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Seven plus one: India at the G7

By Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst - Flickr: G7 in het Catshuis, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32986517

The latest G7 summit is further evidence that the traditional guarantors of the international liberal order no longer possess the vision or will to sustain it. The divisions among the group’s members runs deep, on issues ranging from trade to climate change to tensions with China, Iran, and Russia. That two successive summits have ended without a joint communiqué suggests that while the G7 remains a gathering of similar, economically consequential states, the group’s politics is deeply fragmented.


"The latest G7 summit is further evidence that the traditional guarantors of the international liberal order no longer possess the vision or will to sustain it."


While many blame U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s idiosyncrasies for the sorry state of affairs at the G7, he merely represents the new political normal. Consider the surprise invitation by French President Emmanuel Macron to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, the announcement of a new U.S.-Japanese trade deal , and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement on his plan to “talk tough” to the European Union. Each underscores the new reality with which the West will have to contend—individual whims now shape the agenda and outcomes. And that reality will outlast the Trump administration.

India’s presence at the G7 as an observer state is an acknowledgement of another dimension of this new reality. There is a growing realization that revamping the post-war order for the twenty-first century requires new torchbearers, especially from Asia and Africa. In this context, there are three salient observations about India’s diplomacy at the G7.

First, while India has traditionally found the European Union a difficult jurisdiction to navigate diplomatically, a better relationship between the two is emerging as a policy priority. Over the past year, Indian officials have visited the region to strengthen strategic ties. This is a new coalition in the making and deserves more attention.

Second, India’s ability to safeguard its core sovereign concerns even as it deepens its partnership with the West is growing. Issues such as trade, Kashmir, and India’s relations with Russia and Iran were all discussed with G7 members. A decade ago, it was more likely that the G7 would have censured India’s policies. That India set the agenda of these conversations, and that these discussions did not result in discordant press releases, suggests that India is leveraging its heft in the international order. Its message on Kashmir was clear: that is a sovereign issue and New Delhi is in control.

Third, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in two sessions at the summit, on climate change and digitization, signaling India’s growing willingness to lead on issues that are points of contention for the transatlantic actors.

Ultimately, the G7, like many other steering mechanisms developed in the twentieth century, is struggling to find relevance in a parochial world order marked by so-called “coalitions of convenience.” For now, New Delhi’s presence at the G7 will go down as another milestone in its rise as a “leading power.”

This commentary originally appeared in Council of Councils.

Samir Saran (President of ORF)
6 September 2019

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