High Hurdles for India's Seat on the Security Council

President Obama, in his address to the Indian Parliament, announced that the US would support India's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This represents a significant public recognition by the world's only superpower that India -- not only as the globe's largest democracy, but also a military power which has supplied troops to UN peacekeeping missions and also an emerging economic power -- should now be accorded a perch on the Council which decides all on war and peace matters for the planet.

The only other nation which the US has backed for such an honor is Japan. But the American advocacy really is only symbolic. For India to achieve this long-sought goal, just like Japan, it must pass through a series of formidable hurdles.

First, it must gain the approval of the other four nations (China, Russia, France and Great Britain) that currently have permanent seats on the Council, any of whom can cast a veto against status changes on the Council. And it is well-known that China, the only Asian nation with permanent standing, has reservations about its neighboring Asian states gaining a presence on the Council and would likely at this time block the entries of both India and Japan.

Second, even the US backing has its own hedge. Obama, in his speech, said that he first wanted a "reformed" Security Council that includes India. But what does Washington mean by "reformed." Probably it means that, before India's request should be acted upon, the Council's membership must be expanded to at least 21 or 22 countries. And there also may be other changes that the US will insist on.

In addition, there is the question of whether India, if it does get voted onto the Security Council, gets the seat with a veto or without one. The five permanent members will have a say in that decision -- and the issue will be whether India would accept a spot sans the veto.

Finally, the newest criteria for permanent membership is whether a country can, as Obama stated in his speech, show that "with increased power comes with increased responsibility." In other words, a nation must be able to look beyond its own narrow interests to the broader needs of the world if it wants to serve on the Council.

For India, that test actually comes right now because it is just beginning a term on the Council as one of the ten rotating two-year members. Its participation for the next 24 months could be a trial run for whether it can perform as a "responsible" party. But, meantime, India's dreams of an early promotion to "superpower" status on the Council remain just that for the moment -- dreams.