India gears up to new diplomatic challenges at UN

By Devirupa Mitra, IANS
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NEW DELHI - From reaching out to smaller nations to taking up positions that it has not done so far, India’s external affairs ministry is gearing up to cope with the diplomatic challenges of high visibility and constant pressure of being part of the United Nations Security Council after a gap of nearly two decades.

In the first two weeks of the new year, the Security Council has had to deal with issues related to, among others, the South Sudan referendum and the end of the UN’s mandate in Nepal, as well as discussions on resolutions on Cote d’Ivoire and the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

It is but the start of a two-year period for India as a non-permanent member, a place it won after polling 187 out of 190 votes.

For the South Block mandarins, it has been a learning process, as they crank up the ministry’s internal system to cope and respond to the daily pressures.

The preparations had started last year, with circulars sent out in December by Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, as well as by the ministry’s UNP (United Nations Political) division. The tone of all these cables highlighted the tight timeline under which India’s Permanent Mission at New York will be working to respond to changing global issues.

The need for “timely and regular” information to be sent to the New York mission as well as the UNP division was stressed in the documents sent to all the Indian missions abroad.

“We always used to make briefs and backgrounders on important subjects. Now, the main difference is that we are sharing it with the UNP division,” said a senior MEA official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Heads of all Indian missions worldwide have been told that any reference from the Permanent Mission and the UNP division had “the highest priority.”

“We have tried to gear up the network and coordination not just between the territorial divisions but also the missions in order to create a responsive system,” said a senior ministry official.

Coordination is, therefore, the key word, with India having to prepare and articulate its detailed views on any significant global issue.

“For the statement on Sudan made by India’s Permanent Representative Hardeep Singh Puri on Jan 6, there was an input not just from the territorial division and the mission but also consultations with the Addis Ababa embassy (as host of the African Union), as well as from the capitals of Sudan’s neighbours,” he said.

With new responsibilities, India has to take positions on issues that it has not done so far.

For example, on Monday the UNSC-formed Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) at The Hague filed charges on the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. India has so far preferred to remain aloof from the STL, mindful of the sensitivities of Syria, with which it has good relations. But, internally, the ministry has been holding discussions on an Indian position.

India has also been elected to chair three UNSC subsidiary bodies - two committees on counter-terrorism, a committee on sanctions against Eritrea and Somalia and a working group on additional measures against terrorism.

For all this extra work, the Permanent Mission in New York had been augmented, with four to five officers added to deal only with UNSC-related issues.

The UNP division here also has more hands. But it still has to stretch itself thin, working as the nodal point between the Permanent Mission and the ministry. “Ultimately, most of the decisions for UNSC are taken in the capital,” explained another senior ministry official.

There has also been a lot of consultations with the foreign offices of the UNSC’s five permanent members. In December the French foreign ministry official looking after UN matters visited New Delhi, while the Russians and the British are scheduled to come calling this month.

“The Chinese have also indicated that their official for the UN would like to visit. We are discussing the dates,” the official said.

But India is not just focussing on the big five but also reaching out to smaller nations - with an eye on its campaign for a permanent UNSC seat.

“We are working with the Small Island States who have a bloc of 30 votes. Of course, we already have a robust relationship with the African Union and African countries,” the official told IANS.

India will be hosting in the last week of January in Delhi the permanent representatives of 14 Caribbean countries that are part of the Caricom (Caribbean community).

India will also be hosting a run-up ministerial conference to the fourth United Nations Least Developed Countries Conference in Turkey.

“We are expecting several ministers and permanent representatives to come to Delhi, which will be another opportunity for networking and outreach,” the official said.

(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at

Filed under: Diplomacy

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