Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 23 December 2023

Why despite deft diplomacy, India did not get a seat at the UNESCO table

“A great deal of world politics is a fundamental struggle, but it is also a struggle that has to be waged intelligently.” -  Zbigniew Brzezinski

Relevance: GS II (International Relations)

  • Prelims: UNESCO;

  • Mains: Impacts related to Indian Foreign Policy;

Why in the News?

As Global South Helps Pakistan Beat India at UNESCO 38-18, Spotlight is back on India’s OSD's Role as Ambassador.

About the News:

  • On November 24, Pakistan’s foreign ministry tweeted that Pakistan had been elected as vice-chair of Paris-headquartered UNESCO’s executive board “with overwhelming support from the Asia Pacific Group”. 

  • According to some informed sources, the voting amount indicated that while India did get most of its votes from the Western bloc, most of the Global South from Asia, Africa, Arab and Latin American electoral groups seemed to have voted for Pakistan.

  • It was galling to lose particularly to a Pakistan in such dire straits. It opens up questions on India’s efforts’ efficacy with countries of the Global South

  • Real loss over symbolic post: Since long, India has been elected as the year-long chair of UNESCO World Heritage committee, which oversees the implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

  • A true assessment of a country’s foreign policy has to take into account its attention to issues which go out of the public eye. Some Evaluation on this response is as follows

1) Global South:

  • The defeat is especially galling as India has been consistently projecting itself as a leader of the Global South, especially during its G20 presidency. 

  • It organised two virtual ‘Voice of the Global South’ summits during this year, asserting that the issues raised would contribute to the G20 agenda.

  • While not detracting from the government’s diplomatic achievements, including the finalization of a “clean” Delhi G20 summit joint statement, such scrutiny would help in fully judging its foreign policy record.

  • India’s Efforts:

    • India has emphasized, over the past several years, its affinities with the Global South. It has claimed that it is keeping the interests of developing countries front and centre in its positions on social and economic issues in multilateral contexts. 

    • The government especially stressed during India’s G20 Presidency that it was giving voice to the aspirations of the Global South. 

    • These were noble efforts, for the disparities between the advanced and developing worlds are growing in the digital era. 

    • As India straddles both worlds and joins the high tables where global rules are set, it wishes to signal that it will not turn its back on the interests of the developing countries.

    • With all this effort, it could be expected that it would secure the support of the Global South countries in elections, big and small, to UN bodies. 

2) UNESCO’s Vice-presidentship:

  • India is part of the 12-member Asia-Pacific group

  • The Vice-President’s position is not one of great consequence and an election for it takes place only if the group does not arrive at a consensus for it. 

  • Each election has its own dynamics and generalizations from only one may not be warranted. 

  • In this case, India’s UNESCO delegation, the Ministry of Human Resource Development which is the nodal ministry for UNESCO and the Ministry of External Affairs which is responsible for all aspects of India’s external engagements, should have read the tea leaves of this election better. 

  • This is not only because it was galling to lose particularly to a Pakistan in such dire straits, but also because it opens up questions, however indirect, on India’s efforts’ efficacy with countries of the Global South.

  • Pakistan’s margin of victory managed to secure more support from developing countries than India.

3) Denmark – India:

  • Thirdly, the matter relates to Indian efforts to extradite Kim Davy from Denmark to India. Davy was involved in the Purulia arms drop case of 1996, but there is no statute of limitation in criminal matters. 

  • Davy has publicly acknowledged his involvement in breaking Indian laws. Denmark’s executive and judiciary have treated India with disdain in the Davy matter. At one stage, India had closed shop with Denmark till Davy was extradited to face the law in India. 

  • Over the past decade India had normalized relations. But, there is still no progress made by India to get Davy to India. 

  • This recalls how the US sought the extradition of a national of one of India’s neighboring countries from India after they discovered that he was accused of murder in Boston almost three decades earlier. Finally, extradition is never only a judicial issue.

4) India-Italy:

  • In the Italian Marines case, India accepted the International Tribunal’s Award which mandated its trial in Italy. The Supreme Court put its seal of approval on this process in mid-2021. 

  • While the families of the two Indians who had been killed by the marines were monetarily compensated, the question is whether the Indian Mission in Rome followed the proceedings against the marines in the Italian court

  • It could not intervene in the Italian judicial process but it could have ensured that the Italian judicial system gave the case the care it deserved

Way Forward:

  • Need for grand gestures: The Nations are judged not only through their large actions but also by how they act in small matters concerning their individual citizens or the breaking of their laws. Often, they are judged by their conduct in these as through their grand gestures and “forthright” statements.

  • Need for Conservative approach: If India still decides to compete, then it requires the experience of senior Indian diplomats and election officers at the mission to adeptly navigate regional dynamics and secure enough votes through personal appeals and reciprocal arrangements.

    • A seasoned diplomat usually knows that it is better to undercount votes, as assurances are often given out but not acted upon. Sometimes, the assurances are asked for in writing.

Book A Free Counseling Session