No one can deny the logic of India’s Security Council candidacy
In an exclusive interview, United Nations Secretary-General ANTONIO GUTERRES, who was on a visit to India, spoke candidly to Group Editorial Director RAJ CHENGAPPA on a range of issues concerning India and the world. Excerpts:
Q.Let me begin on a negative note. India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj recently said at the UN General assembly that the UN is going the way of the League of Nations—it is becoming defunct. What are you doing to make the UN more relevant? A. I wouldn’t say it is defunct but it is clear that we face a huge challenge. We live in a moment in which problems are global, but at the same time we need multilateral solutions and international cooperation. Today, we see countries, we see public opinions, we see people thinking it is better to do it alone, that it is better to have confrontation than cooperation. Obviously, this represents a huge challenge for the United Nations. The UN has to reform itself. The need now is to be more effective, more able to respond to the needs and aspirations of the people of the world. There are reforms that I am trying to do in the peace and security sector to make the UN more linked to prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building. This is especially for countries that have come out of conflict, to enable them to sustain the peace. We are also looking at reform at the various bodies of the UN, and the central aspect of that is reforming the Security Council.
Q. India has been seeking a permanent membership in the UN Security Council. It has been over a decade now and yet little has moved forward. What is blocking it?
A. The Security Council we have today represents the geopolitical situation that prevailed at the end of the World War II. The world has changed dramatically since then. The Council today doesn’t correspond to the realities of the world and is unable to address the challenges. It is clear that one aspect of reforms would be to increase the number of permanent members. Nobody can deny the logic of India’s candidacy. You have a population of 1.3 billion, you are becoming a global economic powerhouse, you have one of the largest contingents of peacekeepers protecting civilians in different parts of the world, and you are deeply engaged in all the central activities of the UN including climate change issues. Moreover, you are a vibrant democracy. So there is no reason for people to say that India does not belong. The problem is, for a change in the structure and composition of the Security Council we need five positive votes from the five permanent members of the council. Till now, the possibility of making this change has been blocked.
Q. Are you hopeful it will happen?
A. I think that people will understand at a certain moment the divorce between the reality and the
structure. The frustration of so many people around the world will lead to change.
Q. One of India’s main concerns is terrorism and Pakistan is seen by many as an epicentre for terrorists and terror attacks. Yet, the UN has done nothing to dissuade the country from doing this.
A. First of all, we have created a counter-terrorism office and improved cooperation with countries in relation to support on anti-terrorist responses. We have also developed a very important programme to fight violent extremism and radicalisation, and this applies to all countries in the world. We are not singling out just one country or another. We are making it very clear to all countries that nothing justifies terrorism. There are no political reasons that justify it, there is no cause, no grievance that justifies it. And we will do everything possible to make sure that all countries of the world understand that.
Q. Has the UN taken any specific action on Pakistan recently?
A. We have been in talks with Pakistan as well as with many other countries and we think it essential to
create conditions for dialogue with these countries to make sure they understand that terrorism is something that should be eradicated.
Q. India’s concern is that Hafiz Saeed, a UN-designated terrorist, continues to roam free in Pakistan. And recently, China blocked a UN move to label Masood Azhar, the Jaish chief, as a terrorist. For us, it only shows how ineffective the UN has been in its dealings. A. The fact that we declare an organisation terrorist does not mean that member states will take all measures required to implement the order. One of the problems with the Security Council is that there are vetoes and they do not allow us to do what might be justified from the point of view of sanctions.
Q. India has proposed a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism since as far back as 1996. It is 2018 now, 22 years later there has been absolutely no progress on this. Why is the United Nations stumbling on this? A. The fact that there is no convention doesn’t mean there are no legal instruments to fight terrorism.
There are many partial aspects that have been covered which allows the international community to fight terror. But it is also true that we have no comprehensive convention against terrorism. It is a stumbling block. The problem is there is no consensus among member states on a definition of terrorism. Without a consensus, it is very difficult to move a convention in relation to terrorism. But I will not give up. This is an area that remains a priority for me. I will do everything I can to support the process.
Q. Do you have a peace plan for the Kashmir issue? A. The good offices of the secretary-general is the only thing I have. I have no hard power, I just have soft power and, in some circumstances, very soft power. For the good offices to be exercised, we need an agreement among all parties involved. If that agreement is not there, we can only appeal for solutions to be found. The UN is not directly involved in the solutions.
Q. On another front, you have said that India could actually play the role of an honest broker in international affairs?
A. India is a country that has no direct interests in some areas of global conflict. It has very good relations with countries in conflict or countries facing difficult security situations, and I believe Indian diplomacy is very well received. India is a bridge-builder, an honest broker and a messenger of peace.
Q. On the Rohingya refugee issue, India has closed the door on them because the government believes they are a security threat—that they could spawn terrorism. What is your view of India’s approach?
A. There are tens of thousands of Rohingya already in India. India can play a very important role because it is a friend of Bangladesh and Myanmar and can create conditions for the problem to be effectively addressed. Myanmar needs to make massive investments in physical reconstruction and also for the reconciliation and return of the Rohingya. We are of the view that India take in the fleeing Rohingya and not send back the refugees to their country of origin, where they might still face persecution.
Q. What does India do in situations like the Paris Climate Change Agreement, where the US just walks out of it?
A. Firstly, it is clear that the US government may go out but American society is still in. We see mobilisation of citizens, businesses, states and, in all probability, the US will fully match the commitments it made in Paris agreement because of this. But at the same time, it is also true that globally we see some countries going slow and that we are in risk of losing the race. Climate change seems to be running faster than our efforts to combat it. India, in my opinion, has a leading role to play. Climate change could dramatically impact India, so it has an interest in seeing that it is effectively fought. It can be a world leader in this regard.
Q. Let me end with a personal question. Your wife was born in Goa. Has that made a difference in the way you view India?
A. I have spent five holidays in India going all around the country and what I have realised is that it is impossible to know India fully. I must say I have a personal love affair with India, with its civilisation, its culture. You are not just one of the pillars of the world order today but a pillar of universal civilisation. It’s something you can be very proud of.
“We are making it clear to all countries, including Pakistan, that nothing justifies terrorism. There are no political reasons that justify it, no cause, no grievance that justifies it”