The United Kingdom has had a judge in the International Court of Justice since the ICJ was founded in 1945. This long-running membership ended with the 2017 ICJ elections, where the UK lost its International Court of Justice place to India. As of February 6th, 2018, this is the first time the International Court of Justice has been in session without a British member. The change has ended more than 70 years of British input. Five judges were up for re-election last year.
Britain’s judge, Sir Christopher Greenwood, was one of them, hoping to win re-election for his second 9-year term and he expected to win. The issue was created when Lebanon’s former ambassador decided to run unexpectedly and gained enough support that he took one of the seats that were reserved for Asia. This left 5 judges fighting for 4 seats. Since the Asian seat had already been taken, the Indian candidate, Dalveer Bhandari, challenged the UK and decided to run for the seat normally reserved for Europeans. The issue was that while the United Kingdom had the support of the Security Council, India had the support of the General Assembly. In order to secure a seat, a candidate must have majority support in both the Security Council and the General Assembly.
After a number of votes, there was a deadlock. The UK eventually backed away from the seat, fearing the competition would become too bitter and potentially disrupt the UK’s economic relations with India. The UK is viewing this as a foreign policy and diplomatic failure. In a report released by the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee, it is stated that this will damage the UK’s international influence and future foreign policy strategy.
According to The National:
“'The committee has heard a number of possible reasons why the UK’s election campaign ended in failure. The most concerning was that it was an indication that the international standing of the UK was diminished, and specifically that there had been a fall in what Lord Hannay, former UK Permanent Representative to the UN, called the ‘trepidation index’- the extent to which countries worry about trampling on the UK’s toes.' Turning to Theresa May’s Brexit vision of 'Global Britain,' it says this 'must emphasize its commitment to the international rule of law, one of the UK’s strengths as a global player,' adding: 'This makes the loss of the UK judge particularly damaging, and worrying. It is bad enough that the UK will not have a judge for this term; a longer absence from the ICJ would be seriously damaging to UK interests.'”
Not only is this significant for the UK itself, but I believe it is a step in the right direction for the international community, as it reflects a shift in power at the UN away from the Security Council. Many members of the General Assembly resent the way the Security Council has so much power, particularly the five permanent members. The Group of 77, which represents a coalition of mostly developing nations, has long been pushing for greater influence. The victory of India over the United Kingdom in the ICJ election shows a shift in power that the G-77 are sure to be exceedingly happy with.