India’s Warm Ties With US Not Reflected in Its Voting at U.N.

Patrick Goodenough | June 9, 2016 | 4:21am EDT
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gestures with the traditional Indian greeting as he is applauded during his address to a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a warm reception from the U.S. Congress on Wednesday as he hailed close ties and called the U.S. an “indispensable partner” – but voting patterns at the United Nations show that the world’s two biggest democracies continue to differ on a number of issues of key importance to the U.S.

In recent years, India’s voting record at the world body has often been closer to those of countries that have serious policy differences with the U.S., than it has been to those of close allies.

Under U.S. law the State Department compiles an annual report on U.N. voting practices, which focuses among other things on a small number of resolutions on “issues which directly affected United States interests and on which the United States lobbied extensively.”

The most recent report, released last July and covering votes in 2014, identified 13 key resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly, which came to a vote between October and December of that year.  (Modi became prime minister in May 2014.)

In those 13 crucial votes, India’s vote coincided with that of the United States only 25 percent of the time.

That voting coincidence was even less frequent than those of several countries whose policies and government systems are far more obviously at odds with those of the U.S., such as Russia (28.6 percent); Sudan, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela (33.3 percent each); and Burma and Vietnam (36.4 percent each).

The only member-states whose votes on the 13 issues coincided with those of the U.S. on fewer occasions than India’s were Egypt (20 percent), Zimbabwe (20 percent), Cuba (18.2 percent), Pakistan (12.5 percent), China (11.1 percent), Iran (10 percent), and North Korea and Syria (0 percent each).

At the other end of the scale, Israel’s vote coincided with the U.S. position 100 percent of the time; Australia and Canada’s 92.3 percent of the time each; and most European allies’ 90 percent of the time.

The 13 important resolutions pinpointed in the State Department’s report for 2014 included measures on human rights abuses in Iran, the U.S. embargo of Cuba, a measure called “towards a New International Economic Order” – a “solidarity” resolution which the U.S. opposes as dated and counterproductive – and three resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

On all six of those measures, India voted the opposite way to the U.S.

On another five resolutions – relating to ballistic missile proliferation, nuclear weapons elimination, the nuclear test ban treaty, human rights abuses in North Korea, and human rights abuses in Syria – the U.S. voted in favor while India abstained.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves as he arrives to address a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

And on the remaining two resolutions, dealing with entrepreneurship for development, and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, India and the U.S. voted the same way.

India’s voting pattern at the U.N. was similar in 2013 – 25 percent coincidence with the U.S., on a slightly different group of State Department-identified key resolutions.

Still, that marks an improvement from earlier years – 14.3 percent voting coincidence with the U.S. in 2012, 0 percent in 2011, and 14.3 percent in 2010.

India tilted towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was a stalwart of the Non-Aligned Movement, a grouping of developing nations whose interests were often at odds with those of the West.

But the past decade has seen the U.S. move to strengthen military, economic and diplomatic ties with India, and a Bush-era landmark civilian nuclear cooperation deal was hailed as a significant strategic initiative, although it has been slow to move ahead. Modi during his speech on Capitol Hill said the 2008 agreement had “changed the very colors of leaves of our relationship.”

Modi described the U.S. as “an indispensable partner,” and predicted that “our relationship is primed for a momentous future.”

The prime minister acknowledged that there would sometimes be differences between the two countries.

“As we deepen our partnership, there would be times when we would have differing perspectives,” Modi said. “But, since our interests and concerns converge, the autonomy in decision making and diversity in our perspectives can only add value to our partnership.”

Along with several other nations – Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa among them – India has for years been seeking a permanent seat on a revamped U.N. Security Council.

Discussions on reforming the council, which still reflects the international balance of power as it was when the U.N. was established after World War II, have long been held up by regional enmities and differences of opinion among the current five permanent members.

Washington’s response to the campaign by aspiring members has been cautious. President George W. Bush backed Japan’s bid, and during a visit to New Delhi in 2010 President Obama endorsed a permanent council seat for India, “in the years ahead.”

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