India focuses on small blocs amid wait for permanent UNSC seat : The Tribune India

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India focuses on small blocs amid wait for permanent UNSC seat

The most important plurilateral group that India is a member of is arguably the Quad.

India focuses on small blocs amid wait for permanent UNSC seat

Concern: The expansion of the UN Security Council may well bypass hopefuls like India yet again. ANI

KP Nayar

Strategic analyst

INDIA is no longer banking on the United Nations to give it a permanent seat in the Security Council, the diplomatic world’s high table. A quarter century of efforts has made little progress towards the goal of equitable representation in the UN’s most important organ. The concern in New Delhi now is that the expansion of the Security Council may well bypass hopefuls like India in the next quarter century too.

The Narendra Modi government has, therefore, taken a calculated decision to work with smaller groups of nations to make its footprint on the world stage without waiting for the elusive goal of UN reforms. It has joined 37 plurilateral groups, through which it is now putting forward India’s views and seeking to shape the agenda on global issues in lieu of the Security Council.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan, told the Rajya Sabha on February 8 that these plurilateral groups “enable India to strengthen partnerships across a wide range of sectors, including trade, investment, technology and defence collaboration. Such outcomes also contribute to India’s national development agenda, promote economic growth, improve the well-being of our people and put forward the interests of developing countries.” The International Solar Alliance (ISA) and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) are being cited as offering India’s unique solutions to partners for addressing global issues, indeed the world at large.

The ISA was India’s idea. Support from then French President Francois Hollande made its conception a Franco-Indian joint effort at the 21st climate change conference in Paris in 2015. It was the Modi government’s very first plurilateral initiative. So, it took a while to get off the ground, but it added to India’s prestige because the ISA is headquartered in the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi. It also enhanced India’s reputation as a problem-solver on climate change instead of being a problem, which it was for several decades.

The CDRI is not as well-known as the ISA, but it is a new and important partnership formed in 2019. It brings together governments to work with multilateral agencies, development banks, the private sector and academia to develop infrastructure that is resilient to climate disaster risks and also elevates the existing infrastructure to similarly high standards. Modi had proposed the idea of such a coalition at the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2016. But it took another three years for the idea to be accepted by its stakeholders and for the CDRI to be created. The CDRI is headquartered in New Delhi.

For many decades, it was India’s desire to have one of its metros designated as a UN city, like Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. They function as supplemental, secondary headquarters to New York, where the most important work of the world body, such as the annual General Assembly, takes place. It did not happen. India could not even get the UN to locate a regional economic commission in one of its main cities. Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva and Santiago have been given this pride of place. Therefore, getting their founder members to base the CDRI and the ISA in India has been a milestone in globalising the national capital through a plurilateral route. Today, these two organisations employ a large number of Indians. They have also brought experts from foreign countries to relocate to New Delhi and work for these organisations. The NCT gets ancillary benefits from these bodies. Besides, New Delhi is growing as an important venue for meetings, conferences and exhibitions because of the international events under their auspices.

The most important plurilateral group that India is a member of is arguably the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad. It has brought together India, Australia, Japan and the United States of America. Quad has no shortage of skeptics and, at times, virulent opponents in India. But External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, in his new book, Why Bharat Matters, makes an important but often neglected point about the Quad. He writes that India’s “relationship that has developed most visibly in recent times is that with Australia”. According to Jaishankar, the Modi government’s growing ties with this Quad member have narrowed the gap in relations to the other two Quad members, Japan and the US. In both official assessment and public perception, India’s relations with Japan and the US are of utmost importance.

If Jaishankar’s reasoning is accepted, the plurilateral Quad is indeed serving a bigger bilateral purpose than is generally acknowledged. Jaishankar writes that “as each year, indeed each meeting, widens the ambit of cooperation, it is increasingly clear that Quad is here not just to stay but to grow steadily”. Multilaterally, too, the plurilateral Quad is serving a purpose. Last year, the Quad supported for the first time the Inter-Governmental Negotiations on the UN Security Council reform and agreed to work together to thwart attempts to subvert the international system and the laudable objectives for which the UN was originally set up. The Quad, according to Jaishankar, “is the aggregate of the progress India has made in key relationships over two decades”.

Some of the plurilateral groups, such as the India-Israel-United Arab Emirates-US (I2U2), have solely benefited India and none of the other member countries. The only I2U2 projects that have made progress are in India: a network of food parks in Madhya Pradesh with UAE investment and Israel’s irrigation technology. A second I2U2 project envisages harnessing solar power for electricity generation in Gujarat with funding from the US. Therefore, it is a pity that it will take a long time, if at all, for new I2U2 projects to go ahead in view of the escalating conflict in West Asia.

As much as plurilateral initiatives, trilateralism with India at the centre of such groups is growing in Indian diplomacy. India, France and the UAE set up their ‘focal points group’ in 2022. It is advancing very well in multiple areas, ranging from defence and disaster management to regional connectivity and food security. India, France and Australia are having periodic “focal points meetings” similar to the UAE model. All this does not mean goodbye to the Security Council’s permanent membership, but au revoir, as the French say — till we meet again.

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