For Quad, challenge is to frame rules of cooperation in a polarised global order

On March 2, more than 20 government leaders descended on Delhi to deliberate on the state of the world under the aegis of multilateral platforms including the G20 and Quad. One of the most significant cues about the direction that this global multilateral engagement will take was evident in the last few lines of the joint statement of the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

At least three important groupings, namely, G7, G20, and APEC are led by Quad countries this year — Japan, India, and the US respectively. This allows these countries, which have a shared vision of the international order, to shape the agenda and direct the conversation on global multilateralism.

Take the issue of Russia’s war in Ukraine. The G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting concluded without a statement on which all countries agreed. An “outcome statement” indicated that all countries other than Russia and China disagreed on two paragraphs that condemned the war in Ukraine and affirmed international law and the multilateral system. The paragraphs declared that the threat of the use of nuclear weapons was inadmissible.

A day later, the Quad foreign ministers meeting picked up where the G20 left off. The joint statement used nearly identical language on Ukraine, including on the human cost of the war, the need to find just and lasting peace, and most importantly, the inadmissibility of the nuclear threat.

This is just one instance of the deft manoeuvring India will need to exercise in its year at the helm of the G20. Chasms, most significantly between the US and China on one hand, and the West and Russia are only going to deepen. While it is evident that India, along with its Quad partners is already using the platform to push forward a cogent agenda that transcends the four-nation grouping, other factors of concern to international actors will need to be focused on. Broadly, these will include issues concerning development and security.

While building consensus, India will need to ensure that the interests of the Global South including states in its neighbourhood are respected. For one, India has articulated its aim to stand for the aspirations of the Global South in the G20. Chinese claims about a “win-win” international order and their characterisation of the Quad as an “exclusionary bloc” have had considerable traction in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia where it has created inroads over the last decade — this also applies to countries that have felt left out of deliberations in multilateral platforms, including the World Bank and G20.

China has responded with its Global Development Initiative as a successor to the outreach initiated through the Belt and Road Initiative. It prioritises concerns such as poverty alleviation, food security, Covid-19, climate change, and connectivity. As highlighted by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Quad, for its part, has championed initiatives along similar lines, including Covid, infrastructure development, humanitarian assistance, and maritime-domain awareness.

The other significant strand in consensus building involves addressing security issues. Emerging economies have been sceptical about Western decisions related to sanctions on Russia because of their negative impact on energy security and commodity prices in these countries. For many of these countries, the reality is more complicated than a simplistic “with us or against us” narrative. In South Asia, for instance, India’s nuanced stand on Russia has been appreciated.

The challenge for India, and its Quad partners, then, is to devise a strategy that accommodates the voices of as many actors as possible while considering global security concerns. Speaking at a public event after their meeting, Secretary Blinken, as well as Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi emphasised the non-military nature of the formation. However, that has not stopped the partners from working with each other and with other like-minded states on security concerns.

India has pledged greater security cooperation with countries such as Sri Lanka and Maldives and signed a defence cooperation agreement with Italy, while Australia has finalised a new security pact with Papua New Guinea. At the same time, Japan has agreed to relax defence equipment transfer guidelines to allow exports to friendly countries, and signed an agreement with the United Kingdom that facilitates troop deployment on each other’s soil.

Soon after the Quad foreign ministers met in Delhi, the four participants shared the stage to talk about the initiative and field questions at a public event. The appearance of the ministers together indicates a willingness to use public platforms to express and present a common agenda. However, consensus-building in a fraught world requires much more. For that, closed-door conversations, negotiating, agreeing to concessions, and accommodating the concerns of global players will be at least as important as signalling from an open platform.

The article was published in the Indian Express on March 7, 2023.


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