Distinguished Lectures Distinguished Lectures

India’s multilateral engagements in her quest to strengthen international peace and security

  • Distinguished Lectures Detail

    By: Amb (Retd) Bhaswati Mukherjee
    Venue: IIT, Guwahati
    Date: September 11, 2015

Historical Background

India’s commitment to multilateralism since Independence

1. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of World War II and the twin tragedies of the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the Founding Fathers of the United Nations were determined that the UN should not go in the same direction as the League of Nations. Universal membership was essential as well as the firm determination, underlined in the Preamble of its Charter, signed on 25th June, 1945, to save "succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and "to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”. Unfortunately, the power structure of the Permanent Membership of the Security Council reflects the victorious powers of World War II.

2. India, led by Sir A. Ramaswami Mudaliar to the San Francisco Conference in 1945, is one of the founding Members of the UN, having signed the Declaration at Washington on 1st January, 1942 and having also participated at the San Francisco Conference from 25th April to 26th June, 1945.

3. Establishment of UN Specialised Agencies followed, the most important being the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the United Nations Nuclear Watchdog. India is a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors and plays a crucial role in its deliberations.

4. Another important development was the establishment of the OPCW (Organisation for Prevention of Chemical Warfare) which was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is now considered to be the world’s most effective disarmament agency in the UN system. India played a key role in these negotiations and has chaired the Executive Council twice, most recently between 2011 and 2013 under my chairmanship. The regime of the CWC marks a watershed in the efforts of the international community to achieve destruction of all chemical weapons under verification.

India’s role at the United Nations

5. In its quest for global peace and security, India has played an leadership role in the United Nations General Assembly and in the Security Council. India has been a non-permanent Member of the UN Security Council seven times – 1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12. In 2011-12, India received 188 of the 190 votes in the UN General Assembly.

A quest to strengthen global peace and security: General and Complete Disarmament: Elimination of all Weapons of Mass Destruction

India’s nuclear doctrine at the United Nations and its evolution

6. India’s nuclear doctrine at the United Nations is in consonance with its commitment to achieve global disarmament. India stands for total nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It is the only nuclear weapons state to demand total elimination of nuclear weapons.

7. In Pokhran in 1998, India demonstrated that it had the technology and the ability to defend itself in a hostile neighbourhood with one declared nuclear weapon state (China) and another that quickly transformed itself from a closet nuclear weapon state to a declared one (Pakistan). India does not maintain a constituted nuclear force on a heightened state of alert. The country’s nuclear weapons remain under the control of the civilian Nuclear Command Authority (NCA), comprised of a Political Council, chaired by the Prime Minister. Our no-first-use policy (NFU) is based on our doctrine that while we would not be the first to use nuclear weapons, we would assuredly retaliate massively and inflict untold damage on our adversaries if attacked. This is our doctrine of credible minimum deterrence.

8. A key development in recent years has been the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, plans for which were first unveiled in July 2005. This agreement and the subsequent endorsement of India's case by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) enabled India to engage in international nuclear trade. India continues to participate in international nuclear trade. India is tightening its export controls in an effort to get membership into the Nuclear Supplier’s Group and other export control regimes.

India-US civil nuclear agreement: international recognition of India as a responsible nuclear power

9. What did the nuclear deal achieve for India? Most importantly it expanded India’s strategic space, enabling it to leverage its enhanced relationship with the U.S. in order to upgrade its relations with other partners as well. That the U.S. was prepared to take such a major initiative with India despite the risks to its non-proliferation objectives put India in a category of major global players and Delhi as an indispensable destination for leaders across the globe. The deal also led to the dismantling of most of the technology denial regimes operating against India since 1974 and which had been progressively expanded to cover most dual use items as well.


10. The OPCW Secretariat under the able leadership of its Director-General, Ambassador Ahmad Uzumcu of Turkey, is the only repository today of international expertise on chemical weapons disarmament and destruction. As Vice Chair of the Asian Group from April 2011 to March 2012 and subsequently as Chairperson of the Executive Council from April 2012 to May 2013, I had the privilege of leading the Executive Council at a time when the Organization was passing through a crucial period of transition and encountering new challenges, posed first by Libya and then by Syria.

Challenge posed by Libya

11. Libya, unlike Syria, was a State Party to the Convention and had, in the earlier regime under Gadhafi, declared its stockpiles. The issue arose when new stockpiles, not included in Libya’s initial declaration, was discovered by the Allies and communicated to the new Libyan regime. The issue was a challenge, since initially the new Libyan authorities did not wish to accept either responsibility for the stockpiles or the responsibility of inherited ownership. The situation in Libya was also volatile.

Challenge posed by Syria

12. As Chairperson of the Council, I had to address in a neutral but responsible manner, the differing and divergent views emanating from the alleged use of chemical weapons near Aleppo in northern Syria, in March 2013. On 27th March, 2013, after intensive consultations, I convened the meeting of the Council and read out an agreed Chairman’s statement on Syria.

New Challenges to International Peace and Security: Have Syrian or Libyan Chemical Weapons fallen into ISIS hands?

13. With ISIS claiming responsibility for massacre in Tunisian sea-side resort on 26th June, 2015, and making steady advances into Syrian territory after declaring their intention to establish an Islamic Caliphate, the alarming prospect of the use of WMD’s [Weapons of Mass Destructions] including chemical weapons falling into their hands could become a reality. These weapons have sometimes been defined as the poor man’s nuclear weapon.

14. It may be recalled that on March 6, 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2209 in which it expressed concern that toxic chemicals had been used as a weapon in Syria and decided that in the event of non-compliance, it would impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The Security Council is reflecting on measures to stop the use of toxic chemicals as a method of warfare, through the UN Chemical Weapons watchdog (the OPCW i.e. the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons).

15. We now have a situation where Libya is unravelling and could become a failed State and the ISIS is making substantive inroads into Syrian territory. Thus, this troubling prospect of the poor man’s nuclear weapons remains a daunting challenge which one hopes the international community or we in India never need to address. It is one more challenge for India which we are vigorously addressing multilaterally through the United Nations and the OPCW, its watchdog agency for chemical weapons.

India’s campaign for Permanent Membership of the Security Council

16. India’s credentials for permanent membership are well documented and recognised. A country of 1.3 billion with 160 million Muslims, India is the world's largest liberal democracy based on rule of law and human rights and world’s largest Muslim population. Its economy is US $ 1 trillion and it has also developed a credible nuclear deterrence based on no-first-use.

17. Participation in peace keeping operations is the key element of the credentials required for Permanent Membership in the Security Council. India is also the largest contributor to UN peace keeping operations, having contributed 1,60,000 troops to 43 of 65 of UN peace keeping operations.

18 India's bid for permanent membership of UNSC is backed by permanent members, namely France, Russia, the United Kingdom and United States. In the General Assembly it is widely recognised that India is the only country with the support vote of every member of United Nations, with the exception of Pakistan - the only nation which specifically opposes India's candidacy.

19. Any reform to the Security Council would require an amendment to the Charter. According to Article 108 of the Charter:

"Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.”

20. Recently, the US has joined Russia and China in blocking any large scale reform of Security Council and has rejected the giving up the veto power to new members. It is highly possible that India’s candidature will be presented to the UN General Assembly at the forthcoming Session in September 2015, or next year, where we would need 129 positive votes i.e., a two-third majority of the 193 member states. In a letter by US PR to the UN, Ambassador Samantha Powers, the US has noted that it was open to a modest expansion to the Security Council membership on a case-by-case basis. This would appear to be in contradiction to the recent India-US Joint Statement issued in January 2015 during President Obama’s visit when he reaffirmed his support for a reformed Security Council with India as its permanent member. The reform process unfortunately appears to have hit a difficult road block.

Concluding Reflections

21. As a founder Member, India views the UN as a forum that could play a crucial role to guarantee and maintain international peace and security. India has worked with other partners to strengthen the UN system to combat new global challenges such as terrorism, piracy, disarmament, human rights, peace building and peace keeping. India will continue with this tryst with the support of its partners, allies and friends in the UN system.

22. In its pursuit of international peace and security, India is fully aware that the strengthening of multilateralism through the United Nations represents the best hope in a troubled world with new and emerging threats such as IS and its recent wanton destruction, inter alia, of a 2000 year old temple in Palmyra. Non State actors such as the IS who seek to build an international Caliphate through terror, torture and fundamentalism are new threats which must be combated multilaterally. This also requires an inter cultural and inter civilizational dialogue based upon mutual understanding, tolerance and patience.