The story of Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations
“You think we don’t trust India. That is not true. We believe that India is the only country that can help us to achieve our natural aspirations. But any hesitation on India’s part to get us into the UNO naturally raises suspicion among our people.”
Her Majesty Gyalyum Kesang Choeden Wangchuck expressed her concerns to India’s Foreign Secretary, TN Kaul (1913-2000). “I can assure you that once India gets us into the UNO, there’ll be no suspicions, but complete trust between us.”
Kaul was a frequent visitor to Bhutan. He served as India’s Foreign Secretary from 1967 to 1972. Considered one of India’s foremost diplomats of the 20th century, he also earned himself a reputation as a scholar.
In his book ‘Diplomacy in Peace and War, Recollections and Reflections’, the Foreign Secretary said he earned and enjoyed the trust of Bhutan’s King and Queen and also had their ears.
“I listened with respect and attention. She [Her Majesty] was educated in Darjeeling and spoke beautiful English. I told her of the King’s desire not to rush into the UNO of which she was already aware.” Kaul recorded details of his conversation with Her Majesty in his book.
According to Kaul, Her Majesty did not hesitate to tell him that it was, therefore, best to have Bhutan’s sovereign status recognised internationally. Kaul said that Her Majesty was frank with him and said this in her soft, subtle and diplomatic way.
Like Her Majesty, Kaul was also honest with his opinion. In his book, he mentions that the Queen was made to believe by some that India might absorb Bhutan one day. The fear had been further heightened after Pandit Nehru took over the mantle of leadership in India.
During that visit to Bhutan, Kaul assured the Queen that India did not wish to stand in the way of Bhutan’s joining the U.N.
Reporting to Her Majesty, Kaul informed her that India wanted to prepare the ground. They wanted to canvass support for the membership to ensure that it did not fall through, as had happened with Bhutan’s first attempt to secure membership of the Universal Postal Union.
India’s Foreign Secretary reported that the Queen was firm and informed him that, “as long as Bhutan was not in the UNO, people would think India did not want it there.”
In his book, Kaul mentions that, despite the King’s explicit trust in India, the Queen wanted assurances of this trust from India. Her Majesty insisted that the only way to instil proof that there were no motives to absorb Bhutan into the Indian federation was for India to sponsor Bhutan’s admission into the United Nations. The admission would clear all doubts and leave no ground for Bhutanese to hold suspicions of an important neighbour.
On 21 September 1971, Bhutan formally became a member of the vast comity of independent nations. Her Majesty told Kaul, that from then on there would be no misgivings about India.
In his book, Kaul wrote, “So far this seems to have proved correct and the main irritant in our relations is out of the way. Whether this will lead to closer cooperation and friendship depends largely on India and Bhutan.”
Kaul used to visit Bhutan at the King’s invitation at least twice or even thrice a year. Her Majesty distinctly remembers Kaul’s beautiful daughter accompanying her father on these important trips.
During these visits, he would be granted an audience with Their Majesties the King and Queen. They would have long discussions, which would range from the official to the personal.
Over time the relationship evolved into a personal one. Kaul’s son, Pradeep Kaul confirmed this close relationship. He said that his father had the warmest and most cordial relations with the Royal family of Bhutan since the 1960s.
The relationship was so cordial, that the King and the Queen could share their thoughts with ease on many matters. In his book, Kaul wrote, “I respected this confidence of each and in turn received theirs.”
During his several visits to Bhutan, Kaul observed and mentioned in his book that, after the assassination of the King’s able Prime Minister, Jigme Dorji in 1964, there was great pressure on the King to join the UNO from the Queen and the educated class.
Kaul wrote in his book that the King wanted a gradual approach. He based the efforts on the country’s capabilities to participate meaningfully in international forums.
Kaul mentions about reporting all of his conversations to his Prime Minister whose trust he enjoyed completely. Nehru’s response was that New Delhi would support Bhutan’s membership. He also agreed with the King’s gradual approach.
The King’s Gradual Approach
His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo, initiated the phased membership. First, Bhutan became a member of the Colombo Plan. This was followed by joining the Universal Postal Union and finally, we joined the United Nations.
The first move to secure a seat at the UN was made in 1966. During His Majesty’s state visit to India, he expressed the country’s interest to join the world body with India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
According to The Hindustan Times, dated 21 May, the King in his inaugural address to the National Assembly (held in Paro at the time) referred to the talks he had in New Delhi recently. The article mentions that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had assured him of all possible assistance in this regard.
Quoting His Majesty, the Third Druk Gyalpo, the newspaper states, “when Bhutan was in a position to meet the UN obligations, India would sponsor its membership.”
The newspaper reported that some members, however, criticised the Indian position and said that India should have been willing to sponsor Bhutan’s membership “immediately.”
The Chief Secretary and the speaker of the Bhutanese Assembly counter reacted. In an informal chat, the duo clarified with their Indian counterparts that there was a “big fund of goodwill” for India in Bhutan.
To follow up on the discussions, His Majesty sent Prince Namgyal Wangchuck to New Delhi. The delegation met with the top brass. The details were reported to the National Assembly on 22nd September, 1966.
In 1967, the National Assembly first discussed the idea of joining the United Nations. It passed a resolution that the country should join the United Nations. In accordance with this resolution, Bhutan sought India’s support.
Kuensel reported, “On assurance received from India of her whole-hearted support for Bhutan’s admission, Bhutan sent our application to the Secretary General of the United Nations”.
In 1969, the National Assembly again discussed Bhutan’s membership to the United Nations. According to the Resolutions adopted of the meeting held on 27th May, 1969, members expressed that since time immemorial Bhutan had remained independent and peace-loving.
In keeping with Bhutan’s wishes, the Government of India agreed to sponsor its membership to the United Nations. However, the matter was left pending for a long period of time.
Having been entrusted by the National Assembly to move the process forward, Prince Namgyal Wangchuck discussed the matter with the Government of India once again.
This time, the Prince was successful and the Royal Government was able to secure the country’s membership of the United Nations during the 25th session of the United Nations General Assembly, held in September 1970.
In 1971, during the National Assembly held on 27th October 1971, the august house was informed about Bhutan’s admission as the 128th member of the United Nations.
The minutes of the Assembly recorded, “Bhutan’s inclusion in the world community of nations was made possible by its own initiative backed by the goodwill and kind assistance by the Government of India.”
The Indian Foreign Secretary said that Bhutan’s admission to the United Nations further anchored Indo-Bhutan relations on a firm footing for the decades to come. Today, the relationship has become a model for relations between a big and a small country.