India and UK are headed for what might turn out to be the worst diplomatic showdown between the two nations in recent times. In a brazen attempt to stall the surge in support for India’s candidate for the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Dalveer Bhandari, at the last round of voting at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), UK is threatening to use its power as the permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to end the process of voting.
At an informal discussions of Security Council, the UK is learnt to have stated that it is considering stalling further voting at the UN after a single round of balloting on November 20.
It has instead proposed an arcane mechanism of Joint Conference, comprising 3 members each from GA and SC, as a substitute to continued voting. What has angered India, which is actively working to thwart Britain’s move, is that this mechanism has never been used earlier in the entire history of ICJ to break a deadlock in appointment of judges.
This proposal that UK threatens to initiate in the SC, as support for its candidate Christopher Greenwood drops sharply at balloting in the GA, is attracting considerable criticism from across a broad spectrum of countries. As previous rounds of voting have shown, Bhandari enjoys overwhelming support of GA with near 2/3rd majority (121 countries favored him over Britain’s candidate) but Greenwood has managed to negate it with a slender lead in the 15-member SC with help from the permanent members of the Council. A candidate needs majority in both GA and SC to win.
There have been many such deadlocks in the past too in election of ICJ judges, most recently in 2014 and 2011, but these were always resolved by more rounds of voting. UK though is now trying to duck voting, saying that just one more vote on Monday is enough before forming a joint conference, an untried mechanism that may take weeks to set up and months to yield any result.
A senior Indian official termed UK tactics to try and “steal the election outcome” as akin to those of the robber baron Robert Clive and added, tongue in cheek, that the New India was no Siraj ud Daulah, the last nawab of Bengal who was defeated by Clive.
The Indian diplomatic offensive at the UN has succeeded in stringing together an impressive coalition of countries of Africa, Asia-Pacific and also Latin America. According to Indian officials, many former British colonies have joined India against their former colonial master.
The election which started off as an effort to elect an individual judge to the ICJ, in fact, now has broader overtones as it has pitched a declining UK and a rising India in a high-voltage diplomatic battle.
Many other GA members too have been taken aback by UK’s threat to seek a joint conference as there exists an unequivocal legal opinion provided in the 1984 UN Juridical Yearbook that argues against resorting to that option. Para 21 of the Yearbook clearly says that should a deadlock occur, a joint conference should not be automatically resorted to. “It seems more practical that the electoral organs should proceed to further meeting,” it says.
Indian officials feel that UK’s “undemocratic tactics” may impact Britain’s standing in the Commonwealth, something that UK will need to factor in as it prepares to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in 2018.
In all previous cases of a deadlock, balloting took place in many more rounds than what has been completed this time. And on each such occasion, the candidate who was consistently leading in the GA was ultimately elected.