India, South Africa could complicate US agenda in UN Security Council

India, South Africa, and three other counties were elected Tuesday to the five open nonpermanent seats on the US Security Council. In the past, India and South Africa have been loath to punish Iran.

Richard Drew/AP
Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon (r.) speaks during a news conference at United Nations headquarters Tuesday. Canada failed to win one of the five open nonpermanent seats on the UN Security Council. The seats were claimed by Germany, India, South Africa, Colombia, and Portugal.

The rise of the world’s middle powers was on display at the United Nations Tuesday as India, South Africa, and Germany were all elected to join the big guns on the United Nations Security Council for two years, starting in January.

The arrival of the South Asian and African regional powers as two of the five new nonpermanent members elected to the Security Council Tuesday could bring new clout to the council – in developing nations, in particular.

But adding India and South Africa to a council where Brazil already holds one of the 10 total nonpermanent seats could also pose new challenges to the council’s old guard, including the United States. Iran, for example, could find a new base of support in the troika of developing powers, all of which have resisted mounting US-led pressures on Iran over its nuclear program.

Brazil voted against the latest round of UN sanctions against Iran in June, and India indicated at the time that it did not favor the resolution and considered sanctions “counterproductive.”

Brazil, India, and South Africa "want to be among the big players, they want to be the ones who get permanent seats [on the Security Council] eventually," says Steve Groves, an expert in international institutions at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

The UN General Assembly elected five new nonpermanent members to join the five nonpermanent members that still have a year on their revolving terms. Together the 10 will join the council’s five permanent and veto-wielding members: The US, China, Russia, France, and Great Britain.

India, South Africa, and Colombia ran unopposed for the two-year terms reserved for their regions, while Germany and Portugal were elected to two seats reserved for the “Western” regional group.

Portugal won over Canada in what in the end was the election’s only hotly contested race.

With the addition of India, the Security Council will include all of the world’s major emerging powers known as the BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
At the same time, the newly configured council will also include five of the six countries that are pressing for a permanent seat on a proposed expanded Security Council.

The gathering of so many powerful developing countries on the council at once has some diplomatic experts predicting trouble for the US agenda, be it Iran, North Korea, Sudan, or Burma (Myanmar). But Heritage's Mr. Groves says the US should take this "rather unprecedented opportunity" to test the kind of world powers these countries want to be.

"I would hope the US would take this as an opportunity to say, 'OK, Brazil, India, and South Africa, you are among the rising powers of the world and want to play a bigger role, let's see how responsible you are now,' " he says, "When the question is Iran or North Korea, will they act with international security in mind or follow the same regional and parochial interests? Let's see if they really want the responsibility."

The confluence of potential permanent members onto the council – Germany, India, South Africa, Brazil and Nigeria (like Brazil an existing nonpermanent member) – is likely to boost pressure for a reform of the council, which has operated under the same five post-World-War-II powers since the UN’s founding in 1945. Japan, which is also a likely candidate for an expanded council, finishes up its current nonpermanent term in December.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that Germany would “want to use this seat to increase our influence on the reform of the UN.”

Germany already is a member of the group of nations – the council’s five permanent members plus Germany, or the so-called “P5 + 1” – that are attempting to address the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic means.

The Iran issue remains unresolved, with Tehran continuing to pursue a nuclear program that it says is peaceful but which world powers suspect is aimed at delivering a nuclear weapon. With Iran moving forward just as the Security Council balance appears to be shifting away from favoring additional punitive action, some diplomatic experts suggest the Iran portfolio could eventually be taken up outside the council by an ad-hoc “collation of the willing.”

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