Amid Ukraine conflict, COVID-inflicted crises, India emerges as voice of Global South
United Nations: India emerged as a voice of the Global South during its two-year term in the powerful UN Security Council, which acrimoniously deliberated on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that led to unprecedented levels of global food and fuel insecurity as the world continued to grapple with inequalities amplified by the pandemic.
Before relinquishing its non-permanent seat in the 15-member Council on December 31, 2022, India presided over the powerful UN body in December with the country’s first woman Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Ruchira Kamboj sitting in the President’s seat at the horse-shoe table.
Just about two months into India’s second year of its 2021-2022 term on the Council as elected non-permanent member, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a ‘special military operation’ in eastern Ukraine on February 24.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a direct and strong appeal to Putin to “stop your troops from attacking Ukraine” and give peace a chance as the UN chief called the invasion the “saddest moment in my tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations.”
As the Russian invasion unfolded, India’s then UN envoy Ambassador T S Tirumurti in February underscored New Delhi’s call for urgent de-escalation of tensions and cautioned that the situation was in danger of spiralling into a major crisis.
In statements in the Council and the General Assembly throughout the year, India consistently called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and an end to violence. New Delhi emphasised that dialogue and diplomacy are the only way forward and actions that exacerbate the conflict should be avoided.
“Our world faced many trials and tests in 2022 – some familiar, others we might not have imagined just one year ago,” Guterres said, adding that even in the brutal war in Ukraine, the power of determined, discreet diplomacy has helped people and tackle unprecedented levels of global food insecurity.
India abstained on most resolutions related to the Russia-Ukraine war in the Security Council, General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, including on a Security Council procedural resolution to convene a rare emergency special session of the General Assembly.
The 193-member General Assembly, the most representative body of the United Nations, convened the rare emergency session on February 28 on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, only the 11th such emergency session of the UNGA since 1950.
Kamboj, who took charge of India’s Permanent Mission in New York in August, has asserted that in the course of the Ukraine conflict, India has “spoken in one voice that we are for peace. Peace is also a side and we favour diplomacy and dialogue…We are among the few countries, dare I say, which are speaking to both sides.”
As the Ukraine conflict continued unabated through the months of 2022, India highlighted that its impact has not been limited just to Europe. The Global South especially is facing serious economic consequences, with growing concerns about energy and food security exacerbating the hardships unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
While India supplied 240 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to over 100 countries, it also provided humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and economic support to some of its neighbours in the Global South under economic distress due to the ripple effect of the conflict.
“We were there in response to humanitarian crises. All of this and more points to the fact that India is ready to take its place at the global top table as a country that is willing to bring solutions to the table and to contribute positively to the global agenda,” Kamboj said.
“Over the last two years of our membership of the Council, I can say with confidence that we have been shouldering responsibilities well, and making every effort to bridge the different voices within the Council so as to ensure that the Council itself speaks in one voice as far as possible on a variety of issues,” she said.
When External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar presided over a signature event held under India’s Presidency of the Council this month on reformed multilateralism, he stressed that the knock-on effects of conflict situations have underscored the necessity for a more broad-based global governance.
Asserting that reform is the “need of the day”, India said the “world is not the same as it was 77 years ago. The 193 States Members of the United Nations are more than triple the 55 Member States that it had in 1945. However, the composition of the Security Council, responsible for global peace and security, was last fixed in 1965 and is far from reflecting the true diversity of the wider membership of the United Nations.”
As the curtains come down this month on India’s 2021-22 tenure in the Council, the country’s eighth stint in the powerful UN organ as elected member, Jaishankar said India attempted to bring many themes of contemporary relevance like maritime security, technology in UN peacekeeping, reforms of the UN and counterterrorism to the centre of the agenda and of the debate in the UN.
In October, India, as chair of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, held a special meeting in New Delhi and Mumbai, the first time that the CTC met outside New York in seven years.
At the conclusion of the meeting, a “pioneer” Delhi Declaration was adopted that “manifested the resolve of the Council to deal with the new and emerging threats in a comprehensive manner through a set of recommendations for Member States in the short term and the development of a normative framework in the form of guiding principles in the longer term.”
At the signature event on counterterrorism during its presidency this month, India stressed that “we cannot let another ‘9/11 of New York’ or ’26/11 of Mumbai’ happen again” and asserted that combating terrorism is a battle in which there is no respite.
After the meeting, the UN Security Council adopted a substantial Presidential Statement on counterterrorism underscoring the obligation of nations to curb terrorist activities of individuals and groups blacklisted by its Al Qaida sanctions committee regardless of their “nationality or residence” and underlined the need to deny safe havens and prosecute perpetrators of terrorism.
Summarising India’s UNSC tenure, Jaishankar said the country has sought to be the voice of the Global South on many issues of concern. “We have tried to not only articulate their interests and anxieties but also tried to see whether we could serve as a bridging role in the Council.”
Declaring India’s candidature for its next tenure at the Council for the 2028-29 term, Jaishankar said, “We look forward to being back.”