The Ukraine crisis has compounded global problems, which started with United States’ sanctions on China. The pandemic, economic recovery and now the Ukraine factor have unsettled the world. The Ukraine crisis is not of the making of any of the developing countries, yet we are all to face its consequences.
There is an increasing securitization of the global order, rather than pursuit of functional agenda of trade, climate, public health and the like; countries are being forced to delink from Russia. Summits like the Quad, EU, NATO, G7 and BRICS have followed this trend. There are many summits though ostensibly they are to create common agendas.
Developing countries are constrained now, since we have to deal with the realities of unilateral sanctions not under United Nations auspices. We are asked to swear by the UN Charter but then the bigger powers ignore it at will.
The US-China rivalry which troubles ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) has spilled over into a revised US-Russia rivalry. The world is cleaved again. Strategic autonomy and a desire for a multi-polar world are the best options for the countries in the middle.
Periodically we are promised the benefits of globalization, of free trade, of new financing for green economies and for infrastructure. Yet when the time comes, developing countries who invested in globalization see the benefits shrink depending on the priorities of the developed countries. The World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting did not meet the good intentions in the various summit documents.
Currently, supply chains are in vogue. These include security supply chains and the emergence of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US) and a more robust Indo-Pacific policy that show that challenges to international rules will be met.
On economic issues, no more is labor arbitrage and cheap cost of production the only concerns for international business: the reliability of supply and dependability of the country as part of a supply chain are important factors.
In this, India and developing partners like ASEAN and Africa under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) must look more to each other, to enhance regional supply chains. Japan and Germany can play a role in a Chair multipolar order. Whatever the dependence of all of us on China or Russia for that matter, it is time to find alternatives among us. Discover ways to prevent supply chains from disruption and the benefits of globalization promised to us may be better served. No country can escape from the reality that China and the US are major economic partners. Choosing among them is an unfortunate call. Neither should they impose their preferences on our development priorities.
A higher level of economic integration, whether through the WTO or through the COPs, has not brought about better harmony globally. Neither has the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). The fragmentation underway now will not be easy to manage. Just as we prefer a strategic multipolar world, we have better chances of an economic multipolarity with several supply chains of more dependable countries.
For pharmaceuticals, vaccines, agricultural products and food grains India is well placed as a supplier. Six ASEAN countries and several African are importing from India. We need similar assured supplies for energy, fertilizers, components for solar panels, for rare earths… These need diversity to prevent disruption by natural disasters, internal disruption or sanctions by rivals of supplier countries
This implies that other countries should work together in a multipolar world so that everything is not determined only by a few countries. In this multipolar world, Japan, Germany, ASEAN and India all
play a role. We need to make sure that the world order will not be utilized by a few countries only for their own benefit. The rules agreed for all will be followed, and not changed when it suits them.
To deal with this, we need better communication and cooperation among the other poles of the global order so that a unipolar or bipolar world could be constrained.
There have been several summits recently. India participated in the BRICS summit followed by the G7 summit. In between was the Commonwealth Summit. A NATO summit followed. Later this year, there will be the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Summit and the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. An SCO Summit is in September.
The G20 summit will be held in November. The churning in the world due to the pandemic, the requirements of post-pandemic recovery, the convulsions due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequent disruption of the world economy are all being scrutinized.
Their impact is undeniable but not always predictable. The looming recession, a rise in interest rates in the US and in Europe and rising energy, food grain and fertilizer prices are all compounding the problems that the world finds itself in.
Despite these convulsions, developing countries within the G20 must come together to prevent an erosion of another multilateral body in which we are all invested. This year, Indonesia is the Chair, in 2023, it will be India and in 2024, Brazil will be the Chair.
India deftly kept abreast of the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis and despite initial criticism of its abstentions on the UN regarding Russia, it succeeded in getting its point of view understood by the G7 countries. The invitation to India to attend the G7 as a guest was a manifestation that Indian diplomacy had quietly done its work. The fact that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi could attend the BRICS summit with Russia and China and then go to the G7 summit showed that India, along with countries like Indonesia, South Africa and Argentina could be a bridge.
The strategic autonomy to deal with the increasing Big Power rivalry requires a path of dealing with everybody without exclusion. Since the larger multilateral organizations are not providing adequate relief to countries as a united entity there are more regional and related plurilaterals emerging. It is in out interest to remain strategically autonomous, build trust and confidence and take each decision as warranted by choice not alignment.
By Gurjit Singh – The writer is an author and former ambassador.