Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Multilateralism in the era of New cold war

In the times when there is a global vacuum and trust deficit, India can use the opportunity to set the world response through its global thought leadership.
By IASToppers
June 03, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Changing Dynamics
  • Clash of values
  • Shift in global order
  • Global vacuum and India
  • Leadership opportunity for India
  • Road Ahead
  • Conclusion

Multilateralism in the era of New cold war

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The era of the new cold war is defined by technology and trade and not by territory. The present situations demand multilateralism; non-alignment is definitely an uncertain option. To benefit from global change, countries must have a bold vision and make the right strategic choice.

Changing Dynamics:

  • China is losing influence and the dynamics in its relations with the United States as Asia again becomes central to global prosperity, with global governance, economy, scientific research and society in need of being re-invented.
  • In this changed context, India should look upon its own reemergence.
  • The opportunity should be used to recover our global thought leadership, both through our historical values like Ayurveda, Buddhism, Yoga and Ahimsa as well as grabbing the pace of technological advancement.

Clash of values:

  • The clash between China and the U.S. at the just concluded World Health Assembly in May marks the end of the multilateralism of the past 70 years.
  • The donor-recipient relationship between developed and developing countries has ended with China’s pledge of $2-billion.
  • The agenda-setting role of the G7 over UN institutions and global rules has also been effectively challenged by WHO ignoring the reform diktat of the U.S. leading to its withdrawal, and characterisation of the G7 as “outdated”.
  • The U.S. has also implicitly rejected the G20 and UN Security Council, for an expanded G7 “to discuss the future of China”.
  • The US has acknowledged that India Is a Natural U.S. Ally in the New Cold War.

Shift in global order:

  • The clash marks another seismic shift within the UN.
  • After World War II, the newly independent states were not consulted when the U.S. imposed global institutions fostering trade, capital and technology dependence, ignoring socio-economic development.
  • Social and economic rights have emerged to be as important as political and procedural rights.
  • The U.S. faces an uphill task in seeking to lead a new multidimensional institution as China’s re-emergence is based on technology, innovation and trade balancing U.S. military superiority at a time of declining global trust in free-market liberalism, central to western civilisation.
  • With the West experiencing a shock comparable to the one experienced by Asia 200 years ago, the superiority of western civilisation is also under question.
  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift of global wealth to Asia suggesting an inclusive global order based on principles drawn from ancient Asian civilisations.
  • Colonised Asia played no role in shaping the Industrial Revolution; but it has a lot to offer to the Digital Revolution.

Global vacuum and India:

  • For India, the strategic issue is neither adjustment to China’s power nor deference to U.S. leadership.
  • China has come out with alternative governance mechanisms to the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization with its all-encompassing Belt and Road Initiative.
  • The U.S., European Union and Japan are re-evaluating globalisation as it pertains to China and the U.S. is unabashedly “America First”. The world is questioning both U.S. and China’s exceptionalism.
  • The global vacuum, shift in relative power and its own potential, provides India the capacity to articulate a benign multilateralism as a NAM-Plus that resonates with large parts of the world and brings both BRICS and the G7 into the tent.
  • This new multilateralism should rely on outcomes, not rules, ‘security’ downplayed for ‘comparable levels of wellbeing’ and a new P-5 that is not based on the G7.
  • The U.S. wants a security partnership to contain China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations trade bloc — with the U.S. walking out of the negotiations — is keen India joins to balance China.

Leadership opportunity for India:

  • At the online summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, in May 2020, Prime Minister Modi called for new principles for the international system.
  •  His new globalisation model based on humanity, fairness and equality has wide support in a more equal world as, for the first time since 1950, everyone is experiencing the same (virus) threat.
  • As chair of the Executive Board of the World Health Assembly (it is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization), India can set the global response in terms of multilateralism, not just medical issues.
  • In September, the United Nations General Assembly will discuss the theme, “The Future We Want”.
  • In 2021, India will join the UN Security Council (non-permanent seat) and chair the BRICS Summit, and in 2022 will host the G-20 summit, which is a great opportunity for agenda-setting.

Road Ahead:

  • The Asian Century should be defined in terms of peaceful co-existence, freezing postcolonial sovereignty.
  • Non-interference in the internal affairs of others is a key lesson from the decline of the U.S. and the rise of China.
  • National security now relies on technological superiority in artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and space, and not expensive capital equipment, as India’s military has acknowledged.
  • Instead of massive arms imports we should use the savings to enhance endogenous capacity and mould the global digital economy between state-centric (China), firm-centric (the U.S.) and public-centric (India) systems.
  • A global community at comparable levels of well-being requires new principles for trade, for example, rejecting the 25-year-old trade rule creating intellectual property monopolies.
  • Global public goods should include public health, crop research, renewable energy and batteries, even AI as its value comes from shared data.
  • India has the scientific capacity to support these platforms as part of foreign policy.


Our ancient civilization values provide the conceptual underpinning, restructuring both the economic order and societal behaviour for equitable sustainable development, which a climate change-impacted world is seeking.In these tough times the need of the hour is to write together a new chapter with a shared future for mankind.

Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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