A thick alphabet soup of global entities has been getting thicker

Without shared values, the G20 cannot easily build consensus when the conflict is within itself.  (PTI)
Without shared values, the G20 cannot easily build consensus when the conflict is within itself. (PTI)


The proliferation of groups is an inevitable consequence of the world headed for multi-polarity as multilateralism weakens

As the world lurches towards greater multi-polarity, there is an alphabet soup of plurilateral organizations vying for power and influence. The Group of 20 (G20) nations just concluded its summit meeting under India’s presidency. India, which had received the baton from Indonesia, will turn it over to Brazil this November. The G20, made up of 19 nations and the European Union (EU), is itself an expansion of the earlier Group of 7 developed nations (G7). The G7 was born in 1973 as a crisis management and coordination group following the first oil shock and reverberations caused by the end of the Bretton Woods fixed currency exchange system. Similarly, the G20 was born in response to the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998. Both the G7 and G20 are unofficial inter-governmental groups. It is by convention today that heads of state, finance ministers, central bank governors and other officials attend their summit meetings.

Chinese President Xi Xinping and Russian President Vladmir Putin were conspicuous by their absence at this year’s G20 meeting in New Delhi. Xi has not missed a single G20 since he came to power in 2012. Whether Xi’s absence is a snub aimed at India or whether China is turning against the construct of the G20 itself, only time will tell. In contrast, his presence was obvious and large at the recently concluded BRICS summit in Johannesburg. Xi presided over that conclave where six new members, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, were admitted to the group.

Any organization born for the cross-cutting purpose of crisis coordination works well so long as the crisis originates from a point exogenous to the group. The G7 is built on shared values of liberal democracy, freedom and open markets. Unlike the G7, the only unifying theme for the G20 is that it is made up of large, growing countries. Without shared values, the G20 cannot easily build consensus when the conflict is within itself. Russia’s war in Ukraine and the US-China standoff on hi-tech trade are proving to be litmus tests for the G20.

The main reasons for the expanding nature of these plurilateral organizations is an attempt by China to mark and enhance its influence in new post-Bretton Woods groups. Keen to acquire a global following of its own, China seeks to foster institutions where its world view holds sway. Given that the origins of the G20 are rooted in the liberal democracies of the G7, it is unlikely that China will ever wield meaningful influence there. The Chinese attempt is therefore to expand BRICS and promote the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO started as a Eurasian organization of several ‘stans’, founded by China and Russia, that has since expanded to include India and Pakistan.

All three groups, the G20, BRICS+ and SCO can legitimately claim to represent fully half of humanity, given the membership of India and China. The G7 represents a much smaller population of about 800 million, but more than half the world’s total wealth. The SCO is a regional formation and represents countries intersecting in Eurasia, BRICS+ is an attempt to empower developing countries of the Global South, and the G20 was created because the G7 came to realize that the world was much bigger and more heterogenous than just seven rich countries. While it is not absolute, the G7 is not expected to grow; the SCO, BRICS+ and the G20, however, might well see further increases in their membership. The African Union, for example, is joining the G20 as a bloc member (like the EU).

A few strategic groups have also been renewed or created anew. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), which was seen as being in the midst of an existential crisis only a few years ago, has rallied awake around the conflict in Ukraine. The Quad group made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia is gradually getting its act together with a “free and open" Indo-Pacific declared as a common commitment. An explicitly military alliance for the region called Aukus between Australia, the UK and US has already struck some deals for high-tech transfers to Australia.

Since its founding, the People’s Republic of China has eschewed alliances and has only ever concluded two arrangements: one with the Soviet Union in 1950 and another with North Korea in 1961. Only the North Korean alliance survives, though Beijing in 2022 announced a “no limits" partnership with Moscow, which can be seen as a sign of strategic closeness. Otherwise, the broad Chinese rationale is that alliances entrap countries in unnecessary wars, that there are few viable allies which are militarily strong, that they are not very useful for non-traditional security threats, and that formal alliances would lead to increasing tensions. Only time will tell whether the Sino-Russian embrace of recent times will turn into a revival of their former alliance, this time with China acting as the senior partner. As things stand, the Western alliance, led by the US and expanding in a multi-pronged way, has a power advantage over a relatively isolated China.

The proliferation of these economic, strategic, and military groups is an inevitable consequence of the world headed for multi-polarity while losing many elements of multilateralism. During the Cold War, the world was largely organized into three groups: the G7, Soviet bloc and the non-aligned group of nations. This pattern is now getting re- organized into theme- or purpose-based coalitions of countries; this, in some ways, is the very definition of multi-polarity.

It seems rather likely that the world will be bar-belled between counter-parties of the G7 on one side and BRICS+ on the other, with the G20 acting as an occasional and increasingly weak bridge for matters that require global coordination.

Watch for the soup to get thicker and murkier.

P.S: “If your enemy has alliances, the problem is grave", said Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War.’

Narayan Ramachandran is chairman, InKlude Labs. Read Narayan’s Mint columns at

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