Wednesday, Dec 06, 2023 | Last Update : 08:04 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  07 Sep 2023  Manish Tewari | Is G-20 just a talk shop, or does it play a useful role?

Manish Tewari | Is G-20 just a talk shop, or does it play a useful role?

Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari
Published : Sep 7, 2023, 12:20 am IST
Updated : Sep 7, 2023, 12:20 am IST

Will there be a Delhi Declaration and will it have any “deliverables” that make the world a better place to live in?

Flags of the G20 members at 'Bharat Mandapam' ahead of the upcoming G20 Summit, at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (PTI Photo)
 Flags of the G20 members at 'Bharat Mandapam' ahead of the upcoming G20 Summit, at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (PTI Photo)

Is the G-20 just another multilateral jamboree or does it play any constructive role whatsoever in addressing the major challenges the world confronts? Are the joint communiqués or declarations any better than the “motherhood and apple pie” statements that are the staple of such congregations?

Will there be a Delhi Declaration and will it have any “deliverables” that make the world a better place to live in?

The sheen is off in any case as two key protagonists whose presence is essential to restore the balance of peace in the global order -- Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping – decided to absent themselves from the New Delhi gathering. While the former is responsible for the unnecessary war in Ukraine, the latter is liable for the theatre-level incursions across the Line of Actual Control into India that has resulted in a land grab of 2,000 sq km of Indian territory at multiple points on the LAC.

To recap the trajectory of the Group of 20, it is imperative to take a walk down memory lane. It came into existence in the wake of the 1999 Asian financial crisis, which was due to the lack of synchronisation of economic policies among the world’s major economies. Thus, the idea of an annual meeting to bring together finance ministers and central bank governors of the world’s largest economies to discuss and coordinate responses to that financial crisis and other economic challenges was envisaged.

The G-20 got scaled up to the heads of government level after the global financial meltdown of 2008. A crisis triggered by the irresponsible and reckless behaviour of the American and Western financial services sector whose junk grade derivatives were sold to gullible investors with Triple A ratings. It triggered a domino effect that hit banks, insurance companies, pension funds and manufacturing industries around the world. It plunged millions into poverty and tens of thousands of others lost their life savings, homes and livelihoods.

The inaugural summit at the level of heads of government was held in Washington DC with the objective of addressing this global financial crisis. The member states recognised the urgency of the situation and agreed on measures to stabilise the financial system through counter-cyclical measures. However, what they failed to remedy was the incestuous relationship between the financial industry, regulators and economic policy czars around the world. Not a single person of any consequence responsible for triggering the crisis was criminally prosecuted, especially in the United States.

Similarly, the second G-20 summit in 2009, held in London, again focused on promoting economic recovery, with initiatives such as increased infrastructure investment and support for small businesses. The 2010 Seoul summit addressed global economic imbalances and financial regulation but failed to stave off the Eurozone crisis of 2011 that again had ripple effects across the world. The starkest failure of the G-20 was its inability to fashion a collective and cohesive response to a once-in-a-century pandemic triggered by a lab-engineered virus that escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China.

This virus, later named Covid-19, brought humanity to a standstill. In the initial months, as the virus rampaged across the world, all the responses were subnational and at the local level. The G-20, whose members are also leading lights of the United Nations system, failed to hold the World Health Organisation (WHO) to account whose bizarre behaviour from January 2020 to March 2020, when it kept issuing “all is well” advisories that people did not need to panic, has gone unaccounted for even three years later. In fact, what people tend to forget is that in March 2020 China stymied all efforts to even hold a discussion on the pandemic in the United Nations Security Council as it held the rotating presidency of that body.

Even after the Dominican Republic assumed the UNSC’s presidency in April 2020 and later, the Security Council did not show any urgency in discussing China’s role in the spread of the virus. However, even such a calamitous event did not trigger off a serious and sustained effort in the G-20 to reform the UN system, including all its instrumentalities.

The cataclysmic events of September 11, 2001 (9/11), whose 22nd anniversary falls next week, commenced the process of swinging the equilibrium of the global order from Pax-Americana of the last decade of the twentieth century to an ostensible sense of multipolarity.

Two decades later that multipolarity remains a chimera, but what has changed in the past two or three years is that a new cold war is upon us. As I had pointed out in this column last month, old alignments are being revived and resuscitated across the world. The underpinning of this new cold war is embodied in the joint declaration between Russia and China of February 4, 2023 -- namely the joint statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on “International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development”.

What the world is therefore witnessing today is the reshaping the international order established after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. For instance, the Russia-Ukraine war and its repercussions on the principles of jus ad bellum -- conditions under which states may resort to war or to the use of armed force in general; the rise in protectionist barriers to trade and the application of beggar-thy-neighbour policies which significantly diminish global cooperation, to a flag a few such markers. As a consequence, issues existential to the very survival of humanity on Planet Earth such as environmental issues of global warming and the consequent blight of droughts, storms, heat waves, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and warming oceans may get reflected in the homilies such summits produce but do not get the requisite mindspace of leaders who can make a difference because of their preoccupation with the immediate, and not the necessary.

The recent Brics summit held in South Africa saw the Western bloc attempting to undercut the narrative of the Global South. On the other hand, Moscow and Beijing were attempting to push their own agenda and counter the US-led international order. This is likely to manifest itself vigorously in New Delhi too.

Thus, India will be at the centre-stage of a reinvigorated Cold War. The G-20 branding exercise may not thus really turn out to be advantageous to India diplomatically or strategically despite all the hype and hoopla generated by a subservient and pliant media.

Tags: g20 summit in india, delhi declaration, congress mp manish tewari