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Author: Anmol Rohilla, V year of B.B.A.,LL.B. Corporate Law from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies


Multilateralism in the geopolitical context refers to the presence of many power blocs, a world where there are one or two superpowers to dictate all the countries. India as a responsible country with ethical values firmly believes in the idea of multilateralism, free and fair trade among countries and stands against aggression on other countries due to territorial disputes. India has always focused on the fact that bilateral disputes should be resolved either peacefully between the concerned parties or should be dealt under the umbrella of international law, unilateral actions just for some territorial gains should not be an option.

This research paper focuses on the idea that various multilateral institutions have done their work in preventing WW3 during the Cold War time and now the modern challenges call for various reforms. The multilateral institutions present today were made for solving problems of the 90s, this is the 21st century and the world today is facing new problems like the Covid-19, the rise of a more aggressive China, economic and financial crash in various countries. This research paper will focus on such problems and the reforms that can be introduced to deal with them.

KEYWORDS: Multilateralism, Geopolitics, Bilateralism, COVID 19

Reviving Multilateralism

With the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, multilateralism is natural to India’s ethos. India was one of the founding members of the League of Nations in 1914, even though it was a British colony at that time. Similarly, it became a charter member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945 and of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Multilateralism, represented by the UN[1], especially its General Assembly, is global governance of the ‘many’, based on ‘universality’, ‘open admission’ and ‘non-discrimination’. The involvement of all also ensures a certain by-in by all and de-jure sanction to action. Regional groupings, coalitions of the willing are important but either is limited in geography or lack a proper de-jure acceptance. India is firmly of the view that global problems need global solutions, though, as things have turned out a certain polarity (special powers to some) is also inherent in most of the multilateral bodies. At the UN, this polarity is clearly evidenced in the veto power of five countries – USA, Russia, China, UK and France, in the Security Council. The UN family also consists of a multitude of organizations such as FAO, WHO, UNESCO, UNIDO etc. but these, by and large, have promotional and not coercive abilities. At the World Bank and IMF decisions require qualified majorities which are not possible without an affirmative vote of the US. Most of these bodies were established in the wake of World War in the mid/late 1940s.

Then there are multilateral arrangements that came into existence in the early 1990s, a time when the Soviet Union had collapsed, and the US was the only real global pole.[2] The WTO (World Trade Organization) is the most well-known of these arrangements, though major environmental treaties such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also fall in this segment. These arrangements are based on a greater universality - one country one vote principle - with little formal polarity and they also, to a large extent, recognize the greater responsibility of developed countries. The rise of China, following COVID-19, is now in the public eye and has given rise to a serious challenge to multilateralism. This is particularly so in organizations with universal decision making, including WTO, WHO, UNFCCC etc. where the Chinese have been able to make major headways challenging the hegemony of the West, in general, and the US, in particular. China’s rise is also mirrored, though at a smaller scale, by the rise of emerging countries including India. A decade or so ago, a global compact of the largest developed and developing economies was created with the formation of the G-20 and since then this grouping has been playing a significant role in managing issues of purport to the global economy.

Reforming United Nations

We understand global institutions to be legitimate structures of long standing acceptance and visibility. This is where the United Nations (UN) stands supreme and is primus inter pares (‘first among equals’). With globalization fostering multilateral institutions, everyone is familiar with World Trade Organisation (WTO), and World Health Organisation (WHO). What about other institutions like Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other embellishments within UN. This opinion is critical in tone as it laments the becoming of a multilateral institution with gravitas into an august body, akin to a toothless tiger. A serious concern arising, is whether the UN as a template since the end of World War-2 (WW-2) is in tune with dynamics of today, or still stuck in a post WW-2 hangover. Several aspects influencing a perceptible decline of the UN are: First, collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe was celebrated by the victors - United States and western allies - as the end of Cold War inaugurating democracy to new realms. Second, from the implosion of the Soviet Union emerges Russia, angry and belligerent, with no compunctions regarding the subversion of democratic process in many countries. Third, role of the state faces challenges with non-state actors, emerging as possessing wherewithal to derail functioning states into dysfunctional entities. Fourth, globalisation has been successful in its appeal and created corporate behemoths who do not respect cultural attributes and civilisational expressions predating the state as a Westphalian statement. Fifth, the UN appears out of sync since it has a structure lorded over by the Permanent Five (P5). With United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France as P5, there are many inconsistencies. Sixth, why should the P5 comprise former colonial powers, who preach human rights, yet, obfuscate their misdeeds in countries of Asia and Africa, where colonial perpetrators of mass crimes were never held to account.

Seventh, why is the UN extremely chary in expanding the P5 to make the UN Security Council (UNSC) resonate in countries where civil strife for decades has assumed a normative temperament. Eighth, when the world’s population is estimated to be 7.8 billion (2020), only onethird decide for two-thirds as majority having no voice on issues where they are most affected. Minority rules! Ninth, the UN reflects a behaviour where it’s host has the final word. Tenth, the UN as a global institution has evolved into becoming a talking shop. Resolution’s passed are implemented in a chaotic manner, a mirror image of what this institution is within. Could India do anything to prevent further decline of UN? Answer is …No. To conclude, a global institution can only become a barometer inspiring comity of nation states after accepting necessities of reconstructing an idea placing humanity at the core and not periphery.

India’s Role in Global Governance

India’s growing stature as a global power is opening many doors for her to take active participation in global governance. It is evident from the recent G7 summit held on 11-13 June, 2021, of the coveted club of the world’s largest advanced economies. The chair of the summit the UK invited India along with South Korea, Australia and South Africa as guest countries which is evidently the recognition of India’s growing status in the global power arena. In today’s world, the distance between corners of the world is shrinking. The whole world has become a small place with flow of information in a single click; physical barrier too has shrunken with novel and fast modes of transportations: unlike French novelist, Jules Verne imagined in the 1872 classic Around the World in Eighty Days[3], today in 21st century it does not take Eighty days to travel around the world, it takes just Twenty Four hours. Today Hyperloop Travelling is very much real; it will give a near-vacuum travelling experience with immensely cutting down travelling time. Navigating these factors, one can arrive at a very crucial conclusion: the whole world is becoming one small village. In this small village, India is carving out her own place. India’s history, geo-strategic location is too crucial to ignore for the other members of the village. Ancient Indian texts like Maha Upanishada teaches us Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (Sanskrit: वसुधैवकुटुबकम) i.e. the world is one family. India has been following this ancient ideal even in contemporary times. This ancient idea reflects India’s role in addressing common global challenges. In this context, one can rightfully mention the most challenging issue of the 21st century which has intergenerational consequences.

Though India is a late entrant of Industrial Revolution which is main contributor of the climate change phenomenon accepted across sections, its pledge to Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) under UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is quite high in comparison to early industrial and today’s advanced countries. India pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below the 2005 level by 2030. Moving forward, with an assertive China and now decision of US administration to vacate Afghanistan,India has apparently a bigger role to play with respect to maintain its own security as well as the globalpeace at large. China, to prove itself as a global leader, with all its deep pocket will try to fill up the vacuum created by the USA with active support of Pakistan. As a consequence, the Taliban can emerge out as an ally for them. If this turns out in reality, the world will face some serious threats. Another episode like 9/11 will be devastation for the world in a time it is facing a pandemic of century. India, if such a scenario arises, will have a huge role to play. India can take the leverage of its fair access to the Pashtun community through the high-impact community developmental projects of about $3 billion, it undertook in Afghanistan (Salma Dam, Afghanistan’s Parliament building in Kabul) for working towards maintaining global peace if a Taliban regime comes to power. Moreover, in the Indo-Pacific theatre too India, along with the USA, Australia, Japan, and other like-minded nations is working towards limiting Chinese assertion to maintain free and open access to high seas.

However, the main contention against global governance and global institutions comes from the commercial front in the Indian context. For instance, in WTO, Indian farm subsidy policies are subjected to criticism even the advanced economies provide larger subsidies in absolute terms than India does.[4] However, India successfully negotiated a “peace clause” in this regard until a permanent solution is reached. In Dispute Settlement System too, advanced economies use tactical ways like no fulfilling the vacancies in adjudicating authority to assert their positions in trade-related disputes Another issue raised by India time and again, related to global governance is the nonexpansion of permanent membership of the UN Security Council.In this regard, India voices for a seat it being the largest democracy in the world as well as one of the largest contributors to “Blue Beret”. However, many fronts India is being criticized that reflects on different international indices published, be it Press Freedom Index published by Reporters sans borders or Corruption Index in Transparency International or India’s (mis)management of second-wave of COVID19 pandemic. But at the same time, It is difficult to ignore an emerging India. India extended a helping hand in providing the COVID-19 shots to others at the time when others were stockpiling. Hence, with new and emerging issues in this new world, India clearly gained immense experience to play an active role in reimaging global institutions for global governance.

Global Institutions: Future

1945 World War II came to an end. In the backdrop of horrors of World War II and from lessons of failures of the League of Nations, one of the most relevant global institution was created – United Nations. It was created with a message of HOPE, the vision of PROSPERITY, and the goal of PEACE. Today it has almost universal membership with 193 member states. It is an umbrella organization under which many other independent organizations, multiple funds, and thousands of NGOs work. It is truly a global institution. Fast forward to 2021. We are in the midst of a pandemic. More than 3.8 million people have lost their lives to Wuhan Virus. The world today is more authoritarian and nationalistic. A crisis like these throws us an opportunity to reflect back and ask questions about their response to pandemics and relevance in the post-pandemic world. But before answering the question of relevance we must ask ourselves why these institutions were needed in the first place? Different schools of thought in International Theory provide different answers to it. Realists argue that these institutions are just “extensions” of the state used to achieve their national interest. Liberals argue that international institutions are “functional bodies” which can enhance prosperity and advance international peace.

To sum up we are in a more globalized world. We are interlinked. We are affected by events, activities and decision taken occurring thousands of miles away from us almost in real time. Climate change, inter woven economies (2008 GFC) and pandemic have shown this. Today we have global institutions in almost all domains – economics to geopolitics; climate change to child rights; food and agriculture to human rights; peace and conflict and what not. World is indeed a better place today. Trade has increased many times, world is more aware about issues like climate change and human rights, armed conflicts if not have reduced have not blown up into a World War III and nuclear weapons proliferation has reduced. These global institutions have definitely contributed immensely and have made international arena from a “jungle” to a “zoo”. But Wuhan Virus pandemic has shown many limitations and fault lines of these institutions. Even before the pandemic hit us there were calls for “reformed multilateralism” as the global organizations were still in “post war mindset”. And today we are in a post-pandemic world. We cannot continue to find answers to today’s problems with outdated structures and opaque decision making processes. If global institutions do not rise up to the challenge and reforms themselves they will definitely be a trust deficit between its member states. This was already shown by Donald Trump’s America when it withdrew from a number of international institutions. Also there will be pushback from sovereign states, especially rising powers if they feel they are not given their due space and status.

On organizational level there is visible “democratic deficit” as all regions are not equally represented; only WW II victors continue to be the permanent members. They decide the fate of globe without any accountability and responsibility while rising powers like India are denied a permanent seat on UNSC. All this calls for reform. If structures do not adapt with changing times they become obsolete. Global institutions similarly face crisis of confidence today and risk losing their relevance. This was evident when in 2020 on 75th anniversary of UN, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi spoke these words: “People of India have been waiting for long time for completion of reforms of UN. Today people are concerned whether this reform process will ever reach its logical conclusion. For how long will India be kept out of decision making structures of UN? A country which is largest democracy of world with 18% of population will have to wait for how long?” With US not leading internationally, Europe disappearing into itself and China pursuing expansionist and imperialistic policies through salami slicing tactics and wolf warrior diplomacy unabated and unchecked, global institutions are in trouble. This explains the urgency of need of reforms in global institutions if they have to stay relevant. In a nutshell, in this post pandemic world, global institutions have a bumpy road ahead.

Dynamic Role of Global Institutions

In a world that is becoming more protectionist than ever, the role played by Global Institutions is gaining relevance. The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on some pre-existing socio-economic issues such as the Digital divide and Domestic violence on women. So, this pandemic is patently pushing for a revisit and refurbishment of the agenda of the global institutions. Obviously, this is the time for joint collective action of all nations, on global platforms. The magnanimity of the superpowers is being reflected in the statements they make on the global platforms. Recently, the effectiveness of the World Health Organization hit headlines. Despite its past clean records the silence of WHO instead of pro-active action as expected by the people really questioned its ability to act quickly. It was expected to play the role of interlocutor. Contrary to the expectation, it even went on to silence activists and neglect nations who questioned the lethargy of China in reporting the COVID-19 cases. Now, it is good to know that the WHO is working to ensure transparency in finding the origin of the contagion. On the other hand, nearly around the same period that is last year, the significance of RIC and BRICS was released by India. That is because of the role played by institutions in mediating the issue of 'Galwan Valley' held on June 15 2020 which claimed the lives of our 20 soldiers. RIC provided India a place to discuss, deliberate, and dissent. So, one of the main purposes of global institutions is to announce its objective firmly to the rest of the world. Fighting ' wolf warrior' diplomacy of China is the informal agenda of QUAD. More and more developing nations are willing to join the above-said grouping. So, the presence of a strong grouping with a clear agenda will definitely encourage many countries to voice out their opinions. Now G7 grouping countries are discussing the Global Minimum Tax Regime. This is a good step towards fair and equitable trade. The G7 countries have also promised to provide some billion doses of vaccines which is another need of the hour. At the same time, some global Institutions need some grave changes to further perform with the same vigor with which they once worked. India's role in organizations is also evident. For example, WHO strongly condemns India's agricultural subsidy system. Equal focus is not given to the disastrous state of the Producer Support Estimates of India. Another instance of Denial of Justice for India is the opposition of China for our entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Now it is in the hands of India, the world's largest democracy to bring back the neglected issues to the table. India's entry into UNSC and our high handedness in global institutions are not important for India but also for many developing and underprivileged countries cutting across the regional barriers. Global North countries' underperformance in its Nationally Determined Goals on climate change can be questioned by India in the global platforms. Furthermore, the proposal of G10 grouping by the UK is a glorious example of the growing soft power of India. To sum, India's rise in the global platforms ensures Peace, Equitable growth for all.

Global Institutions: A Multilateral Approach

The formation of the League of Nations as a worldwide intergovernmental organization in 1920, just after World War I, was meant to restore and maintain peace in the world. Primarily it was to focus on preventing wars and settling International disputes through discussions at a world organization level. But soon due to lack of unanimity in the decisions and absence of the great powers, the league failed and the World War II happened like a domino effect and the catastrophe it brought is no hidden to anyone. The UN was the second multi-purpose international organization established to maintain peace and discuss various concerns at the world level after World War II. It was similar to its predecessor but to an extent a very different organization with regard to its objective of maintaining peace in the world and its commitment to social development.[5] The coming years were not so great as to change in international relations and the cold war made decisions for every national and international entity difficult. But the UN managed well to meet its commitments and deliver what it meant. Not exact but similar is the story track of other global institutions of the times too, whether it be the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Health Organisation (WHO). All of them have worked on their commitments and all of their decisions were affected by changing International relations across States. But in recent times, to sound more precise - from the beginning of the 21st century, a wave of distrust and functional stagnancy has risen among various State actors across the globe. An institutional overhaul is something that is long been discussed and sought after by various States and at various intergovernmental and supranational platforms including pedagogic Institutions and think tanks. The relevance of global Institutions as of now is more than ever. The introduction of high-end technology and changing international dynamics put forward the question of the order of the existence of the countries across the world.

Countries like China are on the rise and hold the intention to change the balance of power in their favor. As C Raja Mohan points out, “China under Xi Jinping is ready to offer an alternative to the US-led Global order. China is betting that the Chinese communist party's party-state can deliver a superior form of capitalism, better ways of domestic political governance, and a new model of international relations centred around Chinese power.” Also, rising global alliances need to be checked so as they do not exploit others in order to serve the interest of a few. The second most important issue is the rise of business behemoths in the field of technology and financial services. These Giants value more than the total GDP of various countries combined and hold the potential of manipulating things to their advantage. There have been many instances like the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook scandal, where the firm is purportedly reported to have harvested the personal data of 50 million Facebook users to affect the US Presidential elections of 2016. Also recently how Twitter Inc., a microblogging site, is being discretionary in censoring the posts and accounts of its users without any clear policy explanations and denying to abide by the laws of the land in India. There are several such issues that need to be looked upon diligently at the international level considering the interests of all concerned. The job done by many global institutions is commendable but at the same time there are many questions on their role as well - WHO in the coronavirus outbreak from China or WTO regulations being biased to the west. The actions are commendable but the questions are also genuine.


Today the world is facing completely different challenges as were during the 90s. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that lack of proper communication and a framework between the countries can lead to catastrophic consequences. The international institutions took some steps to deal with the situation but it simply wasn’t enough. The Veto power and the post WWII mindset were not enough to deal with the situation. What we really need is proper reforms of the multilateral institutions, various emerging economies should get some voice in such entities. The African countries should be represented as well. International rules based order should be the norm of the countries.

The global scenarios today call for a whole-handed approach by all countries according to their relevant capacities. The western countries need to look for options to cooperate with the others and countries who even have hostile relations with some, need to look for options to collaborate with each other. What is really needed is more multilateral approach for the betterment of all.

[1]United Nations, [2]Antony Anghie , Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law 24 (2005) [3]Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days, 1872 [4]C. Raja Mohan, India: Between “Strategic Autonomy” and “Geopolitical Opportunity”, 15 JSTOR (2013) [5]Martin Dixon, Textbook on International Law 113 (1990)

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