Permanent membership of the UNSC is another story


  • There is a buzz in India about the prospects of the country becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) Mr Jaishankar has been actively canvassing for the country’s candidature, calling for a text-based negotiation on what has been euphemistically referred to as the reform of the UNSC, i.e., negotiation on a written document outlining the proposed reform instead of just holding forth verbally.
  • Until a quarter century ago, the nuclear weapon club had five members, the same five as the P-5. India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel have since joined the club. The P-5 could do nothing to stop the latter countries from forcing themselves into membership of the nuclear club. But the permanent membership of the Security Council is another story.

About UNSC:

United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN). It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states. It is headquartered at New York

Mandates of UNSC:

  1. Ensuring international peace and security
  2. Recommending the admission of new UN members to the General Assembly (UNGA)
  3. Approving any changes to the UN Charter
  4. Establishing peacekeeping operations
  5. Enacting international sanctions
  6. Authorizing military action


  • The council has 15 members: 5 permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for 2-year terms.
  • The 5 permanent members are the United States, Russia, France, China and the United Kingdom.
  • Each year, the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members (out of ten in total) for a two-year term. The ten non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis. India is currently a non-permanent member of UNSC for two years i.e 2021-22.
  • The council’s presidency is a capacity that rotates every month among its 15 members.

Voting Powers:

Each member of the Security Council has one vote. Decisions of the Security Council on matters are made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members. A “No” vote from one of the five permanent members blocks the passage of the resolution. This is known as the veto power of the P5 group (Permanent 5 members of UNSC).

Declarations that deserve scepticism

  • None of the P-5 wants the UNSC’s ranks to be increased. Each P5 member is confident that someone among them will torpedo the enlargement of the club. Thus the declarations of support for India’s candidature need to be taken with a fistful of salt.
  • When delegations of 50 countries were drafting the Charter of the future United Nations at Dumbarton Oaks near Washington DC in 1944-45, the article regarding the Security Council, particularly the right of veto, was the subject of maximum debate and controversy. Many countries opposed it.

Use and misuse of veto power:

  • Russia, in its incarnations as the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation, has cast more vetoes (close to half of all vetoes) than the 3 western members of the club. But the western members have used their privileged position any number of times to protect Israel when the Palestinian question was being discussed. They also used veto to prevent sanctions being imposed on the apartheid regime of South Africa.
  • India needs to be circumspect about veto. We ought to remember that the Russians have bailed India out on many occasions on the question of Kashmir. Most importantly, Russia helped India by vetoing unfavourable resolutions during the war of Bangladesh liberation in 1971.
  • We can never rule out the possibility of the Kashmir issue being raised in the Council at some time in the future. While we might expect, though not be certain of, Russia to come to our help, we must rule out either Britain or America from casting a negative vote against Pakistan. Going by the Chinese position of repeatedly blocking India’s efforts to include confirmed Pakistani terrorists in the sanctions list, we can be sure of Chinese hostility towards us for a long time.

The G-4 grouping:

  • There are four declared candidates for permanent membership: India, Japan, Brazil and Germany, called the G-4.
  • Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are unrepresented in the permanent category at present. Africa’s claim for two permanent seats has wide understanding and support, but the Africans have yet to decide which two countries these are to be.
  • As for India, we can discount Pakistan’s opposition; China will not support India nor will it ever support Japan. Brazil has regional opponents and claimants. As for Germany, Italy is firmly opposed to its claim. Many of these countries opposing G-4 have formed the ‘Coffee Club’ aka Uniting for Consensus (UfC).
  • There are already three western nations among the P-5. Even if India enjoyed near universal support, there is no way that India alone can be elected; it will have to be a package deal involving countries from other groups.

Amending the UN Charter

  • Changing the membership of the Council requires amending the Charter. This involves consent of two-thirds of the total membership of the U N, including the concurring votes of P-5. This means that each of the five has a veto. The Charter was amended once in the 1960s to enlarge the Council by additional non-permanent seats.
  • Even now, if the proposal was to add a few non-permanent seats only, it would be adopted with near unanimity or even by consensus. It is the permanent category that poses the problem. One can have a good idea of the difficulty of amending the Charter by the fact that the ‘enemy clause’ contained in Article 107 of the Charter remains in it even though some of the enemy states such as Germany, Japan, Italy, etc. are very active members, often serve on the Council, and are close military allies of some of the victors in the war.

Way forward: A proposed new category:

  • A distinguished group of experts suggested a few years ago that a new category of semi-permanent members should be created. Countries would be elected for a period of 8 to 10 years and would be eligible for re-election. India ought to give serious consideration to this idea.
  • Some experts are of the opinion that India should not accept permanent membership without the right of veto. “We cannot accept second class status”, is what they say. First, nobody is offering India permanent membership. Second, membership with veto power should be firmly ruled out. If by some miracle we are offered or manage to obtain permanent membership without veto, we must grab it. Even a permanent membership without veto will be tremendously helpful in protecting our interests.


India must examine different ways of achieving its strategic goal of membership of UNSC permanent group. We can examine the Razali reform plan under which the UNSC would have 5 new permanent members without veto powers, besides 4 more non-permanent members taking the council’s strength to 24.

The NASA spacecraft-asteroid collision


  • Recently, the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) spacecraft collided with the space rock Dimorphos (a 160 metres wide asteroid). NASA has confirmed that the collision of the 600 kilogram weighing DART, on the football stadium-sized Dimorphos, orbiting around the primary asteroid Didymos, has deflected the trajectory of the pair of space rocks.
  • This kinetic impact technique, also known as the ‘kick method’, could one day save humanity from a potential cataclysmic collision by safely deflecting a killer asteroid on its course towards earth. It could also fuel space mining technologies and unleash the space economy in decades to come.

What are asteroids?

  • Leftover materials from the formation of the sun, earth and planets, through the accretion and agglomeration of giant gas and rocks, are scattered as comets, asteroids and meteoroids in the solar system.
  • Some of these cross their path and collide with earth from time to time, resulting in a meteor shower. Most rocks are so small that they burn up completely in the atmosphere due to frictional heating. If they are large enough, the charred piece falls through as a meteorite.
  • The falling piece from a meteoroid 140 metres wide or more will be capable of completely wiping out a city like Chennai. The impact would be devastating if it was one or more kilometres wide.
  • About 66 million years ago, an asteroid about 10-15 kms struck earth. The tsunami, volcanic eruptions and thick dust clouds ensuing from the blow decimated dinosaurs and nearly 75% of all species. It led to a mass species extinction.
  • What happened in the past can occur in the future. The chances of a giant asteroid striking earth are small; however, if it did occur, the devastation would be cataclysmic, wiping out the entire human civilisation.

What was NASA’s mission?

  • NASA keeps a close watch on the nearly 26,115 asteroids whose orbits are dangerously close to earth. NASA undertook the ‘kick’ technique on Dimorphos.
  • Compared to the massive Dimorphos, DART is a tiny Goliath. Yet crashing at a breakneck speed of 23,760 kilometres per hour, the momentum is adequate to slash the angular momentum of Dimorphos, making it speed up and move closer to Didymos.
  • All of these reduce the orbital period and the time taken for the moonlet to go around the primary asteroid. The pair’s trajectory is thus deflected as the net result of these dynamics.
  • Dimorphos is more like a pile of rubble loosely held by gravity. If true, the impact will eject a cascade of debris, each piece carrying away a bit of momentum and energy. And as a net result, the asteroid will suffer a considerable loss. It will speed up more, and the orbit will become nearer to Didymos. The orbital period will then reduce by as much as 10 minutes. Astronomers will now spend weeks and months observing the periodic change in the brightness using the telescopes to tease out the altered orbital period.

Way forward: other possibilities of this technique:

  • On the heels of NASA, China is set to deflect a 40m diametre earth-crossing asteroid called 2020 PN1 sometime in 2026. While ostensibly the drive comes from the desire to protect earth from killer asteroids, perhaps the lure of space mining lurks behind.
  • Mining rare earth elements (on earth) comes with a high environmental cost. In the coming years, the penalty for polluting could make space mining economically viable. If one can tug a mineral-rich asteroid near the Moon or establish a space mining factory between the orbits of earth and Mars, precious mineral resources needed for decades could be easily sourced.
  • The ‘kick’ technique that deflects asteroids can then be used to move a small asteroid into a convenient position for space mining. Now shelved, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) aimed at precisely this by bringing a 20-tonne space rock near earth to study and mine. In a way, the DART mission is also part of this frame.
  • For developing green energy technologies — electric vehicles, solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage devices – and ushering in the low carbon economy of the future, rare earth elements such as yttrium, niobium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and scandium are critical. They are short in supply, and asteroid mining, it is believed, could solve the rare earth supply problem.
  • From the robotic Soviet Luna 16 in the 1970s to U.S. Apollo missions and China’s first lunar sample-return mission, Chang’e 5 — all have brought back lunar soil. NASA’s Stardust spacecraft returned a canister full of dust from comet Wild-2 captured by an aerogel-based sample collector in 2004. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s ItokawaHayabusa, Ryugu, and NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex to near-earth asteroid Bennu are missions to extract and return samples from asteroids.


India must try to develop a technology demonstrator on asteroid redirection or destruction and related technologies like space miningin order to boost our space economy.


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