2023:Pivotal year in global geo-politics,year of opportunity for India

PM Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in 2021 ( Photo: PTI)

There has always been a sense of déjà vu when we relate the immediate past and future within a short international time-space matrix. After all what can change in one year? However, ever since Covid 19, which acted as a catalyst for disruption in all domains especially geo-political, economic, social and security, there lurks a permanent sense of foreboding of what the near future will throw up. The world is now decidedly ‘flat’ (global impact of events) as presciently stated by Thomas L Freidman in his seminal book ‘The World is Flat’ as early as 2005, talking about globalisation and the world in the 21st century. 2022 was a turbulent year, and 2023 promises to be different, uncertain and unpredictable with events that could change the world as we know it. For India it could be an ‘year of opportunity’.

What did the World say about 2022 and Expectations for 2023?

In what is now a decade-old annual tradition, Ipsos [i] recently asked more than 24,000 citizens of 36 countries (including India) to reflect on the year gone by and the year ahead. 2022 was a challenging year marked with continued COVID-19 pandemic, ongoing international conflicts including the very visible and dominant Ukraine war, economic woes, and an increasingly urgent climate emergency. Interestingly, there is a marked difference between how people feel 2022 has treated them and their family, and how it has impacted their country as a whole. On average across all 36 countries, over half (56%) describe 2022 as a bad year for themselves and their family, and even more (73%) say it has been a bad year for their country. 2022 stats were better than 2021 and 2022.

2023, is starting its business with instability, uncertainty and unpredictability. Pessimism surrounds most expectations specially the economic situation, which in turn impacts most other social and geo-political parameters ranging from unemployment, social unrest, inflation and rising prices amidst food and energy scarcity, exacerbated diplomatic and political relations both inter and intra nation. The security environment including use of nuclear weapons is a real and present danger, made more likely with the Ukraine war turning global and multi-dimensional. US-China relations already frosty is fast racing towards a cold war template. Sudden and traumatic natural disasters, and adverse climate change effects are causing enough anxieties for nations, institutions and individuals to take note and demand an international action plan. Interestingly even asteroid collisions and visits from aliens make the list specially from India! The Ukraine war which has already transformed into an attrition, multi-domain war with increasing involvement of many nations, could have catastrophic impact geo-politically, economically and socially; and it is not likely to end soon!

Global power equations are in a flux, within an increasingly fragmented international system with multilateralism being questioned. Rising geopolitical tensions and global economic volatility, and the combination of Covid effects and Ukraine war, are keeping the world in an unstable state. Dealing with these challenges will consume most nations’ energies in the coming year, but will hit the global South especially hard. A global recession is a high probability. Interestingly, evolving and metamorphosing high-end and disruptive-tech generates a global tech race (which could have disastrous consequences if unchecked like AI, robotics, big data encryption, hyper-sonics, automation, anti-satellites systems and space domain) demanding better civil-military fusion which China has mastered, and India has miles to go.

USA-China Competition and Confrontation: USA has given every indication with execution, that it intends the Ukraine war to be the final showdown to downsize Russian power and influence forever. Experts largely accept that the run up to the war was planned and executed with the aim of baiting Russia into an unequal war. Whatever the outcome of the war which in all probability will continue in attrition mode in 2023, the image, status and power of Russia will certainly be impacted adversely. In addition, with Biden announcing his ‘strategy of containment’ against China, and a confident Emperor Xi who consolidated power further during 20th Congress ready to accept the gauntlet thrown: the geo-political and security outlook looks menacing. Expect further deterioration of relations between them, forcing nations to hedge their relationships, being wary of getting caught in the highly probable new ‘cold war’. With credibility of USA at an all-time low, and Chinese belligerence unleashing hitherto hidden fangs, nations are preferring to play the wait and watch game, except for the known allies like UK, Pakistan and North Korea. Military competition will intensify leading to confrontation and Taiwan will remain a dangerous flashpoint in relations. The border impasse along the India-China border will likely get exacerbated and widened, with an anxious and impatient Xi in a hurry to achieve his ‘dream’, racing against economic, demographic and geo-political headwinds. USA-China tensions could well pose the most serious security challenge in 2023 along with the repercussions of the Ukraine war. The manner in which China manages the rampaging Covid pandemic comes a close second. The Economist in the essay series on ‘The World Ahead 2023[ii]’ also lists high food and fuel prices, the fight against inflation and the transition to renewable energy as challenges. The ‘West led by USA’ will contain China and Russia by forging and strengthening alliances and agreements (QUAD, AUKUS). Concurrently both Russia and China would re-invigorate their overtures to gain more allies or neutral nations. China’s use of geo-economic strategies by its Belt and Road initiative will accelerate. Newer alignments are also indicated by growing China-Middle East (specially Saudi Arabia) ties and Xi’s Africa outreach. Nations would prefer ‘issue-based alignments’ and join coalitions which allows them to face the pulls and pressures of big power rivalries.

Risk-Management Talk:Ian Bremmer, head of political risk firm Euro Asia Group, reiterates that geo-politics will no longer be dictated by single global orders, however, security order would still be led by US, economic leadership depends on Chinese trajectory, digital order will continue to be driven by big tech companies, while climate by multiple stakeholders.[iii] Fresh challenges will be mounted on democracies, sharper rise in economic inequities within and without nations, will impact nations policies. Right wing political movements will continue gathering steam; and will certainly test the international community’s ability to take collective action against global challenges.

UN in 2023: A muscular response to multiple and major security and social threats has been found wanting due innumerable reasons including total lack of cooperation within the UNSC. This will continue. Unfortunately thanks to Ukraine, the lesser world will lose out on any attention or proactive actions like Mali, Afghanistan, Congo, Sudan, Syria leaving regional groupings to intervene as best as they can (affected neighbours unfortunately promote their own agendas rather than resolving the crisis). Big powers for the sake of the future must initiate robust dialogue and steps to make UN more effective in 2023. Unsurprisingly, the UNGA facing the chaotic myriad issues has got virtually paralysed and quiet.

A Year of Opportunity for India amidst the Challenges

Promising Opportunities: 2023 is undoubtedly a year of opportunity for India, as if the stars are aligned for India’s decisive leap onto the global ‘high table’ where the two superpowers USA and China sit along with a select few regional powers and allies. Economic conditions are relatively more vibrant and robust than the rest, and India is projected to be among the world’s fastest growing major economies, with the World Bank recently upgrading the country’s 2023 GDP growth forecast from 6.5 percent to 6.9 percent.[iv] Add to it, demographic dividends, increasingly acknowledged soft power coupled with chairmanship of G 20 (currently the most potent multilateral global institution), and SCO (growing impactful organisation specially in Asia). We have been there before! but have failed to exploit it.

India External Outreach: India must immediately carry out trade and economic reforms based on national interest, which will transform our economy, with an international environment eagerly awaiting change. India needs to vigorously enter into free trade agreements (FTAs) with multiple nations, and has fortunately completed bilateral agreements with Australia and  UAE, and extended overtures to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Israel, and should further reach out to EU and UK. Immediate neighbourhood demands immediate focus and real time attention always; and has been India’s weak link along with economic reforms. All SAARC nations are undergoing turmoil be it a new government in Nepal, unstable Myanmar, economically endangered Sri Lanka (and Pakistan apart from her habitual shenanigans) and sudden turbulence in Bangladesh. Maldives has always been rocky and changing equations with India. Afghanistan is the veritable lull before the storm which will erupt in 2023, and India as a friend and neighbour must make a difference using her position as Chair of G 20. This reaching out needs to be handled deftly against our ‘over sensitive’ neighbours. Our much touted ‘Look East’ now ‘Act East’ policy will have to be actioned with urgency on ground, with no more delays and empty gestures.

Internal Challenges: Some of the major security challenges listed below, will continue to remain and could diffuse Indian focus towards the opportunities presented.

  • Cross border Terrorism spreading to the hinterland.
  • Economic support to insurgents and anti-nationals from inimical nations.
  • Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in certain areas.
  • Insurgency in the North Eastern States.
  • Drugs and narcotics trafficking.
  • Cyber security which has emerged as a major national challenge (a la AIIMS).
  • Fissiparous polity.
  • Societal challenges like inequity, unemployment, urban-rural divide, communal tensions.

G 20 and SCO Presidency

Chairing of G 20 and SCO at a critical phase of global affairs, places India in a unique position, opening an opportunity for India. She can use (and enhance) her international goodwill and credibility, and talk to all sides involved in confrontation be it the Ukraine war, or crisis situations which normally UNO should address. India’s aim would be to soften entrenched positions. The critical challenges confronting humanity today are global in character, not confined by national boundaries, and require collective action. Solving these challenges demands multilateral initiatives which has recently taken a big hit. Pathetic collective global response to Covid, Ukraine war (ironically the guardian nations are deeply involved in the war), resurgence of nuclear arming and brinkmanship, climate change challenges, disruptive technologies like AI, robotics, hyper-velocity, space and satellite systems, has further widened the fault lines in multilateralism. India must revive multilateralism, and revamp failing global institutions (at least start the process).  The Global South expects India to establish their prominence/visibiity or at least parity in international geo-politics. Accolades for India’s crisis management ability has become frequent as of late. International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Kristalina Georgieva recently referred to India as a “bright spot” on the dark global horizon and credited the country’s post-Covid-19 pandemic growth momentum to structural reforms.

India inherits the responsibility of steering collective action for restoring global economic and financial stability in the aftermath of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war. The food and fuel crises triggered by the conflict are only worsening. India’s presidency will have to prioritise the formulation of a robust strategy for a resilient recovery of economic growth and recalibrate the action plan for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Other priorities could be global health, alternate energy transition, digital transformation and most importantly climate change initiatives (use influence to address COP27 initiatives).

Priorities Identified by India: India accordingly has identified several priorities for its G20 presidency,[v] which are inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth; LiFE (lifestyle for environment); women’s empowerment; digital public infrastructure and tech-enabled development in health, agriculture, education, commerce, skill-mapping, culture and tourism; climate financing; circular economy; global food security; energy security; green hydrogen; disaster risk reduction and resilience; developmental cooperation; fight against economic crimes; and multilateral reforms.[vi]

Conclusion: 2023 is likely to be a pivotal year to crystallise the dawn of a new geo-political and economic environment. It does not require great analytical ability to forecast a period of instability, uncertainty with unpredictability, both in man-made and natural crisis situations. Collective and cooperative global action led by the major powers is the order of the day, who unfortunately are themselves at the helm in causing the crisis. Multi-lateralism and world institutions must be revived and made effective and relevant, starting with the UN. For India, 2023 is a year of opportunity, and could well be a game-changer and catalyst, to reach her seat at the high table of global management. Only time will tell!

(This article was previously published by bharatshakti.in)

[i]Ipsos Group’ – an acronym of ‘Institut Public de Sondage d’Opinion Secteur’, is a multinational market research and consulting firm with headquarters in Paris, France’. Conducts an annual survey on 36 countries both developed and developing.

[ii] https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead-2023

[iii] https://www.eurasiagroup.net/media/in-state-of-the-world-speech-ian-bremmer-discusses-russias-historic-mistake-us-china-decoupling-and-where-we-are-headed-in-2023

[iv] ‘India Better Positioned to Navigate Global Headwinds Than Other Major Emerging Economies: New World Bank Report’, World Ban press release dated 05 Dec 2022, available at https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/12/05/india-better-positioned-to-navigate-global-headwinds-than-other-major-emerging-economies-new-world-bank-report#:~:text=The%20World%20Bank%20has%20revised,the%202022%2D23%20financial%20year. Accessed on 29 Dec 22.

[v] ‘G20 in 2023: Priorities for India’s Presidency’ by Renita D’Souza, Shruti Jain, Preeti Lourdes John, ORF, available at https://www.orfonline.org/research/g20-in-2023-priorities-for-indias-presidency/#_edn1. Accessed on 25 Dec 2022.

[vi]India to assume G20 Presidency for one year from December 2022; host over 200 meetings and MEA lists priorities,” Business Insider, September 14, 2022.

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