The Indian Council of World Affairs organised a one-day Webinar on ‘Advancing Reformed Multilateralism in the Changing World.’ The Conference had a total of 18 speakers based in India and abroad. The speakers constituted a multi-disciplinary group of academics, policy makers, diplomats, and experts. Major themes discussed over five sessions and one panel discussion of the Webinar included:
2. The Webinar began with welcome remarks by the Director General, ICWA Dr. TCA Raghavan. DG, ICWA noted that the 75th anniversary of the UN and also the centenary of the League of Nations, two organisations in which India was an original member, provide an opportune moment to not only examine historical perspectives on India’s engagement with multilateralism but also take a hard and honest look at the structural weakness afflicting multilateral institutions including the UN. He drew upon the strong pitch made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the virtual global summit marking the 75th anniversary of the global body for preserving and strengthening the global multilateral system through reforms….‘multilaterallsm needs to represent the contemporary world, only reformed multilateralism with a reformed UN at its center can meet the aspirations of humanity.’ DG, ICWA underscored that next year when India for the eighth time joins the United Nations Security Council as an elected non-permanent Member, ‘a new orientation for a reformed multilateral system’ will constitute its overarching mission.
3. The first session of the Webinar was titled ‘India and the United Nations’ and was chaired by Amb. Asoke Mukherji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in New York. The session included three speakers – Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri, Former Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, Dr. Aniruddha Rajput, Member of the UN International Law Commission (2017-2021) and Member, ICWA, Governing Council, Prof. Tasneem Meenai, Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia. The session discussed various dimensions of India’s activity and contribution to the United Nations. The presentations focussed on several key themes such as India’s contribution to making of international law, especially crystallisation of customary international law on decolonisation and friendly relations between States, and in placing development at the heart of UN’s agenda. It was noted that India’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping in terms of troop contribution constitutes a credible record and strengthens India’s case for permanent membership in the UNSC.
4. The second session on ‘India and the International Financial/Trading Institutions and Arrangements’ was chaired by Ambassador Mohan Kumar, Chairman, Research and Information System for Developing Studies (RIS). The four speaker in the session included Mr. V. Srinivas, Additional Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievance, Government of India, Dr. Archna Negi, Associate Professor, Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Dr. Amitendu Palit, Senior Fellow and Research Lead (Trade and Economics), Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, Dr. Alok Sheel, RBI Chair in Macroeconomics, Indian Council for Research in International Economic Relations. The session discussed various facets of India and international multilateral trading/financial institutions including India’s participation in the constitutive Bretton Woods Conference, which demonstrated the rising importance of diplomacy and multilateralism, yet where Western delegations held sway and influenced the outcomes. It took a historical overview of India’s role and relation with the IMF, India’s approach towards WTO, especially complexities surrounding collaboration among developing countries as a result of differentiated outcomes of the process of economic globalisation. The session also discussed how G-20 has become important for informal consultations and decision-making on global economic issues and will have to move beyond economics to include politico-security agenda.
5. The third session on ‘India and the International Climate Change Negotiations’ was chaired by T. Jayaraman, Senior Fellow, MS Swaminathan Foundation, Chennai. The four panellists in the session were Amb. Manjeev Singh Puri , Former Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr Manish Shrivastava, Assistant Professor, Department of Energy and Environment, The Energy and Resource Institute, Dr Tejal Kanitkar, Associate Professor, Energy, Environment Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru. The session highlighted the importance of correlation between climate change negotiations and India’s development space, importance of science, climate justice and equity between nations, within nations and generations, the increasingly institutionalising partnership role of sub-national and non-state actors as the ‘ground cell of climate action.’ It was noted that till now India is the only G20 country that is on track to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement.
6. The fourth session on ‘Re-Imagining Multilateralism: Views from India’ was chaired by Prof. Rajen Harshe, Former President of G.B. Pant Social Institute, Allahabad & former and founder Vice Chancellor of the Central University of Allahabad (2005-10), Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi, Sanjaya Baru, Distinguished Fellow, Manohar Parrikar-Institute for Defense and Strategic Analysis, New Delhi, Chairman, Programmes Committee, ICWA, and Prof. Ummu Salma Bava, Centre European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. The session discussed the geopolitical challenges to multilateralism, the need for India to seek balancing and coexistence with the US and China and challenges posed by rivalry between them, difficulties of developing multilateral agenda with middle powers, the rising salience of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which is not a pacifist idea but seeks to overcome the ‘us versus them’ thinking central to Western International Relations theory, transformation in the sources of power from military might to economic strength and even normative power. It was noted in pushing for reformed multilateralism, India should be clear about its strategic objectives that is whether it is focussing on narrow UN-centred institutions or the broader dimension of multilateralism. Issue-based coalitions are a way forward. India’s approach to “leadership through partnership” as articulated in its approach to Indo-Pacific was noted as an important step.
7. The final session was Round Table Discussion on ‘Agenda for India’s UNSC Tenure 2021-2022.’ It was chaired by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi, three speakers included Prof. Bimal Patel, Vice-Chancellor, Raksha Shakti University, Gujarat, Prof. Priyankar Upadhaya, UNESCO Chair for Peace and Intercultural Understanding, Banaras Hindu University, Dr. Manpreet Sethi, Distinguished Fellow, Center for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. It was noted that India joins the UNSC at a time of intensifying great-power rivalry, ‘existential threat’ of climate change impacting multilateralism in a big way, while global disarmament agenda lies in shambles and new cyber and space related threats have emerged. India’s interest as a member will lie in safeguarding India’s interests and also to promote UN agenda on multilateralism as India plays a role of bridge builder among members and concepts. Even as the role of Elected-10 will be limited, India will be able to advance its initiatives on several agenda items such as maritime security, peacekeeping, international terrorism and should continue to build on them even after the tenure ends. Responsible and inclusive solutions to peace, security and development; security and order of the global commons; effective global public goods delivery should be the overarching themes under which India should work; 'a new orientation for a reformed multilateral system' should constitute the overarching mission.