Perils of new multilateralism

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Source: The post is based on the article “Perils of new multilateralism” published in The Hindu on 6th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.

Relevance: About India’s participation in multilateral institutions.

News: The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting was held recently in Goa. This SCO meeting serves to underline India’s current geopolitical dilemma.

What are the issues with India’s participation in multilateral institutions?

Issues with India’s participation in Western institutions: Not only western institutions but also the western governments’ are criticising India’s record on human rights, civil liberties and minorities.

The only places India can seek refuge are the organisations China founded or dominates.

Issues with India’s participation in China-dominated institutions: China, Russia, and India are common to SCO, BRICS and RIC (Russia-India-China) groups. All these three multilateral organisations have come up in the two decades when both India and China have grown phenomenally.

The common factor in all three forums is the pre-eminence of China and Russia as its loyal follower. This highlights the quality of multilateralism and multilateral institutions India is part of.

This is because, a) India is forced to spend so much time and energy, and invest so much political capital, in a grouping where it has so many serious clashes of interest, b) On border debates, India would be seen as rude to Pakistan as China itself have border disputes with India, c) These bodies, the SCO in particular, given its military-strategic priorities, do not help India’s quest for strategic autonomy. Instead, they only limit that.

Other regional institutions: Over the decades, India has failed even to build a regional forum of its own to create a sense of geopolitically limited multilateralism. For instance, the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has been rendered mostly defunct.

Read more: G20 meet shows a deepening crisis in multilateralism

What should be done to revive India’s participation in multilateral institutions?

SAARC should be expanded to include other major nations in the region. Such as, Afghanistan, Thailand, the Central Asian republics, Iran, and Russia.

As an instinctive reaction to Western institutions and governments’ and Chinese dominant institutions, India should focus on non-alignment to attain strategic autonomy.

Must read: India’s Approach to Multilateralism – Explained, pointwise
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