Monday, May 27, 2013

Kudankulam: The Judgment and Beyond.
By T.P.Sreenivasan 
No one could fault the Supreme Court of India for its judgment on the diverse issues concerning the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. It was realistic, comprehensive and well balanced. But neither the protesters of Kudankulam, nor the nuclear skeptics around the world would find anything in it for comfort. The crisis in our energy scenario, sparked off by the  global anxiety about safety will continue to persist beyond the judgment.  Stressing the indispensability of nuclear power for our development and highlighting the need to strike a balance between safety and development will only induce more apprehensions. While the court order has laid out the fundamentals, we have to go beyond it to device a way of  operating the plant with adequate safety guarantees for the residents in and around Kudankulam.
Dismissing a petition challenging the Madras High Court’s earlier order in favor of the plant, the Supreme Court termed the operationalization of Kudankulam nuclear power plant as necessary for the country’s growth. The court stressed that development of nuclear energy is important for India and said,  "While setting up a project of this nature, we have to have an overall view of larger public interest rather than smaller violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the constitution.”
The court dismissed the risk element by stating that we have to balance economic and scientific benefits with that of minor radiological detriments on the touchstone of our national nuclear policy."Public money running into crores and crores of rupees has already been spent for the development, control and use of atomic energy for the welfare of the people and, hence, we have to put up with such minor inconveniences, minor radiological detriments and minor environmental detriments," the court said.
Turning to the need for safety, the court said that the regulatory authorities are obliged to perform their duty to ensure that safety measures are adequately taken before the plant commences its operation. "Safety, security and life would constitute a pyramid within the sanctity of Article 21 and no jettisoning is permissible.” The delicate balance in other spheres may have some allowance, but in the case of establishment of a nuclear plant, the safety measures would not tolerate any lapse. The grammar is to be totally different. The court also said that problems highlighted were not unique to India and that other countries were also grappling with the situations. But it glossed over the measures taken by other countries to reduce dependence on nuclear power after the unfortunate accident at Fukushima.
The court adopted a conciliatory attitude to the protesters by asking the local authorities to consider withdrawing the hundreds of cases clamped on the protesters, who were accused even of colluding with foreign countries to sabotage the plant. Accusations were made at the highest level that foreign funding was freely available to the agitators. The suggestion that the United States might be behind the agitation did not seem justified as the US had a greater stake in India’s nuclear future than any other country. By withdrawing the cases against them, the court expected that the concerned people would heave a sigh of relief and quit the scene.
The judgment has not altered the situation on the ground. There was indeed no legal bar against commissioning the reactor. Even the protesters were in no position to block the commissioning of the plant. What prevented the Prime Minister from keeping his promise to President Vladimir Putin were technical glitches related to the completion of the plant. No details of the problem came out till the Russian company, which supplied parts of the reactor was hauled up in Moscow for supplying sub-standard components to plants throughout the world. The authorities in Kudankulam were forced to open up several segments of the plant to inspect them for quality and precision. Some defective components like valves were discovered and they had to be replaced. The Supreme Court judgment was not relevant to those who are struggling day and night to meet the deadline for commissioning the plant. Even today, there is no guarantee that the plant would be commissioned on a specified date.
The protesters have announced that the judgment has made no difference to their plight either. They had not sought a court order to prevent the plant from being commissioned. They were more concerned that the several elaborate measures concerning safety steps, which were prescribed by the courts, had not been taken. The reports about the installation of defective components only fuelled their angst. The repeated assurances that all is well with the reactor did not seem to pacify the people. They are still not fully aware of the disaster management plans and details of the emergency measures that would be available in the event of an accident. They see no hospitals coming up in the vicinity or earmarking areas for evacuees in an emergency. Their determination has only hardened after the Supreme Court judgment because they know now that they have no recourse to law on the basis of right to life. The court wants to give them better quality of life with the blessings of nuclear power rather than freedom from fear. As for withdrawal of cases, it does not seem to matter to them whether they live in the prisons or outside. They are pledged to continue their peaceful protests, regardless of the outcome.
Kudankulam will be commissioned once the technical hitches are removed. Assurances of safety will be repeated at different levels and the reactor may well function normally as the other twenty reactors in our country have done for several years. There may be no serious earthquake or tsunami in the area and India may maintain its impeccable safety record. The power starved Tamil Nadu and Kerala will find some reprieve and those in the cities will have better quality of life.
But the question of safety raised after Fukushima will remain a concern when country after country abandons nuclear power,while we continue with business as usual approach, banking on failing memories and  claims that the damage at Fukushima was not as catastrophic as it was projected.  It is imperative at this point of time that the trust deficit be tackled in some way or the other. Despite the many assurances given by the Government that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) would be an independent body, it still remains subservient to the Atomic Energy Commission. In the face of lack of credibility of local authorities and even reputed scientists,it would be useful to get  the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to carry out a safety inspection of the plant. The IAEA would be only too happy to mount such an inspection. India has been fighting shy of IAEA safety inspections, but a recent inspection by an Operational Safety Review Team (OSART) of the Rajasthan Atomic Power Station was reassuring.
The ultimate solution, till a technological breakthrough eliminates radiation dangers, is to alter our energy mix to reduce and discard nuclear energy for generation of power. For the small component of nuclear power that we envisage in our energy mix, we should find viable alternatives, which are already available. Even a declaration by the Government that we will strive for zero nuclear power in the long term will give some comfort to the people, who worry constantly about future generations.
Regardless of the wisdom contained in the Supreme Court judgment, we need to go beyond it, commission the plant after making sure, through an international inspection, that it is safe, create a fool proof disaster management system and make a pledge that India will progressively move towards elimination of nuclear power within a time frame. These measures may send the protesters home in the hope that the future residents of Kudankulam may be saved from nuclear danger.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Convocation Address at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Kannur
May 24, 2013

Distinguished Director Rajeev Pant,
Dr. Chinmay Mehta,
NIFT Graduates of 2013,
Faculty and students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to be invited to speak at the Convocation 2013 of NIFT Kannur. In fact, I was quite surprised about the invitation, because, even though I am responsible for advising the Government on all aspects of higher education, I was never called upon to pay any attention to NIFT Kannur. Having come here and seen the institution, its ambience, its faculty and its students, I know why it requires no attention from the Government. It is an institution of excellence that any other college in Kerala will be envious of. This is an institution that dreams are made of.

I said I was surprised to be invited to NIFT, but more than me, a young relative, passionate about fashion, was not only surprised, but immensely amused that I should be speaking of fashion and design in clothes. In her eyes, I am the least fashionable, despite my using designer brands and expensive attire. She even believes that I am color blind, because of the way I choose shirts and ties. Now you know why I chose to wear a kurta today.

I told her, however, that being fashion less is also a fashion. Nobody would associate Mahatma Gandhi with fashion, but he made the greatest fashion statement in history by graduating to the loincloth after donning western suits for several years. It was a statement of identification with the masses of India and of revolt against western ways. He went to the round table conference in London in 1931 in a loincloth. Asked whether he was wearing enough clothes to go before the king, he remarked, “ The King had enough on for both of us.” “Truly fashionable is beyond fashion”, said Celil Bacon.

Speaking to the graduates of NIFT, who are about to enter the fashion industry to make it richer, more imaginative and more innovative, I should be speaking of the relevance and indispensability of the best minds devoting attention to what we wear. As Shakespeare said, “apparel oft proclaims the man.” Each person may make his or her own fashion statement, but your task is to offer a wide range of options to choose from. Your skills must be deployed to lead the fashion industry by using indigenous materials and world-class techniques to create your own fashions. The power of fashion in today’s world is incredible. As you fly out of this campus into the world to leave your own footprint across the globe, I hope you will become the torchbearers of responsible fashion. Kannur is already famous for its traditional weaving and your creations will bring style and vibrancy to the Kannur School of fashion.

History shows, strangely, that the first purpose of clothing was not protection of the body or modesty, but ornament. People of the Stone Age wore no clothes, but tattooed their bodies and used twigs and other materials to adorn themselves. I have seen a cartoon of Adam and Eve standing under a tree with leaves aplenty. Eve says: “I have nothing good to wear today”. Pharaohs used clothes to display wealth even in death, as we can see in the mummies of Egypt. Today, a dress or an accessory not only satisfies social and emotional needs, but also becomes part of our well-being. Clothes accentuate the body rather than conceal it. Even the most conservative clothes, designed to cover the entire body are decorated with diamonds today.

Fashion is a medium of expression. It is poetry in fabric. The expressions of fashion and design are as delectable an art form as poetry is, mysterious and creative. Fashion incites emotions, evokes memories and excites aspirations. It is imperative that you send the right message across to your followers.  Remember that by creating a piece of fashion product, you are not just expressing your own creativity, but you are enabling millions to express themselves through the clothes they choose to wear.  They say that the most alluring curve of a woman’s body is her smile. So, create clothes that enable her to wear her smile while she adorns your clothes.

Fashion is also the script of history. Fashion and style are not merely the hot trends of the day. The apparels that a population is clothed in, and the accessories that a populace is adorned in, tells the story of their lives and etches it in the history of their glorious past leaving indelible impressions. In any archeological excavation, the depiction of the clothing, jewelry and accessories of a community are the most important clues for us to help rediscover the past and weave history of their lifestyle and even economic conditions. No time capsule will be buried without NIFT creations. Thus fashion is enduring. A piece of your creation today sets the youth of today in the fashion groove and starts to write the history of tomorrow. Someone said that the moment a fashion trend becomes universal, it is out of date. Fashion trends hold on to its grip only when it is still tantalizing. So, the moment your idea has received universal acceptance it is part of history; and it is time for you to move ahead and churn your brains. Thus, unlike other professions, you are constantly living in creating history of a culture. So ensure that you create fashion that narrates a beautiful story of our lives today depicting it in all its glory and simplicity to the coming generations.

Fashion is also a tool for empowerment. In a world where throes of affliction and exploitation hits the vulnerable constantly, where cries for emancipation of women continues to echo across the globe, fashion seems to have a role to play as a tool for empowerment. Fashion not only serves as an instrument to bring a person into the limelight, but also protects her from the dangers around.  It is like a barbed wire fence around a house. I am not suggesting that you build an impenetrable fortress. I agree with Sophia Loren’s comment that "A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view” You are the originators of trends and styles of tomorrow. Keep in mind the safety and security of all men and women in the society while you do that. Bring out the heritage and culture of our nation through your designs and weave an adorable tapestry to be displayed in front of the world. Thus you empower not just individuals, but also communities and nations.

Being a medium of expression, armed with the power to carve history and empower communities, fashion definitely stands in good stead as a tool for transformation. Fashion for change, for positive change, is the best contribution you can make to the society. Through your creative process, render voices to the voiceless and power to the powerless. A great advantage that you have bred in your technology is that innovation and creativity are your bread and butter, unlike other professions where they have a set norm and standard to follow. That gives you endless opportunities to spin changes in the society. There is also a hidden danger in that, because nothing is wrong in fashion. So your freedom to make grave errors is also limitless. Stories of transformation enabled by creative and innovative designs are aplenty today.  From electronics to architecture, from jewelry to footwear, from perfume to pharmaceuticals—design is the key to change. In the USA, mind-boggling statistical figures show that fashion industry does more business than music, movies and books combined. That is to tell you that you are entering a world filled with temptations and lucrative offers, which gleam at you. It is for you to decide whether to embrace responsible fashion in an industry blinded by glitz and glamour.  The ongoing Cannes Film Festival which is touted as the world’s most popular fashion park where cultures intermingle seamlessly in the form of celebrities from the film world and fashion houses hits the top news in the country every minute. What Aiswarya Rai,Vidya Balan wears or Mr.Bacchan wears becomes more important and interesting to us than the gnawing problems of our country. Thus is the power of fashion to overpower everything else. So use your power diligently and responsibly in collaboration with your friends from other disciplines and create responsible fashion for tomorrow.

Finally, I would also like you to pay heed to the alarming deterioration of the environment around us. For the fashion industry to be sustainable economically, it must be sustainable socially and environmentally. Fashion should follow the trends of nature and not the other way round. Make sure that you create environment friendly, sustainable fashion products in which the current generation can delight in, and the future generations can be proud of. Aping of the west has been a style in itself, probably as an adverse effect of globalization and foray of foreign industries into our markets. We in India need to create our own niche in the world of fashion, which the rest of the world shall be eager to emulate. I am aware that we have many a great name in the fashion industry from India, of whom we can be proud. I would like to see many more of you join that elite club, while remaining rooted to our Indian identity and creating fashion that is environment friendly and embraces nature.

I wish the graduates of 2013 of NIFT the very best. As you will say in the Convocation Pledge I am about to administer to you, may you utilize your knowledge of design, management and technology for the glory of the Institute, the progress of the country and mankind at large.

Thank you.


Sunday, May 05, 2013

Lecture at the National Defence College, New Delhi on the United Nations by T.P.Sreenivasan, Former Ambassador. April 30, 2013

Officers of the National Defence College,

I am delighted to be back at the National Defense College. To be invited to address accomplished officers, who have been handpicked for higher commands in military and civilian sectors is both a privilege and a challenge; privilege because I am speaking to the leaders of tomorrow, challenge because I do not know whether I can add anything to the erudition you have already acquired. The challenge is even more when the topic is the United Nations, about which each one of you will have deep knowledge and a definite perspective.

The task set out for me is to cover four sets of issues relating to the United Nations today--the relevance of the United Nations in the emerging world order, the role of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security and the urgent need of its reform, peacekeeping operations and the proposal for a standby force for the UN and the funding mechanism of the UN. I shall deal with them on the basis of my personal experience of the UN in different capacities and locations during the period from 1980 to 2004, updated by recent studies and reports.

The United Nations is like motherhood—universal, unquestionable and unassailable. It is considered benign, benevolent and even beatific. Against its larger purpose and mission, we gloss over its inadequacies and blemishes. It was a dream come true after a devastating global conflagration to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war with a pledge to beat swords into ploughshares. In embracing the UN Charter, the original member states and those who joined later reposed their faith in its principles and endorsed its purposes even if they had lingering doubts about its structure and procedures. At the age of 68, the United Nations remains a beacon of hope for humanity. It attracts the mighty and the meek, the strong and the weak, the big and the small and each finds satisfaction, even if it is only in its aspirations finding utterance or in contributing its mite to the UN’s growth.

In analyzing the relevance of the United Nations in the emerging world order, it should be remembered that the United Nations is only as relevant as its members want it to be. As Dag Hammarskjold, once remarked, the UN is not an abstract Picasso, but a drawing made by each of its members. It was established in the name of “we the people”, but it is essentially an intergovernmental club, in which every member jealously guards its sovereign equality. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “It is not a United Nations Organization. It is a United Governments Organization.” Membership of any international organization entails the surrender of a fraction of the state’s sovereignty, but they assert their sovereignty at every point of decision-making. For smaller and weaker states, membership of the UN itself is a guarantee of its sovereignty. The powerful nations constantly endeavor to turn it into an instrument of foreign policy and, when they fail, they question its relevance. Governments do not always want the UN to succeed when they refer issues to it. They want to pass the buck. Failure is an essential part of the UN’s “proven capacity to fail.”

The democracy deficit in the United Nations is evident in its structure, which has a one-nation one-vote system in the General Assembly, while the more powerful Security Council has a P-5 oligarchy, which seeks to shape international peace and security according to its own whims and fancies. The Charter has made the United Nations a conservative body with the most stringent provisions for change. Even the most anachronistic provisions of the Charter remain frozen in time. The unwritten sartorial laws and archaic forms of address bear testimony to the conservative nature of the United Nations.

The relevance of the UN, however, is ensured by its resilience, which has enabled it to move with the times, in response to the specific needs, unanticipated at the time of its inception. Instead of amending the Charter, the UN has readjusted itself by dealing with new areas of concern such as terrorism, the environment, HIV/AIDS and piracy and by inventing new concepts such as peacekeeping, peace building, Responsibility to Protect etc. The Charter has not stood in the way of expanding the agendas of every organ of the United Nations.

When it comes to the structure of the United Nations, including the size and composition of the Security Council, the resistance has been uncompromising. The reason is not far to seek, because nothing short of a revolution can change the entrenched supremacy of the permanent members. Since the last expansion of the Council in 1963, the membership of the UN has increased dramatically
and game changing developments have taken place, but the size and structure of the Council has remained static.

The question today is not whether change is needed, but whether the provisions of the very Charter that established the institution can bring about a real change. If history is any guide, major changes take place when the time is ripe, in unexpected ways, regardless of the strength of those who seek change and those who resist it. The provisions of the law that seek to protect the establishment will be thrown to the winds and the old system will yield place to the new. We have many examples in history to show that those who have conceded changes have lasted longer than those who have resisted the forces of change.

India was among those who lit the first spark of inevitable change, back in 1979, at the height of the cold war, when an item entitled “Equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council” was inscribed on the agenda of the General Assembly. The demand was to add a few more non-permanent members, on the simple logic that the ratio between the strength of the General Assembly and that of the Security Council should be maintained. The exponential increase in the membership of the UN should be reflected in the size of the Security Council. This principle was, in fact, followed in 1963 when the number of non-permanent members was raised from 6 to 10. The reaction from the permanent members was instant and shocking. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, they opposed the move tooth and nail. They argued that any expansion of the Security Council would undermine its efficiency, integrity and credibility and ensured that the agenda item was postponed year after year, with a nominal and sterile debate. The idea remained alive, but no action was taken till the end of the cold war.

The game changed in the early nineties, when the idea of adding new permanent members was brought up by Brazil and we initiated the exercise of ascertaining the views of the members and setting up a mechanism to study the proposals and to reach a consensus. The permanent members led by the US offered a “quick fix” after initial hesitation and proposed the addition of Japan and Germany as permanent members on the ground of their being the highest contributors to the UN budget after the US and a marginal increase in the non-permanent membership. If India and the other nonaligned countries had not stopped the “quick fix” and insisted on comprehensive reform with the support of the nonaligned group, the door for expansion would have been closed after inducting Japan and Germany at that time. We demolished the payment argument by stating that permanent membership should not be up for sale. If I may be permitted to quote from my own speech at the Working Group in February 1995, “Contribution to the UN should not be measured in terms of money. We do not agree with the view expressed by a delegation that permanent membership is a privilege that can be purchased. Financial contributions are determined on the basis of “capacity to pay” and those who pay their assessments, however small, are no whit less qualified for privilege than the major contributors.”

As a lethargic debate went on in the Working Group for years, national positions evolved and loyalties changed, but it became clear that the expansion of the Security Council could not be easily accomplished. The formation of an interest group called the “Coffee Club” and later “Uniting for Consensus” which opposed any expansion of the permanent membership made the situation more chaotic. We ourselves advanced our position from seeking to establish criteria, such as population, seminal contribution to the UN, participation in peacekeeping operations etc to staking a claim and began campaigning bilaterally in capitals. Over the years, our claim has been recognized. One adverse consequence of the debate, however, was that the discussions highlighted that a vast majority of member states had not served even once on the Security Council, while countries like India, Japan, Pakistan and Egypt had served on the Council several times. This led to our long absence from the Council from 1993 to 2010 after having been elected as a non-permanent member 7 times in the earlier period.

Efforts made outside the Working Group were also fruitless. After the deliberations of a High Level Group, Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed two Plans; Plan A, proposing creation of 6 permanent and 3 non-permanent seats and Plan B, proposing 8 new seats for 4 years subject to renewal and 1 non-permanent seat. The Plan B had greater acceptability in the Group and it was at the insistence of Indian member of the Group that Plan A was included. Another exercise undertaken by India, Brazil, Germany and Japan (G-4) to get the General Assembly to adopt a resolution on expansion failed to take off because of differences with the African Group. It, however, resulted in the G-4 conceding for the first time that they would not insist on the veto at least for 15 years. The General Assembly recently entered intergovernmental negotiations to suggest a “timeline perspective” to agree on reform in two stages on the basis of a draft text, but no progress has been reported as yet. A move was initiated by the G-4 to introduce a resolution to decide that both permanent and non-permanent membership will be expanded, but it did not command majority support and was abandoned.

The only silver lining in our quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council is that the need for expansion has been recognized by the entire membership and that there is also recognition that if the permanent membership is ever expanded, India will be the first developing country to find a place in it. For the rest, there are almost as many views as there are members of the UN about the size, composition and rights and responsibilities of the members of the Security Council.

A major development in February this year was the emergence of a draft resolution from the Caribbean Community, which is nothing but a wish list of the aspirants to permanent membership as well as of those who seek an expansion of the non-permanent membership. The draft envisages a Security Council consisting of 11 permanent members with veto and 16 non-permanent members. The additional seats will give two permanent seats to Africa, two permanent seats to Asia, one permanent seat to Europe and one permanent seat to Latin America. The G-4 has reason for joy about this formula as it meets its own demand. Africa’s demand for two permanent seats has also been met. But the permanent members, the Coffee Club and several countries, which have championed the abolition of the veto will vigorously oppose the Caricom draft. But if it can secure more than 128 votes in the General Assembly, the pressure will increase on the permanent members to at least offer an alternative formula and enter into serious negotiations in a new forum as the present Intergovernmental Negotiations have reached a dead end. But as it has happened in the past, the permanent five will try, by hook or by crook, to stave off a vote on the Caricom draft in the General Assembly.

The US, which had supported Japan and Germany in the early nineties, now favours “two or so” new permanent members, including Japan and “2 or 3” non-permanent members making an addition of only 5 more to the Security Council. Such a formula is a non-starter. The support extended to India by President Obama during his visit to India is in the form of a wish without a commitment to bring it about. His words were: “In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.” Though this is a significant departure from the previous US position, it is not enough for the US to extend support to India; it should shape a formula, which is acceptable to the membership. Its reservation over Germany and Brazil will itself deprive it of being decisive on the issue of expansion.

We did not need Wikileaks to find the reasons for the reluctance of the US to bring about expansion of the Council. But we now have it in black and white what we knew from the beginning. “We believe expansion of the Council along the lines of the models currently discussed will dilute US influence in the body…..On most important issues of the day—Sanctions, Human Rights, Middle East etc---Brazil, India and most African states are currently far less sympathetic to our views than our European allies”, said the US Ambassador in a cable in December 2007. The US delegation at the UN seems to have only a watching brief till intervention becomes necessary to prevent an expansion that will not serve US interests. A special report of the Council on Foreign Relations which has urged the President to do so makes the expansion contingent on demonstration of the qualifications of permanent membership. The position of the aspirants on non-proliferation, climate change and human rights will be subject to scrutiny. The Caricom draft will electrify the US delegation into action against it as it flies in the face of the US position.

China is opposed explicitly to Japan and implicitly to India, though it pays lip service to developing countries’ representation on the Council. Its position could be decisive, as the permanent members will coordinate their positions before any advance is made. France, UK and Russia are not likely to support the draft, despite their declared support for a modest expansion, including recognition of India’s credentials for permanent membership.

It is clear that it will be difficult to accomplish the fundamental change we are seeking by way of the procedure laid down for change. Like it happened in the case of the formation of G-20 when G-8 could not resolve the unprecedented economic crisis, a situation may arise when the P-5 find it difficult to maintain international peace and security without additional permanent members and thus force their hands to accept change. Such an ominous future was predicted by the President of the General Assembly, when he said on May 16, 2011, “Unless we find the determination to advance on the issue, the UN will lose its credibility. Our organization will be marginalized and important issues will be discussed in other forums and groupings, which are perceived to be more efficient and more representative of the new realities of the day.” Such a situation may arise sooner than later and that gives us reason for hope.

The Security Council chamber at the UN headquarters in New York, originally a gift from the Norwegian Government, was refurbished recently, with another grant from the Norwegians, but there was no provision made for extra space for the aspirants at the horseshoe table. Our Minister, Dr.Shashi Tharoor, who was present, put the UN on notice that the table would have to be extended soon to accommodate new entrants. “ This event is a reminder that institutions and places that looked fresh and relevant in 1952 need extensive repair work to bring them up to date for 2013. What was true of the fixtures, wall paper and electronics of the Security Council is also true of its composition and working methods”, he said.  But the constraint will not be the size of the table, but the mindset of the mighty permanent members.

The effectiveness of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security is contingent upon achieving unanimity of the permanent members. The concept of such unanimity stands diluted, as abstention on a resolution by a permanent member does not amount to the absence of a concurring vote. Unanimity was virtually impossible during the cold war and the Security Council remained paralyzed when wars raged in many parts of the world, leaving it to other initiatives to order ceasefires and to bring about reconciliation. But beginning with the first Gulf war, the Security Council was able to unite in dealing with several hotspots. The largest number of peacekeeping operations was launched during this period. Even the provision of the Charter, which prohibits interference in the internal affairs of member states, did not militate against measured interventions. Principles of such interventions under R2P have been drawn up. But there have been instances of lack of unanimity among the P-5, as in the case of Syria. The balance sheet of the Security Council will show that, as long as the vital interests of the P-5 are not involved, the Security Council is able to act in accordance with the Charter.

The advent of terrorism and the threat to international peace and security from non-state actors is a new phenomenon that the Security Council has to contend with. The lack of a UN definition of terrorism and the theory that one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist did not stand in the way of resolute action by the Security Council. A Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism has still eluded the UN, but various ways have been found to take action against terrorist outfits. Declarations of terrorist organizations and sanctions imposed against them have helped the fight against terrorism, including in Jammu and Kashmir.

Taking advantage of the end of the cold war and the expansion of UN peacekeeping operations, Secretary General Boutros Ghali proposed an “Agenda for Peace” in the early nineties with a number of proposals to make peace operations more effective. He used the provisions of Chapter 7 of the Charter to justify military involvement without the consent of the parties. Although the Charter had envisaged enforcement action by an international military force, this had not happened except in the Korean case. The evolution of peacekeeping operations was haphazard and the procedures for approving, organizing forces, equipping them and deploying them are cumbersome and time consuming. Ghali proposed, therefore, the establishment of a standby force for rapid deployment as soon as the Security Council authorized an operation. This proposal earned him the reputation of trying to be a “General” rather than a “Secretary General.” The proposal was treated politely by the General Assembly and the Security Council, but sidelined by adopting a series of measures such as notification by member states of specific forces or capabilities, which could be made available with the approval of the national authorities.

The proposal comes up off and on in diplomatic and academic circles and polls taken in some member states show that support for a standby force has wide support among the public. Sentiment has grown for such force to be used to prevent conflict, to combat terrorism and to enforce non-proliferation. But member states have been wary of the proposal because each peace operation is distinct and complex and a single formula cannot apply to all situations.

A standby force for rapid deployment has merits, as that will enable the Security Council to act quickly to avoid the kind of tragedies that occurred in Rwanda, Darfur and Kosovo. It will be a peacemaker and peace enforcer, if it has a strong mandate. But the member states are not yet ready to bestow such sovereign powers either on the Security Council or on the Secretary General. The Security Council embodies a necessarily selective approach in deploying forces, depending on the circumstances in each case. The UN is reluctant to involve the Security Council in certain conflicts and selectivity is rooted in caution and prudence. The command structure is distinct in different cases and has to be non-partisan and meritocratic. A UN standing force is generally considered impractical for these reasons.

The number of peacekeeping operations has dropped of late and the UN is able to put together troops at fairly short notice, as there are several countries, which place troops readily at the disposal of the UN. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have been good troop contributing countries. Peacekeeping training centers have come up in some countries, including India and the frequent consultations with troop contributing countries have facilitated early resolution of routine problems. India lost 5 soldiers recently in South Sudan, adding to the considerable Indian casualties in peacekeeping operations. Unlike in the US and other western countries, where there is a hue and cry when their soldiers lose lives in the service of the UN, India has come to accept casualties in peacekeeping as inevitable price for keeping the peace. The evolution of command and control system away from NATO doctrine has also been helpful.

The UN peacekeeping operations had their moments of glory like in Cambodia and Namibia and when it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but their failures have also been glaring. Peacekeepers have been helpless spectators of butchering of innocent lives and even genocide for lack of mandate, equipment or funding. Even worse, peacekeepers have been found guilty of corruption, crimes and exploitation of the very people they were supposed to protect. But, according to Ibrahimi, “No failure did more to damage the standing and credibility of UN peacekeeping in the 1990s than its reluctance to distinguish victim from aggressor.” 

The budget of the UN is shared by the member states on the basis of capacity to pay and the system has worked well, except when the US held back its contributions for political ends on the dictum that he who pays the piper should call the tune. The US made the UN starve of funds to force reform in the style of spending, prompting a comment that the US was not different from Cinderella’s mother! But the payment argument has not prevented countries like India from playing an effective role though our share has been below 1%. Nor have Germany and Japan gained any major advantages on account of their high contributions. India is one of the few countries, which have paid the contributions in full and on time.

The UN has contemplated changes in the funding mechanism of the UN, particularly in development funds, including the technical cooperation funds of the Specialized Agencies, such as the IAEA, as at present, such funds are voluntary and not apportioned among member states. Bot the developed and developing countries have resisted change. Brave promises have been made by some countries to liberate the UN from the financial grip of the developed countries, but none has put their money where their mouths are.

The funding and budgeting methods of the UN are so complex and the checks and balances are so many that any reform is hard to accomplish. Apart from the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, the Advisory Committee on Administrative Questions (ACABQ), a most powerful body of elected individuals, the Committee on Programme and Coordination (CPC) and the Committee on Contributions come into play before funding is found for any programme that is adopted by the UN. Even reducing expenditure on defunct organs, sunset operations or economy measures are hard to accomplish. The Trusteeship Council has very little to do, but its budget cannot be eliminated because of long-term contracts and service conditions of professionals employed by it. The moribund Military Staff Council still holds ceremonial dinners for delegates from 39 countries. Once the General Assembly decided to stop the supply of pitchers of water to each delegate at all meetings and set up drinking water fountains outside the halls, believing that more than a million USD could be saved. But when the expenditure statement for the year came, the expenditure was still there because the staff engaged in supply of water could not be sent home. No wonder when Secretary General was asked how many people worked in the UN, he said, “about 50%!”

A word must be said, in conclusion, about India and the United Nations. India is among the countries that take the UN very seriously. An investigation report on the oil for food programme Iraq indicted the Secretary General, but the SG survived and the Indian Foreign Minister had to resign as his name was found in an Annex to the report. Gone are the days when we took the Kashmir issue to the UN. We would not take any bilateral issue to the UN anymore, but we do our best to contribute to the growth of the UN. This explains our approach to the permanent membership of the Security Council, which has become the Holy Grail of Indian diplomacy. We do not think very deeply of the value of permanent membership, particularly if it is without the veto. We have been exaggerating our accomplishments as a non-permanent member recently and imagining that our claim to a permanent seat has been strengthened. The truth of the matter is that every country on the Council, whether permanent or non-permanent, will act in its own national interest even when it is elected regionally. No one, other than the candidates themselves, is, therefore, enthused by claims of permanent membership. Legend has it that India was once offered the Chinese seat on the Council and Pandit Nehru declined it saying that we would claim our own seat when the time came. The time has not yet come, even though we have been knocking at the door for thirty years.

India has given much more to the UN by way of concepts, seminal resolutions, conventions and the rest than it has gained by way of core interests. We have had to plough the lonely furrow on issues such as self-determination, non-proliferation, International Criminal Court and most recently, on an Arms Trade Treaty. Though we have more than our share of sherpas in the secretariat, we do not have many summiteers. But we count our blessings from the UN not in terms of the concrete benefits it gives us, but on account of the hope it holds out for world peace and prosperity.

Thank you.