India’s Security Council agenda should go beyond peace talks

india becomes UN security council president
India should push for its national interests at the Security Council, without ignoring issues like global peace, terrorism, maritime security and Covid-19.

Ever since its formation in 1945, the United Nations’ agenda included social progress and human rights, besides security and peace. So, its current focus on Sustainable Development Goals is nothing new. It is important that India aligned its goals with the UN agenda during its one-month presidency and two-year membership of the Security Council. The agenda should focus on social progress, human development and SDGs.

The one-month stint as the president of the Security Council presents India with an opportunity to lead various global discussions. I will make a brief mention of the global forum on steel where India could set the agenda. When the world was looking for expansion of steel production, especially by India and China. China has already reached the peak and India will need to grow fast. As the chair of the global forum, you are at the steering wheel and that makes a difference. We changed the definition of excess capacity, saying that how much we consume domestically. We did away with that hurdle and are expanding at a great place.

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Similarly, I was part of the discussions on human rights. India is making it the cheapest medicines for HIV AIDS. It was not discussed in the Security Council, but in other UN bodies such as UNHRC. The topic came up in the general body meeting where the human rights aspects were raised. It was discussed from the human rights angle and an agreement to remove IPR on the medicines were arrived at. I think exactly the same thing should be done for Covid-19 vaccination. India can use other forums to guide the Security Council towards a favourable decision. With its 1.3 billion population, India is no pushover.

All nations suffered from Covid-19. Economy and businesses were affected. It is important that the United Nations Security Council transforms itself to address the important issue. Today, security will have to make way for SDGs. I have worked with UN organizations in different phases of my career, whether they are FAO, ILO, IMF, UNESCO or Economic and Social Council. You can bring in this agenda at the Security Council. The Covid-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to bring these issues to the centre stage. We all believe in human rights. We all believe in equity. We want SDGs and should not make them just lip service.

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It is important that we use this one-month opportunity to bring focus on terrorism and the maritime security. How do we bring in human rights element into the Security Council agenda? We are rightly claiming the permanent membership of the Security council. When we become a non-permanent member, we should showcase out leadership credentials by actively participating. Any issue on the agenda which is not agreeable, India needs to make the right noises.

The WHO is a forum that should come up very clearly on Covid-19 vaccination. India should call for the removal of IPR on life-saving vaccines. And the whole energy is going into pricing discussions. Nobody lives in isolation and geographical boundaries no longer matter. What impacts one place in terms of business impacts others too. Maybe time has come to bring in nontariff barriers for non-compliance to SDGs such as health. All discussions in UNSC get entangled with the security issues.

Is it alright to use world bodies to further your national interest? In the case of India, there is justification in doing so because of the sheer size, population and developmental needs. A strong India can contribute to the global progress, while a weak India can pull it down.

(Dr Aruna Sharma is a Delhi-based economist and policy analyst. She is an Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1982 batch. In 2018, she retired as secretary, ministry of steel, government of India.)