Monday, September 26, 2011

UNGA Applauds PM’s Statesmanship

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Diplomats at the UN, burdened by the weight of their national
positions, do not applaud statements by leaders of other countries
except at the end of their speeches as dictated by tradition. They
rarely burst into applause over an idea or a declaration as nothing is
taken at face value. Speeches are for analysis in depth for new
nuances in policy. But they applauded Dr. Manmohan Singh when he read
out a short paragraph on UN reform.

“We must address the issue of the deficit in global governance. We
need a stronger and more effective United Nations that is sensitive to
the aspirations of everyone- rich or poor, big or small. For this, the
United Nations and its principal organs, the General Assembly and the
Security Council, must be revitalized and reformed. The reform and
expansion of the Security Council are essential if it is to reflect
contemporary reality. Such an outcome will enhance the Council’s
credibility and effectiveness in dealing with global issues. Early
reform of the Security Council must be pursued with renewed vigour and
urgently enacted,” Dr. Manmohan Singh said.

What attracted attention was the clear and forthright statement on
reform, which can be endorsed by 193 member states, including the
permanent members. All of them acknowledge that the Security Council
needs reform to reflect contemporary reality and to enhance its
credibility and effectiveness. But if the Prime Minister had gone
beyond this even to say that both the permanent and non- permanent
categories should be expanded, the applause would have been less. If
he pleaded for G-4 or went into the merits of India’s claim, he would
have been greeted with stony silence. By speaking for all nations
without going into details, India expressed its confidence that it
cannot be excluded if the Council is expanded. This was more effective
than the usual assertion of the Indian claim on every occasion.
Statesmanship and restraint have paid off instantly. Whatever he may
have discussed with his counterparts in the corridors, the position he
articulated in the speech was dignified and it helped to remove the
impression that securing permanent membership was India’s highest
priority in the UN.

In fact, the whole speech of the Prime Minister at the General
Assembly this year was statesmanlike. He spoke not just for India, but
for the world and sought solutions for the economic and political ills
of the world. He plunged straight into the economic scene without much
of an introduction and identified the adverse impact of globalization.
Coming as it did from Dr.Manmohan Singh, the assessment seemed
surprising. Though he did not go into remedies, the diagnosis clearly
indicated that the globalization did not yield the kind of results
expected of it.
Given the atmospherics in New York, which focused on the Middle East
in general and Palestine in particular, Dr.Manmohan Singh could not
have skirted the problems of the region. Though the Arab Spring was
inspired by a welcome demand by the people for the right to shape
their own future, the consequence was spiraling price rise and
instability. The steadfast support for a Palestine state was balanced
by asserting the need for the region to live in peace with Israel. The
strongest political message he delivered to the west was, “The
observance of the rule of law is as important in international affairs
as it is within countries. Societies cannot be reordered from outside
through military force.” But he did not spare authoritarian regimes.
“Governments are duty bound to their citizens to create conditions
that enable them to freely determine their pathways to development.
This is the essence of democracy and fundamental freedoms”, he said.
In other words, the Prime Minister categorically stated the rationale
behind the positions adopted by India in the Security Council in the
last nine months. Together with his meeting with the President of Iran
and the announcement made in New York that he would visit Iran, the
Prime Minister’s statement may well be taken as a signal that India
was expanding its options all around.

The Prime Minister spoke of terrorism, encouraging signs of
cooperation in South Asia, need for reconciliation in Afghanistan,
piracy, disarmament and safety of nuclear plants, the international
issues that have been engaging his attention. He also gave
considerable attention to the old and traditional links with Africa
and the Least Developed Countries. The only references he made to
domestic issues, which were dogging him to New York was about poverty
alleviation and the importance of a democratic, plural and secular

UN speeches are not occasions to change policy, but to elaborate
national positions in a manner that will influence friends and
adversaries alike. Dr. Manmohan Singh clearly gave the impression that
he was resorting to some of the old ideological strains and old
constituencies to signal his disappointment with the west. But he did
it in a language which nobody would take exception to. As the adage
goes, a diplomat is a person, who can make someone look forward to the
trip if he is asked to go to hell.

Having been a ghost writer of UN speeches for prime ministers and
foreign ministers, I know the processes and procedures that go into
the exercise of preparing speeches. Inputs come from various sources
and it is a challenge to create a cohesive and comprehensive speech
from a multitude of drafts. One foreign minister had the habit of
asking various officials and academics for ideas for the speech and it
was hard to wade through the flood of material that came in. Often,
the speech became a tour d’ horizon, stretching into several pages and
covering much of the agenda of the General Assembly. The speech this
time had the merit of being elegant, precise and brief. It provided
the backdrop for Indian positions in the General Assembly and the
Security Council.

Foreign visits and UN accolades give some relief to Prime Ministers
when they are under siege by intractable domestic issues. The case of
Dr. Manmohan Singh was no different, with one of the scams exploding
at the very time he was meeting his counterparts and giving thought to
the global economic and political challenges “at a time of great
uncertainty and profound change.” The applause in the General Assembly
was not drowned out by the opposition in India and the PM’s world view
appeared to enjoy consensus back home, not a mean achievement in these
turbulent times.

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