In a fractured world, India’s firm stance and critical role
Chairing the G20 and SCO summits gives India a unique, historic opportunity. We could present to others the Indian model of non-zero-sum multilateralism and multi-alignment in a currently fragmented multipolar world
Since 1963, key international policy figures have gathered at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) for deliberations on collective global security. Though the platform never lost its transatlantic character, participation expanded with time, comprising all major geographies and countries. This year, unsurprisingly, the conflict in Ukraine was at the centre of all discussions. The war has shaken to the core the western world’s foundational security and economic paradigms.
On the one hand, the United States (US) and European Union (EU) have acted in unison, bringing together a powerful coalition of nations to assist Ukraine with funds and weapons, and constraining Russia with sanctions. On the other hand, however, some fault lines are widening, such as the ones between the Anglosphere of the US and the United Kingdom (UK), and the big two in the EU: France and Germany. President Emmanuel Macron distanced himself from the others when he called for negotiations to end the conflict and rejected any French support for regime change attempts in Russia. Germany had made a seismic shift from its once pacifist security policy with Zeitenwende, an additional €100 billion emergency spending plan to boost its military. Europe’s largest economy, however, was driven by low-cost Russian energy and is affected. Even the much-sanctioned Russian economy is projected by the International Monetary Fund to grow at a greater rate than Germany and the UK in 2023. With increasing economic difficulties and rising public dissatisfaction, democracies where governments need favourable election mandates to continue in power find it increasingly challenging to support their war efforts unequivocally.
These trends are worrisome for Taiwan, with the island doubting the capability of the western world to assist during any probable Chinese aggression after being exhausted in their efforts to support the long-drawn-out war in Ukraine. Taiwan is swiftly fortifying its defensive capabilities. Japan and South Korea are ramping up their defence spending, considering the increasing aggressiveness of China and North Korea in the South China Sea. A recent Australian Strategic Policy Institute tracker shows that China leads in 37 of the 44 critical technologies. The US is escalating restrictions on the Chinese high-tech ecosystem to slow them. The unipolar world led by the US is transforming into the age of blocs, similar to the Cold War era, with one led by Washington and Brussels, and another by Beijing and Moscow.
India’s stance during the conflict has been aligned with our core interests. Many countries in the Global South took a similar stand because of their complex reasons, historical and geopolitical. During his meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand in 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that this is not the time for war. However, India managed to avoid additional budgetary pressures by ensuring that we receive fuel and fertilisers at a discounted rate from Russia. By continuing our defence collaborations, we avoided disruptions in our preparedness. Russia is our biggest armament supplier. It also leads in the defence sector’s technology transfers into India, bolstering our indigenisation drive. By maintaining good relations with all stakeholders of the Ukraine conflict, India has acknowledged its neutrality and could contribute towards finding a diplomatic solution to this devastation.
India is perceived to be in a pole position in creating structures and frameworks that could navigate through this fast-emerging multipolar world. India’s relationship with the US is solid, with increasing collaborations in trade, defence, and high technology. We are investing considerable efforts in the Quad framework and are forming strategic partnerships with like-minded naval powers to secure our maritime interests. We are also partnering with countries, including France, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for developmental projects in Africa and South America.
The global economy’s centre of gravity, which was in the mid-Atlantic in the 1980s, is projected to be between India and China by 2050. Keeping this trajectory in mind, we are active participants and contributors to BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We have, however, stayed away from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as it has projects planned in Indian territories illegally occupied by Pakistan. India is attempting to play a more significant role in West Asia, working through partners like the UAE, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, sensing an opportunity in the vacuum created by the US pivoting away from this region. Meanwhile, we are working with Iran, Russia, and other Central Asian countries to stabilise Afghanistan and prevent turbulence from spilling beyond that country. These efforts have yielded rich dividends, with India now being in a once unimaginable position of sharing a better relationship with Afghanistan than Pakistan, reducing our continental security concerns.
Chairing the G20 and SCO summits gives India a unique, historic opportunity. We could present to others the Indian model of non-zero-sum multilateralism and multi-alignment, and lay the seeds of a formal framework. This would prevent or minimise conflicts during competition and maximise collective prosperity and security through cooperation in a fragmented multipolar world.
Anil K Antony is a public policy commentator, a graduate of Stanford University, and is a Munich Young Leader, 2023, Munich Security Conference, and Korber Stiftung
The views expressed are personal