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In the G20, the G7 responded to expanded BRICS by acknowledging Bharat’s leadership of the Global South in a multipolar world. We are witnessing an anachronistic global order dominated by former colonial powers giving way to a new order, with Bharat laying out new organising principles.
In the just concluded G20 summit, the G7 accepted the non-divisive formulation on Ukraine proposed by Bharat, supported by Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and others. As a prominent G7 member confessed, holding up a consensus on this issue of concern only to them would have made the G20 irrelevant when contrasted with the expanded BRICS, which reached consensus on the guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures of its expansion process, underlining the bloc's purpose of meeting the interests of the Global South. The expansion posed a dilemma for the G7, which had co-opted the BRICS into their own grouping as the G20, without acknowledging their voiced concerns, and have now accepted the African Union as a member on the lines of the European Union. More changes in the global architecture will follow as the Global South has shown purposeful leadership.
First, the hegemony of the G7 has been dented. In 1975, the G7 had emerged to prevent concerted actions by developing countries like the four-fold hike in oil prices in 1973 leading to further oil price control and using the US dollars for security. In 1999, developing countries were brought in to discuss financial issues, and following the financial crisis in 2008 the G20 began annual summits, hailed as a new era of international cooperation. Just 15 years later the expanded BRICS comprises seven countries which are members of the G20 and will have nearly five times the population and more than 20 per cent greater economic output than the G7. As the Delhi Declaration shows, the Global South does not have to pick a side to advance their interests.
Second, the underlying problem of the current global order is the way the G7 framed international cooperation in terms of ideology, geo-economics and geo-politics while the BRICS nations are coming together as they want a similar future. The result is the G20 is no longer dominated by the G7 in agenda-setting, defining global public goods, aid and sanctions using global institutions that caused concern in the Global South.
Third, multilateral reform is no longer driven by the G7. The UN Secretary General has characterised the financial architecture as dysfunctional and called for structural reform of the Security Council. The G7 have held back in these areas that directly affect their interests, and the G20 did not endorse democratic reform of institutions as directly as the BRICS did, even as the G7 characterises the world divided between democracy and autocracy. BRICS have directly put out that the United Nations Security Council should include the BRICS core group of Brazil, Bharat and South Africa, and that cannot be ignored.
Fourth, the Global South does not have to wait till it has the so-called soft power, which really suggests developing countries cannot set the rules in the manner one-fifth of the world population can. The hallmark of global leadership is to enunciate ideas that are accepted by others, as Bharat did in the G20.
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Fifth, collectively navigating geo-politics leading to the Delhi Declaration has given the Global South strategic relevance. Bharat’s agenda-setting in the G20 underlines multi-polarity, and not being for or against any country in a world of bitter strategic rivalry. Most countries are pro-South, not anti-G7 or pro-China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership gives the Global South a purpose and general understanding on parallel, rather than common, approaches arrived after regular face-to-face meetings. Most importantly, as the Delhi Declaration showed, change comes from putting forward sound positions rather than waiting for proposals and being driven by the negotiating tactics of the G7.
New organising principles
Bharat has carved a niche for itself bridging the divide between the G20 and BRICS bringing together their different purposes. PM Modi successfully called for a mindset shift to positive measures: Recognising the primacy of concerns of the Global South, like women’s development and health, not abstract human rights; moving climate change away from a purely restrictive attitude of what should not be done to a more constructive attitude on what can be done by changing lifestyles; providing climate finance and developing a hydrogen economy; and, leveraging technology to narrow inequalities, rather than widen them, for example, through digital public infrastructure on open standards. The G20 Summit Declaration has defined globalisation as human-centric.
This sets the template for reform of multilateralism and a new approach to global institutions. First, accepting overlapping membership of different blocs only requires not taking contradictory positions, as against the reliance of the G7 on alliances and common declared positions. Second, choosing interventions that rely on decentralised arrangements and do not require treaties and rules that need regular negotiations and arm-twisting, as in the case of climate change and debt relief, now stated as debt vulnerability. Third, stress on sharing technology as a global public good, not restricting its transfer to enable continuing private profits and with no conditionality. A new governance model that harks back to open pre-colonial exchanges has emerged, decisively moving away from the architecture set by the G7 to further their own interest.
The importance of finance and trade, the very reason for setting up the G20 and earlier the G7 as well as the BRICS, has been underlined. A boost has been given to reform of multilateral development banks ensuring climate finance does not reduce development assistance, alternative financial arrangements and public digital payments system, which are all new ideas.
The nature and scope of the global dialogue has changed. The common concern is international fairness and justice; PM Modi has characterised climate change as climate justice and focus of the UN on ‘one earth, one family and one future’. Analysts are already talking about Bharat’s bridging role as a necessary part of the future triumvirate.
The writer is a former UN diplomat, and IAS officer.