On March 1-2 this year, the Foreign Ministers of the G20 nations met in India. This meeting was happening against the backdrop of an extremely tumultuous global scenario. A few days before this the G20 Finance Ministers and the Central Bank Governors (FMCBG) failed to come up with a consensus-based joint statement or communique. Expecting consensus in the Foreign Ministers’ meet was always going to be unrealistic.
Ukraine: Single Most Important Stumbling Block
Over the last few months, both Russia and Western States, led by US have hardened their stand on Ukraine even more. Even the very mention of Ukraine in any joint statement was now being opposed by Russia and backed by China, unless it includes pledge to investigate the sabotage of Nord Stream pipeline, even as US led block had a divergent view on Ukraine issue, wherein it puts the entire onus of the war on Russia. The consensus-based communique thus could not have happened anyways.
Back home, Cynics and critics of Modi Government who perpetually wait for some opportunity to term anything that Modi Government does, as ‘not successful’, were, as usual, quick to latch on to it and declare in a hurry that the whole saga of not having a joint declaration was ‘failure’ on the part of India’s diplomacy and presidency. It is though not for the first time that PM Modi’s bête noire have tried to draw conclusions in haste only to be proved wrong later on.
Communique Not Mandatory
In the first place, it is not mandatory that every meet of G20 would necessarily have to have a joint declaration. Since in G20 meets, joint declarations are based on consensus and not on majority votes, declarations can often be elusive. In such a scenario, a summary of the meet is issued by the Chair along with an Outcome Document.
Ukraine Factor, Not India
Secondly, the most crucial reason for an elusive consensus, as of yet, is the Ukraine conflict, which in other words, is nothing but a conflict between Russia and NATO. The war is reaching a critical stage with NATO countries supplying Ukraine with weapon systems that may aggravate the situation even more and lead to a state where the Ukraine-Russia war may even spill over beyond the contours of these two nations and reach the doorstep of some of the adjoining states in Europe. If that happens, and whose probability is rising with each passing day, then apocalypse would not be far away.
US-China Friction to be Blamed
Thirdly, because of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and the warnings being given by US to China against possible Chinese supply of offensive weapon systems to Russia, the tension between China and US, which has been on a high for various other reasons well, including Taiwan, has almost reached its zenith.
In such a scenario, therefore, expecting a consensus, and expecting that the warring sides would shake hands agree on whatever is written on the joint declaration was always a utopian dream. It was a foregone conclusion that the West would want the inclusion of Ukraine issue, as per their liking, in the Joint Declaration, while Russia, possibly backed by China, would oppose it.
Acrimony was not an Exception
Interestingly, the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meet was always supposed to be an acrimonious one this time, given the state of Ukraine-Russia war. A certain level of desperation has also creeped into the Western countries who had anticipated that the NATO support to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia would lead to collapse of the regime in Kremlin. It has, however, not happened that way.
Success of India’s G20 Presidency, however, lies in India being able to pursue US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to meet for the first time since the beginning of the Ukraine war
Russia has endured. Putin continues to be popular back home, and sanctions on Russia have catapulted the price of energy in Europe to humongous levels. Also the cost of funding the war, in terms of supplies of weapon systems, as well as its impact on war wastage reserves of NATO countries, are both pinching them hard. There are also disagreements even among the EU states on what kind of weapons they should supply Ukraine with.
Deciphering the Complexity of Ukraine Conflict
To put it in perspective, Russia- Ukraine war has reached a stage where the West does not want Russia to win, since it would permanently tilt the geopolitical balance against the West, making Russia henceforth invincible.
Interestingly, the West perhaps does not want Russia to lose the war either, given that it would lead to a scenario where Kremlin—frustrated by sanctions, sabotage of Nord Stream pipeline, and NATO’s perpetual fueling of the war through incessant supply of cutting-edge weapons to Ukraine—may not dither from using the nuclear option. This possibility has rattled the EU leadership. Already, Kremlin has decided to withdraw from the New START (Strategic Armed Reduction Treaty) Nuclear Treaty. While the West may fund a distant war, but it goes through nightmares at the thought of that very war knocking at its own doorsteps.
Further, the West does not want the war to drag on for years either because the economic cost of the war would pull down Europe completely. Already, it is going through a phase of high inflation and economic stagnation. Condition of US is no better either.
Against this backdrop, the Foreign Ministers’ meet was always going to be slanging match. And it did happen that way, with both sides locking horns and not budging from their stated positions. In such a scenario, those blaming India for not having a joint declaration, either lack the understanding of the issue or are unaware that the onus of having Joint Declarations is not on the host but on all members.
Analysing India’s Success in the Larger Context
The success of India’s G20 Presidency, however, lies in India’s success at pursuing US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to meet. The real problem between US and Russia is the complete breakdown of formal communication since the Ukraine war. Therefore, making them meet is a feat in itself. It shows that both US and Russia trust India. It also makes us one of the last remaining bridges between West and Russia. Even as India remained firm on its fiercely independent foreign policy and refused to taken sides on the War, PM Modi has nurtured India’s image as a key global truce-maker.
While it is for certain that by the time the G20 Leaders’ Summit happens in September, 2023, India’s vision for a more unified world through a more inclusive world order would start to show the footprints of a new path, one cannot deny that India has already started making its presence felt and voices heard. That is where the success of India under PM Modi’s leadership lies.