The prospect of India’s nominee Dalveer Bhandari winning against Britain’s candidate in the election to the last seat of the World Court has ‘unnerved’ the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Observers at the United Nations feel that Bhandari’s win would set a precedent that may challenge the power of these members in the future. The permanent members of the Security Council — the US, Russia, France and China — appeared to have rallied behind Greenwood. Britain is the fifth permanent member of the Security Council. Bhandari and Britain’s Christopher Greenwood are locked in a neck-and-neck fight for re-election to the Hague-based International Court of Justice, the sources say. In the 11 rounds of election so far, Bhandari has been receiving support of nearly two-third of the members of the General Assembly, but is trailing by three votes against Greenwood in the Security Council. The 12th round of elections has been scheduled for today. Britain on Friday in an informal consultation of the UN Security Council members mooted the idea of joint conference mechanism as it feels that this could be their only face saving exit strategy, informed sources said.
As shared with other members of the Security Council during informal consultations, Britain would prefer to stop voting on the ICJ elections after the first round as it fears that otherwise India could well cross the two-third mark. In that scenario it would be very difficult for the UN Security Council stop India’s candidate from being elected to the ICJ. However, the prospect of India winning against a P5 member through democratic means is something that this elite club of veto-wielding countries – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – are unnerved with, because this would set a precedent that they do not want to be repeated. “Today it is Britain, tomorrow it could be any one of us” is the argument which has brought all these five countries together, sources say. “If the one (of the P5) is going to be knocked off today, the other fear that they might be knocked off tomorrow,” according to a source.
Such an assessment of the UN insiders is based on informed sources, as voting for the ICJ election in both the Security Council and the General Assembly are based on secret ballots and there is no way to know who voted for whom. In all the rounds of the election so far, Greenwood has consistently got nine votes and Bhandari five in the Security Council. It is likely that on Monday India might increase its tally. It is understood that both New Delhi and Permanent Mission of India to the UN have been working overtime to convince the members of the Security Council on the need to go by the voice of the majority of the General Assembly. But by Sunday evening it appeared that Britain was ready to execute its plan, as per which after the first round of voting they would call for a meeting of the Security Council and would seek a mandate to stop any further round of voting, and would call for adoption of joint conference mechanism, which was last adopted in 1921.
However, this might come as a silver lining for India, sources said. This is because the Security Council vote to stop further rounds of the ICJ election would be open and not through a secret ballot. As a result, countries, many of whom have been pledging friendship with India but secretly voting against its candidate would be exposed in the open of raising their hands against India. This is something that members of the Security Council would avoid. Of the Permanent Five members, the US under President Donald Trump has just come out a 100-year plan of friendship with India and renamed Asia-Pacific and the Indo-Pacific region. Incidentally, hours before the ICJ election, Trump would be meeting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley at the White House. It is not sure, if Trump plans to weigh in on this issue in favour of India.
Trump has repeatedly called himself as the “best friend of India and Indian Americans” in the White House. Russia is an all-weather tested friend of India. Over the past several decades, France has emerged as a reliable friend of India. The stand of China on a lot of issues is well known including India’s membership to the Security Council and Beijing vetoing a move to designate Azhar Masood as a global terrorist by the UN. So, it would be quite a surprise, if China favoured an Indian candidate. “When chips are down, you always get support from developing countries,” commented one India watcher at the UN. The voting in the General Assembly which overwhelmingly favours India is reflective of the new global order, which is not pleasant to the world powers. Despite best of the British effort, their vote tally in the General Assembly has decreased with every other round of voting. “That’s why they are trying to find a face saver to get out of this,” a source said.
India has been seeking that the democratic process need to be played its full course in both the Security Council and the General Assembly and there should not be an intervention or adoption of a process that has never been used before or the one that undermines the voice of the majority. The British move to stop voting after the first round might create bad blood between two important wings of the world body, which could have a long-term implication. The General Assembly might think that it has been denied its right to vote. Hours ahead of the scheduled vote the UN General Assembly president and Security Council president is likely to hold another round of consultation with the stakeholders to explore what are their options.