India emerges as a Global Balancing Power with G20 Declaration and Biden-Modi Summit

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    G20 in Delhi
    The world is gearing up for G20 in Delhi

    The Current volatile global geo-political and security environment:

    The current global geo-political and security environment necessitates cooperation, competition, and confrontation (increasingly conflicts too), both bilaterally and multi-laterally between nations. It is becoming true even for intra-state relations. The scope and spectrum of confrontation has widened substantially, encompassing multi-domain arenas including non-kinetic/cognitive fields like economic, psychological, legal and informational. The environmental dynamics gets impacted by non-state actors, multi-national companies, groups and even powerful and rich individuals (like Beta, X, Google, Microsoft, Elon Musk, Murdoch, etc). Reaching a consensus on various global issues, has become extremely difficult if not impossible. It is under these difficult, uncompromising circumstance that India hosted the G 20 Summit in Sep 23, where different power centres were aligned at opposite ends of the spectrum on many issues like Ukraine, climate change, ideology, asymmetry between the rich and powerful countries (mainly West led by USA) and the global South. Internationally, it has been accepted that given the circumstances, India put up a spectacular show, and pulled off a miracle of unanimity in the concluding G 20 as reflected in the Leaders’ Declaration[i]. A concurrent summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Indian PM Modi was also held centerstage[ii].

    Consequently, India, has emerged as a world balancer of significant stature and weight. The G 20 summit showcased India as the bridge between varying group of nations, specially between the West and the global South. Coupled with the Biden-Modi meeting, we can proudly surmise that India has finally arrived at the high table managing global affairs. As accolades have poured in, there have also been a series of negative events which are testing our resilience as a secular, democratic nation. Some of the events are undoubtedly driven by nations and groups with an agenda to stall India’s irreversible march forward. A holistic view of payoffs to India by above events has been attempted.

    Buildup to the Summit:    India’s moment in the sun almost got obliterated by the expected absence of President Putin, but also by Xi Jinping’s decision to stay away from the G 20 summit with the possible intention of denying India and Modi her moment. Instead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with the US figured out how to more effectively counter China on the world stage. Importantly, the fact that the global South and Asian nations cooperated, signifies their geo-political compulsions to maintain multiple options other than muscular China.

    The pivotal strategic payoffs from the G 20 Summit

    India pulled off a ‘win-win’, with members reaching an agreement on a joint communiqué, despite opposing views on the Ukraine war. There was considerable doubt whether the world leaders in the Group of 20 meeting would be able to reach an agreement with the Ukraine war being the major divisive issue. The fact that on Day 1 of the Summit, the New Delhi Declaration was adopted with “100 per cent consensus on all developmental and geo-political issues” is testimony to India’s leadership. The key was the wording of ‘war in Ukraine’ rather than ‘war against Ukraine’, compared to a more aggressive stance adopted in the Bali Declaration. The Declaration supported a “comprehensive, just, and durable peace” in Ukraine and advocated conflict resolution through diplomacy and dialogue, while emphasizing Modi’s famous words that “Today’s era must not be of war”. Even Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister called the summit statement a diplomatic win for Russia[iii].

    The icing on the cake was a promise to deliver more financing to developing nations, to admit Africa to the G 20 as a permanent member, and announcement of a historic and ambitious rail and maritime network straddling India – Middle East – Israel – Europe (IMEC). India, the US, UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Italy and the European Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to establish IMEC. President Biden hailed it as a “game-changing regional investment”; Israeli PM Netanyahu termed it the “largest cooperation project in our history” which will change the face of the Middle East, Israel, and will benefit the entire world[iv]; Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, was one of the pioneers of the initiative[v], and Ursula von der Leyen, the EU President, called the new economic corridor ‘historic’. Swasti Rao, an associate fellow at the Europe and Eurasia Center at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, stated that “there is little doubt that middle order powers wish to keep the global economic order multipolar and not fall into the Chinese game of dominating it.” PM Modi launched the Global Biofuel Alliance during the G20 Summit and invited world leaders to join. The alliance aims to accelerate the energy transition by promoting the use of sustainable biofuels, similar to the International Solar Alliance, and help accelerate global efforts to meet net zero emissions targets by facilitating trade in biofuels derived from sources including plant and animal waste.

    A most significant achievement was India’s ability to grasp the moment to assert a global leadership role, especially permanent inclusion of the Global South as a G 20 member. PM Modi declared that “history has been created” while his chief negotiator, Amitabh Kant, called India “the spokesperson of all the Global South.” He added that “It has also demonstrated that India has a huge capacity of bringing the world together and leading the world in developmental and geopolitical issues.”

    India – USA Bilateral Summit

    President Biden and PM Modi issued a 30-point joint statement that brought out the multifaceted nature of the India-US strategic partnership. The prologue evaluated the international geo-political-economic situation, and noted the importance of “the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism, and equal opportunities for all citizens” that are essential for the two countries to prosper, and emphasizing “that these values strengthen our relationship.” The statement, touched on all the important areas of cooperation, including shared participation in smaller multi-lateral partnerships such as the QUAD, which works “in supporting a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific.” While in June 2023, the US took the decision to be part of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, the US agreed to co-lead the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative Pillar on Trade Connectivity and Maritime Transport. Biden reiterated US support for a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member. Other issues of strategic import to India are enumerated below.

    • Technological Cooperation:   Statement highlighted Indo-US collaboration in iCET (Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies), space, and semi-conductor supply chain. US companies, including Microchip Technology, Inc., and Advanced Micro Devices, have made a substantial investment in India; others like Micron, LAM Research, and Applied Materials, are also in talks for collaboration. In the field of telecommunications an MoU between Bharat 6G Alliance and Next G Alliance has been agreed to.
    • Space:  The joint statement outlined in some detail their plans for space cooperation; establishing a working group for commercial space collaboration under the existing India-US Civil Space Joint Working Group. In June 2023 meeting, “enhanced commercial collaboration between the U.S. and Indian private sectors in the entire value chain of the space economy and to address export controls and facilitate technology transfer” was discussed. This meeting enhanced the scope and focus on “modalities, capacity building, and training for mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024” and “continuing efforts to finalize a strategic framework for human space flight cooperation by the end of 2023.” The intent to increase coordination on planetary defence, with US support for India’s participation in asteroid detection and tracking, was announced.
    • Nuclear Energy: The importance of nuclear energy as a necessary resource to meet India’s climate, energy transition, and energy security needs was reiterated. Both sides agreed ‘to expand opportunities for facilitating India-US collaboration in nuclear energy, including the development of next-generation small modular reactor technologies in a collaborative mode’.
    • Quantum Technology and Biotechnology Collaboration: Both nations also discussed their commitment to work together in the quantum domain, with India’s SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences joining the Quantum Economic Development Consortium. They endorsed collaborations in biotechnology, promoted by an Implementation Arrangement between the US NSF (National Science Foundation) and India’s Department of Biotechnology.
    • Defence and Aerospace Cooperation: While cooperation has increased manifold recently, both leaders pledged to deepen defence and aerospace cooperation, particularly in new and emerging domains like space and AI. Their specific mention of the commencement of negotiations for a commercial agreement between GE Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) to manufacture GE F-414 jet engines in India, will speed up the process. This capability will be a “big game changer” and form the basis of future indigenous engines that will power Indian (will enhance export capability) military aircraft.
    • Economy and Trade: Both lauded the settlement of all outstanding WTO disputes, which will act as a catalyst for better trade relations. An ambitious “Innovation Handshake” agenda under the India-US Commercial Dialogue is in the pipeline to connect start-ups, venture capital firms, and government officials in both countries’ innovation ecosystems.
    • Healthcare and Education Collaboration: Collaboration in healthcare, cancer research and care, was discussed, with the launch of the India-US Cancer Dialogue and the US-India Health Dialogue shortly. Educational collaborations, such as the establishment of the India-US Global Challenges Institute was formalised.

    India ‘was Different’. Compared to the staid handling of global summits by nations, India celebrated the G 20 presidency. India moved to make the G 20 process, internally and globally, more inclusive, responsive, and celebratory. For inclusion of Africa as a permanent member of G 20, India consulted and persuaded 125 countries. Within India, by spreading the G-20 activities across 60 Indian cities brought a wave of fresh economic activity into them. Tourism and hospitality have boomed, infrastructure refurbished, and airports rejuvenated. The Global South now has a credible voice in international affairs. Coupled with a unanimous G 20 Delhi Declaration despite widely disparate views specially on the Ukraine war, India enhanced and validated her position as a global leader and a credible balancing power. The G 20 and Biden-Modi Summit will provide the momentum towards abiding friendships and alliances, and global geo-political stature, as also significantly enhance our economic, technological, and military capabilities and capacities to face future geo-political and security challenges. Concurrently, we must stay alert to the vulnerabilities which befall any rising nation.

    (This article was first published in Bharatshakti.in)


    [i] ‘G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration’, New Delhi, 09 -10 September 2023, g20.org, available at https://www.g20.org/content/dam/gtwenty/gtwenty_new/document/G20-New-Delhi-Leaders-Declaration.pdf. Accessed on 14 September 2023.

    [ii] ‘Joint Statement from India and the United States’, Prime Minister’s Office, Posted On: 08 SEP 2023 11:02PM by PIB Delhi, available at https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1955696. Accessed on 15 September 2023.

    [iii]India for G-20 summit statement success’, by Suhasini Haider, The Hindu, September 10, 2023, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/win-for-global-south-says-russian-fm-praises-india-for-g-20-summit-statement-success/article67292866.ece. Accessed on 26 September 2023.

    [iv]Biden and Netanyahu welcome IMEC’, by Prashant Jha, The Hindustan Times, September 21, 2023, available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/biden-and-netanyahu-welcome-imec-101695233948445.html;  and article titled ‘IMEC ‘largest cooperation project’ in history: Israeli PM Netanyahu’, Millenium Post, 10 September 2023, available at https://www.millenniumpost.in/business/imec-largest-cooperation-project-in-history-israeli-pm-netanyahu-532388. Accessed on 25 Sep 2023.

    [v] ‘How Saudi-backed India-Middle East corridor is ‘game changer’ for New Delhi, Arab News, September 26 2023 available at https://www.arabnews.com/node/2374786/world. Accessed on 26 September 2023.

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