Want a Permanent Seat at the UNSC? Just get nukes.

Recently, President Obama openly supported India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Though there is much backing for the idea, as it somewhat updates the world order to take into account the large population and economic ability of India, there are numerous ramifications emerging out of President Obama’s endorsement. This year, thanks to EPIIC, nuclear issues take considerable focus for me, and this announcement is rife with nuclear consequences.

Not only is this, again, a movement against our cooperative actions with India’s nuclear neighbor, Pakistan, but I posit that it gives a message to the world. What is that message? Nuclear weapons give you power. Though this may seem like a given, it actually is an idea that the world has been steadily moving away from. Experts state that in today’s globalized world, deterrent capabilities against other states is diminishing, and the destructive force that nuclear weapons yield makes them obsolete. The Cold War is over, there’s no need for an arms race. Furthermore, key events like the failed Soviet invasion of Afghanistan signal to the world that a non-nuclear weapons state could defeat a nuclear weapons state. Bonnie Jenkins calls this the reduction of the nuclear mystique. Basically, because nuclear weapons are shown to not be related to the amount of power and security a nation accrues, there is a much lesser chance that a non-nuclear weapons state will proliferate.

Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, agrees, stating that there are five main factors that affect a state’s decision to proliferate: prestige, security, domestic politics, technology, and the economy. By endorsing India, the sixth nation to proliferate (the first five being the P5), Obama signals to the world that these reasons, in particular prestige, have not gone away. It may seem to some that nations are being given their permanent seats at the UNSC in correlation to the power they receive from nuclear weapons. Perhaps, given (much, much) time, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea would be given permanent seats. Or perhaps not. Regardless, the international community received the message loud and clear: nuclear India receives the prestige of a permanent seat on the UNSC, proliferation might do the same for us. Especially for nations on the edge of proliferation, such as Iran (who is constantly seeking recognition as a world power), the nuclear mystique must be addressed. Obama made a rather large mistake, and may have unravelled a lot of the work the nuclear proliferation regime has put forth. He says he’s working towards global nuclear zero, but don’t actions speak louder than words?

–Avantha Arachchi is a sophomore, majoring in International Relations (International Security) and French.


  1. Nice first post.

    You’ve made a valid point about the relation between nuclear proliferation and power. Without a doubt, a nation that proliferates will gain more attention from the international community. However, I don’t think that Obama’s endorsement of India having a permanent seat on the UNSC is suggestive of your answer to UNSC seat seeking nations, “Just get nukes”. A permanent seat on the UNSC does, of course, make a statement about that nation’s influence and power, and the acquisition of nuclear weapons is a contributing factor to that power. But these nations have a lot more going for them than nukes, and so does India. The growing economic and military strength of India, an ally of the United States, is of crucial importance in a region poses a threat to global security. In fact, even if India didn’t have any nukes, these other factors would probably be enough to consider it a powerful nation, perhaps even an eligible candidate for the UNSC. This means that nations like Israel, North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan shouldn’t count on nukes to get them a permanent seat in the UNSC.

  2. I have a theory about the reasoning behind this.

    In a time of a less-cooperative Pakistan, this reenforces for them the notion that the US has leverage over them. Even if the US were to pull out its military aid, Pakistan would still keep up huge military expenditures while its people suffer. It has a history of doing so.

    But this serves as a reminder that the US is still a kingmaker, and it can wield this leverage against Pakistan should she be non-compliant.

  3. Avantha — you have definitely made a good point: it seems that not only is there correlation, but in fact a causal link between possession of nuclear weapons and manifestation of global recognition as a serious big-league player in global affairs. But I’ve been giving this matter some thought — and would love to speak with you more about it in person — and I’m wondering now if perhaps our understanding of Washington’s support of India’s UNSC bid, as well as of India’s hopes to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is accurate in the near term but myopic in the long term. Here’s what I mean:

    Perhaps dealing with India as Obama is currently doing does not seem to strengthen the international nonproliferation regime because it demonstrates a tendency towards legal exceptionalism and a clear neglect for established rules and norms. I think that to a significant degree, pushing for India’s permanent place on the UNSC and suggesting a rewrite of the rules governing the NSG set a potentially dangerous precedent for creating a model or template that can be applied later to other countries.

    But in the bigger picture, maybe this is a smart strategy — one that eventually will bring India into the fold (which may or may not have implications for doing the same with Pakistan, one day). Perhaps it’s precisely because India is India that it needs to be treated as India and no other country — one that, yes, continues to remain outside the NPT and have nuclear weapons, but one that also has a robust economy, possesses a fairly open and transparent democratic system, and is one of the world’s biggest populations — much of which is upwardly-mobile. India exhibited considerable restraint in the 2001-2002 nuclear standoff with Pakistan following terrorist attacks in India, and again has demonstrated similar prudence in the last three years following the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. Perhaps the country has done enough to demonstrate its responsibility in global affairs, at least overtly, and should be dealt with accordingly.

    As for the 2005 Bush-Singh deal: whether we agree with it or not, it happened, and now we have to deal with it.

    With all that said, I think what’s less alarming is the UNSC bit. Of bigger concern to me is the NSG bit. The US has been pushing for Japan to have a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council for a long time. Doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. But US influence over the NSG is considerable (witness the 2005 Indo-US deal), so pushing for a reestablishment of NSG rules for membership is more likely to happen, I think.

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