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India's ICJ judge appointment of Dalveer Bhandari is a big victory

By Shakti Avasthy

On 21 October 1996 during the 51st session of the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Security Council election were held where India suffered a monumental diplomatic disaster losing non-permanent seat to Japan by 40-142 votes received by Japan. This was a surprise shock considering the self-perceived image of India being a benign power in all the Cold war years. However, tables were gradually turned when in 2010, after 19 years India won election for non-permanent membership in UNGA after securing 187/191 votes. The wheel turned full circle when recently Justice Dalveer Bhandari was elected as a judge in ICJ (International Court of Justice) for 2018-27 defeating UK's Christopher Greenwood after 11 rounds of gruesome ballots in both UNGA & UNSC.

ICJ and its mandate

ICJ headquartered at Hague is the judicial branch of United Nations. ICJ has 15 judges for 9 year term whereby 5 judges are elected every 3 years. No two judges may be the nationals of the same country. A judge can be dismissed only by a unanimous vote of the other members of the Court and the judges are expected to remain neutral when disputes irrespective of nations in the party of dispute including their own nation.
This victory was monumental as for the first time the informal understanding that Asia to have 3 judges in ICJ was breached with India occupying 4th spot displacing allocation generally reserved for Western European nation. Also, this would be the first time when any P5 nation will not be represented in ICJ since its inception in 1945. Moreover, UK for the first time will not be having any of its judge for the first time in ICJ. Further, this is the first time any sitting judge has defeated another sitting judge (UK's Christopher Greenwood was already in ICJ since 9 years).
The ferocious diplomatic battle went for 11 ballot rounds where India received 121 votes in UNGA (almost 2/3rd) and UK winning 9/15 votes in UNSC. This led to a stalemate as ICJ judge is needed to be elected by majority in both UNGA and UNSC. Finally, UK decided to withdraw its candidature in 12th round and India won 182/193 votes in UNGA, and 15/15 in UNSC making way for Justice Bhandari in ICJ.
UK's retreat
This withdrawal of UK was not on moral grounds but on purely strategic calculations. As reported by The Hindu "After India raised the issue with Trump administration, it suspended its campaign for British nominee". This was in reference to UK's pursuit of an unprecedented "joint conference" mechanism where 3 UNGA members & 3 UNSC members will decide on next ICJ judge. US rejected UK's demand for suspending the ongoing voting in UNGA & UNSC after New Delhi approach Washington at the highest diplomatic level. To avoid further embarrassment UK decided to withdraw its candidate from further voting rounds & gracefully declared that "If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead. We will continue to cooperate closely with India, here in the United Nations and globally". Also, it was becoming morally untenable for UK to ignore voice of almost 2/3rd of nations already voted in India's favour.
This comes as a huge blow for UK after Brexit when recently Paris and Amsterdam won the authority to host key EU agencies namely European Banking Authority (EBA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) respectively which were previously housed in London.
The reason for this victory is majorly due to India's assertive diplomacy where it is not ideologically inhibited to break old shibboleths, India's diplomatic ideals and declining power of 19th century superpower UK.
Change in policy
India's foreign policy after PM Modi's coming to power has adapted greater pragmatism, developed self-assurance to undertake calculated risks. Modi Doctrine could be well established as comfortably out of vestiges of colonialism by pursuit of hard-nosed diplomacy. India is no longer refraining itself from pursuing its national interests and has thus been willing to ensure New Delhi's place at global high tide. As scholar Brahma Chellaney puts it the doctrinaire nonalignment of cold war era is gradually transformed to geopolitical pragmatism.
Moreover, India has been historically been committed to Global Institutions and their rulings. India believes in global harmony & rule-based order owing to its historical principles of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", "Sarva Dhamma Sambhav", "Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina". India also gains huge soft power & diplomatic capital by its active role in UN Peacekeeping forces where India is a major contributor. India's outreach to Africa, Latin America, Pacific islands through channels of economic diplomacy, soft power sources like Yoga, Gandhi, Bollywood adds to Indian power especially in UNGA.
Also, UK is no more a force it previously used to be. PM Theresa May is already going through rough and patchy waters owing to Brexit negotiations and a disastrous election results in 2017. EU seems comfortably placed even without UK, and recent elections in France, Germany, Netherlands has put Pro-European leaders at the forefront of EU. UK is no longer a great economy and possibly in a year or two Indian economy will super pass two P5 nations UK & France.
Eye on the UN seat
This victory has huge significance for India as it acts as a shot in the arm for its UNSC candidature in future. This needs to be seen in context as in India also defeated P5 nation China in 2011 when it was elected to the United Nations' Joint Inspection Unit (JIU), defeating the Middle Kingdom in a direct fight for the lone seat from the Asia-Pacific region. These victories clearly depict the newly emerging global order which no longer accepts the post-World War II status-quoism and wishes for change suited as per time & needs.
The world has begun to see New Delhi as a global power & a "balancer" whose rise seems imminent. A recent Morgan Stanley report stated that India will become $6 trillion economy by 2026-27 becoming third largest economy within the next decade. Ignoring a major economy & third largest military power will become harder for P5 nations in future. This victory however must not slow us down, and India must continue to engage itself both politically & economically in global affairs with aim of becoming not just a effective "veto player" but also a successful "agenda setter".


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