China has signalled it will prevent India from assuming leadership of the Global South, observes Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was only half right when he said, ‘Old order changeth, yielding place to the new.’
The kind of peaceful transition of the world from the old to the new hardly takes place. It takes cataclysmic changes to end an entrenched system even if it is proved time and again that it has outlived its relevance and effectiveness.
This is the reason why no reform has been possible for the multilateral system even after the dreadful events in the first decades of the 21st century, like 9/11, economic meltdown, pandemic, Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The heroic efforts made by India in the last one year to build some building blocks for the new world order dazzled the world and it appeared that the G20 Delhi summit had made irreversible changes in the old word order.
The innumerable commentaries around the world welcomed the changes, but the custodians of the old order stopped short of endorsing the changes and merely kept applauding India on the initiatives in the conviction that correctives would be applied along the way.
It was only China which signalled its disapproval by the absence of its leader in Delhi.
But it had served notice by questioning some of the changes in procedures including the adoption of the theme unilaterally in a non-UN language.
Having called for reformed multilateralism, including the expansion of the Security Council as an important building block of the new global architecture, India virtually redrew the lines of multilateralism in ways which have not been possible through innumerable negotiations since the end of the Cold War.
Most new ideas of reform were discussed at length, but the conservativeness of the UN prevailed.
Game-changing proposals embodied in the UN resolutions were set aside as the permanent members saw the new proposals undermining their privileged positions.
India changed the role of the chairman from a mere organiser to a leader who shaped the agenda.
The traditional way of the secretariat drawing up drafts for the conferences was set aside by the chairman by consulting more than 125 countries directly, bringing them together in an extraordinary consultative process and carrying their consensus to the summit.
The results should be an incentive to make the Indian model of chairmanship a new norm in multilateralism.
India made it clear that just a few countries determining the agenda and intimidating others to follow the line should change and demonstrated an inclusive process.
There is much in the methodology followed in New Delhi to be adopted in the forthcoming discussions of a new global order.
The world should have explored ways and means to make these changes the new norm rather than go back to the old ways.
The disturbance of certain countries’ comfort zones may deter adopting new methodologies, but New Delhi has shown that such methods are likely to result in a broad consensus.
The G20 was initially designed to deal with economic, financial and trade matters, particularly in the context of the economic crisis in 1999 and 2007, but the New Delhi Summit was dominated by geopolitics because of its timing.
The Russia-Ukraine war has been waging since February 2022 without any chance of ending.
Russia is under debilitating sanctions, but Russia has manipulated its strengths in energy, fertilisers and wheat to its advantage.
On the other hand, the firepower provided by NATO has enabled Ukraine to withstand the Russian assault to a great extent.
For these reasons, neither side is interested in a ceasefire and negotiations.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia is in a position to paralyse the United Nations to the extent that the secretary-general has said that he has no power to act.
In the circumstances, NATO and Russia are playing for time in the expectation of a change in their fortunes.
The logic of the involvement of G20 in geopolitics was that all the world’s economic problems were somehow aggravated by the war, and without an end to it, no international cooperation was possible to address the burning issues of the world.
The Bali Summit produced a consensus which named Russia as responsible for the conflict, but Russia insisted that the same formulation would not be acceptable to it, while for the West, any dilution of the Bali text was anathema.
Surprisingly, the president was able to announce a breakthrough on the first day of the summit itself, and it did not contain the name of Russia, but it was clear that the reiteration of the Charter principles and other agreed texts were addressed to Russia more than anybody else.
Though the Delhi Declaration made no difference to the situation on the ground, a consensus decision, which the two sides accepted, was a revalidation of the principles of international behaviour.
But the world saw it only as a concession to India to create a consensus.
The fact that India let Russia off the hook, stressing that the venue of the summit mattered in such matters, may have caused some concern to the west, which may come up in the future.
A significant development at the Delhi Summit was the emergence of the Global South, whose contours are not yet drawn.
But it is a clear challenge to the developed North, which has been setting the global agenda to suit its world domination.
India has stated that it has consulted as many as 125 countries, many of them not members of the G20 and brought their views to the table, which is off-limits for a majority of the developing nations.
India has also won the gratitude of the African Union by championing its admission to the G20, knowing well that the African Union will be unable to participate as a cohesive group.
China clearly is concerned that India has stolen a march over it by assuming the leadership of the Global South.
China had succeeded in enlarging BRICS with the objective of retaining its primacy in the group, which it had imagined to be the nucleus of the Global South.
China has signalled that it will in whatever way it can to prevent India from assuming the leadership of the Global South.
The Global South differs from NAM and G77 because it will probably include China and Russia and may involve competition more than cooperation.
It would, therefore, mean some backlash from some countries.
It is no surprise that Canada made a grave allegation against India so soon after the Delhi Summit.
There may be resistance to the concept of the Global South from other developed countries before it becomes a building block of the new global order.
With the United Nations Security Council virtually paralysed and the reform of the Security Council going nowhere, an alternative mechanism to maintain international Peace and Security is very much a matter for contemplation and discussion.
Some call the G20 a ‘Dream Security Council’ as it reflects the power structure of the present world, and there is no veto power for anyone.
The Bali and Delhi Summits operated as a virtual Working Group of the Security Council and produced a consensus that was impossible in the Security Council.
The Security Council could well adopt the decisions of the two summits eventually to pave the way for an eventual solution to the conflict.
The language accepted commanded consensus, but it may not withstand a vote as both sides have vetoes.
Naturally, the Security Council can only be changed with a Charter revision.
But it may well be an ad hoc body to compensate for the Security Council’s failure, but the chances are remote as it will be too much of a change to the present system.
The continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war, the continuing disputes over the definition of terrorism as exemplified in the Canadian attack on India and the Hamas attack on Israel, which has been characterised by President Biden of the Delhi Summit as a provocation in some ways to Hamas have taken some of the sheen off the Indian effort to give a push to reform multilateralism.
The old order will change eventually, but as of now, it is in no mood to yield.
Ambassador T P Sreenivasan is a frequent contributor to Rediff.com.
You can read his earlier columns here.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com
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