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Obama presses India to become global 'champion' of democracy

Obama says India should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but needs to use its growing global clout to boost democratic institutions.

By Staff writer / November 8, 2010

President Obama (l.) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, embrace following a joint statement and press conference at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 8.

Saurabh Das/AP

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New Delhi

As his trip to India winds down this week, President Obama offered to welcome India as a permanent member of the United Nations but suggested India needed to use its power globally to champion democratic institutions, not sovereignty for poor nations.

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“I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” Mr. Obama said to a joint session of India’s Parliament Monday, drawing applause from the MPs. But, “with increased power comes increased responsibility.”

The US has previously said it supports UN reform, but shied away from naming India as a candidate for permanent UN fixture. Part of that was due to the long line of American allies who are vying for permanent UN seats, including Germany and Japan. But it also reflected US wariness with the role India has traditionally played as a champion for Third World states that have felt hectored and exploited by international rules set up mostly by rich nations.

“For so long [Indians] have been knocking at the door of the great power club and finally they are on the threshold of the doorway, and now they don’t know what is involved,” says Sumit Ganguly, an Indian-American regional expert on sabbatical in New Delhi. “There are certain club rules and certain norms and expectations that that club has.”

India's changing aspirations

India’s past role as a champion for autonomy and a critic of the world order fit a country that was both large – and largely powerless. In recent years, however, its positions have evolved partially as its wealth and aspirations have grown.

The change can be seen in the rhetoric of India’s naval strategists. India used to favor extending the maritime perimeters of coastal states. Strategists here now speak of “freedom of the seas” and view ocean lanes as “global commons” that must be defended by large powers for the benefit of international trade.

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