United Nations: When serious negotiations on Security Council reforms finally begin this week based on a framework document, they will be a legacy of Asoke Kumar Mukerji who worked incessantly during his tenure as India’s top diplomat at the UN to move the long-stalled process ahead.
His peers at the UN acknowledge the leadership of Mukerji in mobilising support for the text-based negotiations to break decades of deadlock and standing up to last minute machinations against it during his tenure as India’s Permanent Representative that ended in December.
“Ambassador Mukerji is a formidable, professional diplomat, highly competent, highly respected by his peers,” said Antonio Patriota, a former foreign minister of Brazil.
“He played a specially significant role in coordinating the L-69, which is a coalition of developing countries, large an small, from Africa, Latin America, Middle East and Asia” that works for Council reform.
Brazil and India constitute along with Japan and Germany a group known as G-4, which works together for the expansion of the Council and mutually support each other for permanent seats on it.
“Brazil and India coordinated vigorously on this issue,” said Patriota, now his country’s UN Permanent Representative. Mukerji was a “very articulate spokesman for India, for its democratic and legitimate Security Council representation.”
The reform movement in the UN had been stifled for years mainly by China and a group of 13 countries known as Uniting for Consensus (UfC), which is led by Italy and includes Pakistan.
They created a Catch 22 situation by blocking the adoption of a negotiating text, saying it couldn’t be done unless there was a consensus, while a consensus couldn’t be reached without a text on which to base the negotiations.
Sam Kutesa, the president of last General Assembly session, took the decisive step last year to create a negotiating text based on a survey of opinions of member nations on Council reform. Over 120 countries took part in the survey carried out by the Jamaican Permanent Representative, Courtenay Rattray, the former head of the reform process known as the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN).
On the final day of the last session of the General Assembly, Kutesa, who is also the foreign minister of Uganda, had the negotiating text adopted.
China and Pakistan and other members of the UfC as well as Russia were overcome by the breadth of the support for the negotiating text that they ended their opposition and it was adopted unanimously by the Assembly.
But there was a last minute attempt using some UN staffers to sabotage it. Under pressure from China and some other countries, they tried to change the wording of Kutesa’s agreed communication with the negotiating text drafted in July before sending it out.
Mukerji, who has the look of a gentle, grey-haired academic, went on the offensive and, backed by British, French and other diplomats, threatened a walkout from their meeting. The staffers backed down and the agreed text was sent out and eventually adopted.
Mukerji developed ties to key groups of nations, large and small, backed by initiatives in New Delhi like outreach to Pacific island nations, the India-Africa summit and development assistance to various nations.
Patriota noted that beyond his role in the L-69, Mukerji “also established a network of relationships with our colleagues, others the permanent representatives”. And he, along with the IGN, was able to call on this network to support the text-based negotiations.
Mukerji ascribed the success in this and other issues to India interacting in a more inclusive and open manner with other countries. “Inclusiveness gives India the strength,” he said. “That is why we get cooperation from other countries.”
Sylvie Lucas, the Luxembourg Permanent Representative who succeeded Rattray as the head of the IGN, is to convene this week the first meeting that will be based on the negotiating text.
India’s chances of getting a permanent seat on the Council hinge on the outcome of the negotiations.
In a twist to the often-quoted diplomatic dictum that nations have no permanent friends but only permanent interests, despite the unfriendly bout with Beijing on Council reforms, Mukerji turned first to China for getting the UN to declare the International Yoga Day.
Mukerji explained to reporters that getting China to endorse the proposal would be seen as a sign of the idea’s universality and get other countries to line up behind it. Even as some in India expressed misgivings about it, 177 nations cosponsored the Yoga Day resolution and Islamic nations supported its unanimous passage at the UN.
To get the Chinese interested, Mukerji told them about the joint yoga programME that schools in New Delhi and Shanghai held during China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan’s visit to a south Delhi school.
During Mukerji’s UN tenure that started in April 2013, India won several elections to UN bodies, including a re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, and elections to the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and the Executive Board of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“The yardstick of a nation’s strength is in elections,” he said. And this can be measured by the fact that India has won every election it contested during his tenure.
Another high point of Mukerji’s term was India’s role in helping develop UN’s ambitious development goals for the next 15 years known as Agenda 2030. The earlier such agenda were top-down affairs, but this time the developing nations that are most directly involved were actively involved in setting the goals.
“Eradication of poverty is the objective of Agenda 2030, and India spearheaded this issue in the negotiations,” Mukerji said. “The major takeaways for India are the inclusion of Economic Goals such as infrastructure, employment, Smart Cities, etc. for the first time as Development Goals, and also the identification of energy as a goal.”
On the last day of 2015, the Council conceded a key demand by India in the area of peacekeeping operations. Mukerji had campaigned persistently for the troop contributing countries to be consulted on peacekeeping mandates and operations.
US Permanent Representative Samantha Power, who presided over the Council in December, admitted the consultation process had been flawed and said on behalf of the Council that there should be be full participation by the troop contributing countries and that these should extend to other important areas beyond mandates.