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As a rising power in the international system, India has established its influence worldwide. India has served as a distinguished and often founding member of many international organisations. The latter play a central role that positively or negatively impacts a nation’s political and socio-economic development. International organisations work towards different ends and, depending on their respective interests, states choose to join them. In the 21st century, membership in international organisations has become very important for every country. Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his address, highlighted their importance for meeting the challenges of the 21st century. To quote his words – “More than ever in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together. Moreover, that is why we have the United Nations.” However, from a theoretical point of view, the current idea of international organisations is a westernised concept derived from the global liberal order. According to neoliberal institutionalists, international institutions significantly influence the conduct of a country by creating strong incentives for cooperation and thereby bringing peace and stability in international economic, social, or political system. However, India has criticized some of those bodies for their lack of equal representation and transparency. Most of them reflect the interests of the great powers or the interests of the West.
It has become imperative for India to regulate its foreign policy, not only towards government institutions, which are significant players in the international system but also with non-state actors such as international organizations. Today, in pursuit of the goal of the multilateral world order, India uses international organisations as a platform to challenge the unipolar world. One of the tenets of India’s foreign policy, and rightly so, is confidence in the United Nations. To begin with, India primarily supports the purposes and principles of the UN, and its efforts to bring peace and stability to the world resulted in significant achievements. India has made important contributions to the United Nations, particularly to the U.N. peacekeeping missions to which it is one of the largest troop contributors. On the other hand, India has availed the services of international institutions by taking loans, especially from World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank etc., for its development purposes. However, the structure of the U.N. Security Council has not been broadened since its inception despite the representations of certain nations such as India, Germany, Japan and Brazil that argue they are qualified for permanent membership.
India’s robust commitment to global affairs through international organizations is integral to its foreign policy. India has been one of the precursors of some organisations, for instance, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India has been diversifying its interests in the maritime domain by forming the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in order to strengthen regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean Region. It has also co-founded the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to promote shared and accelerated growth through cooperation amongst regional countries. The number of Indian representatives in the international organization has increased with the help of Indian diplomacy.
One of the significant victories of India’s diplomacy was the re-election of Dalbir Bhandari to the post of judge in the International Court of Justice, where 11 rounds of voting took place, and India had the majority in the UN General Assembly. In contrast, the U.K. had the majority in the UNSC, but before the 12th round of voting the U.K. pulled out its candidate from the election and for the first time since 1946, there is no British judge in ICJ. The victory underscored India’s “increasing importance” in the changing world order, as it bolstered its diplomatic mission to seek support not only from the West but also from developing countries. Here, one point to be highlighted is that India has creatively used the role of effective diplomacy in international institutions, seeking not only to get support from the major powers but also from smaller states that can completely change the course of decisions in international institutions.
This policy brought opportunities in the recent past, wherein 2021, India managed to get its eighth two-year tenure as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), where India hosted United Nations Security Council members for a special meeting on counter-terrorism in October 2022. In other fora, India has taken over the SCO Presidency until September 2023. At the SCO summit in Samarkand, India emphasized the transformation of India into a manufacturing hub and the role of the SCO in the post-Covid-19 era, especially in revitalizing the economy and strengthening supply chains. India’s efforts to observe an International Millet Year in 2023 were endorsed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. General Assembly. Here, India has played a leading role in advocating for new initiatives. Nevertheless, the challenge is to effectively use international organizations to resolve its disputes with neighboring countries, especially Pakistan and China. It is, therefore critical for India, during its chairmanship, to examine how, through the SCO, it can change its relations with these inimical states. Moreover, during its presidency, India must use the SCO as a platform to reach out to Central Asian republics. Additionally, in the upcoming Group of 20 (G-20) summit, India will take over the presidency from Indonesia from 1 December 2022 to 30 November 2023. For India, that summit will be filled with challenges and opportunities. G20 is crucial for India because it brings together the P5 countries of the United Nations Security Council, all the G7 members, members of NAFTA and all BRICS members. During its presidency, India must narrow the existing differences in international politics and promote shared interests. The Modi government needs to move beyond the economic framework for which the group was created and consider easing political and economic sanctions and conflicts to restore global supply chains disrupted by the war in Ukraine. India has to bring in highly polarized democracies and authoritarian regimes together, given that it has so far balanced its relations with both sides and can therefore act as a mediator. India has to deal with rising food and energy prices which are leading to political instability in major economies. Another responsibility rests with India, namely the addition of the African Union in the G20 group, in order to make it more inclusive and to give representation to Africa as a whole.
In addition, India has taken a leading role in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Conference of the Parties (CoP) summits, where India represents the interests of developing and least-developed countries. India is a founding member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its successor, the WTO, where it has consistently supported rules-based global trade governance. For protecting its geo-economic interests at the WTO, India still strongly supports higher levels of protectionist policies. At the same time, the country objects to any inclusion of non-trade issues.
In the realm of sustainable power generation India, along with France, has initiated the International Solar Alliance (ISA), an initiative of India which is India’s first international and inter-governmental organization, aimed at the establishment of a platform where the solar resource-rich countries can come together to promote renewable and clean energy, thereby contributing to the mitigation of climate change. It was during CoP26 that India and the United Kingdom launched the Global Solar Network Project, which the United States backed. Not only has it garnered support from developing countries, including many in Africa, but many developed countries as well support India’s initiative.
Since its independence, India has actively participated in international organisations and tried to make the U.N., WTO, IMF and other major international ones more inclusive by better representing the interests of developing and underdeveloped countries. India has sought alternatives to Western-dominated international institutions; the known ones being the BRICS, and SCO while maintaining good relations with ASEAN, the European Union and several others.
India needs to increase its emphasis on diplomatic sensitization so that it can more effectively engage with international organizations. India has been collaborating with multilateral agencies worldwide to achieve its goals and enhance its interaction and dialogue to find global solutions to political and economic problems and advance its national interest.