people think the U.N. Security Council is relatively ineffective. Prestige is definitely a factor, but the council is involved in security issues all across the globe and if a country wants to have a regular say, there's just nothing better than having a permanent seat at the table.

SIEGEL: Is the assumption, by the way, that any additional permanent member would have veto power as the five current permanent members exercise?

Prof. BOSCO: No. In fact, that's an issue that's quite contested. The U.S. position is that the veto should not be extended to the new members. If the council were to be expanded, probably the new permanent members would not have the veto power.

SIEGEL: India is hardly the only country to be proposed as a new permanent member. There's been talk about first Germany and Japan, which aren't there because they were the defeated powers in World War II, but also Brazil has been talked about.

Prof. BOSCO: Yes. But each of these potential permanent candidates has a country that opposes their membership. And so for India, obviously Pakistan; for Brazil, Argentina; for Germany, Italy. And so you have kind of evil twins of these countries that are trying to get in the way of them getting permanent seats.

SIEGEL: Is it evident to you that the U.N. Security Council would be able to accomplish things that it presently does not accomplish because there would be more members such as India?

Prof. BOSCO: No, it's not evident to me. And I think this is one of the big questions about Security Council expansion. Would it make it a more effective body? And on some issues, for example, if the Security Council were to pass a resolution relating to Pakistan, that might well be seen as less legitimate by a council that includes India, than by the present council.

But I think the thought is that in the broad sense, it will increase legitimacy of the body to have huge rising powers like India involved.

SIEGEL: Now, when President Obama said this in India, the applause went on for quite a while. We could have played the applause a lot longer than I did. Obviously this was a popular idea there. There are people who think that President Obama's weight could make a difference.

Do you suspect this is something that a U.S. president just says as long as he's going to India and wants to say something positive, or might he make a real push of it?

Prof. BOSCO: Well, I think it was an easy call in some respects for the president, because it is a clear applause line. The issue is stuck right now with the broader U.N., and so in that sense it's a promise that you can make and not have to answer on for quite some time.

I don't see any sign right now that the United States is making reform of the Security Council a priority. And I think along with the other permanent members, it's relative content to let this long process of negotiation play out and just kind of bide its time otherwise.

SIEGEL: Professor Bosco, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. Bosco: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: David Bosco is assistant professor of international politics at American University in Washington, D.C.

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