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Why in news?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the nature of challenges we face today, and what we might face in the future. The nature of these challenges has 2 aspects:

  1. Cross national Character
  2. Cross-domain with strong feedback loop- disruption in one domain cascades into disruptions in others


  • The use of chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides may promote food security but have injurious health effects, undermining health security. Whether at the domestic or the international level, these inter-domain linkages need to be understood and inform policy interventions. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) reflect this awareness.
  • COVID-19 too is of the same nature. It is a health crisis but is also spawning an economic crisis through disrupting global value chains and creating a simultaneous demand shock. It is a classic cross-national and cross-domain challenge.

Rise of nationalism: absolutely not the solution

  • The intersection of cross-national and cross-domain challenges demand multilateral approaches with empowered international institutions of governance.
  • For this, a spirit of internationalism and solidarity, a sense of belonging to a common humanity is required. But over the past decade and more, the world has been moving in the reverse direction – an upsurge in narrow nationalism.

The possible directions now

Interventions to deal with the COVID-19 crisis are so far almost entirely at the national level, relying on quarantine and social distancing. Instead of co-ordination at international level, we see blame game between the US and China.

The long-term directions countries may choose include:

  1. Desirable direction: All countries finally realise that there is no option but to move away from nationalistic urges and embrace the logic of international cooperation through revived and strengthened multilateral institutions and processes.
  2. Undesirable Direction: Nationalist trends become more intense, countries begin to build walls around themselves and even existing multilateralism is further weakened -United Nations and the World Health Organization

What is needed?

A reaffirmation of multilateralism – for this the world needs leadership and statesmanship, both in short supply. The US took up this role after 2008 crisis through the G-20 platform. The newborn platform crafted a coordinated response that prevented catastrophic damage to the global economy.

Is there a role for India today?

Being a key G-20 member , world’s 5th largest economy and with a long tradition of international activism and promotion of rule-based multilateralism, India surely has a role to play.

As the PM of India has pointed out, with the global challenges staring us we have to ‘Collaborate to Create’. The world today is inter-related, inter-connected and inter-dependent. Yet, we haven’t been able to come on a single platform or frame a Global Agenda to end world poverty, to end terrorism, to handle Climate Change issues.

  • Towards this end, India has shed its past policy of ‘Non-alignment’, which meant equal distance from every country. A defensive policy at best. Now, we have embraced a “neutral” policy of ‘Non-alignment’ by having friendship with all countries. This is the very essence of India’s foreign policy and the economic policy of India today.
  • Eg: India’s friendship with Iran and Saudi Arabia, and with the U.S. as well as Russia.
  • The Prime Minister has shown commendable initiative in convening leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations for a regional collaborative effort on COVID-19. This should be followed by an international initiative, either through the G-20 or through the U.N.

India’s foreign policy

India’s Foreign policy is hardly distinguishable from the basic principles of Indian foreign policy since Nehru. India’s non-alignment was anything but defensive. The international peace-keeping contribution that the Prime Minister referred to has its origins in Nehru’s sense of international responsibility.

  • India has always professed its desire to have friendly relations with all countries but has been equally firm in safeguarding its interests when these are threatened.
  • India’s non-alignment did not prevent it from forging strong and mutually beneficial partnerships with major countries. The India-Soviet partnership from 1960-1990 is an example just as the current strategic partnership with the U.S. is.
  • The foreign policy has always been rooted in India’s civilisational sense, its evolving place in the international system and its own changing capabilities.

The Prime Minister’s plea for global collaboration to deal with a densely inter-connected world is in line with India’s traditional foreign policy. A leadership role in mobilising global collaboration, more specifically in fighting COVID-19 would be in keeping with India’s traditional activism on the international stage.

February 2024