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‘India’s UN journey, from outlier to the high table’

Published: 2nd Nov, 2020

The 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) is an opportunity to look at the major trends, patterns and future challenges as far as India is concerned in terms of safeguarding its interests and promoting common good.


The 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) is an opportunity to look at the major trends, patterns and future challenges as far as India is concerned in terms of safeguarding its interests and promoting common good.


  • The name "United Nations", coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt was first used in the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, during Second World War.
  • In 1945, representatives of 50 countries met in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organizationto draw up the United Nations Charter.
  • Those delegates deliberated on the basis of proposals worked out by the representatives of China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States at Dumbarton Oaks, United States in August-October 1944.
  • The Charter was signed on 26 June 1945 by the representatives of the 50 countries. Poland, which was not represented at the Conference, signed it later and became one of the original 51 Member States.
  • The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. 
  • United Nations Dayis celebrated on 24 October each year.


The Organization

  • The United Nationsis an international organization, committed to-
    • maintaining international peace and security
    • developing friendly relations among nations
    • promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights
  • Membership: It is currently made up of 193 Member States.  
    • Each of the 193 Member States of the United Nations is a member of the General Assembly.  States are admitted to membership in the UN by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
  • Main Organs: The main organs of the UN are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the UN Secretariat.  All were established in 1945 when the UN was founded. 

What is the current status of India in UN?

  • India is a founding member of the United Nations, signing the UN Charter, along with 50 other countries, on 26 June, 1945.
  • Currently, India is a non-permanent member of the UN.
    • In the past, India has gained a non-permanent seat into the Security Council in 1950- 1951, 1967-1968, 1972-1973, 1977-1978, 1984-1985, 1991-1992 and most recently in 2011-2012.

Membership and phases of India

  • Seven and a half decades of India at the UN may be viewed with reference to roughly three distinct phases.
  • In the first phase until the end of the Cold War in 1989, India had learnt the ropes of exploring and enhancing its diplomatic influence as a moderating force in easing armed conflicts in Asia and Africa by disentangling them from the superpower rivalry.
  • In parallel, the Indian leadership learned the hard way that the UN could not be relied upon to impartially resolve vital security disputes such as Jammu and Kashmir.
  • As such, it strove to utilise the UN only to focus on common causes such as anti-colonialism, anti-racism, nuclear disarmament, environment conservation and equitable economic development.
  • India, in a clever way, seemed to claim the moral high ground by proposing, in 1988, a bold, but obviously impractical, three-phase plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from the surface of earth.
  • But it resisted attempts by neighbouring countries to raise bilateral problems.
  • This was reflected during the Bangladesh liberation war and after. In essence, a loss of face for India in the 1962 border war against China meant a definitive redesign of the country’s diplomatic style to privilege bilateral contacts over the third party role by the UN.

How United Nations works in India?

  • In India, UN’s work is guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Framework (UNSDF), a framework of cooperation, results and strategies between the Government of India and the United Nations system in India to contribute to the achievement of national priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • The focus areas include poverty and urbanization; health, water, and sanitation; education; nutrition and food security; climate change, clean energy, and disaster resilience; skilling, entrepreneurship, and job creation; and gender equality and youth development.
  • The UNSDF is underpinned by the overarching principle of the SDGs to leave no one behind, echoing the Government of India’s message of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (development for all).
  • The UNSDF also includes a set of UN flagship programs that are aligned with major government schemes.
  • The flagship programs will be scalable, innovative and multi-sectoral solutions to some of the most pressing development challenges that India faces, while also serving as catalysts for increased investment of development finance.

What are the different levels of Indian multilateral engagement?

The “levels” of multilateral cooperation, ranging from least to the most engaging and impactful, are:

  • Level One: Proposing multilateral frameworks that promote cooperation, but failing to organise a coalition or a significant voting bloc that actualises such cooperation.
  • Level Two: Participating in, or leading a coalition of like-minded to form a united position, but is not powerful enough to alter the debate and advance cooperation in any meaningful manner.
  • Level Three: Participating in, or leading a coalition of like-minded countries to form a united position that is powerful enough to alter the debate and achieve cooperation on the issue, and create “class of actions” among member states of the UN.

Concluding thoughts

In the post-pandemic era, India will advance its vision of a self-reliant future, and that all of its programmes and initiatives are designed to benefit all of its citizens, without discrimination. Now, India wants to learn from the world, and share its experience with the world. The country is confident that, in its seventy-fifth year, the UN will maintain its relevance, because “stability in the United Nations and empowerment of the United Nations are essential for the welfare of the world”.


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