By Dr Dwayne Menezes, Director for Government Relations and Strategic Partnerships
18th October 2013, Global Governance, Issue 4, No. 5
Over the past week, Lithuania, Nigeria, Chile, Chad and Saudi Arabia were elected unopposed to five non-permanent member seats in the UN Security Council. For Lithuania, Chad and Saudi Arabia, this was their first opportunity to serve as members in what still is the most elite club in the world. Only a few hours later, Saudi Arabia, though hardly a state celebrated for its human rights record, rejected its seat, citing the Council’s double standards and ineffectiveness in resolving crises as its reasons.
While this unusual development expectedly made headlines, caused shock and sparked debate the world over, the old and dusty question of UN Security Council Reform found itself recalled to the frontseat. As the ears of the West remained attuned to the mystical rhythms of the Arab Kingdom, the Russian President sang to the Indian Prime Minister the song India had been yearning to hear, again: the Security Council ought to be reformed to “reflect contemporary realities”, and Russia strongly supported India’s candidature for a permanent seat.[i]
That India remains excluded from permanent membership is curious when one considers that it was a key Allied Power when, during the Second World War, the UN was first conceived. At least in the West, however, although the War remains a familiar subject, the history of the UN and the early bonds that tied the UNSC to the major Allied Powers appear to be largely forgotten. Given the extent to which popular accounts of the War obsess over Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt, and the powers they represented, the contributions of non-Western Allies as well tend to be largely marginalised in the popular imagination.
It is, hence, not surprising that few in the West recognise the name of Chiang Kai-shek or remember China’s bloody and protracted engagement on the side of the Allies.[ii] It is even less surprising that fewer still realise the connection between China’s emergence as a victorious great power at the end and its permanent membership in the UNSC. More tragic though is the case of India, painfully excluded from a permanent seat at the high table of global power to this day, despite its military and economic prowess, post-War contributions to the UN and even key role in the Allied war effort. When one considers the origins of the UNSC, one would soon discover that India’s exclusion may well be its greatest oddity.
India today is not just the second largest country by population and the seventh largest by area, but also the world’s largest democracy, the third largest economy by purchasing power parity and a significant nuclear power with the third largest standing army and eighth highest military expenditure in the world. Moreover, since joining the UN in 1945, India has been the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions. In 2011, Colum Lynch noted that more than 100,000 Indian troops had served in UN missions over the past 50 years, and that year itself, India had “over 8,500 peacekeepers in the field, more than twice as many as the UN’s five big powers combined.”[iii]
The irony of its tragic exclusion from permanent membership in the UNSC is rendered all the more obvious when one refers back to the history of the Second World War and realises that India had been the greatest colonial supplier of manpower and materials to the British war effort. Indian troops had been deployed across Western Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia, as also on the high seas. Due to the sheer size and strength of India’s armed forces, as Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck who served as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army and Middle East Command during the War observed, “without their aid, the war could not have been won.”[iv]
By 1945, the Indian Army, which comprised of a little less than 200,000 combatants in 1939, numbered over 2.5 million, emerging as the largest volunteer force in history. Around 700,000 of the nearly million combatants in the British Fourteenth Army in Burma (aka the “Forgotten Army”), then the largest single army in the Commonwealth and also the world, were Indian.[v] Official Indian army and navy histories reveal that over the same period, the Royal Indian Navy expanded from having 114 officers and 1732 ratings to 3014 officers and 27,433 ratings, while the Royal Indian Air Force rose from having 16 officers and 662 men to 28,500 personnel, including 1,600 officers.
By the end of the War, there were more than 24,300 Indians who lost their lives in military action, over 64,300 wounded, at least 11,750 still missing and around 3 million who perished in war-related famines. A further 65,000 or so were taken as prisoners of war in the Far East, and another 17,000, in the Mediterranean theatres.[vi] Besides, even in 1945, India was not just the second most populous state in the world and home to around a seventh of the world’s population, but had also emerged as the fourth largest industrial power and the second largest creditor to Britain after the United States. Britain owed India £1.3 billion, over a third of what it owed to creditors overseas and around a fifth of its gross national product.[vii]
India’s exclusion from permanent membership of the UNSC is even more curious when one considers the link between the Allies and the UN. On 1st January 1942, midway through the First Washington Conference, the major Allied Powers of UK, US, USSR and China, followed by 22 other Allies (including India) the next day, affirmed their commitment to the purposes and principles of the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and signed the Declaration by the United Nations pledging to employ their full resources against the Axis Powers, in cooperation with one another and without making a separate armistice or peace with enemies. In its earliest significant use, thus, the term ‘United Nations’ had been intertwined in its meaning with the Allies.