The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

The G20 may have succeeded in issuing a joint declaration, but it laid bare the fault lines in India’s approach to international cooperation.

The G20 summit that unfurled in New Delhi in early September, boasted an array of world leaders, from Joe Biden to Emmanuel Macron. But the conspicuous absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping signaled a Western power vacuum, rendering any facile proclamations of a West versus Global South narrative moot.

Despite geopolitical fault lines, the summit culminated in a communiqué, putting to rest apprehensions about the assembly’s capacity for consensus. The joint statement, however, read like an ode to Russia’s diplomatic might and the West’s compromises. Far from censuring Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, the communiqué pivoted to the human toll, food security, and energy implications of the conflict. It explicitly stated that the G20 was not a venue for resolving geopolitical and security issues—a convenient loophole that aligned neatly with India’s G20 priorities, like inflation and fuel prices, yet shirked any deeper analysis of root causes.

This omission was a coup for Russia, as it coerced Western powers into tacit cooperation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s affinity for Russia belied not only the aims of the U.S. and other Western nations but also those of the Global South. India’s historical ties to Russia offered Modi the leverage to tilt the narrative of the joint declaration. Even without Vladimir Putin gracing the summit, India appeared eager to champion Moscow’s interests, evidenced by photos of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Modi in amicable conversation.

Prior to the G20, the summit cast a long shadow, skewing the alliances and partnerships of G20 members. The roster of BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the South Africa—collectively determined their G20 agenda. Significantly, Brazil and South Africa, next in line to host the G20, are integral BRICS members. The G20’s invitation to the African Union as a permanent member underscores an evolving landscape where the Global South is asserting its presence and expanding the group’s ambit. This shift suggests a parallel emergence of BRICS as an alternate power structure, with countries jockeying for influence across both platforms.

The New Delhi summit unveiled the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), a collaborative infrastructure blueprint aimed at knitting India and Europe together via countries like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Although this project was greeted with optimism, skeptics pointed out that previous U.S.-backed economic corridors have yielded limited success. It’s also worth noting that Europe’s trade ties with China far outstrip those with India, calling into question whether IMEC can effectively vie for Europe’s favor.

The summit’s nuanced dynamics revealed the complex allegiances at play. Turkey, a G20 member and a gateway to Europe, rejected the IMEC in favor of its own Iraq Development Road Project. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both essential IMEC players, have recently aligned with BRICS, effectively defying a monolithic, bipolar world order.

The G20 may have succeeded in issuing a joint declaration, but it laid bare the fault lines in India’s approach to international cooperation. In a geopolitical chess match where each move impacts global alliances and economies, India’s G20 presidency revealed its national interests but showed scant room for shared goals. Consequently, the multilateral spirit of the G20 seemed to wither under India’s leadership. As a platform for global dialogue, the G20 finds itself at a crossroads, fractured by conflicting priorities and the erosion of a collective spirit—much like the world it aims to represent.

Maheen Shafeeq is a research analyst in international security. She holds a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Sheffield, UK.