October 26, 2010

Politics of Multilateralism: The Geneva Story by Amb. Swashpawan Singh

Swashpawan Singh

Professor Tyagi, distinguished guests and friends,

As we observe United Nations Day and meet to recall its many achievements and its limitations, I consider it an honour to have been invited by the School of International Studies of this venerated University, to share with you my thoughts on ”The Politics of Multilateralism: The Geneva Story”.

I recall with nostalgia and much pleasure, my brief association with SIS as part of the program of training as a young Foreign Service Probationer in 1975. It was in the old campus. We had the opportunity of being tutored by a faculty of renowned scholars. They told us about how the world was structured, what India’s place in it was, and how the aspirations of a young nation state, which was also an ancient civilization, could be realised. Their discourse was inspiring, rooted in a vision of a better world that would be more equitable, more inclusive, free, peaceful and democratic. One in which the historical injustices of colonialism would be addressed and sustainable development promoted. It was a vision imbued with idealism and hope and in which the United Nations and other multilateral institutions would play a leading and positive role.

There was a basis for this optimism in the mid seventies. The United Nations had done well. It had assisted in bringing about decolonisation and an end to apartheid. It had created normative principles to regulate international conduct. It had addressed issues such as disarmament, social development, gender equality, population, food and water and a host of problems which were directly relevant for the developing world. Common transnational services related to civil aviation, maritime regulations, health, telecommunications, postal systems, refugees, world weather and food security among others, were the global public goods that had been contributed by the UN multilateral system. New ways of addressing the inequities of the international economic system were studied and creative solutions were proposed, some even implemented (General system of preferences, commodity fund, special drawing rights etc). The sense of idealism was reinforced.

In fact the United Nations Organisation was born out of a deep and abiding sense of hope and idealism on 24th October, 1945. It was the successor to the League of Nations, which was established following the end of the First World War in 1919, to maintain international peace and stability. The United Nations Organisation had the same declared objective. It was the hope that this common forum, crafted through consultations and based on a Charter would ensure peace, promote development and disarmament. There was the belief that a powerful new organisation had been created which would right wrongs, remove injustices and protect the sovereign rights of nation states, while ensuring that the human rights of all would be safeguarded. After the trauma of the Second World War and the depredations of colonialism there was a deeply felt need for healing the world and restoring the values of a higher common good.

But our seasoned teachers at the SIS in 1975 were also realists and understood well the limitations of the UN and other multilateral institutions. They were aware that the UN was a voluntary association of sovereign nation states, each with its own history, geographical location, size, population, resource endowment, power potential, level of development and political system. These sovereign States had their own aspirations and had sought membership of the UN in their perceived self-interest. They were also aware that the UN was a concept first proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, even before the US formally entered the Second World War. The Atlantic Charter (August 1941) and the discussions amongst the Allied powers led to the San Francisco Conference of April 1945, with delegations from 50 countries participating. They had already decided on the broad framework of the proposed organisation, including the right of veto for themselves, before they met in San Francisco. The power structure of the new organisation clearly reflected the power realities of the world after the Second World War. The DNA of the Western powers had found a privileged place in the UNO; it was dominated by the victors of the War. We were cautioned by our teachers that politics is about power and international organisations, including the UN, are modalities fashioned to further and facilitate the pursuit of power in economic and political terms.

Much has changed in the world since the mid seventies, but the underlying reality of the power lesson we were taught remains true. If anything the intervening years have eroded the effectiveness of the UN and its institutions, and the need for reform has never been more urgent. The world has changed, new power realities have emerged, several new regional and trans-regional groupings have come into being, but much in the hallowed precincts of the United Nations remains unaltered. The UN has grown in size, in the scope of issues it addresses, in its geographical spread, in the number of conferences and meetings organised, in the number of personnel it employs, but its effectiveness and its ability to deliver remain a matter of concern. The need for reform is widely recognised and several efforts have been made to change methods of work, procedures, financing arrangements, delivery mechanisms and accountability criteria, but the outcomes have been less than satisfactory. What is required is a structural and systemic reform, and that has still to happen.

The most recent effort made to review and revise the functioning of the UN was initiated in 2003. A High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change was set up and after a full year of deliberation, submitted its report in December 2004. Based on this the then UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Anan presented his own report titled “In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All”, to a mixed response. Some saw it as a sell out to the dominant world view of the developed nations others considered it a realistic assessment of how the real world worked and what was possible given the limitations of the UN as an organisation. The Secretary General struck a pragmatic note when he said that he had limited himself to items on which he believed “action is both vital and achievable in the coming months. These are reforms that are within reach – reforms that are actionable.” At the World Summit in September 2005 it had been decided that the three pillars of the United Nations were development, peace and security, and human rights; and that they were interlinked and mutually reinforcing. Without strength in all, there would be strength in none. These therefore became the priority objectives of the reform process. The Development pillar was largely seen as achieving the Millennium Development goals by 2015. The Human rights pillar was the creation of the new Human Rights Council. The Peace and Security pillar the setting up of the Peace Building Commission, the Peace Building Fund and the Democracy Fund.

It is against this background and over view that I will begin the Geneva Story. I speak to you today as a practitioner of diplomacy, as one who has had the honour and privilege of representing India as its Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Offices in Geneva. I bring to you the perspective from the trenches, as it were. I will try to give you a flavour of the day to day practice of diplomacy, which is conducted within a formal and often anachronistic system, driven by national self interest, cloaked in the high sounding rhetoric of universality, common good and the collective benefit of all humanity. It has all the trappings and grandeur of a tribal conclave. It has a complex and complicated procedural system, with its own arcane ritual of indirection and constructive ambiguity. Much of the real work is done in the corridors, or at the Serpentine Bar (symbolically named to reflect the nature of some of the exchanges), or at numerous breakfasts, lunches and dinners (where the invitees are carefully selected, depending upon the subject to be discussed and suitably seated to further the cause and the conspiracy). Eating for the nation is one of the more demanding responsibilities of Ambassadors in multilateral assignments. They usually become personages of substance. They add weight to their frames, more often than to their arguments and statements. But they soldier on regardless.

But more seriously, Geneva is at the core of both the development and human rights pillars of the UN. New York is the head quarters of the UN, where the peace and security issues are dealt with, where the politics really happens, where power is exercised. The General Assembly and the six Committees meet and deliberate there. Those who live and work in the UN in New York look upon the specialised agencies, and other outlying organisations, as subordinate manifestations which must report to and be supervised by, one or the other of the New York based Committees. But the view from Geneva is different. Diplomats and the UN staff of the organisations in Geneva claim to do the real hard work relating to developmental and human rights issues. The fact however, remains that it is New York that controls the purse strings and approves the budgets, and in a real sense that is where the power lies.

A large number of Subsidiary Bodies, Specialised Agencies and Other Entities of the UN are located in Geneva. These are: UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development); ITC (International Trade Centre); UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees); UNITAR (UN Institute for Training and Research); UNRISD (UN Research Institute for Social Development); OHCHR (Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights); UNAIDS (UN Programme on HIV/AIDS); ILO (International Labour Organisation); WHO (World Health Organisation); ITU (International Telecommunication Union); UPU (Universal Postal Union); WMO (World Meteorological Organisation); WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation); HRC (Human Rights Council); OCHA ( Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs); CD (Conference on Disarmament). In addition there are other Inter Governmental Organisations like IPU (International Parliamentary Union); Global Fund; IMO (International Migration Organisation); IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change); WTO (World Trade Organisation) apart from Treaty Bodies and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and several others.

Their number and the range of subjects they cover are extensive and varied. There are several cross cutting issues that are at the heart of international concern that are deliberated upon and actions proposed in these organisations. Public health, pandemics, migration, human rights, Intellectual property, refugees, telecommunication, climate change, disaster and humanitarian relief are just a few of them. These organisations have over the years acquired expertise and domain knowledge that is global in its coverage, based on extensive field visits and resources of their regional and country offices. They publish annual reports, periodic reviews and specific studies that constitute a large body of knowledge and practical information that is of use to Member States, field and project personnel, apart from academics and students. They are in effect a resource made available for the benefit of the Member States, who must deliberate and decide how to utilise their knowledge base and the skill of their experts. It is in defining the objectives, in the allocation of financial resources, in the choice of experts and in the functional and regional priorities that the politics of multilateralism begins to play an important role. This happens at the normative level, in the choice of projects, in the importance assigned to specific regions and countries, in the amount of donor funding made available and the conditions often imposed on recipient States.

Before I illustrate this with specific examples from a few organisations, let me first define the larger political context in which Member States interact with UN organisations and what their objectives are. Broadly speaking all these organisations seek to define international norms that would constitute codes of conduct accepted by Member States either as soft law, legally binding instruments or through a process of voluntary adherence. These could be in the form of Treaties, Protocols, Conventions or consensus resolutions. These would entail obligations which Member States would then seek to implement within their own nation States, through domestic legislation or regulations. This constitutes the norm setting objective.

There is also the developmental objective, in which specific areas are identified for capacity building, through human resource development initiatives, provision of expertise and equipment, technical assistance and transfer of technology. This should normally be demand driven, where the receiving State would identify priorities and seek specific assistance to which the organisations and donor entities would respond. These could be in the areas of public health, poverty alleviation, education, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. But in several cases these are also driven by donors and the UN Organisation itself, depending upon their assessments and often the vested political interests that govern these decisions.

There has been a significant change in the way the developed countries have come to look upon the UN and its functioning. There has been a decline in multilateralism. The UN’s Charter functions in the area of money, finance, trade, external indebtedness and development strategy have been transferred to the IMF, World Bank and WTO. In these bodies, the major economic powers, because of their voting power or the power of retaliation (WTO), have come to dominate decision making in these vital areas. In the area of development the focus is on the economic and social problems of developing countries and their internal governance issues. Here too, in the name of globalisation, the thrust is on encouraging open markets, foreign investment, lowering tariffs and reducing the role of the State. The UN’s mode of functioning has also changed. From being a negotiating forum on hard economic issues, where substantive legally binding commitments were undertaken, it has now become a forum for the exchange of views, and where experts are invited to educate delegates and analyse global economic and social trends for their edification.

Another important, and in some ways a game changing development, relates to the funding of the UN. The UN finds itself starved of adequate and predictable funding. Dues have been withheld, budgetary restrictions have been imposed and assessed contributions today account for a small percentage of the total expenditure of the UN. The proportion of voluntary funding has grown dramatically and today provides between seventy to eighty percent of the total. This device has been used by the major powers to impose their own priorities on the UN organisations and to dominate its budgeting, accounting and administrative apparatus. This has resulted in the dilution of the UN’s global regulatory and norm setting activities.

There are in addition some practical and structural constraints which influence the role and effectiveness of the developing countries. On most issues of importance it is the developed countries that take the initiative and present the first drafts. They establish the primary discourse, which becomes the basis for consideration, discussion and subsequent negotiation. They have the first mover advantage. The size and level of their diplomatic representation gives them an edge in the amount of human resources they can commit to an issue. Back up support from their capitals, including the deployment of experts at short notice, makes their effort more effective and professional. On specific technical issues relating to broadcasting, treatment protocols in medicine, climate change, telecommunication and meteorology they are able to field a range of experts from industry, academia and government. They can ensure continuity by deploying the same set of officials and experts over extended periods of time. Experts that are familiar with the issues, have seen how the negotiations have developed, understand the multilateral negotiating process and its niceties and are clear about their objectives. For a whole set of reasons the developing countries are unable to meet these requirements and therefore remain at a disadvantage. This makes their negotiating strategy one of damage control and attempts to dilute the negative contents of the primary draft.

The convention of Regional Groups (Asian, African, GRULAC, WEOG, Eastern Europe), Groups representing OIC, Non-aligned, Arab League and the EU regulates the process of discussion and negotiation within the UN organisations. There are in addition smaller informal groups (LMG), non-groups that are issue based and a large number of NGOs and representatives of Civil Society that keep a keen eye on developments in Geneva. There is the practice of High Level Segments in virtually all annual assemblies to which Ministers and other VIPs are invited from Member States. They make largely ceremonial speeches, which are webcast primarily for consumption in their home countries. But this ritual and ceremony is an essential part of the multilateral process and constitutes the public affirmation of political support for the UN and its organisations. It is considered a vital indicator of the importance attached to the organisation by the Member States and often its success is measured by the number and level of Ministerial participation.

On 19th June, 2006 at the opening ceremony of the newly formed United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, those present included the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary General, the President of the Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Also present was Ms Wangari Mathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Kenya, and a symbol of the presence of civil society to launch the new Council. After their speeches the well attended Ministerial High Level segment followed. It was a grand affair which heralded the setting up of the third pillar of the reform process which the Summit of 2005 had mandated. In the excitement and enthusiasm of the moment, difficulties of the negotiating process in the General Assembly, which had crafted and approved Resolution 60/251 on 15th March, 2006, were temporarily forgotten or deliberately glossed over.

The Human Rights Council, as an institutional concept, had a somewhat difficult genesis. It was conceived as a new beginning for addressing human rights internationally and was premised on the perceived ineffectiveness of the outgoing Commission on Human Rights. For the United Nations to undertake such a major institutional initiative was itself a break from tradition. The Commission on Human Rights had been considered ineffective and held responsible for various acts of omission and commission by a variety of Member States. It also came in, some felt unfairly, for trenchant criticism by senior members of the UN Secretariat itself. It was, therefore, believed that the Human Rights Council would constitute a significant departure from the former Commission and address several of its perceived inadequacies. After detailed and somewhat difficult negotiations in New York, the Resolution creating the Human Rights Council was carried by an overwhelming majority in the General Assembly. The Resolution emphasised transparency, inclusiveness, non-selectivity and a spirit of cooperation. It made a provision for a Universal Periodic Review, which was a new element that had not existed in the former Commission. It also mandated review of existing modalities, including mandates and emphasised the need to strengthen oversight by Member States and made a specific provision for special sessions. It also made the Human Rights Council virtually a standing body; to meet several times during the year. (The former Commission used to meet once a year for six weeks.) However, the Resolution left several important elements undefined and charged Member States in Geneva to negotiate the details and create an institutional infrastructure to implement the provisions of the Resolution. There was a general impression that the burden of institution-building had been transferred to Geneva. The ambiguities in the text of the Resolution lent themselves to a variety of interpretations. The devil was in the detail, and the detail had still to be worked on.

The concluding session of the Commission on Human Rights in March 2006 left several issues unresolved, and led to a general feeling that the first session of the Human Rights Council, in June 2006, would somehow find a way of addressing these issues. It was, however, unclear how this would happen. The largely ceremonial opening session, in June 2006, led several representatives of civil society and the media to be openly sceptical about the ability of the Member States in Geneva to create a viable Human Rights Council. It was alleged that there would be protection gaps, that Special Procedures would be undermined and that the process of institution building would be contentious, even acrimonious. It was believed that the differences amongst Member States were so sharp that they could not be reconciled and that evolving a consensus on institution building would be, not only difficult, but virtually impossible. The new Council was being written off even before it had come into being.

It was against this background that the process of consultations began, with little or no clarity about the road ahead, or the institutional mechanisms to address institution building. Several group positions were articulated. There was a general sense that it was necessary to safeguard entrenched positions, since there was no way to know how the process would unfold. The holding of special sessions on Palestine and Lebanon added to the polarisation and created an atmosphere of doubt, even mistrust. It was only when a consensus resolution, in the special session on Darfur, had painstakingly and laboriously evolved that some sense of addressing the trust deficit became evident.

In the midst of positions taken by different groups, it became necessary to create both the political and negotiating space to bridge differences and move incrementally to evolve common positions. It was in this context that the role of non-groups became increasingly important and provided an opportunity for India, to help address the concerns of various groups and find the basis for reconciliation and compromise. It increasingly became evident that even within groups there was a wide variety of views and a nuanced understanding of the need to evolve a consensus. The non-groups reinforced a sense of optimism and constantly underlined the collective benefits to all Member States, in constructing a structure for the Human Rights Council that would meet the needs and concerns of the largest number of Member States, consistent with the need to provide an international mechanism, for the protection and promotion of human rights.

Non-groups, in which India played an increasingly larger role, were by definition informal coalitions, changeable, flexible, pragmatic and constantly evolving, depending upon the issue and the concerns to be addressed. Over time, they became a useful resource for the facilitators and for the President, in the final run up to the consensus. They often played a catalysing role. The final consensus document was a finely balanced compromise. It was a collective effort and an organic process. There was no pre-determined outcome and all Member States learnt, as the process unfolded and found pragmatic solutions to often difficult and complex issues. The pluralism and diversity of the membership of the Human Rights Council, found its most effective expression in the contribution that non-groups were able to make in evolving the final consensus.

The Human Rights Council is, in essence, a political body. Competing political interests jostle for influence and seek to determine outcomes. Group positions are assertively articulated. Developments in the real world impinge upon and distort the processes of the Council. Broad polarisations on selected issues persist. In the shadow of this overarching reality, the Human Rights Council endeavours to focus on its primary objective, of protecting and promoting human rights.

There is a difference in perception between Western countries and the countries of the South, regarding the use or misuse of human rights instruments for political ends. It was feared by the South that the new Council would become a blunt instrument of punitive measures against vulnerable developing countries. They saw a lopsided focus on civil and political rights, lack of respect for religious and cultural diversity, imbalance between the promotion and protection aspects, donor driven working of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the multiplicity of special procedures and their coercive working methods. There was no effort on the part of the South to create a culture of impunity or acquiescence in the gross and consistent violations of human rights. They were in favour of addressing violations of human rights, wherever they occur, without resort to selectivity and political expediency.

For the countries of the West it was important to refine and update a universal system of protection and promotion of human rights. They wanted to craft a system that would defend the universality of human rights and address actual human rights violations, wherever they occurred. They did not want the UN to become a mere forum for dialogue over human rights. They feared lack of compliance with commitments and obligations. They sought to highlight civil and political rights, with a special emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of religion and worship (including the right not to believe), right to sexual preference and rights of women and children. They wanted the Special Procedures to be strict and demanding in their conduct and need for compliance.

The long and laborious process of institution building, led ably by the first President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, was completed just before midnight on 18th June, 2007, when the Human Rights Council, adopted by consensus, the final Presidential proposal on institution building. The Council had reached an agreement that was unexpected, given the divergence of positions and the resulting difficulties to find compromise solutions, on many of the key issues that deeply influenced the future of the body. It had taken thirty two weeks of negotiations to reach a solution acceptable to the 47 elected members of the Council. But the consensus was not without dramatic developments in the last twenty four hours. China and Poland held out on two substantive procedural issues. Several meetings were held through the day. By the end of the afternoon, the negotiations took a turn for the worse. At 6 pm the President of the Council called an emergency meeting of ten Ambassadors, including those of the European Union, Russia, India, Pakistan, Algeria, Cuba and Switzerland. He decided to present a package for acceptance, without amendment, to see if it would fly or fail. It was a dangerous tactic, but it was a calculated risk. There followed a flurry of informal consultations, efforts to persuade and caution those who were holding out, of the damage that would ensue if the carefully crafted consensus were now to break down. Capitals were spoken to, bilateral interventions at the political level followed and the tension rose. It was literally at two minutes to midnight that a solution was found. The Chinese Foreign Minister had from Beijing, over the phone, given the green light and the consensus had prevailed. There was a collective sigh of relief. The Presidents package was approved by acclamation and the clapping did not stop for several minutes. It was a close call, but Geneva had delivered and made up for the inadequacies of the Resolution that the General Assembly from New York had sent.

I have dwelt on the Human Rights Council at some length, since this is the most politically sensitive of the UN bodies in Geneva. The Council deals with subjects that are of importance for the media, for civil society organisations and for governments back home. Developed countries must raise human rights issues that are both thematic and country specific, under pressure from their elected representatives and NGOs. Developing countries must protect themselves from harsh criticism or focussed attention by Special Procedures that examine the alleged human rights violations and recommend remedies. These play poorly in the media at home and draw adverse attention to the performance of incumbent Governments. So as a matter of practice most Ambassadors attend personally to the developments in the Human Rights Council and ensure that their national interest is safeguarded and their capitals don’t get exercised over the reports in the media or the comments of NGOs. Earlier, this caution and care was needed only during the six weeks when the Commission was in place, for that is how long the session lasted. Now with the Council a virtual standing body this caution must last round the year. Even worse, developments in the real world lead to the calling of special sessions, and these are not only contentious but politically explosive. They polarise the Council and add to the trust deficit.

Let me give you another example of politics and how the exercise of power influences the functioning of UN organisations in Geneva. I will speak briefly about the World Health Organisation. The WHO has been greatly constrained by the lack of adequate funding for their activities. Only about twenty percent of the budget of the WHO is funded from assessed contributions from Member States. Eighty percent of their expenditure comes from donor funding.

To overcome this inadequacy WHO asked its Member States to examine the future of financing for the WHO and suggest how its functions can be prioritised, so that more assured and reliable sources of funding can be identified. A questionnaire has been circulated and responses have begun to come in. The thrust is clear. The developed countries, who are also the main donors, want WHO to redefine its role in the global health architecture. WHO should henceforth concentrate on its core functions: standard setting, coordination, evaluation and health security. This would enable consolidation of its financial situation. The functions of funding and operative implementation, especially in the area of health development should be left to other global health actors. At the country level, WHO should act as a part of the UN country team and function only as an advisor to Member States. Country specific projects for health care infrastructure, capacity building and disease specific preventive and curative initiatives, should be wound down and left to other global health actors.

The perspective of the developing countries is starkly different. While recognising the need for the normative function of WHO in standard setting, in defining and implementing global strategies to promote health (e.g. tobacco control, alcohol control, prevention of chronic diseases), they want a clear and strong role for WHO in developing and strengthening national health systems. They want an emphasis on capacity building that is in consonance with the priorities of national health ministries. The priority should be on transfer of skills to ensure the future autonomy of national health systems. They want a larger share in the assessed contributions and a greater proportion of the donor funding to be un-earmarked. They want WHO to channel donor funding into technical assistance projects and training programmes, directly under WHO supervision.

It is an unequal battle and the outcome can be predicted. But the developing countries are larger in number and will use the clout this gives them, procedurally, to whittle down the opposition of the other side. Common space will be found and an unequal compromise will be forged; the normative functions will be strengthened while preserving the capacity building and national health priorities. But the question will still remain about where the money will come from?

India has played an active role in preserving and strengthening the United Nations as the centre of multilateral diplomacy. Despite its early disillusionment with the UN over the question of Jammu and Kashmir, India remained actively engaged in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. It contributed, in its own inimitable way, to creating the discourse on issues of development and for laying down principles governing international economic relations. But India has moved with the times and adapted itself to the changed power realities of the post Cold War world. Its own economic growth, its enhanced resource base, its demographic profile, its technological achievements and a greater sense of self worth and confidence, have influenced its diplomacy. India’s engagement with the world has grown and the way the world looks at India, has changed. India has become more active in international forums, and has forged regional and functional arrangements to mutual benefit.

India’s diplomatic style has under gone a change as well. It is more confident and under-stated. Substance is more important than form. On several issues and in many forums, India has become the bridge builder; with the ability to find common ground and evolve a consensus in the larger interest. India’s traditional constituency remains the large body of the developing fraternity, but on some issues we have interests that encompass both ends of the debate. We are consulted more frequently by both sides and we are considered sober and thinking interlocutors, with the drafting skills to find practical and useful compromises. Our value system, which draws on our ancient heritage, our democratic polity, our attempts to become a modern nation state and our modest success in preserving our selves as an open, secular, pluralistic society have aroused both curiosity and positive recognition. India is sui generis, and it is being recognised to be so. This constitutes both our soft power and makes us vulnerable. We must create our own discourse, find solutions to our own problems and at the same time continue to engage with the world, to learn from them and share with them our unique experiences.

India has, in my view, a first rate diplomatic service. Despite our small numbers, we have performed with distinction and substantially accomplished the tasks assigned to us by our political leadership, over the last sixty odd years. The abilities of our Foreign Service are acknowledged internationally. In most capitals of the world, it would be fair to say the Indian Ambassador and the Mission would be important players and be recognised for their professional competence and abilities. This is also true in the multilateral forums. The wide support India was able to garner for the non-permanent seat in the Security Council (187 out of a possible 192) was a tribute to India’s standing. But it must also be recognised that the diplomatic effort mounted by our Foreign Office and Permanent Mission in New York, was impressive in its design and execution. With our growing international engagement we need to augment the human resource available to pursue our national interests globally. The numbers need to be substantially increased and their training, skill development and specialisation, need reorientation.

To address the variety of issues and subjects that the UN and inter Governmental organisations cover, requires extensive knowledge and a comprehensive understanding of the cross cutting nature of these issues. We need to forge coalitions within our Governmental system, with experts from other Ministries/Departments, Universities, industry associations and civil society, to create institutionalised brains trusts, on these complex and evolving issues. Issues relating to public health, intellectual property, climate change, migration, disaster management, education and culture and globalisation and its impact, lend themselves to such attention. Domain knowledge through specialised training, revision of the course content in Universities, commissioning studies and position papers, must be part of a coherent strategy. We must define our priority areas in the multilateral context, craft the policy options available and convert these into outcomes. Our diplomatic efforts, in multilateral forums, must be guided by clearly defined objectives. We must graduate to creating our own discourse, presenting our own drafts and navigating our way through the winding bye-lanes of multilateral procedures and practices.

The Foreign Office must play a central role in forging these coalitions with our Secretary, Economic Relations as the key player. Secretaries from other Ministries must be part of this collective effort, using the Committee of Secretaries format to mentor and supervise working groups, taskforces, and expert groups that study specific thematic and regional issues and make policy recommendations. Members of these groups should be included in the official delegations in multilateral meetings. Presence of Foreign Service officers, on deputation to other Government departments and in industry associations, will greatly facilitate this process of inter action, leading to policy coherence and better communication with our Missions abroad. Diplomacy is a special skill and ability that is honed through many years of experience and international exposure, and must be fully utilised to further India’s national interest both at home and abroad.

Politics is about power and as India’s power grows its place in the world will be redefined. The process has begun, and it must be sustained by actual accomplishments on the ground at home. Our ability to consolidate our power potential will depend on India’s inherent strength, cohesion, economic growth and political stability. The prospects are promising. Our ability to realise the potential will enable us to further our national objectives internationally and equip us to assume greater responsibility on global issues. We will then begin to define the agenda, create our own discourse and become effective players in the politics of multilateralism.


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