An Agenda for Modi at the UN

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for the United Nations this week, much of his engagement is likely to be dominated by India’s bid to push through reform in the Security Council. The UN General Assembly recently adopted a resolution to initiate the process of Security Council reform and India, along with its allies in the G-4, would hope to use this year’s summit at New York to further that process.

Make no mistake, reform of the UN Security Council is necessary and significant. The Council has been rendered ineffective in the face of pressing security challenges - causing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Geopolitical rifts among the present permanent members has paralyzed decision-making. And large populations and economies remain unheard on its floor.

But Modi’s agenda of reform at the UN ought to go far beyond the Security Council. Start with the UN Peacekeeping Force (or UNPKF). The UNPKF was set up in 1948 as a largely passive force meant for keeping peace following truce in a conflict, typically during civil war. Back in 1948, the world was a messy place. Former colonies were turning independent and power struggles ensued across Asia and Africa. New neighbors were now squabbling over territory, in regions like Kashmir for example. To be sure, some of these battles still do exist, but the nature of security challenges has changed dramatically. Peacekeeping in the modern world is less about passively mediating between sovereign states and more about actively fighting non-state terrorists.

To counter these new and diverse threats, the UN needs to find a way to revamp its peacekeeping force, and turn it into a global anti-terror force that can be pressed into service at the behest of the UN. For India, UNPKF reform is particularly significant. India is the largest contributor of troops to the UNPKF - 180,000 of them, serving in over 44 missions worldwide. A revamped UNPKF could see India play a more proactive role in the global war on terror - which is why PM Modi ought to bring it up at the UN.

A second pressing issue is the fight against climate change. The developing world, led by India and China, has often been blamed for not doing enough in cutting carbon emissions. That India and China emit much less carbon per person than the West is a fact well known. But there is merit to the West’s argument that, given our population, we can’t go on for much longer. India in particular has an interest in sustainable development as it charts out its ambitious growth plan for the coming decades - not least because it saves us money through energy efficiency and resources through judicious use.

The sticking point isn’t whether India and others should cut down on emissions, but rather how they will. For most of the developing world, green technology, while desirable, is neither accessible nor affordable. Part of this challenge was met by projects taken up under the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’, defined by the Kyoto Protocol. But the world will have to do much more than that. Transfer of technology would also have to include transfer of research infrastructure. Parts of the developing world - and India in particular - have high potential for green research and innovation, but lack the institutes and infrastructure needed for it. If mankind is to adapt to changing climate in the near future, these nations would also have to develop the capacity to evolve their technology for it. It’s a cause that Modi could pitch for at the UN Sustainable Development Summit this week.

New Delhi ought to take an active part in the reform of the UN, not least because it forms a significant part of India’s role in the world. The UN is more relevant today than ever, as the world turns increasingly democratic and multipolar. Global challenges can no longer be met from the higher echelons of Washington, or for that matter even Beijing. Whether climate change or ISIS, global problems now need global solutions, arrived at through meaningful multilateral deliberation and consensus. All of this needs the UN to adapt and reform to changing times - and India could potentially lead that process.

(c) 2015, The Huffington Post