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India and global Governance

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Categories: Governance: Doing the rights things in the right way, Published: 10th Aug, 2022


  • As a rising power, India’s role in global governance is under considerable scrutiny. We will be tracing the evolution of India’s engagement with global governance. During the course, we shall be evaluating the complexities undergirding India’s approach to the structural, institutional, and normative challenges facing the current global order as well as India’s approach to challenges, constraints and opportunities in shaping its regional order. Let’s delve into India’s past, current and potential future contributions to global governance and order.


  • If we consider, the end of the Cold War as the beginning of Globalisation, then it primarily represents increased involvement of non-state actors in global affairs, fundamentally shifting relations of power, speeding up national economies integration and the convergence of policies.
  • Globalization has to be reshaped and reformed to allow it to realize its true potential. This requires a review of interests and ideology, the need for stronger International Public Institutions which focus on issues of collective action, transparency in decision making, and finally general reform.
  • However, the most fundamental and crucial change that is required that will enable globalization to be a force for good is a change in governance. On these premises we shall be developing our understanding of global governance, and what India has to offer to accomplish the bigger goal of a united world.

What is Global Governance?

  • Global Governance is a means to manage issues that cut across national borders to create a fairer and just world. It involves a complex of institutions, policies, norms, procedures, and initiatives to coordinate collective action globally and address transnational challenges.
  • Global governance includes activities that transcend national boundaries at the international, transnational, and regional levels and is based on rights and rules that are enforced through a combination of economic and moral incentives.
  • Role: The goal of global governance, roughly defined, is to provide global public goods, particularly peace and security, justice and mediation systems for conflict, functioning markets and unified standards for trade and industry. One crucial global public good is catastrophic risk management. Climate Change, Weapons of Mass destruction, ecological collapse, pandemics, solar geoengineering and Artificial Intelligence are a few examples of global catastrophic risks.

India’s and Global Governance: Initial phase

  • India was one of the most enthusiastic players when the foundation of global governance was laid in the post–World War II period. Its presence was noticeable in key international negotiations aimed at building the post-war international order, which was marked by the bipolarity of the Cold War era.
  • India’s position was unique, given its lack of material power to shape global processes, which was largely compensated by its moral leadership in a newly decolonized world. While maintaining a strong interest in global institutions, it remained non-aligned with the two major power blocks in global politics.
  • India was aspiring to global leadership through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), but its lack of economic strength realistically reduced it to a regional player in South Asia. Principles and pragmatism often translated into India’s marginalisation from global processes of norm-making. As a result, India was largely confined to being a rule-taker than a rule-maker in global governance.

Changes in India’s Profile:

  • The conception of National Interests: Disintegration of the former Soviet Union created a New World Order where Indian interests demanded a proactive engagement with global institutions, both as a dissident and as a positive contributor.
  • Economic Liberation in India: It allowed India to break the shackles of the “Hindu rate of growth”. India’s resurgence in the post-Cold War period can largely be attributed to the liberal economic order.
  • Non-Congress Government: The domestic political scene also underwent changes with non-Congress governments coming to power who were less inclined to adhere to the principles of non-alignment.
  • Strong Democratic Credentials: India’s democratic credentials gel well with the liberal security order and the world recognises it as the torch bearer of democracy. That’s why, unlike China, India’s rise has been welcomed by the liberal world.

India’s standing in the Global Arena:

  • The role India has played in global governance in the last 75 years in whether in global trade, climate change, or nuclear non-proliferation validates both its rise and its importance in global governance.
  • In the last 25 years or so, India has slowly and surely embraced the liberal global order much more emphatically than ever in its history.

Global Governance and the Challenge of Rising India:

  • The present structure of global governance emerged out of a particular mix of power, interests, and ideology in the post–World War II era. Western hegemony shaped international institutions in its own light. They were first a result of the US military and economic dominance, with Bretton Woods’s institutions and global economic governance its most emphatic manifestation.
  • Power and self-interests were the only criteria that were deployed by the west while defining the rules of the new world order. Where one superpower could not do it alone, their complementarity of interests paved way for new norms and rules. We can surely make a statement now that the great power consensus is responsible for the current structures of global governance.
  • In the last quarter of the century, however, the US unipolarity has paved way for a multipolar global order whose principal agents are a number of rising powers. Foundations of this evolved multipolarity are in the shift of economic power from the West to the East.
  • The engine of global growth has now located itself in Asia, with India now leading the race. Their rising economic prowess has also contributed to their military strength. Its rise, however, is not restricted to its increasing resource base and capabilities; its presence is also equally consequential for any solution to the world's problems, be catering for the technological needs of the globe or being qualifying as the vaccine guru of the world. From restructuring of the global economy to climate change to trade negotiations, India is a rising power and cannot be left when the world is looking for a solution.
  • Effective governance is essential to secure peaceful, healthy, and prosperous societies, particularly now amid COVID-19, worsening ecological crises, mounting geopolitical tension, and growing nationalist backlash against globalization.

The advent of Global Institution:

  • The leading institution in charge of global governance is the “United Nations”. It was founded in 1945, in the wake of the Second World War, as a way to prevent future conflicts on that scale. The United Nations does not directly bring together the people of the world, but sovereign nation-states, and currently counts 193 members who make recommendations through the UN General Assembly.
  • The UN’s main mandate is to preserve global security, which it does particularly through the Security Council. In addition, the UN can settle international legal issues through the International Court of Justice and implements its key decisions through the Secretariat, led by the Secretary-General.
  • Beyond the UN, other institutions with a global mandate play an important role in global governance. But all of them are not without their critics and are often blamed for maintaining economic inequality.
  • India is seeking to redefine its global role in a significant way as a rule shaper in the global order. As a consequence, its approach to multilateralism and what it wants from being part of the UNSC has also evolved. Our External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has even suggested for a “refresh button” UNSC for better representation.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has challenged the UN to introspect as a “crisis of confidence” haunts the institution and called for a new template of multilateralism that “reflects today’s reality, gives voice to all stakeholders, addresses contemporary challenges, and focuses on human welfare.”

India’s rise in the Global Nuclear Governance:

  • India’s rise in the global nuclear governance architecture has been remarkable. For decades, it was perceived as an outlier for not signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons (NPT) and for testing a nuclear device in 1974.
  • Also, India’s nuclear weapons programme has received partial acceptance with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), allowing it to engage in global nuclear commerce without requiring it to place all its nuclear facilities and installations under the watch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This status was previously enjoyed only by the five nuclear weapon states under the NPT. India thus becomes a unique case insofar as the global nuclear governance architecture is concerned.

India’s role in global environmental governance:

  • The first global conference on the environment was held in Stockholm in 1972, which kick-started a series of negotiations and discussions over international environmental agreements. At Rio Earth Summit in 1992, countries got together to agree on the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  • Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s speech at the Stockholm conference initiated a tradition in Indian climate policy that supported environmental protection and accuses the developed countries for causing global environmental problems.
  • Rise of BASIC and the Copenhagen Accord: The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was to run from 2008 to 2012. This period also witnessed strong economic growth for developing countries, including India which was also part of BASIC (China, India, Brazil, and South Africa). Such developments have also asked for India to take the lead in influencing the outcomes of global governance.
  • At COP 15 summit at Copenhagen in 2009, there were notable shifts in India’s climate policy along with other emerging powers.
  • At COP 13 in Bali in 2007, India surprisingly accepted that developing countries should participate in the global mitigation effort, at least voluntarily in line with their capabilities.
  • On a domestic level, India also released its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008. India along with other BASIC countries announced voluntary targets to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 20–25% against 2005 levels by 2020 and never exceed the per capita emissions of Annex I countries.
  • At Cancún, India also played a leading role in negotiating compromises on the issue of transparency, gaining widespread recognition. This can be seen as newfound flexibility in India’s engagement in comparison to earlier negotiators who were shy to discuss any measures that could influence the country’s sovereignty.
  • Under the Modi government, India is looking to play a greater role in solving global challenges and shaping the rules, norms, and processes that guide those efforts. India has transitioned from the “role of a global opposition to that of a global agenda setter”.

United Nations Security Council Reforms:

  • In June 2020, India created history again by getting elected to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as its non-permanent member for a period of two years starting in 2021 after winning 184 votes in the 193-member General Assembly.
  • India began its new term in the Security Council in January 2021, India reiterated its priority to NORMS, a New Orientation for a Reformed Multilateral System, wherein “a first and vital step is the reform of the Security Council.

India and Global Trade Governance:

  • India is an active and visible participant in international trade negotiations, often positioning itself as a stalwart proponent of the concerns facing developing and least developed countries.
  • It has continually championed the protection of its farm sector, which it says is fundamental to the subsistence of more than 60% of the country’s population.
  • Uruguay Round: Before the Uruguay Round, which led to the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, India’s involvement in multilateral trade negotiations remained limited and, arguably, passive.
  • Doha Development Round: The Doha Development Round, which began in 2001, is the current round of global trade negotiations. Framed in response to the concerns expressed most vociferously by India, the Doha Round nominally places the needs and interests of the developing countries at the forefront. India’s influence on the round’s design is suggested in the favourable design of the Doha work programme. The Doha experience renewed India’s enthusiasm for the multilateral trading system and firmed up Indian policymakers’ intentions.

Subregional Connectivity Initiatives:

  • Geopolitical interests and concerns motivate India’s renewed push for subregional connectivity. Connectivity projects were initiated to expand cross-border transport infrastructure. These efforts have seen some results after the operationalisation of the “Neighbourhood First” policy and the “Act East” policy launched under the Modi government which has renewed the focus on strengthening connectivity.
  • The subregional approach provides another perspective through which to view India’s neighbourhood policy. For example, the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), subregional initiatives such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Mekong–Ganga Cooperation (MGC), (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement. India and the ASEAN nations are yet to link to each other through a transnational corridor, despite sharing common land and maritime boundaries.

Sovereignty and Global Governance:

  • Current global governance arrangements favour flexibility over rigidity, prefer voluntary measures to binding rules and privilege partnerships over individual actions. This synopsis of the state of global governance examines the evolving role that sovereignty and the enduring human struggles for power and equity are playing in shaping international relations and governance.
  • This contribution argues that individual empowerment, increasing awareness of human security, institutional complexity, international power shifts and the liberal world political paradigm will define the future of global governance.

Democratic Principles in Global Governance:

  • Amid increasing global risks post COVID-19 with worsening economic and ecological crises, mounting geopolitical and social tensions etc., global risk-management has become the most crucial common good to protect the idea of a fair world.
  • Democratic principles can help in this idea by creating a far less conflicted world and building prosperous societies while protecting fundamental freedoms of all without distinction.

Principles of Democracy and its Benefits in Global Governance:

  • Some of the major benefits of these democratic principles in global governance are: Help in networking people, corporations, and state and international institutions together to build partnerships for common good.
  • Achieve global development goals through universally accessible and citizen-centric public services.
  • Protecting fundamental freedom globally by strengthening the UN and other global governance systems through rules-based regimes.
  • Promoting contemporary human interaction by including new age actors in governance and allowing increased segmentation and fragmentation of the overall governance system across different levels and functional spheres.
  • Promote Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities in addressing global issues through its values of justice.
  • Establishing an inclusive, accountable and responsible sovereign across nations through control over abuse of power.

Challenges Faced by Democracies:

  • Rising Authoritarianism: As per the Global State of Democracy Report (2021), countries moving in an authoritarian direction in 2020 outnumbered those going in a democratic direction. Similarly, the Freedom House report marked 2020 as the 15th consecutive year of global freedom in retreat.
  • Questions on Electoral integrity: Whether it was the USA or other democracies, electoral integrity is increasingly being questioned. Due to pandemic risks, allowing citizens to continue exercising their democratic rights has become challenging.
  • Corruption: Corruption in public life has remained a major challenge across nations, compromising the health, education and overall welfare of people.
  • Disinformation: In the last few years, disinformation has become a major tool for subversion of democracies through propaganda, misuse of technology etc. at the local and global levels.

Role of Global Governance: With intergovernmental cooperation at the heart of global governance, democratic principles are vital to address fragmented and complex global governance. It can help in bringing international leaders together if we overcome the challenges to democratic principles through reforms like:

  • Strengthening democratic values and institutions with enhanced ties between people, and new transnational actors from the private sector and civil society.
  • Ensure free and fair elections through cooperation among democracies to ensure competitive elections in which the opposition stands a realistic chance of accessing power.
  • Supporting free and independent media to ensure freedom of the press, fighting disinformation and preventing government institutions from using authoritarian means.
  • Fighting corruption through novel approaches to harness big data, artificial intelligence, and digital technologies to detect and prevent fraud and corruption in governance.
  • Advancing technology for Democracy through the use of technology companies to preserve open and democratic societies, and shape global norms on emerging technologies like social media and crypto-currencies.
  • Addressing Democracy Deficits by bolstering democratic reformers and addressing issues of weak institutions or poor governance.
  • Support transitional democracies and guide regional efforts through partnerships with regional groupings acting as intermediary bodies. E.g., ASEAN, EU etc.
  • Bring reforms to global institutions such as the UN Security Council and others to increase the voice of democracies and build partnerships to address global risks.

The Future of Global Governance:

  • By applying the findings and observations from different fields of studies including security studies, international political economy, global governance field and communications studies, it can be said that the future of global governance will be mainly shaped by the following five factors:
  • Individual Empowerment,
  • Increasing awareness of human security,
  • Institutional complexity,
  • International power shift and
  • Liberal world political paradigm


  • Global governance is essential but fragmented, complex and little understood. In this context, the key questions raised by the Global Challenges Foundation are, how to reform institutions, how to develop alternative institutions, and how to use the new possibilities of technology to improve governance.
  • Nevertheless, as long as global society retains liberal paradigms powerful enough to offset the negative effects of mutually suspicious realist paradigms, global governance will continue to generate into effective hybrid regimes that hold the potential of creating a future world that is more cooperative, sustainable and secure.

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