NSD Public Forum April Topic Analysis: Part 2

This article is the 2nd and final part of our April topic analysis. For part 1, click here

2. Substance

There are three main types of arguments on this topic. The direction of the link and/or impact for each of these issues is contestable, so each side can run any of these arguments.

A. Changes in UNSC action

It seems undeniable that permanent membership on the UNSC would give India influence over votes on UNSC resolutions. If permanent membership entails a veto, this influence is obvious. If India disapproves of a resolution, it does not pass.

However, even without a veto, India can exact influence because existing permanent members care about the optics of whether UNSC votes are unanimous or whether they have to employ their veto. This is for reasons both of international soft power and domestic political support. Proof of this fact is that countries that are rotating UNSC members receive more US aid when on the Security Council, presumably because the US is buying influence with them, showing that they care about the way they vote, even though they don’t have a veto (see http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/06-029.pdf).

Moreover, current permanent members would likely be forced to engage more with India if India received permanent membership, both because India would be elevated as a rising power, and because ignoring a new permanent member would re-ignite the same criticisms of the UNSC that are driving reform in the status quo.

While India’s vote certainly has the potential to be “bought” in some cases by more powerful countries like the US and China, India likely means to have their own interests heard, and aren’t so afraid of facing “punishment” for voting their interests. Mexico has declined nomination to the Security Council for this reason (see http://wp.peio.me/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Conf1_Dreher.Vreeland_UNSC.pdf), but India has sought to become a member of the Security Council since the nation’s inception, showing they are unafraid of being pressured into becoming a puppet.

The question is whether India’s influence will lead to better or worse UNSC action. This is a complex subject that far exceeds scope of this primer, but debaters should consider a few things when approaching this argument. First, India’s interests often oppose China’s interests directly, as they are rival rising powers in Asia. Second, more peacekeeping troops are from India than any other country in the world, which could influence their approval of certain peacekeeping operations. Third, whatever direction this argument is taken in, it will be difficult to clearly establish that any given aspect of UNSC action definitely changes when India becomes a permanent member, as it’s difficult to establish whether India’s influence crosses the bright line necessary to meaningfully change that particular action.

B. Perception of the UNSC/UN

Most proponents of UNSC expansion argue that the UNSC is unrepresentative and an unfair reflection of Western dominance. This is certainly an opinion shared by many nations. Giving India a permanent seat would both include one of the world’s most populous nations and rising powers, and balance the scales by including another non-Western power. Including a US ally and continuing to exclude African states may mean this concern is not totally resolved, but it would at least mitigate this complaint.

Of course, concerns about the optical legitimacy of the UNSC presuppose that the UN has value as an international institution. This is not definitively true, and one could argue that actions that increase UN legitimacy, potentially leading countries to engage more with UN institutions and accept a larger role for the UN, actually have a harmful impact.

Again, the issue with this argument is that it will be difficult in many cases to show that the change in perception is enough to meet the bright line necessary to lead to different action.

C. Domestic and foreign policy effects for India

If India received a permanent seat on the Security Council, they’d be in line for increased aid packages, trade deals, and IMF/World Bank Funding (see http://wp.peio.me/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Conf1_Dreher.Vreeland_UNSC.pdf). This is an impact in itself (which could be positive or negative), but also the real and symbolic value of being a UNSC permanent member has important political implications, possibly empowering incumbent Narendra Modi and his BJP, and possibly buttressing rising Hindu nationalist sentiments. This is especially timely, as India’s elections actually are this year, and voting runs from April 11th-May 19th. There are sure to be a few interesting arguments about domestic Indian implications. There are also geopolitical implications to consider. Receiving a permanent seat would reinforce India’s ascendancy as a rising power, and give them influence that they can use to win allies and extract concessions. Will this put them at odds with China and enflame existing tensions with Paskistan that are especially high right now (see https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47848425)? Or can India use its added influence to build a more stable future in Asia. Again, these implications are too complex to consider in this article, but the best arguments will avoid the temptation to use outlandish nuclear war impact scenarios.

Ben Kessler