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A Strategy For India’s Reformed Multilateralism


Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s recent visit to the United States has laid the groundwork for India to engage in a wide range of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. The visit is unique in that it aims to achieve a wide range of goals, including the Indian delegation’s participation in the High-Level Week at the recent 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).


GS Paper2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests. Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

Mains Question

India’s two-year term at the UN Security Council, which begins in 2021, presents enormous opportunities for enhancing India’s multilateral standing and reshaping its traditional approach.” Comment. (250 Words)


  • On the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, India hosted the 10th Ministerial Commission of Foreign Ministers of the India-Brazil-South Africa Trilateral Cooperative Forum (IBSA), as well as a G-4 meeting of foreign ministers.
    • About the IBSA: The IBSA is a development initiative launched by India, Brazil, and South Africa to promote South-South cooperation and exchange.
    • The G-4, which consists of India, Germany, Brazil, and Japan, is primarily concerned with UN Security Council (UNSC) reform and permanent membership in the body for G4 members. It also expresses support for African countries being represented on a reformed Council in both permanent and non-permanent capacities.
  • On the sidelines of the UNGA summit, India’s External Affairs Minister met with members of the L.69 group.
    • About L.69: The organisation, which includes many African, Latin American, and Asian countries, was founded in 2007.
    • Its stated goal is to “achieve comprehensive reform of the Security Council, ultimately strengthening multilateralism and achieving a more inclusive, responsive, and participatory international governance architecture.”
  • The US visit follows the recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Samarkand, and a variety of multilateral engagements provide a road map for India’s renewed multilateral diplomacy.

Developing new frameworks

Beyond the UN, India’s participation in plurilateral meetings of the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, and the United States), IBSA, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), Presidency Pro Tempore CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), India-CARICOM (Caribbean Community), and other trilateral formats, such as India-France-Australia, India-France-United Arab Emirates, and India.

Meeting of UNGA developments

  • UNGA keynote: The theme of the 77th General Assembly, “A Watershed Moment: Transformative Solutions to Interlocking Challenges,” places India squarely in the middle as a key UN partner.
  • UNSC reform: For a global organisation like the UN, increasing the number of developing countries on the Security Council could foster global trust and leadership.
  • India’s perspective: At the heart of India’s participation in the 77th General Assembly is a call for “reformed multilateralism,” in which the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should reform itself into a more inclusive organisation that reflects today’s realities.
    • India’s call for structural reform of global multilateral institutions includes institutional accountability and broader representation of developing countries.

Reasons that are convincing

  • COVID-19 crises: When countries closed their borders, supply chains were disrupted, and almost every country needed vaccines, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the UN’s institutional limitations.
  • Vaccine uptake and relief efforts: Countries of the global South, including India, have emphasised the need for a more inclusive UN, particularly through UNSC reform.
  • India as a bridge: According to EAM S. Jaishankar at the UN, India is a bridge, a voice, a point of view, and a channel at a time when normal diplomacy isn’t working so well.
    • Because India has the ability to communicate and find common ground with other countries, India has become more important in this polarised world.

Faultlines in the UN

  • Inability to prevent wars: The UN-led multilateralism has failed to provide strong war-prevention mechanisms. For example, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has loomed over several UN Security Council resolutions.
  • Redundant veto: With the West boycotting Russia, the UN Security Council’s veto power is expected to become obsolete. As a result, only a reformed multilateralism with increased representation can generate deeper regional stakes in order to prevent wars.
  • Concerning China: China’s rise, belligerence, and aggression in the South China Sea, the Indo-Pacific region, and, increasingly, globally, have highlighted the limitations of UN-style multilateralism.
    • Growing influence: China’s influence over multilateral organisations, including the UN, is growing, as evidenced by China’s unofficial pressure on former UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet to prevent the release of a report by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the situation of Uyghurs in China.
  • Rival territory: China’s open use of veto power against India at the UN continues.
    • Most recently, it blocked a joint India-US proposal at the UN to designate Sajid Mir, a top Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operative involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as a “global terrorist.
  • Risk of disparate institutions: China’s growing dominance may lead it to carve its own multilateral matrix, economically and strategically bypassing the West.
    • Russia and Iran’s international isolation may hasten these changes faster than expected.

The way forward

  • With sharper divisions between countries as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war and lingering pandemic-related restrictions, the need for UN reform is more pressing than ever.
  • India’s emphasis on revitalised (revitalised) multilateralism coincides with a critical juncture in UN-led multilateralism, and the UN could incorporate burden-sharing within its institutional ambit.

December 2023