Two iconic statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the last few months vividly summarise the most fundamental and complex challenge the world has been besieged with for decades now, and especially in the last three years.
In September, 2022 during the SCO Summit, Prime Minister Modi stated ‘this is not the era of war’ , during an interaction with Vladimir Putin, the President of Russian Federation.
In January this year, during the Voice of Global South Summit, Prime Minister Modi during his inaugural speech stated the following,
“We, the Global South, have the largest stakes in the future. Three fourths of humanity lives in our countries. We should also have equivalent voice. Hence, as the eight-decade old model of global governance slowly changes, we should try to shape the emerging order.
Most of the global challenges have not been created by the Global South. But they affect us more. We have seen this in the impacts of COVID pandemic, climate change, terrorism and even the Ukraine conflict. The search for solutions also does not factor in our role or our voice.”
UN perpetually failed in preventing conflicts
Both the statements had one underlying factor. It reflected the sheer failure of global multilateral institutions created in the aftermath of the Second World War, in fulfilling their stated objectives of created an inclusive and peaceful world, as well as in preventing conflicts from happening henceforth.
Not only the end of Second World War witnessed the beginning of Cold War between two ideological blocks but also resulted in an unprecedented arms race, and triggering of innumerable conflicts in several parts of the world. Often, and unfortunately so, third world countries became the theatre for major powerhouses to settle their scores. Vietnam being a glaring example of the same.
Then there were prolonged wars between states like Iran and Iraq which went on for nearly a decade. Even with the end of Cold War, and disintegration of Soviet Union, peace did not usher in. Global multilateral institutions once again failed to prevent the rise of state sponsored non-state actors and their use by states to farther their geopolitical agenda through asymmetric warfare even while keeping the plausible deniability excuse readymade in hand. In most cases, such conflicts, resultant sanctions and rise in price of critical commodities as well as rise of violent non-state actors devastated developing or the third world countries more than anyone else.
What also became fashionable for intelligence agencies of powerful states was the use NGOs and academia to foment disenchantment against regimes resulting in orchestrated violence, anarchy, civil unrest and eventual triggering of civil wars to force regime change. UN could never create a mechanism to prevent that either.
The Larger Context of PM’s Statement
Even though the statement, ‘this is not an era of war’ was made by Prime Minister Modi in front of President Putin, in the larger context, the underlying message was not just for him alone. It was also for those major powerhouses in the Western hemisphere or the Global North, and their powerful military industrial complexes, who have been responsible for waging innumerable wars whose justifications could still not be found till date.
Physical decimation of Iraq, in the name of ‘War on Terror’, not only destroyed that nation, fragmented it and triggered the beginning of incessant sectarian violence in the region, but also led to rise of violent terror groups like ISIS. Libya was destroyed and sunk into a bottomless pit of violent civil war, and so was Syria. Afghanistan witnessed two decades of war and expenditure of trillions of dollars with no positive outcome that could be showcased by anyone.
Russian- Ukraine conflict has been a classic example of a war that could have been avoided. It was as if, for some, the unfinished agenda of the Cold War was being taken to its logical conclusion by pushing Russia to a corner from where it would have had little option but to retaliate
Throughout the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), there has been innumerable conflicts, many of which continue till date. The same goes for Russia-Ukraine war which marked the beginning of its second year recently. Situation along Taiwan Strait meanwhile continues to be unpredictable and volatile. Japan, likewise remain on perpetual alert of a sudden missile attack from North Korea.
The Missing Conflict Resolution Mechanism
The fundamental question that still remains unanswered is whether the global multilateral organisations such as UN have been able to fulfill their goals. Has it been able to create a viable conflict resolution mechanism to prevent disputes from taking the shape of violent conflicts? Does such multilateral organisations have the last word when it comes to dispute resolution or is it that global geopolitics have become pawn in the hands of giant military industrial complexes, with deep pockets, who periodically manipulate geopolitical events to trigger conflicts for the sake of blooming their war-based business and the war economies of their host countries.
The Russian- Ukraine conflict has been a classic example of a war that could have been avoided but not much was done to do the same. Instead, some kept on adding fuel to the fire to make sure that the war continues. It was as if Ukraine was the proxy for some to wage the final war against Russia. It was as if, for some, the unfinished agenda of the Cold War was being taken to logical conclusion now by pushing Russia to a corner from where it would have had little option but to retaliate. Cold War had ended long time back. NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which was created to protect Western Europe against Soviet Union, should have been dismantled too with the end of Cold War. But instead, it kept on expanding and almost reached the doorstep of Russia. It was bound to create problems. And it did.
How Developing Economies Pay the Price for Wars Waged Elsewhere
Both Ukraine and Russia have been the biggest suppliers of some of the most critical commodities that run the wheel of global economy, especially those of developing economies. From wheat to edible oil, from iron ore to crude oil and natural gas, the Ukraine- Russia conflict and the resultant disruptions created major problem for the rest of the world. It was further abetted by the culture of sanctions that were imposed on Western states, US and EU, on Russia that created even more profound problems for a world that was barely limping out of a massive pandemic led economic crisis.
For many of the developing economies, and especially the smaller ones, rise in global prices of essential items like wheat, edible oil and crude oil, which most of them import, meant tremendous pressure on their foreign exchange reserves, which had already dwindled rapidly due to pandemic led economic challenges.
This resulted in many economies from Global South either getting into debt trap or pushed to the brink of sovereign default due to their inability to pay their external debt as a result of severe strain on forex reserves. Further, it became beyond the means of many to import even essential items for the same reasons.
It is really a matter of question as to whether the sanctions that were aimed at Russia by US and EU did ever serve their purpose or not. But it is for sure that many other countries that had nothing to do with the Ukraine-Russia war suffered immensely, first because of the supply chain disruptions as a result of the war and secondly because of the culture of sanctions that only helps in amplifying the prices of commodities by pushing key players out of commodity business.
Had it not been for the sanctions on Iran, Russia and Venezuela, the price of crude oil would have literally been less than half of what it is today. It would have helped developing countries grow faster. But that was not to be. Prices are jacked up artificially by imposition of unilateral sanctions by powerful states and poorer nations suffer as a result.
India’s Defiance and Showing of Mirror
It is because of this perpetual habit of countries of Global North, essentially US and Western Europe to have utter disregard to the problems that rest of the world faces due to their culture of imposing unilateral sanctions that India’s External Affairs Minister had to state. “Somewhere Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems. That if it is you, it’s yours, if it is me it is ours.”
This statement defines how Global North imposes its unilateral decisions on rest of the world and then through constant driving of a one-sided narrative creates a perception that going against the dictum of Global North (EU and US to be precises) is akin to going against ‘humanity’, ‘democracy’ and ‘liberty’ (sic!), even though the truth may be far from this. There have been innumerable wars elsewhere on which the Global North have not even blinked its eyes, and instead have profiteered by selling weapons. In case of Ukraine-Russia war as well, the western military industrial complexes have been minting money by constantly pouring fuel to the fire. No real time efforts have been made to douse the fire and resolve the issues. Things can simply return to tranquility if NATO stops its expansionist agenda and accept that Russia too deserves to be respected.
Weaponisation of Sanctions: A Dangerous Trend
Even when Europe continued its buying of gas from Russia, a narrative was created worldwide that as if those who would buy any commodity from Russia would be termed ‘rogue’ and would be identified as one who is against the will of the Global North. This would be followed possibly by sanctions on those countries as well including freezing of their forex reserves kept in dollar or euro currency, as well as debarring them from use of SWIFT systems for international banking operations. It is this climate of fear and weaponisation of sanctions through threat of suspension from messaging systems like SWIFT or freezing forex reserves that has made many countries of the world to take note and wonder if this is the kind of international rule based order that the world, and especially the third world or the Global South had really wished for.
India Emerged Stronger Because it Defied Sanctions
Against all odds of pandemic led economic challenges, severe rise in global prices of commodities, and responsibility to manage the aspirations and health of 1.4 billion population through tumultuous times of last three years, India not only emerged as the fifth largest economy of the world but also a more resilient one, which through difficult phases maintained a healthy forex reserve in excess of $550 billion, had record exports of nearly $670 billion in 2021-22, and had crossed newer benchmarks for gross tax collection and FDI, at Rs 27 lakh crore and $84 billion respectively. India achieved this even while administering more than 200 crore of free vaccines to its eligible population and provided additional free rations to more than 80 crore people.
However, it would perhaps not have been possible for India to emerge stronger had India not charted an independent foreign policy and continued sourcing oil from Russia in spite of severe pressure from the Western power blocks against the same. By sourcing discounted oil from Russia, India saved over Rs 35,000 crore till September 2022, as per reports. By December 2022, Russia became the top supplier of crude oil to India. Not just that, India worked on a rupee settlement scheme for international trade in areas where transacting in currencies like Dollar or Euro is becoming problematic.
India continues to be a nation with deep rooted good relation both with Western Europe, US as well as Russia. It has successfully meandered through difficult terrains of global diplomacy by refusing to side with the West in condemning Russia
India also worked on special Rupee Vostro Account for the same. Work has also perhaps started in making UPI India’s alternative to dependence on SWIFT. India’s push for green hydrogen is also because it eventually wants to break out of this cycle of sanctions and price rise shocks of crude oil that tramples aspirations of emerging nation while some mint money.
India’s Emergence as a Responsible Yet Defiant Voice
Interestingly, India continues to be a nation with deep rooted good relation both with Western Europe, US as well as Russia. It has successfully meandered through difficult terrains of global diplomacy by refusing to side with the West in condemning Russia even while steadfastly remaining firmly in favor of dialogues to resolve issues instead of wars.
In today’s era, it is difficult to diffuse any volatile situation when a narrative is deliberately shaped to paint one party as evil. The objective should ideally be to institutionalise a mechanism where war becomes the last resort and not the end objective for any dispute.
Unfortunately, this is where global multilateral institutions like UN have failed or have remained mute spectators. The void thus created allowed manipulation of geopolitical situations by some to thrust conflict on some, to farther the business agenda of defence industrial complexes of some nations who thrive on conflicts. This must end and this is why Prime Minister Modi steadfastly mentioned that this is not an era of war, a message with deep rooted resonance and ramifications for West as well.
The Rise of Global South under PM Modi’s Leadership
During the Voice of Global South Summit, 2023, Prime Minister Modi during his inaugural speech also stated, ‘ We, the Global South, have the largest stakes in the future. Three fourths of humanity lives in our countries. We should also have equivalent voice. Hence, as the eight-decade old model of global governance slowly changes, we should try to shape the emerging order.
He further stated, “To re-energise the world, we should together call for a global agenda of ‘Respond, Recognise, Respect and Reform’: Respond to the priorities of the Global South by framing an inclusive and balanced international agenda. Recognise that the principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’ applies to all global challenges. Respect sovereignty of all nations, rule of law and peaceful resolution of differences and disputes; and Reform international institutions, including the United Nations, to make them more relevant.”
Prime Minister Modi’s statement essentially echoes the sentiment of nearly 120 nations of Global South who have suffered immeasurably due to lack of reforms in UN, its failure to prevent conflicts and the resultant unilateral sanctions mostly imposed by the West, often in an arbitrary manner that put severe strain on well being of developing nations and their populace. It is because of these reasons that India’s presidency of G20 in 2023 has ushered a new reign of hope among the countries of Global South who are increasingly looking up to India to not just emerge as a solution provider and arbiter for complex global challenges but also become the voice of the voiceless states of Global South.
What India Preaches: Empathy and Oneness
For G20 in the year 2023, Prime Minister Modi coined the theme as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam- “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. In essence, what it signifies is that unless everyone starts considering the whole world as one family, unless there is empathy for citizens of every nation, being or small, weak or powerful, rich or poor, unless there is respect for sovereignty of each nation, unless there is this realisation that war cannot be business and an end objective, unless there is acceptance among the powerful western states that the culture of sanctions have deep rooted negative ramifications for smaller economies, there would never been everlasting peace in the world and the gap between rich Global North and aspring Global South would never be bridged. It is because of sheer lack of reforms in multilateral organisations like UN that forums like G20 are becoming increasingly more relevant for developing countries where they find a more level playing field to push forward their views and demands.
Even as India is poised to become a $5 trillion economy, it remains a torchbearer and harbinger of change for Global South. From providing vaccines to 70 odd countries at a time when the rich nations were accused vaccine hoarding, from rushing in to help Sri Lanka with aid worth billions of dollars, when its economy collapsed under pressure of severe foreign exchange crisis, to being among the first responders when a devastating earthquake struck Turkey, India is showing the way of how emerging economic powerhouses as well as developed economies should behave.
India has also demonstrated that its in house conflict resolution mechanism, as applied in solving insurgency issues of Northeast India or abrogation of Article 370 or settling border issues with Bangladesh, is far better and effective than ones practised by multilateral organisations. Reason being India’s intent is clear. Peace, and conflict is its objective.
The message is loud and clear. If the culture of arbitrary sanctions thrusted by powerful western states on rest of the world to farther their own agenda is not stopped, if reforms in UN are not implemented to make it more inclusive in decision making, then Global South would have little option but to chart its own path. A path which would not be confrontational but would embody the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. And beyond a point, Global North would have little option but to fall in line.