Le jeu de pouvoir de l'Inde au G20, avec Happymon Jacob

8 septembre 2023 - 32 minutes d'écoute

Alors que les dirigeants du monde entier se réunissent à New Delhi pour le sommet du G20, le Premier ministre Narendra Modi place l'Inde au centre de la scène. Happymon Jacob, de l'université Jawaharlal Nehru, rejoint Tatiana Serafin et Nikolas Gvosdev pour évaluer ce que l'on peut attendre du leadership de l'Inde sur un large éventail de défis mondiaux, du climat aux initiatives en matière d'énergie verte, en passant par la guerre entre l'Ukraine et la Russie.

En l'absence de Xi Jinping (Chine) et de Vladimir Poutine (Russie), l'Inde prendra-t-elle l'initiative de représenter les voix du Sud ? Quelles sont les possibilités pour l'Inde et les États-Unis de modifier conjointement l'ordre géopolitique ? Comment l'Inde peut-elle tirer parti de sa puissance économique et militaire pour occuper le devant de la scène mondiale ?

Le jeu de pouvoir de l'Inde au G20 Lien podcast Spotify Le jeu de pouvoir de l'Inde au G20 Doorstep Apple podcast link

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome, everyone, to this edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I am Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow here at Carnegie Council, welcoming today Happymon Jacob from Jawaharlal Nehru University to speak to us about the upcoming G20.

I am so excited for so many reasons, first of all because this is the launch of our fourth season, and we welcome all of your audience comments. Please get in touch with us. We want to make The Doorstep for you. We are starting off with a big discussion about the global world order, what is going on, what can we expect, and who are the powers that are going to rise over the next couple of years, and we are so happy to have Happymon explain that to us.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Happymon, on the eve of the G20 summit in Delhi. We have been hearing headlines here in the United States about Biden arriving in Delhi, but the most ambitious headline I saw was, “Modi Has a Successful G20 Summit,” from The Economist. Really? It didn’t even happen. I would like to get behind some of these headlines that we are reading here, some of the headlines coming from Delhi, and what you are seeing. I know you are in Kyiv today, and that is going to be a topic of the summit, so we can get to that.

For our audience here in the United States what we try to do is get behind the headlines. Can you walk us through what you are seeing in the headlines and what is reality? What are true expectations for this summit? There are a couple of major players not there. What is really happening here? Are we experiencing a global power shift?

HAPPYMON JACOB: Thank you for having me on the show.

Let’s dive right into it. My feeling is that some of the headlines may be a little exaggerated but not that exaggerated. Let me put it this way. This is not the first time the G20 summit is taking place anywhere in the world—the summit has been taking place for the last two decades or so, but what I think makes this year’s summit important is because it is taking place at a time when there is a great deal of uncertainty in the international system, there are so many geopolitical considerations and calculations riding on this summit, and India has made it a point to showcase this summit as its opportunity to assert itself in the international system.

Therefore, you are looking at a very unique context in which this summit is taking place. On the one hand, you have the Ukraine-Russia War that is taking place. I am speaking from Kyiv, where I arrived yesterday, and this is going to be one of the major hot topics discussed at the summit, although the summit is not a security conference. It is supposed to be discussing concerns about global institutions, market activism, about development, climate change, and issues of that kind, but this is an unavoidable topic that is going to find a place there, and perhaps a lack of consensus on this particular issue may actually lead to a situation where you may not see a joint communique at the end of the day.

I also want to end my answer by saying that while I do understand that there is a lot of noise being created about the G20 summit in Delhi I do not necessarily fault the government of India for making that noise because this is an opportunity that does not come everyday for the Indian state, and the Indian state has decided to articulate its view or its vision for the international system through forums such as this, given the fact that it is not a member of the United Nations Security Council, and even the United Nations system itself is facing a certain existential crisis today.

As Prime Minister Modi himself said a few months ago at the foreign minister conference of the G20 he said global governance has failed and the G20 has a responsibility to speak to or speak on behalf of those who are not present in discussions. I think this is an interesting summit, and I am myself waiting for what happens tomorrow and the day after.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: One of the things that is very striking about this summit is of course who is not attending. It was expected that Russian President Putin would not attend, in part because of the sanctions that he is under and the risk now when he travels with an International Criminal Court warrant for his arrest, but surprisingly President Xi Jinping also has decided not to attend in person, sending the [premier] to represent him, so the critical global leader that will be standing alongside Prime Minister Modi is President Biden without a Chinese or Russian presence.

Is there a sense that this summit, this G20—where the United States, which has been faltering in its efforts to engage the Global South, and especially in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine—is a make-or-break moment for Joe Biden to try to make the case that the United States is a better partner and alternative for the Global South than China, than Russia, than Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS), which just had its summit in Durban not too long ago?

HAPPYMON JACOB: That is an ambitious sort of postulation. Let me put that somewhat differently. I think Mr. Xi Jinping not attending the G20 summit in Delhi is part pettiness and part geopolitical calculation. The Chinese do not want to add to the Indian ability to be a leader of the Global South by participating in a much-talked-about G20 summit in Delhi, where you may actually see the candidates of the African Union being discussed in a decisive manner. You may actually see the membership of the African Union, and it has been giving a lot of importance to issues faced by the Global South. You had a Global South summit earlier this year organized by India in the run-up to this particular G20 summit. India has been foregrounding some of the issues and concerns that have been traditionally a set of concerns about the Global South, so in many ways the Chinese have I think decided not to let India become the natural leader of the Global South because they are also gunning for the leadership of the Global South in many ways.

As far as the arrival of President Biden in Delhi is concerned I think that goes to show that President Biden is very much in favor of strengthening the United States’ relationship with India, and we have seen over the last several years that India and the United States have made strides in strengthening their partnership. Actually India is closer to the United States today than ever before in its history.

All these are facts, but I do not think we can conclude by saying that this also shows that the United States will stand behind the Global South and its concerns. I think there needs to be a lot more evidence to suggest that.

For instance, to begin with we are looking at a global governance system which is pretty much represented by the Global South. India is not part, for example, of many of the global governance systems today. You need a lot more democracy and stakeholdership from the Global South in the global governance systems. To that extent, do I think the Americans have done enough to assuage the concerns of the Global South? I don’t think that has happened in any case.

Do the Americans think that BRICS is a major institution in the international system that needs to be engaged more proactively? I have not seen enough evidence coming from Washington, DC for that.

I think these are two different things, that the United States is a great friend of India, that the United States wants to stand behind India at a time of geopolitical turmoil including between India and China, that is absolutely accurate. Does that necessarily translate into a United States desire to bat for the concerns of the Global South? I need to see more evidence to make that conclusion.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Nick, when you were talking about the image of Modi and Biden standing together, I thought, Wow, that is a powerful image, because we live on images today. It is not just words; it is also images. It also made me think that these two gentlemen represent an older generation, and they are both up for reelection. Are we looking at two powerful leaders, or is that image maybe a little bit shaky? I wonder what the ramifications are then on our discussions of creating a new global order?

HAPPYMON JACOB: I think when it comes to the United States and India whether or not Joe Biden comes back to the White House, whether or not Prime Minister Modi comes back to form the next government in India in 2024, there is a bipartisan consensus in my opinion in the United States that India is an important stakeholder in the United States' plans for the region. There is a consensus in India today that India is moving closer to the United States and that the United States is important for India’s Indo-Pacific strategy, the United States is important for India to push back Chinese aggression in the region, so whether or not these two gentlemen come back to the highest offices in their respective countries next year the India-U.S. relations will continue to be strong in the years to come. I have very little doubt about that.

Whether the two sides will reshape the global order in a decisive manner, I think that is somewhat of a different question. Can the United States and India team up together to shape the geopolitics as it sort of unfolds in the years to come. I hope they do. I hope there is a lot more convergence of interests between the two sides on what the global order should look like going forward. There are misgivings in India about the current global order, and because Indians look at it and say, “This is a post-Second World War global order,” which India has very little stakeholdership in, and therefore that is not beneficial for India.

I think as far as the G7 is concerned, if there is an expanded G7 and India is part of that, if there is a way India is accommodated into the UN Security Council, those are indications of India and the United States batting together and shaping the global order.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: One area, though, with that, and given the fact that you are in Kyiv right now, is that the United States and India have not seen eye to eye on responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both countries of course condemn it, but the United States has wanted countries to take much more stringent, particularly economic, sanctions against Russia. India and many Global South countries argue that they also have other interests and cannot make Ukraine the central organizing principle of their relationship.

Is there a sense that you are getting, both from what you are seeing around the G20 but being in Kyiv now with the American secretary of state having been there, that there is room for any sort of possible breakthrough at the G20 or elsewhere where there are some of these differences on responding to the Russian invasion between the United States, the West, India, and other of the states of the Global South and East that are part of the G20? Is there a sense that there is potentially a way forward to find common ground?

HAPPYMON JACOB: I think in India strategic responses do not change very quickly. They change very slowly. This particular culture is such that responses to systemic developments take place very slowly. I go by that logic. I do not foresee any major changes in the Indian position vis-à-vis the Ukraine War in a decisive manner in the months to come.

But let me unpack that a little more. The Indian response to the Ukraine war in the beginning was subtly pro-Russia, and I would say it is changing bit by bit and not in a big manner. This is a product of three things.

1) Clearly India did not have much of a relationship with Ukraine, but India had a big relationship with the Russian Federation. Even today 55 percent of India’s defense equipment is of Russian manufacture, which is decreasing, but it is still the case. You still have a long way to go before India does not have any major Russian systems in its armory.

2) I think India is looking at the Ukraine War from a national interest prism rather than from a democracy-versus-non-democracy prism or a West-versus-non-West prism. That is not the prism India is looking at it through. India is looking at it from a sense of, “What kind of responses will best serve our national interest?” I think that is the way India is looking at it.

3) I think there has been a change in the Indian position over time. India has, as you have seen, used language which clearly castigates the Russian aggression if not taking the name “Russia” or “Russian Federation.” India has talked about the importance of sovereignty and the importance of international law. India has talked about the non-necessity of war. I think all of that basically points toward the notion that this is not a war that India likes, but this is a war that is only in the longer term going to harm India’s interests in the region.

Why do I say that? For India the principal competition is China and not Russia. For the United States and its allies the principal competition is Russia, for a long time China, even for the Americans and for the others, but for India the principal competition today and tomorrow is China. I think India moderates its responses looking at the China factor. If India moves away dramatically from Russia, then Russia and China are going to be the two major powers in India’s continental neighborhood. India has pretty much no other friend in the continental space, and that is going to be a problem for India at a time when China is not only asserting but it is aggressively asserting and making claims to Indian territory on the Line of Actual Control.

Can India afford to give up even the limited friendship that India has with Russia today and move entirely to a different sort of space? I don’t think India can afford to do that, even if India is unhappy about that. I think the China factor further shapes the Indian response in a manner that sometimes Western commentators or leaders fail to understand. India may share the values of the West, but India is located in the non-West, and geography is something we have to live with. It is a fate that you cannot avoid and give up on when you want.

But I will say that this is an ongoing evolution. Look at what the Indians do; do not look at what the Indians say. Even if the Indians do not condemn the war, are the Indians doing things which are probably telling you that India is moving away from Russia? I would say yes, so go by what the Indians are doing and not what they are saying.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I like that. Watch what people are doing and not what they are saying, because it is true. Part of the G20 and the communique you talk about is that sometimes they are going to wordsmith it so much that it may not mean anything in the end. How many times can you count that these communiques that come out of the G20 have actually led to significant changes, but it is what is happening behind the scenes. I wonder, what is your sense of behind the scenes in terms of what is the most important issue?

Here, climate. Hong Kong just got deluged and South China with torrential rainfalls. We have had torrential rainfalls here and terrible weather patterns here as well in the United States. Climate change is everywhere. We had the U.S. Open here and some climate protesters glued themselves to the ground. Climate is what everybody is talking about. What is really the issue that you feel people are talking about but may not be reported about?

HAPPYMON JACOB: I am happy you brought up the issue of climate. Unfortunately much of the media coverage and the conversations have been about the security question. The participants have been talking to each other about a potential final communique. There is no consensus yet, and the lack of consensus is primarily because of the Ukraine War and how do we phrase that in the final agreement. I don’t know if they are going to buy the Bali Declaration’s language or if the Western sides want different language. The fact that the Russians and the Chinese are not there in the room or at least not represented by their top leaders actually puts additional pressure on India in some ways. In fact it is not giving India a free hand because it puts additional pressure on India because the Russians would not expect India to sort of throw them under the bus. I think India is in a difficult position in terms of what is going to be the language about the Ukraine War in the communique.

I am not a big believer in communiques. What does the communique do? At the end of the day these communiques are for the press and for the media. It is not going to alter the scheme of things fundamentally. I would be more keen on what these leaders are going to discuss regarding climate change, multilateralism, on green energy, on developmental issues, or on some of the other concerns that are plaguing the Global South. I have so far no clue on what is going to be agreed upon regarding some of these issues.

This is a forum that is supposed to discuss those issues. It is not a security conference. For security you have the UN Security Council and perhaps others. I hope that the Ukraine War, however unfortunate that war is—and it is unfortunate. I am sitting in a country where I can feel the pain of the people who live here and the leadership who has to deal with them, and yet the Ukraine War should not overshadow the concerns that plague much of humanity, which is the Global South, that are being discussed at the G20. This is not going to be discussed at the G7. This is not going to be discussed at the UN General Assembly. This is one of those very rare forums where you can bring on those issues, so I hope tomorrow and the day after tomorrow the leaders of these countries are able to get some more work done on these so-called “non-traditional,” non-security issues. That is how I am going to determine whether the G20 summit in Delhi has been a success or not, not on the basis of language, which as you say, is a compromise language that is going to be there in the final communique about the war.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think that is a very important point, going back to your earlier observation about watching what is done, not what is said.

President Biden is traveling with a lot of promises, but some of those promises are going to depend on domestic U.S. action—more money for the World Bank, more money for environmental concerns, more money for energy transitions—but if he cannot get Congress to appropriate, then some of those promises will go by the sidelines.

Obviously, there is a lot of focus on Biden traveling to New Delhi, but are you looking at any other sideline conversations at the G20 that we might want to focus on? Again, as you said, Prime Minister Modi is hosting this, and he is able to position India to say, “We are at the center of these conversations.” Are there expectations about European leaders, the African Union, the Saudis, anyone else who is traveling to Delhi where we might see some of these sideline conversations on energy, on climate, on food, or on pandemics that we should be looking out for?

HAPPYMON JACOB: I am frankly not aware of some of the other bilaterals that are being held as we speak. I think Mr. Modi has several bilaterals that are lined up, including one with the British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, where they will discuss the future of the India-UK Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which has been talked about a lot, but we do not have an agreement yet in place. We may have some conversations about the ongoing negotiations about the India-EU Free Trade Agreement because some of the European leaders are in town.

I think there is a lot of focus in India on climate, energy, and FTAs. Remember, this is a country and a government that forced all FTA negotiations in 2014 when it came to office until 2021. So, from 2021 onward there has been a spate of negotiations with other countries on FTAs and other such trade deals. I think that is going to be high on the agenda when Mr. Modi speaks to the other leaders through some of the bilaterals.

The other I think is going to be on energy transition and climate change. I am frankly not aware of some of the nitty-grittys of these conversations, but I hope there is going to be some outcome in those meetings because the outcome in the other conversations that has dominated the media space is not going to be of any great significance as far as the G20 itself is concerned.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I wanted to mention a book, Happymon, that we read, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War—I do not know if you are familiar with it—by Elliott Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis.

In that book—spoiler alert—the country that comes out as a major superpower is India. Over the last couple of years we have done several podcasts looking at the rise of India because of your population of young people and ideas and the movement of ideas out of India, the ascendence of culture because I think soft power is also important in our discussion of geopolitics and global supremacy, and I wonder if you are seeing on a meta level that this is India’s moment, more even than just talking about security or talking about climate, that somehow this is the year that there is going to be a shift. We have been talking about this shift at The Doorstep for the last several years. If you have not read 2034, check it out, but is this the moment? What is your feeling?

HAPPYMON JACOB: I have not read the work, but my impression about what you just told me is that India has in many ways the attributes of being a major country in the international system. I would not call it a great power or superpower. That is how we academically define it but look at it this way: This is the fifth largest economy, the most populous country on earth, third or fourth biggest military with nuclear weapons, immense soft power. The diaspora, including to the United States, is big.

It has its own challenges of course—religious issues within the country, communalism, poverty, all of that, but compared to 1991 when India almost became a basket case because of its economic nonperformance today it is a $3.8-trillion economy. It is bound to grow. So you are looking at a positive story here.

Today India has also not just the power in material terms but also a certain willingness to contribute to global conversations about global order and what is good for the international system. In that sense, however tragic and unfortunate it might sound, the current chaos in the international system has actually boosted India’s ability to improve itself. Imagine this: Had there been a consensus among great powers, including the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, etc., at the UNSC about how the world should be run and had there been no Ukraine War, who would have bothered about what India thinks? Who would have thought about what India wants in the international system? Who would have considered India to be a major stakeholder in the world order? Nobody would have.

Today sitting in Delhi the feeling that one gets is that, Well, there is chaos in the international system, and this is India’s opportunity. If things are not, as Mr. Modi correctly pointed out a few months ago as I said earlier at the foreign ministers' meeting, global [inaudible]. He is not lamenting about it if you ask me, but he thinks this is an opportunity.

As the saying goes, “Don’t waste a crisis.” India is not wasting a crisis. It is articulating an ambition that we are a pole in the international system in a multipolar world. India wants a multipolar world. Why? Not because there is any inherent love for multipolarity but because its chances of becoming a pole are higher in a multipolar world than in a unipolar or bipolar world clearly, not because India has any great fundamental civilizational love for the Global South, but India thinks that using the Global South in many ways is India’s pathway toward being a major power in the international system.

There are these very selfish calculations, which all countries have, and why not? It is better for the international community today and for the United States in particular to engrace the rights of a country like India because of its democratic credentials notwithstanding aberrations here and there and the ability of the rest of the international community to speak to India with reason, with respect, and a certain amount of equality.

And India, of course, comes from from a political and historical tradition of having spoken for and on behalf of the Global South and it understands where it comes from, and it is located in a space that is very important for the future of the Indo-Pacific, very important for the future of the rise of Asia, and very important in terms of checking the aggression of China globally and regionally, so here is a country that should be partnered by the international community, primarily the United States of America, and Indians have shown that they are willing to play ball if the international community uses the right kind of tools and language.

What does not work with India is, “Either you are with us or against us.” That just does not work with India. It is a post-colonial country with a thin skin. You tell the Indians how to do things, and they will not do that. You tell the Indians the logic behind something, then they will of course understand the logic, so speak to India as an equal partner, speak to India as a stakeholder in the international system, and, hey, you have a partner who is willing and able to do things for the upkeep of the international system and the global order.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I look forward to partnering more with India and hearing more about the G20 summit and what is coming out of it. Thank you so much for setting the stage for us and have a great trip to Kyiv.

HAPPYMON JACOB: Thank you so much, Nikolas and Tatiana. It is wonderful talking to you guys.

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Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs est un organisme indépendant et non partisan à but non lucratif. Les opinions exprimées dans ce podcast sont celles des intervenants et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position de Carnegie Council.

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