The meeting of G7 leaders that concluded in Bavaria in Germany on Monday was an important one since it took place against the backdrop of a triple crisis: The war in Ukraine, the challenge of post-pandemic economic recovery and the eternal issue of climate change. In the circumstances, the G7 countries managed to present a united front which was noteworthy.
A standalone G7 Statement on Support for Ukraine was issued — an unmistakable indication of what was foremost in the minds of the leaders of these countries. There was an unconditional commitment that the grouping will provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. Predictably, the statement comes down very hard on Russia and comes close to accusing it of war crimes. Russia was also warning that any use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons would be met with severe consequences. Further intensification of sanctions against Russia was contemplated, including tariffs on Russian products, targeting gold exports, capping oil prices and restricting access to technology.
Despite the toughly-worded statement, it is unlikely the war in Ukraine will come to a quick halt. Indeed, the G7 statement may have the opposite effect of increasing Russia’s intransigence. Worse, increasing military assistance by the West to Ukraine, evidenced by the impending supply of the Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS, used by the Americans to protect the White House) by the US to Ukraine, could lead to an arms race. Russia too, by relentlessly pursuing hostilities in the Donbas region, is not helping matters. As if all this were not enough, NATO, ahead of its summit meeting in Madrid following the G7 Summit, has already let it be known that its rapid reaction force, meant to protect the alliance’s Eastern flank, will be increased from its present strength of 40,000 to a whopping 300,000. NATO’s Secretary-General minced no words when he termed Russia as the most immediate threat to NATO’s security and hinted that the alliance’s deployments will now be much closer to Russian borders. More fundamentally, the NATO concept of deterrence when it comes to the Baltic states appears to have undergone a paradigm shift. The alliance has made its resolve clear to protect every inch of its territory. Whichever way one looks at it, the war in Ukraine is not going to end anytime soon.
Significantly, the G7 final communique has tough language on China as well. It says there is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, it calls on China to press Russia to withdraw troops from Ukraine and expresses grave concern about the country’s human rights situation. It calls on China to respect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms in both Tibet and Xinjiang, highlighting the issue of forced labor in the latter. If Russia has reason to be dissatisfied with the G7 final communique, then China has reason to be absolutely livid with it.
For India, G7 summits have always been an invaluable opportunity to exchange views not just in a plurilateral format but also in the bilateral meetings on the margins of the main meetings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings with President Joe Biden of the US and President Emmanuel Macron of France, as also with the leaders of the UK and Japan, were extremely timely. The meeting with the Canadian PM was useful, too, given the recent ups and downs in the relationship between the two countries. The meetings with Indonesian, South African and Argentinian leaders may be seen against the impending assumption of the G20 presidency by India. India will be consulting closely with Indonesia to see how the Ukraine issue plays out at the G20 meeting.
The fact is that even the G7 knows its clout has declined compared to, say, 20 years ago. That explains the move to invite key G20 countries as observers to its summits. As for India, its importance lies in the undeniable truth that no global problem can be seriously tackled without New Delhi’s involvement. The question is whether India can use this to make the full transition from being a rule-taker to becoming a rule-shaper in at least some crucial areas.
India has lent its name to two statements issued by the G7. One is titled “Resilient Democracies Statement” and the other is “Joining Forces to Accelerate Clean and Just Transition towards Climate Neutrality”. The first statement talks of democracies as reliable partners seeking to promote a rules-based international order and supporting democracy worldwide including through electoral assistance. It is interesting to note that these democracies have also recommitted to fighting climate change, improving food security, pursuing concerted efforts to overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, fighting corruption, protecting freedom of expression, both online and offline, and ensuring an open and secure internet. This is a tall order for even perfect democracies. But it is an excellent message to send to countries like China and arguably, Russia.
The other statement to which India is a signatory is the one on clean and just transition towards carbon neutrality. PM Modi made a forceful intervention on how India, without being responsible for the problem of climate change, is doing everything in its power to be part of the solution. He also made a fervent plea to the Western countries to invest heavily in India’s renewable energy market.
The G7 is trying hard not to be yesterday’s club. It is still a powerful grouping, with seven of its members in the top 10 permanent of the world, three of them members of the UNSC and if you count the EU, it is still home to some of the best technologies. India’s participation in this meeting as an observer to advance its foreign and security policy and will keep it in good stead when it assumes the G20 oversight in December.
The writer is a former Indian Ambassador to France and Dean/Professor at OP Jindal Global University