Multilateral reforms as a priority in the G-20

Source: The post is based on the article “Multilateral reforms as a priority in the G-20” published in The Hindu on 7th March 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings 

Relevance: measures required to bring multilateral reforms

News: India in its G20 presidency has decided priorities multilateral reform.

Think 20 (T20), the idea bank of G20 has also come up with the Task Force on ‘Towards Reformed Multilateralism’ (TF7). It aims to construct a roadmap for ‘Multilateralism 2.0’.

Why has multilateralism lost its importance amongst the nations?

First, multilateralism has lost the majority’s trust due to persistent deadlocks amongst the nations.

Second, multilateralism is facing a utility crisis, where powerful member-states think it is no longer useful for them.

However, in the absence of multilateral cooperation, countries have involved themselves in bilateral, plurilateral, and Mini lateral groupings. This has further contributed to the polarization of global politics.

Hence, multilateralism is the need of the hour.

Why is multilateralism needed?

It is because most of the challenges nations face today such as conflicts, climate change, migration, macroeconomic instability, etc. are global in nature and require global solutions.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the social and economic progress that the global society made in the past couple of decades.

Hence, there is a need of multilateralism but there are various reasons that make multilateral reform difficult.

Why is multilateral reform difficult?

First, multilateralism is closely associated with global power politics. Therefore, bringing reforms in multilateralism will automatically reform the current distribution of power. Further, modifications in the distribution of power may have adverse implications if not done cautiously.

Second, the status quo powers see multilateral reforms as a zero-sum game. For example, in the context of the Bretton Woods system, the U.S. and Europe believed reform would reduce their influence and dominance. However, it also makes decision making difficult by consensus or voting.

Third, multilateralism has lost its significance due to the emerging multiplex global order. This multiplex global order facilitates the formation of new clubs, concerts and coalitions of the like-minded, which makes the reform of older institutions and frameworks more challenging.

What G-20 and India can do to bring multilateral reforms?

First, the G-20 should focus on setting proper narratives of multilateral reform. It may constitute an engagement group that would be dedicated to bring the narrative of multilateralism at the global level.

India should also urge the upcoming chairs of the G20 grouping, Brazil and South Africa, to place multilateral reforms as their presidential priorities.

Second, competing interests and the dominance of powerful states will stay in multilateral platforms. Therefore, while supporting multilateral cooperation, G-20 should continue encouraging minilateral groupings as a new form of multilateralism and try to transform them into multi-stakeholder partnerships. 

Third, G20 can help in creating issue based minilaterals, particularly in areas related to the governance of the global commons. This will be helpful in preventing competitive coalitions.

Fourth, political will is also required to bring multilateral reforms.

Fifth, the G20 can be a model of multilateralism by overcoming the trust, legitimacy and utility crises of multilateralism.

  1. To enhance its legitimacy, it can include the African Union as a permanent member and the UN Secretary-General and General Assembly President as permanent invitees.
  2. To address the crisis of trust and utility, G-20 should put all its efforts into solving one or two global issues such as food, fuel and fertilizer and showcase it as the model of new multilateralism.
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