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Last updated: 27 Mar, 2023  

G20.thmb.jpg Reformed Multilateralism

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D.C. Pathak | 27 Mar, 2023
It is an established principle that if you get the 'macro-picture' right you will be less troubled by 'details' - even when some of them look unsettling at first sight. It is a sign of civilisational confidence of India that it has for its G20 Presidency adopted the motto - 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam', which means 'the whole world is one family'.

Nothing can be more comprehensive and higher as the global mission for a world conference, than this thought embracing the entire humanity. A basic advantage here - from India's point of view - is that any 'small thinking' will show itself to all, producing if anything, a certain degree of embarrassment for the dissenter. It is in line with this approach that India favours reformed Multilateralism as a desirable idea to define international relations.

In one word this is multilateralism that produces a positive environment and no negative fall out at all. It goes to the credit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that his foreign policy is marked by a consistent adherence to three seminal ideas that added up to this kind of multilateralism.

First is India's belief in a multi-polar world. This helps to diffuse the danger of the reappearance of the Cold War that was basically the product of a bipolar world order.

Multiplicity of major powers makes it more likely that they would make a competitive contribution for improving the world economy and global peace - in their keenness to project a good image for themselves, internationally.

It is India's independent foreign policy that made Prime Minister Modi the first world leader to reach out to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and advise them upfront to stop the armed conflict in favour of negotiated peace.

Through the year long Ukraine-Russia confrontation, India has retained its image as a world counsel for peace because it maintained that 'this is not an era of war', abstained from anti-Russia resolutions in the UN and also did not endorse the supply of war equipment and arms to Ukraine by the US-led West in the proxy mode that had only prolonged the war-like situation.

India maintains that concerns of both Russia and Ukraine have to be addressed for working out a peace pact between the two neighbours. Significantly, India has in this period maintained the best of relations with the US, the UK and Europe and with a strategic finesse checked the drift of the world towards another Cold War between US on one hand and the Russia-China combine, on the other.

The second point about India's foreign policy that paved the way for a reformed multilateralism is that the latter is a natural by-product of India's favoured option of going in for bilateral relations which were mutually beneficial to both sides in terms of economic and security interests. This policy effortlessly pursued by the Modi regime had ensured that bilateral relations were not at the cost of any other country.

The Sino-Pak axis on the other hand follows an opposite philosophy as it is geared to executing plans 'against' India. The unholy alliance between a Marxist dictatorship and a fundamentalist regime is driven by hostility towards this country and is a perpetual threat not only to the security of South Asia but to that of the entire democratic order.

For upholding the case of Pakistan in Afghanistan, China has in fact entered into a give-and-take arrangement with Pakistan on Taliban Emirate and even gone along with the Pak-sponsored faith- based terrorism that threatened global security.

Western democracies led by the US must realise that the motivation of faith that Islamic extremists and radicals brought to bear on the new global terror, has created a perpetual danger for the entire world. This threat had to be countered jointly by all peace-loving countries through exchange of Intelligence and coordinated action.

Extremism in the name of Islam can enforce an 'asymmetric' war because the motivation here was strong enough to produce 'suicide bombers' to take down the opponent. India with its transparent advocacy of 'all religions being given equal respect' provides a standing counter to the 'supremacist' outlook of a particular faith - in the process it is best placed to act as the anchor of world security against the new threat of radicalisation.

Even as the agenda of G20 is exclusively about economic growth and elimination of the crippling gulf between the North and South, security concerns plaguing the world have also to be addressed during India's Presidency of the event.

It is a matter of great satisfaction that G20 outreach is designed to fulfil the task of shaping both the global economy as well as world security. To go about it in a mission mode carries the stamp of the Modi government - the latter in fact was living up to the 'sabjan sukhaye sabjan hitaye' philosophy.

Finally, 'multilateralism' is not 'alignment' - it is in fact a negation of the latter. An alignment is always 'against' somebody or some country. Reformed multilateralism does not create conflict and India goes for it with that mindset.

India is an active participant in Quad because this forum stands for 'maintenance of rules based order in the Indo-Pacific' - it is not against any particular country but against unwarranted aggressiveness wherever it came from. It needs to be mentioned that India's bilateral relations with the US, Japan and Australia are on an upswing independently of the geopolitical objective of Quad.

If India also sees in it a preemptive arrangement to counter any hostile encroachment in the Indian Ocean, there is nothing wrong with it. Since China seeks to 'win a war without fighting a battle' through the strategy of salami slicing, India has every right to expose and put down that hidden agenda of the adversary and do whatever it takes to counter it.

India is working for the return of sanity in international relations and is set to improve upon the traditional thinking of somehow preserving national interests even when that meant not caring for the global commons. India has an opportunity of playing this profound role at the world stage and it is a matter of pride that Prime Minister Modi had the political will to rally the international opinion in favour of maintaining global peace so that the cause of economic advancement of the world as a whole, could be served.

In a way the slogan of 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas' at home is in complete sync with the G20 call of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam'. If it can establish the feasibility of reconciliation between national growth and human advancement across the globe, G20 would be achieving an unprecedented mission where the world would truly be one- eliminating the menace of conflict and divisions forced in the name of religion, region and race. This would be happening for the first time in the post- Cold War era. Think20 is providing the much needed ideation to the G20 events to enable the latter to fulfil this mission.

Bilateralism enlarging into multilateralism without causing harm to any national entity is perhaps a political philosophy whose time had come - it shows the determination at the national level, to do what was right. While every nation has to have military strength to safeguard its sovereignty, seeking prosperity and gains through arms export and economic destruction of a rival has its limitations - those having such a mindset should realise that.

Some countries will always be richer than others but they all must work for a sustainable human existence in order to minimise conflict and violence that detracted from the idea of making the world a better place for everybody.

The good news is that the approach of India steers clear of ideological contradictions that had marred international and national politics so far and shows a new light to the world on the strength of its civilisational moorings.

Democracy ultimately is rule for the people and whether it is the regional setting that produced the Ukraine- Russia armed conflict or an alliance like Sino-Pak axis that was driven by malice against India, the vision set by the thought of universal good and human dignity would win the battle for the people.

India has set this higher mission and there is every hope that at the end of India's G20 Presidency it will make a difference to the world. The world can do with injecting some 'philosophy' of life in 'realpolitik'.

To sum up, India has come of age as a major power influencing geopolitical trends. It is an advocate of world peace but also a believer in a firm rebuttal of the attempts of a few to disturb it for their own vested interests or hegemonist traits. It looks upon multilateralism as a constructive pathway to economic well- being that would keep the international community from armed combat and destruction.

Competitive success in the economy may bring in advantages but these should not lead to a temptation for usurping other 'territories' or 'subjugating' people. Prime Minister Modi's pithy reminder that this is not an era of war, has made an impact on the world and certainly checked the trend of third parties covertly adding fuel to the fire in an ongoing conflict.

Peace brings in long-term gains while wars produce losses for all parties. A complication in the times we live in, has risen because of the advent of proxy wars that technology - particularly social media and cyber space - had aided. It enabled covert offensives to succeed in creating a sense of victory in combat because violence and destruction went undetected or remained unattributable in specific terms.

Multilateralism has therefore, not only to facilitate mutual economic advancement but also highlight the importance of exchange of Intelligence for countering terrorism and other forms of proxy war. It stands to reason that liaison at the level of National Security Advisors so successfully achieved by India, is becoming the bedrock of India's international relations and foreign policy strategies. This confirms the reality that global security presaged the world's economic development and that the two had to be pursued with equal vigour.

(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau. Views expressed are personal)
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