Navdeep Suri and Kabir Taneja, Eds., I2U2: Pathways for a New Minilateral, March 2023, Observer Research Foundation.
It is a widely shared notion that the post-Second World War multilateral order that had shaped global diplomacy over the last few decades is today in a state of flux, and the momentum and heft of both economic growth and state power is slowly shifting to the East. This is reflected in growing efforts to effect changes in the multilateral order and make it more inclusive of the interests of the developing world. The drive for change has been fast-tracked in recent years, with the emergence of new economic, diplomatic, and geopolitical institutions preparing to address what many today foresee as turbulent times in the years ahead. Amidst this expected turbulence, countries such as India continue to face domestic challenges including reinvigorating their economies post-pandemic; India aims to maintain a GDP growth rate of over 7-8 percent, recognising only too well that achieving such a goal will require a reconfiguration of both geopolitics and geoeconomics.
Emerging from the current uncertainties are minilateral platforms, among them the grouping of India, Israel, the UAE, and the US or the I2U2. Its birth in October 2021 was immediately surrounded by speculation amongst diplomats and scholars: Would it be another China-focused entity, like the Quad in the Indo-Pacific that groups the US and India with Australia and Japan? Or would it promote US and Israeli interests against Iran? Would it be a new US-led alliance in West Asia with India as the chosen handmaiden? Or would it have some other, perhaps more sinister objectives? It took nearly nine months before some of these concerns were put to rest, as the first I2U2 summit in July 2022 made it clear that the grouping would be leveraging technology, innovation, and private capital to address pressing global challenges. Its focus would be on geoeconomics rather than geopolitics.
Even as the contours of this platform gradually appear, there is some haze that remains about not only the relevance of I2U2 to each of its members, but also what the grouping itself can mean for West Asia and beyond. This volume is an attempt to shed light on both aspects through a carefully curated selection of 12 short essays. As we identified authors, distinguished in their fields, we tried to bring together an insightful mix of official perspectives, and those of others who can offer a bird’s eye view from their own vantage points. Given how I2U2 is explicit about the lead role of the private sector in its projects, we also include the standpoint of three private companies and a Dubai-based business association that have been actively engaged with the grouping during this formative period.
To be sure, I2U2 in its current form is a near-empty canvas to ideate on. This report, I2U2: Pathways for a New Minilateral’ intends to offer raw suggestions from diplomats, academics, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders alike representing the four member countries. They outline their thoughts around six pillars identified by the I2U2 states: water, energy, transport, space, health, and food security. The essays in this report loosely or directly revolve around these topics and offer recommendations for pathways of cooperation between the governments and private sectors of the four countries.
The volume opens with an overarching view of the fundamentals that are in play, and that need to be strengthened, for the grouping to gain successful outcomes. Following this scene-setter, Dammu Ravi, Secretary (Economic Relations), Ministry of External Affairs and India’s Sherpa for the I2U2, offers his insights into the first two I2U2 projects, both located in India. In other sections of the report, UAE’s Sherpa and Minister of State for Trade and Economic Affairs in the foreign office, Ahmed bin Ali al Sayegh, highlights his vision on how to take the I2U2 forward and Ron Malka, former Director General of the Ministry of Economy of Israel and a former Israeli Ambassador to India highlights the Israeli enthusiasm for the group, specifically in technology and agriculture. Aparna Pande, Fellow and Director of the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, provides a view of the minilateral from the United States.
While the above essays anchor this report geographically, other authors address the various other questions surrounding the formulation of I2U2, often with a healthy dose of both optimism and scepticism. Ebtesam Al Ketbi, President and Founder of the Emirates Policy Centre, summarises how Abu Dhabi looks to leverage both economic and political capacities of the members for cooperative benefits. Paul Kapur, Professor at the US Naval Postgraduate School and Ankita Dutta, ORF Fellow, co-author an essay that tackles an arguably difficult topic—that of potential I2U2 cooperation on security. Suresh Kumar, Chairperson of Indian Business and Professional Council in Dubai, offers insights on how private industry can best create an ‘I2U2 Inc’. Eran Meller, Co-founder and Chairperson of Ecoppia, brings energy security and sustainability to the table as potential key areas of cooperation.
For his part, Rizwan Soomar, CEO and MD for India Sub-continent and Sub-Saharan Africa at DP World, makes a watertight argument for multilateral cooperation on food security and its associated logistics. Sanjiv Puri, Vice President of CII and Chairperson and MD of ITC Limited, adds an Indian perspective to the debate on food security as global commodities experience turbulence. Nickolay Mladenov, Director General at the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, paints a larger geopolitical picture within which the creation of I2U2 is taking place. Lastly, Shravishtha Ajaykumar, Associate Fellow at ORF, dwells on one of the most important pillars of cooperation—i.e., technology, which includes innovations like semiconductors and blockchain.
This volume aims to promote debate among the political classes, policymakers, academics, and business communities of the four participating countries. The hope is that the views, opinions and wisdom of the contributors lead to a successful long-term implementation of this unique and ambitious initiative.
I2U2 and the Case for Minilaterals – Navdeep Suri
I2U2: An Overview – Dammu Ravi
I2U2 from the Israeli Perspective – Ron Malka
The Trans-Regional Benefits of I2U2 for the United States – Aparna Pande
Bridging Geoeconomics and Geopolitics: An Emirati Strategic Vision of I2U2 Complementarity – Ebtesam al-Ketbi
Strategic Underpinnings of the I2U2 – Paul Kapur and Ankita Dutta
I2U2 Food Security Project: A Trans-Regional ‘Alternate Supply Chain’ – Sanjiv Puri
Strengthening the India-Middle East Food Security Corridor Through the I2U2 Partnership – Rizwan Soomar
Energy Security: How I2U2 Can Promote Solar Energy Efficiency – Eran Meller
How I2U2 Can Enhance Blockchain Use in Defence – Shravishtha Ajaykumar
I2U2 and Related Business Perspectives – Suresh Kumar
I2U2: A Forerunner for the Future? – Nickolay E. Mladenov
Looking Ahead for I2U2 – Ahmed Ali Sayegh
Read the full report here.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Navdeep Suri is Distinguished Fellow. ...Read More +
Kabir Taneja is a Fellow with Strategic Studies programme. His research focuses on Indias relations with West Asia specifically looking at the domestic political dynamics ...Read More +