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KAMALESH SHARMA: We have made it very clear that we do not believe in any doctrine which would involve an arms race.
KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, India’s growing pains. And, the UN’s global image.
JOHN RUGGIE: I think one of the challenges to the UN has been to engage a new generation.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.
PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. India is the world’s second most populous nation and is on track to surpass number one China by the year 2050. The growing pains are obvious. India is one of the poorest countries in the world. Half of the country’s population is illiterate and disease remains a constant threat.
MCHUGH: But India is also the world’s largest democracy, with a growing middle class, solid technology sector, and a strong military with nuclear capability. Kamalesh Sharma is India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I recently spoke with him about his country’s growing pains and India’s turbulent relationship with neighboring Pakistan.
KAMALESH SHARMA: I don’t think we were ever on the brink of war. There’s a lot of hype about our region, ever since the tests and there’s been a focus on it. Our Prime Minister went to Lahore in Pakistan and signaled a deep intention to turn a new chapter. And after that we suffered aggression and things were basically frozen also because we see a lot of insurgency activities in our country. We believe the relationship is very, very important for both societies. You must think of the people: what is in the interest of the people. And we continue to believe, of course, that amity, good neighborliness, between us, will serve the cause of economic advancement and social harmony.
MCHUGH: Does the latest development with General Musharraf disturb you? He has named himself President now?
SHARMA: Well, this is going in the direction of anti-constitutionalism. It’s going to be ruled by decree, which is deplored the world over. Laws have legitimacy to the extent that they flow from a representative government acting on behalf of people who have elected them. That’s pretty much a principle which is accepted all the world over. And this is a place we’ve been to in Pakistan several times over the last 50 years. And one would have hoped in keeping with the times, the political ethos would have undergone a transformation. But apparently not.
MCHUGH: You mentioned earlier the nuclear tests. And I do believe that the West is under the impression that there is an arms race going on between India and Pakistan. Is that really true?
SHARMA: We have made it very clear that we do not believe in any doctrine which would involve an arms race. We simply thought that the security question for us had turned so much to our disadvantage that the nuclear option which we had preserved for decades and decades had to be exercised to put that right. But our notion of nuclear capacity is based on some fundamental principles. One is no first use. Second, no strategic arms with anybody. Thirdly, simply keeping a retaliatory capacity so that the country is never brought under duress in the nuclear field. This retaliatory capacity will by definition be at a low threshold. Once we feel that it is enough of a detriment-that’s why we call it a “minimum nuclear deterrent”-once we have it, then we need simply to maintain it and keep it credible. And no arms race need, need ensue.
MCHUGH: There are population surveys that indicate India will surpass China by 2050 as the world’s most populous country. But experts are saying that that will depend on the literacy campaigns that happen within India in the next 10, 15 years. What steps is India taking to deal with the potential explosion in population?
SHARMA: Projections are notorious for going wrong. And I think that a generational change is taking place in India in all fields. It will also affect the population issue. In fact, people don’t generally realize that the rate of growth of Indian population since independence has been reduced by about half. From about 3.4, 3.5 percent rate of growth when we became independent; it’s in the neighborhood of 1.7, 1.8. That’s a dramatic change. The rate of progress is also uneven in our country. Some areas, some large states, have already reached replacement levels. Which means that no net increase is taking place. Some other areas are not doing so well. I have the confidence that with increasing standards of living, which is absolutely crucial-the correlation between increasing standards of living and declining populations has been established. Awareness, means available of protection and contraception; a combination of these factors will lead to a further decline in our growth rate. And so any projections which assume something for India-and another thing, from China-may not come to pass.
MCHUGH: Average Americans probably think of India as a developing nation. But your country is emerging as a strong force in the technology sector. In fact, Germany is actively recruiting many folks from India to meet its technology needs, in Germany. Is that active recruitment a form of flattery? Or is that a threat to your country?
SHARMA: We don’t see it as a threat. The big advantage we have is the investment which we made in technical institutions, engineering colleges, and universities-in all, about 120 universities in India. And many, many more colleges and engineering institutes. These were an investment in faith in the Indian ability to master high technology areas, whether it’s communications or software, biotechnology, metals, space, agriculture. And these have now started to pay, this investment. And as the economy expands, as we integrate our economy with the world, as forces of deregulation, debureaucritzation of the economy, liberalization-as these forces pick up, then all of these talents come in demand. But they come in demand globally as well as nationally. And being a democracy we can’t put artificial restraints on the movement of people if they wish to travel.
So quite wisely I think our policymakers have taken the view that you simply must keep the supply side healthy so that national as well as global demand can be met. And you’re right. Germany has been there, but that’s true of many countries. Many developed countries have come to India and want to recruit our brain power. But as somebody observed, it’s better a brain drain than brain in the drain. By that he meant that an unutilized brain is worse than a brain being utilized outside India.
MCHUGH: Technology does require a great deal of power and India is struggling to keep up with that demand. The energy woes facing the United States are very well documented. But some are suggesting that India’s problem is actually worse. What is the government’s plan to attack the energy crisis in India?
SHARMA: One could argue that that is possibly the single most important, not only infrastructural area, but requirement for economic advancement in India. We are very much aware of it. Now the power sector has problems because in the democratic constitution which we have, the government has to operate through the constituent states of the country. And the constituent states have state electricity boards. And the distribution also is in state hands. Therefore a certain pattern of economics has evolved whereby the state picks up a lot of subsidy to keep the energy rates low. Now, how to have a privatized system at the same time as relinquishing the subsidized policies that have emerged, so that the rate of return per unit becomes economically feasible, that is the single biggest challenge.
MCHUGH: How does India view its role in the world today?
SHARMA: India is by instinct an internationalist, a multilateralist country. In his very first address Prime Minister Nehru quite remarkably mentioned not only that India is awakening to life and freedom after a long era of colonization, but is also putting itself in a position to discharge its responsibility to the rest of the world. It is remarkable because in that moment when you are becoming free the tendency is to think only of yourself. But the fact that he said that India is embedded in the world and your freedom cannot but be an act which is related to your global posture is very significant. And therefore in peacekeeping, in North-South cooperation, in promoting mulitlateralism, various other ways, India wants to make a contribution. Particularly as the world is compacting. Globalization has now become a buzzword for many, many years. In a world like this collective norm making and collective responsibility to a joint and shared destiny is in our view a sine qua non. And we feel that India together with other countries must contribute to the evolution of a balanced, fair, and sane world order.
MCHUGH: India as I understand it is one of only a handful of countries that’s had permanent representation basically on the UN’s Human Rights Commission since it was created in 1947. And of course the United States was voted off this year and it sparked quite a bit of anger stateside. What was your reaction to that?
SHARMA: We were extremely surprised. Because there’s no question the vote took place in the Economic and Social Council, which has around 54 members. And there’s no-that also happens to be the only year-we had voluntarily stepped down from the ECOSOC. And had India been in the ECOSOC there’s no question that we would have voted for the United States because we feel the sense of compatibility and partnership with America, the two largest democracies in the world, with belief in the same value systems.
MCHUGH: Outside of the energy woes that we talked about a little bit earlier, what are the biggest issues facing your country in the next decade?
SHARMA: In no particular order I would say the problems brought about by-we have already mentioned population. I think control of numbers is extremely crucial to every goal which we have set for ourselves. Urbanization is a massive challenge, not only for India but for all developed, developing countries. And there are studies which show that in the next 20 years 40 or 50 percent of the world’s population may be living in cities. And what this means for environment, pollution, water availability, all kinds of stresses. That’s extremely important. The third of course is environment. You can’t afford to keep on fouling your own nest. Together with this is growth. All of this can be taken care of if there is growth. None of this can be taken care of if there is no growth. If you keep on growing I think we will have the resources and the confidence and the energy to be able to look at this agenda.
MCHUGH: Kamalesh Sharma is India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
PORTER: The global image of the United Nations, next on Common Ground.
JOHN RUGGIE: The UN under the leadership of Kofi Annan has moved into what had been a vacuum of-he’s sort of universally regarded moral leadership.
PORTER: Since its creation in 1945 the United Nations has played a vital role in the health, peace, and security of citizens all across the globe. But the world is a far different place today than it was at the end of World War II.
MCHUGH: Financial difficulties and an organizational structure mired in a sea of red tape have forced the United Nations to reassess its role in the world. John Ruggie is a former UN Assistant Secretary General. I recently spoke with him about the UN’s global image, Secretary General Kofi Annan’s leadership, and the prospects for reform.
JOHN RUGGIE: Well, I was there for four years. Shortly after Kofi Annan was elected he asked me to come and join him to be a special advisor on strategic planning issues, repositioning the UN in relation to key constituencies and key issues. Constituencies including the US Congress, including the global business community. Issues including institutional reform, dealings with the private sector. So general, sort of policy advice. Typically longer-range policy advice to the Secretary General. And I did that for four years.
MCHUGH: As someone who worked on the inside at the United Nations for that time, what would you say is the world’s image of the United Nations?
RUGGIE: Well, I think the UN under the leadership of Kofi Annan has moved into what had been a vacuum of-he’s sort of universally regarded moral leadership. I think there is a craving among people, especially young people, for a sense of meaning and a sense of direction and a sense of we are all somehow united in a legitimate enterprise that advances the common cause. And the UN hadn’t performed that role very effectively for a number of years for a variety of reasons. But I believe, and I think public opinion polls certainly confirm my view, that the UN has moved into that role and is in much higher regard today everywhere, certainly including the United States, than it was five years ago.
MCHUGH: And even 20 years ago?
RUGGIE: Well, 20 years ago it was a different situation. The, there was still a fairly large number of people alive who remembered the founding of the UN and were attached to an image and a vision and an aspiration that they had held in 1945 or in the immediate postwar years. That doesn’t exist today. And I think one of the challenges to the UN has been to engage a new generation, the various successor generations, who have no direct experience with World War II, with the founding of the UN, and so on and so forth. It’s like, you know, Saving Private Ryan having educated a generation of Americans about the Normandy invasion. We’ve had to develop a new sense of recognition and engagement with young people everywhere about what the UN is and what it does.
MCHUGH: Well, speaking of image there was a recent opinion in the New York Times that said the UN should move to Governor’s Island-which ironically is one of the spots that was considered originally before the current building was built. And the argument within this article was basically the UN needs to work on that building. It’s beyond repair. Governor’s Island would, that would definitely make the UN a little bit more autonomous from New York City. Are things imagewise, physical imagewise, as bad as the press makes them out to be?
RUGGIE: No. The press has to tell a story. I mean, you say, you’re in the press. You know that. You want to attract the interest of your listeners and newspapers need to attract the interest of their readers. And so, you know, stories are often hyped a little. The building itself is in, is in grave disrepair. It doesn’t meet any of the safety and health standards of New York City or the state of New York or the federal government. It’s, it was built a long time ago. It’s 50 years-plus old. I can testify to the fact that I developed entirely new allergies in my office because of the gook that came out of the air conditioning system. I had to take pills ‘cause there was nothing else we could do. We tried various ways of fixing things. There are no sprinklers in the building. So if there’s ever a fire the thing just goes up in flames. And so it needs to be, it needs to be rehabilitated. But I don’t think the UN would wish to leave the building permanently. It’s such a symbol worldwide. And I find the building, especially the secretariat tower, a very attractive building still. It’s one of the, one of the early postwar, sort of modernist buildings that has really stood the test of time. So not only is it a symbol of the UN but it’s also an attractive building. It just needs to be fixed up and that’s gonna cost some money.
MCHUGH: The UN has committed some money to that project?
RUGGIE: Yes, but the UN isn’t allowed to borrow, for example. So we can’t do what is rational, which is that you would-you know, if you’re house needs a new roof and you don’t have the cash in your pocket you take out a second mortgage. Well, the UN can’t do that. So it, we have to have special allocations of funds from the member states in order to make the necessary improvements.
MCHUGH: The United States’ relationship with the United Nations is tenuous at best. What is the status of the US relationship with the United Nations?
RUGGIE: Well, it’s not a bad relationship at all. I think certainly throughout the last four years, throughout Kofi Annan’s tenure, the relationship has been excellent with the, with the administration. Slowly over the course of time it’s become excellent with Capitol Hill. The Secretary General has done something that none of his predecessors ever has done-he’s made routine visits to Capitol Hill to meet the leadership on both sides of the aisle. And he has hosted visits of congressional representatives and senators, various committee members, at the UN itself. I think there’s a far greater understanding than there was five years ago. And a great deal more mutual respect than there was five years ago.
We still have some issues hanging over from the dark age, if you will. Including the fact that even though everyone is in agreement that the US bills should be paid, the check still hasn’t been cut. And it’s a matter of the relevant congressional committee making the necessary appropriations, which they haven’t done yet because they didn’t want to do it outside of the budget cycle. So there’s, there’s some resentment about some of the European member states, for example, who agreed last December to lower the US’s assessment in return for getting the bill paid. Well, the assessment was lowered but the bill still hasn’t been paid. But in due course it will and I hope that, that this will all be put behind everyone and everyone can get on with the necessary job at hand.
MCHUGH: The US was recently voted off the UN’s Human Rights Commission. Is that a setback in the progress?
RUGGIE: I don’t think it was a setback to U.S.-UN relations. I think it was a wake-up call to the U.S. that it cannot take being elected to various bodies for granted. It has to work to get elected. One of the great ironies-it is the second time in the last few years that the U.S. has been voted off a committee-is that members of Congress, some members of Congress then get up and say, “Well, we insist in the future of being on this committee. Otherwise we won’t pay our dues.” Which is very ironic because these are after all democratic elections. And to have the world’s leading democracy say, “We must be members of a committee” to which you actually have to be elected, is interesting to say the least. But I think it was a wake-up call. I think it was understood as such. And I think next time around the U.S. will work a little harder to be elected and I suspect that it will be.
MCHUGH: The American media refers to it as being “voted off.” But in fact it is a democratic election. Can you maybe explain the process to our audience?
RUGGIE: Well, there were-all of these elections allow for so many countries from different regions to be elected. The U.S. is in a group with Western Europe. And there were three openings for that group and there were four candidates. Now, traditionally what the UN would have-what the U.S. would have done in the past is try to persuade one of the other three to withdraw. But France was a shoo-in. And everyone acknowledged that France would get elected. And so that was a nonstarter. Austria had worked diligently for, for a couple of years to be elected to this and was clearly pulling ahead of the U.S. And that left Sweden. And the U.S. doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage over Sweden to begin with. And there was a great deal of resentment among part of the Europeans, among some of the Europeans, over the Bush Administration’s rejection of Kyoto, it’s rejection of the ABM Treaty, and the sort of cavalier way in which the U.S. was, was considered to be treating multilateral institutions. And so countries backed Sweden in the end over the United States.
It is, it was in some ways an unfortunate thing because the U.S. obviously belongs on the Human Rights Commission. It’s one of the world’s-it’s the world’s leading advocate of human rights issues. But at the same time, as I said, it was a wake-up call to the United States, that you can’t take the rest of the world for granted. Nor can you pursue multilateral issues ala carte, only when it pleases you. By definition multilateralism means give and take. And you can’t just expect support when you need it and not support others when they need it. And it’s a quid pro quo. It’s all part of the game and we didn’t play it well.
MCHUGH: Does the U.S. then really have an image problem in the halls of the UN?
RUGGIE: Somewhat. I think in, in part because of the lingering issue over the payments. Because the promise has been made so often, “Well, if you do this one more thing we will pay our bill.” And so that one more thing was done and then the U.S. would say, “Well, if you do this one extra thing, then we’ll pay our bills.” And this has been going on for years and I think other countries are sick and tired of it. Above all because there’s so little money involved. Ted Turner covered with a personal check the shortfall for this budget year, of the U.S. having reduced its dues. With a personal check. So the money we’re talking about is not large. But there is an issue of principal involved. Great Nations keep their promise. And the United States has not kept its promises.
MCHUGH: Outside of paying the dues what else can the United States do to bolster its image within the halls of the United Nations?
RUGGIE: I have never seen the U.S. lose an important issue which it really wanted to win on. And it would turn on all the spigots. And the Ambassador would work the halls and the State Department would work the foreign ministries back in the capitals and every once in a while the President would have to get involved in an issue. And when that happens the U.S. invariably wins. It just suggests again that you can’t take people for granted. You can’t take countries for granted. You’ve got to do your work. You’ve got to do the halls. You’ve got to do the calls. It’s corridor politics and Congress above all should understand that because that’s exactly how the Congress works as well.
MCHUGH: Since my interview with John Ruggie, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was elected by acclamation to a second five-year term. The election happened a full six months before his first term is due to expire. Ruggie says the early vote reflects the respect Annan has within the halls of the United Nations.
RUGGIE: Well, I’m hardly an unbiased observer. I’ve been there since just about the beginning. But I think the consensus is that it’s been an extraordinarily productive and successful term thus far. And I think that’s indicated by the fact that not only was there absolutely opposition to his having a second term, but the member states have decided to move up the election. It’s usually in December and that’s absolutely unprecedented. It’s never happened before. And I think it is a strong vote of confidence in Kofi Annan’s leadership of the United Nations. And the moral leadership, that there is such a craving for in the world.
MCHUGH: We have talked about UN reform for years and years and years. Will it ever happen?
RUGGIE: Well, it is happening. It’s happening very slowly. And one of the things I didn’t sufficiently well understand before I got to the UN myself, it’s very easy to say, “Well, the bureaucrats oppose this” and “The bureaucrats oppose that.” One of the things that struck me most is not what the bureaucrats oppose, but what the governments oppose. Kofi Annan, within six month of being elected had a very extensive reform program, which called upon a number of fundamental reforms in the Secretariat. But then also called upon member states to reform certain practices of their own. Including the organization of the agenda of the General Assembly, how the agenda is structured, and including budgetary and human, human resource reform. Well, the secretariat reforms went through unscathed, very quickly, within the first year that whole package essentially was in place.
Very little has been done on the member states front. And that includes the human resource issue. Governments still insist on protecting their nationals. If a national of a certain important country isn’t doing a good enough job and the Secretary General wants to get rid of him or her, there’s often difficulties involved. The member states feel that their pride is insulted and so on and so forth. Member states still insist on appointing their nationals to certain positions even though better qualified people may be available from elsewhere. Now this Secretary General has stood his ground on a number of occasions. But you can only fight so many battles. So there’s a long way to go on human resource management and a good chunk of the solution depends on member states just keeping their hands off the secretariat and allowing the Secretary General to do what he’s hired to do. Which is to run the organization on a day-to-day basis.
MCHUGH: If you had to do it all over again would you do it?
RUGGIE: Oh, yes! Without a thought. Without a hesitation. It was an extraordinary four years. And Kofi Annan is an extraordinary human being to work for. I’ve never met anyone like him. I’ve never admired or felt so much affection for a boss. It was just a fabulous four years. And it was an exciting time to be at the UN because of the transition that we are living through and the ability to make a difference, even if only on the margin, to how people view the UN and how they lead their daily lives.
MCHUGH: John Ruggie is a former UN Assistant Secretary General to Kofi Annan. He currently teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
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