UNITED NATIONS (IPS) - When the 15-member Security Council meets next January, the United Nations will celebrate a rare political landmark: the 10 rotating non-permanent members will include some of the world's rising new players on the global stage, including India, South Africa, Germany, Brazil and Nigeria -- all sitting under one roof and negotiating around the legendary horseshoe table.
With the five major powers -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain -- already holding veto-wielding permanent seats, the U.N.'s most powerful political body is destined to be even more powerful next year -- at least theoretically.
The 192-member General Assembly on Tuesday elected five new non-permanent members, including two who have long been on a short list of four countries persistently knocking at the Security Council door seeking permanent seats: India and Germany.
Of the other two, Brazil ends its two-year non-permanent status by the end of 2011 while Japan ends its term in December this year.
South Africa, which is a prime non-declared candidate for a permanent seat representing the African region, was also elected to a non-permanent seat in the Security Council.
The line-up for next year will also include two emerging powerful political blocs: Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICs) and India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA).
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a diplomat from a developing country told IPS it will be a "test" of the Council's effectiveness -- whether the presence of potential permanent members makes a real difference to the work of the Council.
"Will they be able to get the Council to think out of the box and deal with the pressing problems of international peace and security in a more effective way?" he asked. "We will only know the answer in a year or so."
India, which was elected for 2011-2012, has served six terms as a non-permanent member; Germany has served four terms; Brazil and Japan 10 terms each, the longest tenures in the history of the Security Council, with Argentina ranking next with eight terms. But permanent seats keep eluding them all because of the sharp division of opinion among member states -- and the reluctance of the five permanent members to widen their elite circle.
Proving its political clout in the international arena, India polled the largest number of votes, 187 (out of a possible 192), at Tuesday's elections followed by Colombia (186 votes), South Africa (182 votes), Portugal (150 votes) and Germany (128 votes). The number of votes needed was 127.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was the withdrawal of Canada, which was trailing behind Portugal, for a seat reserved for the West European group.
India's U.N. ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters the election "reinforces our commitment to work in the Council, along with others, on issues to which we have always given priority."
India's External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who was in New York last month for the General Assembly sessions, personally spoke to foreign ministers of more than 123 countries -- the most intense lobbying effort by an Indian minister in such a short span.
Puri, who continued the campaign, was determined to obtain the largest number of votes for India.
When India ran against Japan for a non-permanent seat in the Security Council back in October 1996, it suffered a major defeat. The vote was a whopping 142 for Japan and a measly 40 for India. By U.N. standards, it was a disaster.
When a U.N. correspondent asked visiting opposition leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his reaction, the onetime Indian prime minister made the telling comment: "The defeat was shocking. The margin was devastating."
Since the voting was by secret ballot, most of the countries that pledged their votes, including in writing, reneged on their promises.
Japan, on the other hand, using its economic clout and increased aid pledges, succeeded in garnering more votes at the expense of India.
India, one of the world's nuclear powers, redeemed itself later when it was elected to the Human Rights Council with the highest number of votes for the Asian slate of candidates (173), compared with Bangladesh (160), Pakistan (149) and Sri Lanka (123).
Asked for his comments, India's former U.N. ambassador Nirupam Sen told an Indian reporter rather gleefully: "It is poetic justice that the largest democracy (in the world) should have the largest pool of votes."
But the India that ran for office on Tuesday was a country with superpower status in Asia. It is also a one-time aid recipient turned key donor.
At the United Nations, India has also been one of the most vociferous campaigners for the expansion of the Security Council.
"Permanent members are expected to act in such a manner that transcends narrow national interests when dealing with issues relating to international peace and security," said Puri.
"It is, therefore, important that the category of permanent membership reflect contemporary realities and include adequate representation from all regions of the world," he told delegates recently.
Conspicuous by their absence
Pointing out the need for a radical change in the politically lopsided composition of the Security Council, Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri cited a keynote address to students at Columbia University last March by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In a series of rhetorical questions, Sarkozy asked: "Do you know that not a single African country is a permanent member of the Security Council? (And yet the continent has a billion inhabitants).
"Do you know that not a single Arab country (although the Arab world has about a hundred million inhabitants) is a permanent member of the Security Council?"
"Do you know that India, with a billion inhabitants, and becoming the world's most populous nation in 30 years time is not a permanent member of the Security Council?"
Sarkozy also pointed out that Japan, the world's third-largest economy, is not a permanent member of the Security Council either, nor is there a single Latin American country as a permanent member of the Security Council?
"How can anyone expect us to resolve major crises, major wars and major conflicts within the framework of the U.N. without Africa, without three-quarters of Asia, without Latin America and without a single Arab country?
"Is that reasonable? Is that sensible? Is it even imaginable? Who can believe that?" the French president asked.
After citing Sarkozy, who heads a country which is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, Puri said the key issue - namely regional representation - has particular relevance in the contemporary international system.
"I say this because of the sheer inability of the U.N. system to grasp the significance of the changes in the international landscape since World War II," he said.