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ICJ win good but not enough

DH News Service, Bengaluru, Nov 25 2017, 0:37 IST

India achieved a commendable victory in the United Nations with its candidate, Justice Dalveer Bhandari, getting elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It was a tough fight. Justice Bhandari was up against Christopher Greenwood, a candidate put up by Britain, a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). While India had strong support in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the UNSC proved a tough nut to crack with the permanent members standing by one of their own. Deft diplomacy
and relentless canvassing by India's diplomats, with Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj leading the charge, turned the tide in India's favour. This forced Britain to withdraw its candidate from the race. It
culminated in Justice Bhandari's victory.

This is a momentous achievement for India, not so much because an Indian will be sitting in the ICJ but because with the defeat of a British jurist, India has created history. Four Indians, including Justice Bhandari, have been jurists in the ICJ and this will, in fact, be his second term. In the 71 years of its existence, the ICJ has never been without a jurist from Britain. The UNSC's permanent member countries made sure that at least one of them would be represented in the ICJ. The new ICJ will be different. It will not have a jurist from any of the five UNSC permanent member states. India can take pride in the fact that it shattered this unwritten and undemocratic rule. But this achievement is not India's alone. If it wasn't for the larger global community - the majority of the members of the UNGA - this could not have happened.

This is an important milestone in India's diplomacy. However, some in India's foreign policy establishment is giving it an excessive spin. Defeating a candidate from Britain or any of the other UNSC permanent member states is no doubt difficult. But to read this as indicative of India's capacity to push successfully for UNSC reform, even of its readiness to win itself a permanent seat in a reformed UNSC is an exaggerated reading of India's capabilities. New Delhi must bear in mind that in its earlier bid for an ICJ seat last year, Justice Bhandari was defeated by the Lebanese candidate. South Asia and the rest of Asia are yet to achieve the success that Africa has had in building a regional consensus around a candidate. India will need to build a solid block of votes in the UNGA before it can make a concerted bid for a UNSC seat. India's prestige on the world stage has been enhanced by Justice Bhandari's election. But exaggerated interpretations will undermine India's rise in the United Nations.

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