Russia’s Support for India’s Permanent UNSC Membership

On 4 July 2022, Russian envoy to China Andrey Denisov said that Russia is ready to discuss permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seats for India and Brazil but not ready to give a similar opportunity to Germany & Japan. He said that Russia is calling for the expansion of the UNSC to increase the proportionate share of African, Asian & Latin American nations to reflect the aspirations of people around the world and make the body more democratic. Moreover, he stated that the inclusion of Germany and Japan would add no extra value to the body but increase the imbalance that already prevails in the UNSC.

These statements were made at the 10th Global Peace Forum organised by Tsinghua University, China. From Pakistan’s perspective, this announcement by the Russian envoy is considerably alarming. There is no doubt that the UNSC’s structure is outdated and requires reforms. But those reforms should come on merit and under well-formulated criteria, not because of veiled political motivations disguised as balanced, ethical positions.

It is abundantly clear why Russia is backing UNSC’s permanent membership bids for Brazil and India and is unwilling to adopt the same approach for Germany and Japan. In recent times, Brazil and India have expanded their economic cooperation with Russia, especially under the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) banner, and both countries also refrained from being a part of the Western economic sanctions against Russia that were imposed in the wake of Russia-Ukraine war.

However, a realistic assessment suggests that this decision (if ever made) will purely be based on political interests and motives and justified by the “firsts” among equals (the P5) for somewhat similar reasons as given by the Russian envoy to China in his remarks. Conflicting political and security interests, especially of the P5 and other interests groups, have kept the issue of restructuring the composition of the UNSC  lingering since 1965.

It looks like India’s policy of “strategic autonomy” and abstaining from voting in the UN vote against Russia is paying dividends already, with Russia supporting India’s bid to become part of the exclusive UNSC group. Given India’s growing bonhomie with the US, and good relations with the UK, France and Russia, China might not have enough reasons to stall India’s inclusion as a permanent member of the UNSC for long and will have to give way to India’s smooth entry.

Pakistan cannot rely only on China’s veto against India’s admission or the opposition of other interest groups to this point because such obstacles might not be there in the coming years.

Despite territorial and political disputes, the bilateral trade between China and India is approximately US$126 billion per year. On the other hand, Pakistan’s strained relations with the US as of late, less than outstanding relations with China and fluctuating relations with major European states like the UK and France also exponentially decrease the chances for Pakistan to call in any favours from any of the P5 states who can potentially block/veto India’s entry into the UNSC’s exclusive club.

Russia has been deliberately left out of the calculation here because, as evident from Ambassador Denisov’s remarks, Russia is completely ready to endorse India’s permanent membership in the UNSC. Moreover, both countries already share a great bilateral relationship which New Delhi has termed a “special and privileged strategic partnership”.

As of April 2022, Pakistan-Russia relations have slackened considerably after the change of government in Pakistan. The bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia picked up an unprecedented pace under Imran Khan, with high-level visits by officials and the signing of major economic and energy deals. However, after late February 2022, owing to developments such as Russian military aggression against Ukraine and Western targeted economic sanctions against Russia (among several others), bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia seem to be facing uncertainty. This situation favours India’s cause incidentally.

In addition, growth in India’s economic strength has substantially increased its appeal to countries worldwide that are now wishful to partner with it and benefit from its growth, including major powers like the US. Besides having economic cooperation, India and the US have signed several security cooperation deals that have further cemented their strategic cooperation in the recent past, such as LEMOA, COMCASA, ISA and BECA.

With the UK, India’s bilateral trade was worth US$29.6 billion in 2021, and bilateral trade with France was worth US$12.8 billion (excluding military equipment). And with Russia, as per Indian estimates, bilateral trade amounts to US$8.1 billion, which both countries have agreed to increase to US$30 billion by 2025.

Furthermore, India shares membership with several UNSC’s P5 countries in various significant regional and international multilateral forums, for instance:

  • Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – Russia and China
  • BRICS – Russia and China
  • Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – US and UK
  • Group of 20 (G-20) – China, France, Russia, UK and US
  • Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – China, France, Russia, UK and US

India is also a frequent invitee to the Group of Seven (G7) Summits and an important partner of the West in the Asia-Pacific region, and a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), a significant dialogue partner of four out of five members of the P5 (France is a member of IORA).

Furthermore, India’s robust and aggressive lobbying to garner support for its UNSC’s permanent membership is also bearing fruit. It is already engaged with China on this issue (which is its biggest hurdle in the P5), and it is actively focusing on two large voting blocs/interest groups: the African Union (AU) with 54 votes and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with 46 votes. India has been able to obtain the support of 80 developing countries and plans to add more to this number soon.

Admittedly, the UNSC’s reformation is a long and complex process, but India has been making vital incremental progress over the years. Major P5 countries advocate the idea of the UNSC expansion plan, reject the notion of “regional representation”, and support “country-specific” admissions. Most importantly, P5 countries like the US, UK, France and Russia support India’s admission as a permanent member of the UNSC.

The much-touted AU’s opposition to India’s admission (in Pakistani policy circles) does not carry much weight either. Most of the AU members have become good diplomatic and commercial partners with India, with the latter making huge investments worth US$ 70 billion in different African states. AU’s proposal for UNSC reform is very much in line with that of the Group of Four (G4) states’ proposal. And with good diplomacy and incentivisation, this task should not be impossible.

Although the P5 seem to be unenthusiastic about UNSC reforms at the moment, nonetheless, almost all major proposals for the UNSC reforms are in support of its expansion, including that presented by the G4 nations (Brazil, India, Japan and Germany), the AU, Intermediary Approach/Model and the two models given by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The P5 are in favour of the Intermediary Approach, and Russia is its biggest supporter.

As mentioned earlier, special leeway is extended to India on multiple accounts, such as its consistent human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJK); its blatant disregard for International Law, especially with regards to minority rights and religious freedom; de facto CAATSA sanctions waiver by the US (for buying Russian S-400 systems) and buying Russian oil and coal despite Western economic sanctions after the Ukraine war; and full support for India’s Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) membership bid despite its bad nuclear safety record, to name a few.

One can make a strong argument that despite its growing economic and military clout, India still lacks­­ the capabilities to­­ shoulder the responsibilities of being a permanent member of the UNSC. Pakistan, being a significant member of the UN, will continue to maintain its principled position regarding the UNSC’s expansion and India’s membership, but this might not be enough to block India’s permanent membership.

Currently, India is engaged in commercial activity worth billions (individually) with the world’s top economies (including the UNSC P5), and the bilateral exchanges are growing by every quarter. As highlighted earlier, this growing intertwining of economic, political and strategic interests has earned India substantial leeway with the world’s major powers.

The reality is that it is in the interest of the majority of the P5 members to have India in the exclusive UNSC group. Based on the current configuration of international relations, if India makes it into the UNSC as a permanent member, even without the veto power, the US will have a strong partner against China, as its “China containment” policy rests significantly on India.

France and UK do not actually have any reason to object to India’s entry as long as the US is in its favour. Russia will also get a partner in India, which might help balance the equation in the UNSC against the US and its European partners. China has never really raised any opposition against Russia before in the group, and in the current circumstances, they seem to be opposite sides of the same coin.

The power realities of the 21st century along with the definitions of peace and security, have changed considerably since 1946. Reforms of the UNSC will be undertaken in the light of the new realities where India has carved out an important space for itself. In conclusion, it seems like a win-win for most of the P5 at the moment, and it will only be a matter of time before China gives in as well, owing to its long-term political, economic and strategic interests.

The only options now for Pakistan are to work on improving its own position and standing along with increasing its economic and political strength. Robust diplomacy by Pakistan should be conducted, primarily through its interest group known as Uniting for Consensus (UFC – formerly known as the Coffee Club), to lobby for the expansion of the non-permanent category in the UNSC. It should work to get international support from groups like the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the P5 for UFC’s interests and lobby with regional countries against India’s admission as a permanent member.

Pakistan can also exploit the displeasures of other countries over the open US and Russian support for India’s admission, for instance, Japan, Germany, South Korea and East European states. It is still debatable whether an enlarged UNSC (with or without veto power to new members) will be more effective, cohesive and better serve the purposes of international peace and security or if the council will become more competent and efficient. Pakistan cannot hide from the reality that India is getting closer each year through its efforts to obtain a permanent seat at the UNSC.

Pakistan must take India’s campaign for permanent membership of the UNSC  seriously and formulate its own plan pragmatically. As explained earlier, Pakistan cannot rely only on China’s veto against India’s admission or the opposition of other interest groups to this point because such obstacles might not be there in the coming years. Even if India gets into the UNSC as a permanent member without veto power, it will still be a huge loss for Pakistan, which will also have ramifications for its interests in the future.

Unless and until Pakistan adds substantially to its national power, develops interdependence with regional and extra-regional powers, especially the major powers like the US, China, Russia, and EU and makes itself an attractive partner state, the world will continue ignoring its stance and protests, no matter how principled and moralistic they would be. India will continue to gain at the cost of Pakistan’s interests.

Taimur Fahad Khan

Taimur Khan is working as a Research Associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). His research focuses on non-traditional security issues and foreign policy analysis.

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