The G20 Summit has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, with its success in delivering the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. There was apprehension that much like the G20 meetings of the Foreign, Finance, and Development Ministers, which could not produce joint statements because of differences over the Ukraine conflict – a Chair’s Summary was issued by India in each case – the Summit would fail to establish a consensus document. This pessimism has been happily belied.
Russia, supported by China, had already rejected the repetition of the compromise language on the Ukraine war in the Bali Leaders’ Declaration under Indonesia’s Presidency in 2022. The position of the West has been hardening over this time with increasing financial support and arms supplies to Ukraine, including cluster bombs, uranium-enriched ammunition, and advanced missiles to enable it to launch its so-called spring offensive to gain an upper hand militarily and force Russia to come to the peace table. Against this backdrop, it seemed most unlikely that these fundamental differences over the Ukraine conflict could be bridged and a compromise language could be drafted to enable a joint statement.
It is to the credit of New Delhi’s diplomacy, backed by the international standing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that India could help forge a compromise language on the Ukraine conflict. In this effort, the weight of the Global South has been a critical element, in that Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa, the past and future Presidents of G20, and Global South heavyweights, mediated the language, supported also by Mexico and Turkey. Neither the G7 Plus members of G20 nor Russia and China, which have great stakes in the Global South, could have rebuffed these efforts.
The G20 platform, created by the G7, was meant to accommodate the major developing countries in decision-making on economic and financial matters at the international level. The G7 would want to preserve this platform in which they have a major say, rather than reduce its salience if the Summit in Delhi had ended without a consensus document. The recent expansion of BRICS to G11, with further expansions in the pipeline, excludes the G7 and thus sidelines its influence and control over the agenda. This move was strategically aimed at challenging the established Western global dominance. It was a significant factor taken into account to prevent the G20 Summit from concluding with discord.
It is not surprising therefore that Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, called the declaration a “significant milestone” and “a vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues”.
The US, no doubt, also had in mind its own bilateral ties with India in handling the summit. It would have been kept in mind that in the context of India and the US forging increasingly close ties, it would be a blow to India and to Prime Minister Modi personally if the US-led G7 allowed the summit to end inconclusively. For India, the G20 Presidency was an occasion to showcase a new, confident, economically rising India that is determined to play a more active role in shaping a new international order that is more democratic and equitable and remains a bridge between East and West as well as North and South. The constructive role played by G7 leaders in contributing to the success of the summit, leaders with whom Modi has built productive ties, needs to be acknowledged.
Russia, which the West has wanted to isolate diplomatically, is reaching out successfully to the Global South, especially the African countries. China too, through its Belt and Road Initiative, has made vast inroads into the Global South in order to position itself as a rival to the US in terms of global power. Both Russia and China, also with the growing pull of the Global South towards BRICS, would have also been responsive to pressure by developing countries to reach a compromise language on Ukraine.
In the event, to secure the language of consensus, the G7 has ceded major ground on the Ukraine conflict, compared to the language in the Bali Declaration. There is no reference at all to Russia by name in the document. There is no “deploring in the strongest terms Russia’s aggression against Ukraine” or reference to “Russia’s complete and unconditional withdrawal from Ukrainian territory”, as in the Bali Declaration. The war in Ukraine has also been placed in the wider context of “the immense suffering and the adverse impact of wars and conflicts around the world”.
The addition in the Delhi Declaration that “all states must refrain from threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state” is a general statement of principle which, even if it indirectly refers to Russia’s action in Ukraine, Russia could live with, especially as it argues that in Ukraine the principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter is involved and that the Ukrainian territories in question have been incorporated into Russia after referenda.
Some elements of the Bali Declaration have been reincorporated in the Delhi Declaration, again in terms of general principles, such as the “use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”. Russia did not oppose this formulation at Bali either. Russia did not object when this was said in the document between China and the EU. That “there were different views and assessments of the situation” with regard to the impact of the war in Ukraine is repeated from the Bali Declaration is language that accommodates Russia, but omitting the word “sanctions” in this sentence, was clearly a concession to the G7 that believes its sanctions are justified.
On the contentious issue of food grain and fertiliser exports from the region (the Black Sea Initiative), which Russia has suspended, Russia has got satisfaction as the Declaration calls for full and timely implementation of the UN-brokered Istanbul Agreements to “ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs ad fertilisers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine”, necessary to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly in Africa. Russia has been arguing that contrary to the agreement in question, Russian agricultural exports are being impeded by the West by various forms of sanctions. Clearly, the weight of the Global South has been felt in drafting this text.
The call in the Declaration to welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine, besides upholding the principles of the UN Charter for the promotion of peaceful, friendly, and good neighbourly relations among nations in the spirit of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, is a bow to India.
(Kanwal Sibal was Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France, and Russia, and Deputy Chief Of Mission in Washington.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.