The difficulties of getting the leading economies to agree was made clear in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s philosophical references
It is such a deeply polarised world that no consensus was expected to be delivered through a joint communique at the end of the G-20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi and the finance ministers’ meeting in Bengaluru. Honoured as India was at being conferred the presidency of G-20 in significant rotation that has been putting ‘South’ nations at the head of the table, the difficulties of getting the leading economies to agree was made clear in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s philosophical references to the host country of Gandhi and the Buddha as he implored the world to “not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can.”
Even six months ago, in Bali, the G-20 could face up to the reality of the Ukraine war thrust upon Europe by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. But, in India, there was quibbling even over the word ‘war’ by the likes of Russia and China. The divisions have grown so much with the USA-led West stepping up its arms support in defence of Ukraine that the differences have exploded in an East versus West blame game. It is more distressing because the G-20 meetings represent an opportunity lost in the sense that there was not even talk of finding ways to end the war.
The opportunities that the G-20 did otherwise offer, including a rare, private face-to-face meeting on the sidelines between Anthony Blinken of the United States and Sergei Lavrov of Russia, were significant. It is some consolation that the lines of communication are not totally shut even if the meetings were filled with vitriol and mutual recrimination. At a time when Russia has walked out of the New START nuclear weapons treaty after having threatened to use strategic nukes in Ukraine, it is important that attempts be made to facilitate cooling of tempers.
Apart from India heading G-20 at the moment, the country has been in the middle of it all, as a friend of Russia as well as a close strategic ally of the US now, a point Mr Blinken stressed upon. Expectations are being left unfulfilled in the sense that maybe India has not done more towards helping stop the war, apart, of course, from Prime Minister Modi’s admonishment of Russia in his now famous “This is not the era for war,” comment made in Shanghai. In fact, the US said it is hoping that India’s special relationship with Russia could help find a way out of the war.
The G-20 meetings did mean a lot more than the failure to address the Ukraine war more directly. As India’s foreign minister pointed out, much may have been achieved towards thrashing out issues multilaterally, especially on climate change, counterterrorism, stabilising food and fertiliser supply chains and, crucially, additional funding for Sustainable Development Goals. India also had an occasion to impress upon China the need for a much firmer push to deescalate border tensions as the foreign ministers met for close to an hour and some plain truths were told about the current state of the relationship.
It wasn’t quite a unipolar world a year ago when the Ukraine war began but, since the invasion, the globe has taken several steps back in multilateralism, especially since humanity was recovering just then from the global Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Modi needed to remind fellow G-20 leaders that they are responsible also for those from about more than 150 nations who were not in the room. Summits, particularly outsize ones like the G-20, may have gained a reputation for more talk than action. The world is, however, in grave need of its biggest leaders to show they care for everyone’s welfare.