. As it enters the United Nations Security Council for the third time since the end of the Cold War, India finds a very different dynamic than the one it encountered during the earlier stints in 1991-92 and 2011-12. India, too, has changed over the last decade. The range of Indian interests has expanded and so has the circle of India’s international partners.
India’s attitudes have also shifted from the reactive to the proactive. That, in turn, should make India’s new stint at the UNSC more purposeful and pragmatic. Purposefulness is about tightly integrating its UNSC engagement with India’s broader national goals. Pragmatism demands adapting to the changed conditions at the UNSC and avoiding overly ambitious goals.
India has walked into a far more contentious UNSC. Differences between the US, China and Russia have become intractable. China has risen to be a great power and is making expansive claims and trying to redeem them. Meanwhile, Washington and Moscow have drifted apart and Russia has moved closer to China.
This tension among the US, China and Russia has been reinforced by sharpening disagreements between Washington and its European allies, amidst President Donald Trump’s questioning of America’s traditional alliances. Although President-elect Joe Biden wants to work closely with European allies in the global arena, not all wrinkles can be smoothed over.
The UNSC system was designed to function as a concert of five powers. Unanimity among the five permanent members with veto powers was rare during the Cold War decades. After a brief moment of great power cooperation in the 1990s, we are now back in an era of contestation. But there will be enough room for India to carve out a larger role for itself amid renewed great power rivalry.
The UNSC offers room for sustained diplomatic interaction between the major powers, who could minimise tensions and create new opportunities for cooperation. Much like the US and USSR that cooperated on issues relating to nuclear proliferation at the height of the Cold War, the US and China could explore potential common ground even amidst their broad-based confrontation. All other powers, including India, will, of course, want to be sure that the US-China cooperation is not at the expense of others.