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December 8, 2022

Indian diplomacy in current multilateral context

By Ioan Voicu


In a book entitled The Asian 21st Century, published in 2022 , Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani , former  Singapore Permanent Representative  to  the United Nations (UN),   believes that the current  growing  US-China geopolitical contest makes India well placed to provide a leading ethical voice on the international stage. (See https://www.nineoclock.ro/2022/10/24/our-world-seen-from-asia/)

In the same context, the author writes that  India is entering a  geopolitical sweet spot. What does this mean? “In a world crying out for a strong, independent voice to provide moral guidance to a
troubled planet, the only realistic candidate is India. None of the three other obvious candidates—the United States, the European  Union, and China—can step up to the plate now. This assessment is followed by a significant condition saying:” If India can be as successful domestically as Indians are internationally, it can fulfill its potential to become a leading global superpower.”

These challenging statements deserve to be analyzed in the light of a recent address by the head of Indian diplomacy, Dr. Subrahmanyam  Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister of  India, at  the general  debate  in the plenary of  the 77th session of the  UN General  Assembly, delivered on   24 September 2022.

The address starts by informing the 193 UN member states that India follows closely developments at the UN, “reflecting the increasingly globalized nature of our existence. We meet at a challenging time for the world order. This session’s theme “A Watershed Moment: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges” – seeks to capture its seriousness.”

We will present the full content of this address below in a detailed form using its  original terminology.

The year 2022 is considered to be important milestone in India’s journey towards growth, development and prosperity. “India is celebrating 75 years of its independence, what we call “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav”. The story of that period has been one of toil, determination, innovation and enterprise of millions of ordinary Indians. They are rejuvenating a society pillaged by centuries of foreign attacks and colonialism. And they are doing so in a democratic framework, whose steady progress is reflected in more authentic voices and grounded leadership”.

What is New India and its diplomacy?

Dr. S. Jaishankar explains in diplomatic terms what is meant by ‘New India.’

It “is a confident and resurgent society. Its agenda for our centenary will be achieved through the five pledges that we committed to on Independence Day. One, we are resolved to make India a developed country in the next 25 years. For the world, that creates more capacities for global good.

Two, we will liberate ourselves from a colonial mindset. Externally, this means reformed multilateralism and more contemporary global governance.

Three, our rich civilizational heritage will be a source of pride and strength. This includes care and concern for the environment, so ingrained in our traditional ethos.

Four, we will promote greater unity and solidarity. This expresses a coming together on global issues, such as terrorism, pandemics or the environment.

And five, instilling consciousness of duties and responsibilities”

The speaker warns :” This applies to nations, as much as it does to citizens. These five pledges affirm our age-old outlook that sees the world as one family. We believe that national good and global good can be entirely in harmony.”

The examples offered by the speaker  in this regard are persuasive.

India had supplied COVID-19 vaccines to over 100 nations. Indian evacuation operations in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief situations always have had room for other nationals in distress.

India offers partnerships to brothers and sisters in Asia, Africa and Latin America. It does so based on their needs and priorities. Today, that focus is on green growth, better connectivity, digital delivery and accessible health. This “solidarity is not just words; you can see them in 700 projects across the world”, said the speaker..

India contributes to global betterment from a realistic perspective.

The full text of the address under consideration reminds:”we recognize the sharp deterioration in the international landscape. The world is already struggling with challenges of post pandemic economic recovery. The debt situation of the developing is precarious. To this, is now added the rising costs and shrinking availability of fuel, food and fertilizers. These, along with trade disruptions and diversions, are among the many consequences of the Ukraine conflict”.

For obvious reasons, special attention is paid in this address to the Indo-Pacific area which witnesses fresh concerns about its stability and security. And climate events have added an overlay on these mounting anxieties.

In the case of the Covid pandemic, the South will be most impacted, even if the immediate causes are well beyond. In India’s opinion it is imperative that global conversations recognize this unfairness. The inequity of vaccine distribution should not be replicated in other domains.

Facing unprecedented challenges

India’s position as the Ukraine conflict continues to rage is clearly summarized: “we are often asked whose side we are on. And our answer, each time, is straight and honest. India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. We are on the side that respects the UN Charter and its founding principles. We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out”.

By its substance, the address is also unambiguous on other aspects of world realities. “We are on the side of those struggling to make ends meet, even as they stare at escalating costs of food, fuel and fertilizers. It is therefore in our collective interest to work constructively, both within the United Nations and outside, in finding an early resolution to this conflict”.

Other challenges are not neglected, but highlighted, especially those visible in India’s own neighborhood. “Some of them may be aggravated by the COVID pandemic and ongoing conflicts; but they speak too of a deeper malaise. The accumulation of debt in fragile economies is of particular concern. We believe that in such times, the international community must rise above narrow national agendas. India, for its part, is taking exceptional measures in exceptional times”.

Examples are quite eloquent. India sent 50,000 metric tons of wheat and multiple tranches of medicines and vaccines to Afghanistan. It extends credits of 3.8 billion dollars to Sri Lanka for fuel, essential commodities and trade settlement. India supplied 10,000 metric tons of food aid and vaccine shipments to Myanmar. Moreover, India fills the gap in humanitarian needs left unaddressed by political complexity. Whether it is disaster response or humanitarian assistance, India has stood strong, contributing particularly to those nearest to it.

The world is seen by India  as being  poised for transformational changes. It has been impacted in recent times by a succession of shocks, each of them significant by itself. The Covid pandemic called into question the over-centralized nature of globalization and has led all countries to seek greater resilience and reliability of supply chains.

The analysis continues by cogently  reminding that repercussions of the ongoing Ukraine conflict have further heightened economic stresses, in particular on food and energy. Climate events have added to the disruption that the world is already facing. In the field of technology, it has certainly multiplied existing capabilities but it also added to vulnerabilities. Trust and transparency are legitimate expectations of a more digitized world. The quest to create a better global order would necessarily have to address all these issues.

It is strongly  emphasized  in the address that  some challenges are  more existential in nature and necessitate intense coordination by the international community. Climate action and climate justice are particularly noteworthy in this respect. In their pursuit, India has cooperated with partners on the International Solar Alliance, the One Sun-One World-One Grid initiative and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.

In addition, India stands ready to support any collective and equitable endeavor to protect our environment and to further global wellness. “Lifestyle for Environment” or LiFE, as declared by India in Glasgow on the sidelines of COP26 is its homage to Mother Nature.

Before COP27 in Cairo in November 2022 , India announced it  remains deeply committed to fighting climate change under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and the Paris Agreement. “We do so on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances. We have announced our updated Nationally Determined Contributions after COP26”.

India reaffirmed its steadfast commitment to South-South Cooperation which is well established. Its approach is based on principles of mutual respect and national ownership with a commitment to sustainable development for all.

In December this year India   begins the G-20 presidency. In this capacity India  is  sensitive to the challenges faced by developing countries. Therefore, India will work  with other G-20 members to address serious issues of debt, economic growth, food and energy security and particularly, environment. The reform of governance of multilateral financial institutions will continue to be one of Indian  core priorities. 

Fighting terrorism

India would be completing its tenure as a member of the Security Council in December this year. In its current two years term, India has acted as a  diplomatic bridge on some serious but divisive issues confronting the Council. Indian representatives have also focused on concerns such as maritime security, peacekeeping and counter terrorism. Indian specific contributions range from providing technology with a human touch to ensuring the safety and security of UN Peacekeepers.

As the Chair of the Counter Terrorism Committee this year, India would be hosting its special meeting in Mumbai and New Delhi. All member states  are invited to participate in it. It is  necessary to create a global architecture that responds to the new tech tools deployed against open, diverse and pluralistic societies.

Having borne the brunt of cross border terrorism for decades, India firmly advocates a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach in this field. In its view, there is no justification for any act of terrorism, regardless of motivation. And no rhetoric, however sanctimonious can ever cover-up blood-stained hands. The UN responds to terrorism by sanctioning its perpetrators. Those who politicize the UN sanctions regime, sometimes to the extent of defending proclaimed terrorists, do so at their own peril.

India has always espoused a cooperative, inclusive, and consultative approach to international relations. “We believe that multipolarity, rebalancing, fair globalization and reformed multilateralism cannot be kept in abeyance” is a thesis present expressis verbis in the address.

From an Indian perspective, the call for reformed multilateralism – with reforms of the Security Council at its core – enjoys considerable support among UN members. It does so because of the widespread recognition that the current architecture is anachronistic and ineffective. It is also perceived  as deeply unfair, denying entire continents and regions a voice in a forum that deliberates their future.

Final conclusions

It is important to take note of the following conclusion according to which  ” India is prepared to take up greater responsibilities. But it seeks at the same time to ensure that the injustice faced by the Global South is decisively addressed.

India’s call is to allow serious negotiations on such critical matters to proceed sincerely. These diplomatic negotiations  must not be blocked by procedural tactics. Naysayers cannot hold the Intergovermental Negotiations on Security Council Reform  process hostage in perpetuity. In these turbulent times, it is essential that the world listens to more voices of reason. And experiences more acts of goodwill. India is willing and able on both counts. India believes and advocates that this is not an era of war and conflict. On the contrary, it is a time for development and cooperation.

In the past, the UN General Assembly has served as a meeting point of views and a catalyst for action. India considers that “It is vital that we continue to believe in the promise of diplomacy and the need for international cooperation.” Therefore,  “let us strive to return to the course of seeking peace, progress and prosperity”.

In this respect it should always be recalled that as a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, India has always been a leading advocate for the concerns and aspirations of developing countries.

This humanistic position is in harmony with the evaluation  made by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General, during his official visit  to India in October 2022. He said :” India also demonstrates a practical and generous approach to global solidarity and South-South cooperation. It was the first country to launch a single country South-South cooperation support framework, via the UN-India Development Framework Partnership. And indeed, our relationship with India on development is a two-way partnership”.

These few pages about India’s contributions to effective, reformed multilateralism  cannot be concluded without quoting the Indian  first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru,  who said at the dawn of Indian Independence 75 years ago: “Our dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart.”

Let’s hope that this diplomatic expectation will get more tangibility in the years to come.


*Dr Ioan Voicu was a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok (2000-2019).

Note: This article was initially published on 4 November 2022 in Australia at 



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