Diplomatic Fallout: Frustrations Mount for India at the U.N.

Diplomatic Fallout: Frustrations Mount for India at the U.N.

Five Indian soldiers serving with the United Nations peacekeeping operation in South Sudan were killed in an ambush last week that also left seven civilian U.N. staff dead and four more troops wounded. Such casualties are grimly familiar for the Indian army, which has lost more personnel on blue helmet missions than any other country’s military. But the attack capped off a difficult few weeks for India at the U.N., marked by diplomatic disputes over the rules of peacekeeping and the new Arms Trade Treaty. Cumulatively, these episodes may reinforce doubts about New Delhi’s commitment to the U.N. system.

Although Indian officials argue that their country has been dedicated to the U.N. since the days of Nehru, their current attitude to the organization is characterized by a mixture of ambition and ambivalence. They yearn for the status and leverage of a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Yet they remain wary of submitting to multilateral arrangements -- such as the nonproliferation treaty, which India has never signed -- that could reduce their freedom to build up their national defenses.

Less than four months ago, India concluded a two-year term as a temporary member of the Security Council. This was widely portrayed as a trial run for permanent membership and, as I have noted previously, Indian diplomats pressed hard for council reform during that time. But they made little immediate progress, and there has since been a good deal of domestic criticism of India’s diplomatic performance, especially its failure to define clear strategies to manage the Libyan and Syrian crises.

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