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Can India and BRICS become the world’s new security guarantors?

The rise of multipolarity and stronger alternative institutions offer hope of a new international architecture – one that‘s more democratic, representative of the Global South, and can advocate for peace

“The way to peace is through dialogue and diplomacy,” declared Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he met with the Ukraine‘s Vladimir Zelensky before a delegation from New Delhi headed to the ‘peace summit’ in Switzerland.

Despite the presence of more than 90 countries after 160 invitations were issued, the signatories of the final communique agreement were far fewer. Most notably, all BRICS members and group aspirants avoided signing the document – Brazil was present solely as an observer, while China didn’t field a delegation. The main reason was the exclusion of Russia from the peace process, which many believe was vital for any long-lasting solution to the conflict. 

India signaled its seriousness regarding peaceful overtures of any kind by fielding an ex-ambassador to the Russian Federation, current Secretary (West) Sri Pavan Kapoor. However, New Delhi, too, refrained from signing the document.  

India is known for its careful, balanced diplomatic overtures. Following the outbreak of the conflict, India provided humanitarian and medical assistance, while also assisting to rebuild a school in Kiev. However, it has abstained from UN resolutions condemning Russia, refrained from sanctions, refused to participate in a Western-led oil price cap, and continued to buy discounted Russian crude despite Western pressure. 

New Delhi has repeatedly stressed the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, most recently when Narendra Modi phoned both Putin and Zelensky on March 20, 2024. In total, Modi has spoken five times with the Russian president and four times with Zelensky. This nuanced, balanced approach was best symbolized by the G20 Delhi declaration signed during India’s presidency, which found unanimous support from both the West as well as Russia.  

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One expert noted that India was one of the very few states that can “pick up the phone and talk to leadership in both the United States and Russia on the same day.” 

As such, given its balanced foreign policy, India’s overtures to the conference in Switzerland may be indicative of a future high-profile visit to the Russian Federation to maintain the delicate strategic equilibrium.  

The previous visit, conducted by Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar in December 2023, showcased New Delhi’s renewed ties with an old, time-tested ally that the West was keen to portray as internationally isolated.  

At another level, the current conflict that Russia is dealing with has personal resonance with India’s own historical record. Both Ukraine and Pakistan gained their independence – Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Pakistan after being liberated from the British. India has had historically fraught relations with its estranged neighbor, which was supported by the United States during the Cold War, and continues to be supported now. 

The irony of the world’s oldest democracy supporting an undemocratic state was not lost on the people of India. 

Russia faces a similar dilemma with the influx of Western-made equipment into Ukraine and the consistent expansion of the US-led NATO alliance towards Russian borders. The historical parallels between Moscow and New Delhi can likely foster a deeper cultural and political understanding between the two nations. 

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“India’s participation in the Summit on Peace in Ukraine, as well as in the preceding NSA/Political-Director level meetings based on Ukraine’s Peace Formula, is in line with our clear and consistent approach that enduring peace can be achieved only through dialogue and diplomacy. We continue to believe that such a peace requires bringing together all stakeholders and a sincere and practical engagement between the two parties to the conflict,” Kapoor stated in Burgenstock, Switzerland. He emphasized that “only those options acceptable to both the parties can lead to abiding peace.”

At such a time when the Western-backed Ukrainian forces are on the back foot, it makes little sense to exclude Russian participation at the summit. Ironically, however, this is the stance that Western nations still uphold.

The Kremlin had every reason to be skeptical of the summit. The previous attempt at attaining peace between Kiev and Moscow in 2022 was apparently scuttled at the behest of Western powers, notably when Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kiev. 

In Moscow’s eyes, concrete security guarantors would be required to uphold the peace agreement if one is finalized with the consent of the belligerent parties. This has been articulated time and again by the Russian authorities regarding the need for a long-lasting solution to the Ukrainian question, which wouldn’t suffice with a mere ceasefire. 

In effect, Russia wants a complete overhaul of the current European security architecture, to one which is more inclusive and reflective of emerging global multipolarity, as well as providing immutable and inviolable guarantors of peace treaties and agreements.  

This is akin to a new Westphalian Peace, which can involve the BRICS nations including India, in a more concrete, decisive and active role as impartial arbiters and security guarantors. 

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There is concrete data to back such a scenario. BRICS has already overtaken the anachronistic G7 in share of global GDP, share of GDP growth, as well as representing four times the share of global population.

Furthermore, at the latest BRICS summit held in South Africa in 2023, the group officially endorsed reform of the UN including the Security Council in its Johannesburg Declaration-II. The summit also allowed the inclusion of six more member states, including the top three oil-producing nations in the world – Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. 

India sees the BRICS alliance as a non-Western grouping rather than as ‘anti-Western’. At the South African summit, New Delhi accepted the inclusion of new members of the grouping, with Modi declaring that “India fully supports the expansion of the BRICS membership,” adding that “BRICS will be – Breaking barriers, Revitalizing economies, Inspiring innovation, Creating opportunities, and Shaping the future.” 

This comes as the two basic impulses driving BRICS enlargement remain largely unchanged – first, growing anti-American sentiment globally and, second, the need for a platform that expresses the solidarity and voices of the Global South, and which is more reflective of the emerging era of multipolarity.

As the Ukraine conflict drags on into its third year, the outcome of peace efforts, as well as the way they are being undertaken, remains uncertain.

However, the rise of multipolarity and stronger alternative institutions such as BRICS offer hope of a new, modified European and a global security architecture – one which is more democratic, representative of the Global South, and a concrete guarantor of peace. 

In the current context, India, as a founding member of BRICS, can leverage its position to act as a proactive balancer and security guarantor, working towards a lasting, peaceful resolution of the Ukraine conflict that is acceptable to all parties. 

June 21, 2024 at 07:40PM

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