Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.
Actionable Policy Points:
- India must assume greater global responsibility
- India must help set global governance rules / agenda
- India must be more assertive in foreign policy
- India must use multilateral organizations to lobby its interests
India’s status as a global power is increasingly recognized with the possibility for New Delhi assuming greater responsibility to address global challenges. Participants at a recent discussion at Brookings India provided insights into India’s role and contribution in global governance, as well as the patterns and pathologies which characterize India’s engagement with global governance institutions. The conclusion reached was that India is unlikely to accept global rules blindly, and will increasingly act as both a stake-holder and share-holder in the system of global governance.
The panelists – which included Ambassador David M. Malone, Rector of the United Nations University and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations; Ambassador Hardeep Puri, former Permanent Representative of India to the a United Nations and Senior Advisor, International Peace Institute; and Lord Karan Bilimoria, House of Lords, UK – discussed key constraints India faces in becoming an effective rule-shaper in global affairs, and the role other powers , notably Great Britain, can play in partnering with India to make global governance institutions more effective.
India has been relatively successful in maintaining bilateral relations with key partners. However, not so successful with regards to maintaining longer term commitments to multilateral relations. Each country has a set or bilateral relations which are critical to it, as is the case with India. India’s relationship with China is one such example, with China being India’s largest trading partner, despite several contentious issues. However, India also sees multilateral organizations as a means of promoting its values and interests, perhaps that is why India is attracted to regional and plurilateral groupings, with a possibility of adopting a sectoral approach to trade. India has also played a major role in multilateral organizations particularly in UN Peacekeeping. Thus, India has a major role to play in the global context and have a significant impact in terms of providing expertise as well as manpower for peace operations worldwide.
Despite a significant presence in peacekeeping missions, India appears to be hesitant to further pursue its interests in multilateral platforms. This could stem from limited capacity of Foreign Service officers as compared to countries such as the United Kingdom. The UK is well represented in multilateral institutions, thus, is able to make use of such institutions such as the U.N. Security Council in furthering its own interests. India on the other hand, with a low representation, sees multilateral institutions as means of serving its values rather than interests.
India also tends to be cautious in articulating the rationale for its policies. There is a case of strategic hesitation, which comes across in India’s bilateral, plurilateral, and multilateral relations. Such an approach can be detrimental in establishing India’s position in becoming an effective rule-shaper in global affairs. An interesting insight on India’s inability to shape global affairs can be attributed to the lack of clarity in voicing its opinions on key issues. The United Kingdom, a country smaller in size to India, had a significant role to play in determining the US intervention in Syria. India can take lessons from this, and become more vocal in its stand on foreign policy and articulate its policies better. India does not need to pretend to speak for the developing world, as its interests are different from that of its neighbors, and needs to take a stand and protect those interests.
One such global policy where India can have a significant impact is Climate Change negotiations. With regards to policies around Climate Change most countries have adopted defensive strategies in order to protect their interests. India, along with China, has shown a lack of commitment with regards to the climate change agenda. However, over the coming years it is expected that there will be a change in international diplomacy with China becoming more open to discussing the Climate Change issue. India can take advantage of this and focus its strategy on pursuing its own interests in this regard, thus, having a significant impact in determining the course of the Climate Change agenda.
A major point of contention in the context of global governance is the outdated nature of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations with a need for reform especially within the UN Security Council. There is a strong possibility that sometime in future, India along with Brazil, Nigeria, and South Africa could be a great combination on the UN Security Council.
If India is to be more effective in global governance and cement its role as a rule-shaper, there is a need for India to be clear on how multilateral institutions can contribute to furthering its own interests. India also needs to address its strategic hesitation in deciding its foreign policy agenda as well as being able to articulate new policies on a global platform. Internal reforms are essential if India is to have an impact in global governance and to further its own interests.