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Suchak Patel asked: How has COVID-19 impacted multilateral diplomacy? What should be India’s stand regarding post-corona multilateralism?

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  • Rajeesh Kumar replies: The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on multilateral diplomacy are multifold. First, it has exposed the current crisis of multilateral institutions and exacerbated their decline. For instance, while the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) seemed more paralysed, agencies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) suffered scepticism of accountability and effectiveness. Second, the unilateral responses of the states, at a time when the world needed a more coordinated global response, have questioned the notion of multilateral diplomacy itself and resulted in the loss of faith in it. The politics of blame game and opportunism has dominated almost all the multilateral diplomatic deliberations on COVID-19. Finally, it has disrupted the environment of informal discussions and interpersonal communications, which are essential elements for the success of multilateral diplomacy and thus exposed its limitations in praxis as well.   

    Though the states are self-isolating and taking unilateral measures to tackle the pandemic, there is also a realisation that only a coordinated global response can address the pandemic and its consequences. The pandemic has rather reinforced the need to reinvigorate multilateral institutions. The deadly virus is affecting societies at their core, claiming millions of lives and destroying countless livelihoods. In the absence of a coordinated multilateral response, it would be difficult for the states to effectively tackle the socio-economic fallout of the pandemic, individually. Similarly, in the absence of multilateral institutions, it will be costlier and more difficult for the states to collect information and data on the origin and spread of the pandemic. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic makes it clear how interconnected world is and how crucial international cooperation is to manage global challenges such as pandemics and climate change.

    India has benefited from a rules-based and relatively peaceful multilateral order. India's economic rise was partly the result of the integration of the global economy, particularly developments in the field of trade and technology. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has plunged the world economy into a deep crisis. In addition, the pandemic propelled global geopolitical changes also necessitates a proactive multilateral engagement. The mounting United States-China geopolitical competition has the potential to disrupt the relative peace in the international system. On the one hand, it will affect India’s regional and global geopolitical interests and calculations. However, on the other, it will open more opportunities for middle powers like India to contribute to addressing policy challenges related to the global public good. Therefore, a strong and rules-based multilateral order will be most conducive to improving the country's economy and global status.

    Posted on July 13, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.

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