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End of old multilateralism – and the beginning of a new order

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: International Relations


Source: IE

 Context: The article discusses the declining state of post-Cold War multilateralism at both global and regional levels, particularly due to conflicts involving Russia and China.


What is Multilateralism? 

It refers to the practice of multiple countries coming together and collaborating on global issues, challenges, and decision-making. It involves engaging in dialogue, negotiation, and cooperation through international organizations, treaties, and fora to address common problems and pursue collective goals.

Some of the multilateral fora that India is engaged in are- The United Nations, SCO, BRICS, etc.


The weakening of ‘Old Multilateralism’ in the post-Cold War era can be attributed to several factors:

  • Russian Conflicts: Russia’s aggressive actions, such as the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing conflict with Ukraine, have strained international relations and created divisions.
  • China’s Territorial Ambitions: China’s territorial disputes with neighbouring Asian countries, including India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam, have raised concerns and contributed to regional tensions.
  • Economic Leverage: China’s use of its economic power for political and strategic gains has eroded trust among nations that depend on its economy, leading to scepticism and caution.
  • Change in Chinese Policies: China’s shift in policies under Xi Jinping, departing from the peaceful periphery and shared prosperity approach of the 1980s, has disrupted regional and global institutions, impacting stability and cooperation.


Need for ‘New’ Multilateralism:

Multilateralism Examples
Addressing Global Challenges The Paris Agreement on climate change aims to combat global warming by bringing together nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative involves multiple countries in the effort to eliminate polio worldwide.
Promoting Peace and Security UN Peacekeeping Missions, such as UNPROFOR in Bosnia, demonstrate multinational cooperation in maintaining peace and stability in conflict zones.
The Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) was a multilateral agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and contributing to regional security.
Protecting Human Rights The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN, outlines fundamental human rights principles and protections globally.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a multilateral institution that prosecutes individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Environmental Sustainability The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) promotes conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, addressing global environmental challenges.
The Kyoto Protocol sought to limit greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change through international cooperation.
Building Alliances and Trust The G7 and G20 summits provide platforms for leaders from various countries to engage in dialogue, fostering international cooperation and trust-building.
Regional organizations like the European Union promote economic and political integration among member states, enhancing collaboration and unity.
Strengthening International Law The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) establishes rules governing maritime boundaries, rights, and responsibilities, contributing to stability.
The Geneva Conventions are multilateral treaties that set standards for humanitarian treatment in armed conflicts, upholding international law.


Factors that contribute to India being perceived as a key player in advancing multilateralism in the 21st century:

Factors Examples and Impact
Large and Growing Economy India’s active participation in the G20 group of major economies demonstrates its role in shaping global economic policies and addressing financial challenges.
Strategic Geopolitical Location India’s engagement with ASEAN and its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Quad Collaboration: At the Jakarta summit, India’s PM emphasizes that the Quad complements ASEAN’s efforts and promotes regional stability
Re-globalisation Focus: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar advocates for a diversified, democratic globalisation, moving away from a China-centric production model.
Democratic Values and Institutions India’s commitment to democratic values and stable political institutions makes it a reliable partner in multilateral engagements.
Global South Concerns: India prioritizes the concerns of the Global South in the G-20 agenda, aiming to enhance cooperation between developed and developing nations, rather than reviving old confrontational politics.
Soft Power India’s cultural exports, such as Bollywood films, yoga, and cuisine, enhance its soft power appeal and global influence.
Diplomatic Outreach India’s active engagement in BRICS, the SCO, and other international forums demonstrates its commitment to collective solutions for global


Diaspora Influence India’s influential diaspora community serves as a bridge, enhancing people-to-people connections and diplomatic ties.
Advocacy for Global Issues India’s role in the International Solar Alliance and its advocacy on issues like terrorism, cybersecurity, and UN reforms contribute to its active engagement in advancing multilateralism.



In an interconnected world, where challenges transcend borders, multilateralism serves as an effective mechanism for fostering cooperation, finding common ground, and collectively advancing global interests. It promotes a rules-based international order, enhances diplomatic engagement, and empowers nations to work together towards shared goals, ultimately contributing to a more stable, prosperous, and inclusive world.


Mains Links:

Recently, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “reinvigorated, inclusive, and networked multilateralism.” What is multilateralism and why is it needed? Also, Identify the factors that contribute to India being perceived as a key player in advancing multilateralism in the 21st century. (15M)


Prelims Links:

With reference to non-permanent members of the UNSC, consider the following statements:

  1. Asia has the highest representation among all continents.
  2. The representation of Latin America and Europe is the same.
  3. The total number of non-permanent members is 10.


Which of the statements given above is/are not correct?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 1 and 3 only
  3. 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3


Ans: (a)