International Relations

Multilateralism and Indian Diplomacy at the G20

The inability of the G20 finance ministers to reach an agreement on a joint statement last week highlights an important aspect of multilateralism. When great powers are at peace with one another, multilateralism has a good chance of succeeding; when they are at odds, the room for global cooperation shrinks.


  • Multilateralism is a strategy in which multiple countries or parties collaborate to address and solve common problems through negotiations and cooperation while respecting each other’s sovereignty and interests.
  • In international relations, multilateralism can take different forms, such as multilateral agreements, treaties, and organisations.
  • The United Nations (UN) is an example of a multilateral organisation that brings nearly all countries together to promote peace, development, and cooperation.

Multilateralism and Major Powers: From Cooperation to Conflict

The Cold War and Multilateralism:

  • Lack of cooperation during the Cold War, except in a few areas such as nuclear arms control
  • The formation of the UN after the Second World War with the expectation of great power cooperation.
  • Allies are becoming adversaries, and the world is being divided into competing economic and military blocs.

Following the Cold War Multilateralism

  • The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ushered in a new era of multilateralism.
  • Cooperation among great powers at the UN and the establishment of the WTO
  • The 2008 financial crisis and the rallying of the world’s top 20 economies to stabilise the global economy.

Multilateralism’s Current Situation

  • There is no longer a world of shared interests among top nations.
  • Simmering political conflict between Russia and the West; military conflict between the United States and China.
  • The G20 is currently unable to reach agreement on key issues.
  • Rising geopolitical conflict is reflected in the economic domain.
  • Attempts by the United States and China to reduce their massive economic exposure to one another
  • Economic conflict enveloping emerging technologies, especially in the digital domain.

In the midst of the Great Power Conflict, India’s Multilateral Diplomacy

  • G20 and multilateralism: As the current G20 chair in 2023, India must steer the group amid renewed rivalry among the major powers. Reducing the influence of political conflicts on the G20 would be a diplomatic coup for India.
  • Delhi’s Difficult Relationship with Beijing: India is a major power rivalry with China. The conflict is about more than just military assertiveness; it is also about deep disagreements on multilateral issues.
  • China Must Be Balanced: India cannot remain neutral in the great power conflict while representing the Global South at the G20. In various multilateral forums, India must strike a balance between cooperation and competition with China.
  • Participation of India in Several Multilateral Institutions: India’s approach to multilateralism has evolved from a focus on the UN and NAM to participation in several institutions, including the Quad and the G7. It is also working to fortify its alliance with the Global South.

@the end

The diversity of India’s multilateralism reflects the structural imperatives of global politics. While grappling with rivals and collaborating with like-minded countries, Delhi must work with adversaries to solve regional and global problems. The balance of cooperation and competition is determined by the issue and context.

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