- Occasional Papers
- Mar 29 2018
This paper explores how India has been able to achieve cooperation in the sphere of international development, but has been unable to replicate such success on issues of international security. It maps out India’s engagement on these two issues through four case studies and places them in the context of multilateral theory and international cooperation theory. It further considers factors within the game theoretic models of cooperation, including asymmetrical distribution of benefits and the horizon of time for negotiation and engagement on a particular issue. The paper argues that the prevailing hypothesis, which claims that an asymmetry of distribution of benefits increases the likelihood of cooperation, does not hold up in India’s context. Rather, asymmetries in costs and benefits and a shorter horizon of time advocated by India on issues of international security makes cooperation less likely compared to more symmetrical distribution of costs and benefits and longer horizons for engagement on issues of international development.
With India being a rising power in the international community, one of the hallmarks of its soft power is its steadfast engagement with multilateral international institutions, particularly the United Nations (UN). India is a founding member of the UN, and it signed the “Declaration by United Nations” in Washington, D.C. on 1 January 1942 before its independence from the British Empire. India has served as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for seven terms - a total of 14 years - and is an active participant in all the UN’s specialised agencies and organisations. Recent scholarship has focused on how the rise of India has impacted its participation at the international level and its impact on global governance. In particular, the evolution of India’s active role in multilateral negotiations on trade, climate change, and development policy has been the subject of much attention. However, there has been no comparative analysis of India’s strategic approach to multilateral negotiations and a consideration of how and why India successfully or unsuccessfully achieves cooperation in its multilateral engagements.
This paper’s focus is not restricted to India’s achievements at the UN. Rather, it seeks to understand India’s strategic approach to coalition-building and achieving multilateral cooperation with international organisations. India’s engagement at the UN can be divided into two broad themes: International Development and International Security. While India also engages with the UN on issues like human rights, health and diseases, and the UN’s administrative and budgetary issues, its most intense engagements take place under the umbrella of the two themes mentioned above. By focusing on India’s engagement on these issues, this paper seeks to understand why India’s approach to achieving cooperation succeeds more on issues of international development as compared to issues of international security. It also seeks to answer how India’s goal of achieving cooperation is affected by the perceptions of benefits accrued by India’s partners at the UN, and how game theory affects this success, or lack thereof, on specific issues at the UN.
The paper will open by discussing theories of multilateralism and international cooperation theory, and apply them to the Indian context. The second part will look at four case studies of Indian engagement at the UN, undertaking a critical analysis of India’s multilateral strategy on issues of international development and international security. The paper develops on two case studies for each thematic area, which were chosen based on the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India’s own articulation of its priorities for the 71st Session of the General Assembly in publicly-available documents, as well as in interviews with Indian civil servants at the UN Headquarters in New York and in the MEA in New Delhi. The paper will look at Indian engagement on climate change negotiations and the 2030 Agenda under the thematic area of international development, and counterterrorism and Security Council reform under the thematic area of international security.
The paper will then explore why India has been more successful in achieving cooperation in the sphere of international development than that of international security. It will contend that India’s inability to achieve cooperation on security issues is rooted in its failure to cooperate on issues that are dilemmas of common interests. It will challenge the view that cooperation is more likely when asymmetry in the distribution of benefits increases, and establish that asymmetry of distribution of costs and benefits instead make cooperation less likely. India’s advocacy for immediate reforms on counterterrorism and Security Council reform, reflecting a shorter time horizon for the issues, further inhibits cooperation with India’s fellow states on these issues at the UN. The paper concludes with some implications of the Indian multilateral engagement going forward.
Achieving Cooperation at the UN: Theoretical Frameworks
As this paper considers Indian engagement at the UN, it is important to discuss multilateralism in the Indian context. Various scholars have drawn up different definitions of “multilateralism”. While Miles Kahler defined multilateralism as “international governance of the many,” Robert Keohane termed it as “the practice of coordinating national policies in groups of three or more states.” This paper, however, relies on John G. Ruggie’s definition of “multilateralism” to guide the analysis of Indian multilateralism in the context of the UN. Ruggie defines multilateralism as “an institutional form which coordinates relations among three or more states on the basis of “generalised” principles of conduct... which specify appropriate conduct for a class of actions, without regard to particularistic interests of the parties or the strategic exigencies that may exist in any occurrence.”
There is a two-fold rationale behind the choice of this definition. First, a focus on the “institutional form”, which is lacking from the definitions by Kahler and Keohane, is relevant to the discussion, given that the analysis is limited to engagement at the UN -- an institution tasked with promoting cooperation among states. Second, given this paper’s focus on how India achieves cooperation, the inclusion of “appropriate conduct for a class of actions” is crucial as it focuses on international organisations as “regimes,” or “sets of rules that stipulate the ways in which states should cooperate and compete with each other.” It can be said that the foundation for defining India’s multilateral engagement in an attempt to achieve cooperation at the UN is rooted in Ruggie’s definition.
As this paper considers “dilemmas of common interests” and international organisations as “regimes” as outlined in the earlier paragraph, it is imperative to define these terms and discuss India’s UN engagement in the context of international cooperation theory (ICT). Arthur Stein defines “dilemmas of common interests” as a situation wherein “independent decision-making leads to equilibrium outcomes that are Pareto-deficient-outcomes in which all actors prefer another given outcome to the equilibrium outcome.” In the context of this paper, the case studies deal with issues wherein all states at the UN have a common interest in pursuing a solution -- be it agreement on a universal definition of terrorism or action on climate change, for which they have expressed a need. Furthermore, game theoretic models within ICT was central to understanding how “independent and possibly selfish actors”-- in this case, a state like India -- behave in a coordinated way that benefits them all.
This paper considers the four case studies as dilemmas of common interests wherein the independent decisions of states lead them to an equilibrium outcome different from the one states would prefer, and critically analyse India’s role in these issues. The paper engages with research conducted by Duncan Snidal on single actor and n-actor prisoner’s dilemma games to understand India’s behaviour with coalitions of varying sizes at the UN, and considers how the numbers of states, symmetries and asymmetries of payoffs, and length of time affect cooperation, either positively or negatively in India’s case. Finally, the paper also considers the hypothesis advanced by Robert Axelrod and Robert Keohane that “military-security issues display more of the characteristics associated with anarchy than do political-economic ones,” and considers how this hypothesis fares in the Indian case. Since this paper looks specifically at issues of international development and international security, the application of such a theoretical framework in this analysis advances the research conducted by these scholars. Therefore, a consideration of ICT and game theoretic cooperation is relevant to this analysis. ICT also outlines a number of factors that could explain whether states cooperate or not in n-actor games. Two of these factors are important for the paper’s analysis. The first is the asymmetry of benefits from cooperation, because the “likelihood of cooperation depends not only on the size of the group but on the net benefits received by each cooperating member.” In the case studies discussed below, there a number of scenarios where states perceive that the costs from cooperation are greater as they relate to the state’s broader geopolitical concerns vis-à-vis India and its cooperating partners. Finally, the horizon of time, or the “shadow of the future” as described by a number of scholars, also has a significant impact on whether states choose to cooperate. Axelrod and Keohane argue that “long time horizons and regularity of stake” are most important in relation to inter-state cooperation.
Conversely, this paper observes that, in a number of India’s interaction at the UN, calling for immediate and final resolution and, therefore, positioning the issue in a way similar to single-play prisoner’s dilemma incentivises non-cooperation. Therefore, factors such as the number of states, asymmetry of benefits, and horizon of time affect the decision of states to cooperate or not.
To better analyse the Indian multilateral behaviour in the four selected case studies, this paper builds on these theoretical frameworks to develop an outcome-based gradient framework to better capture the different levels of Indian multilateral engagement. The “levels” of multilateral cooperation, ranging from least to the most engaging and impactful, are:
- Level One: Proposing multilateral frameworks that promote cooperation, but failing to organise a coalition or a significant voting bloc that actualises such cooperation
- Level Two: Participating in, or leading a coalition of like-minded to form a united position, but is not powerful enough to alter the debate and advance cooperation in any meaningful manner
- Level Three: Participating in, or leading a coalition of like-minded countries to form a united position that is powerful enough to alter the debate and achieve cooperation on the issue, and create “class of actions” among member states of the UN
The paper utilises this gradient framework outlined above, to define a successful or unsuccessful result of Indian multilateral engagement to achieve cooperation. Success in achieving such cooperation is defined as “multilateral engagement at a Level Three engagement, where India is an active participant or a leader in a powerful coalition of like-minded countries” and is able to establish a set of rules championed by India at the UN. On the other hand, an inability to achieve cooperation through multilateral engagement at the UN will be characterised by Indian engagement on an issue at the UN at Level One or Level Two multilateralism, but not Level Three. Such an inability to achieve cooperation will also see India pivot to bilateral engagements (i.e. outside the confines of the UN) with select UN member states in an attempt to win their support on these issues. . These arguments coupled with Ruggie’s definition not only explain the varying levels of India’s interaction at the UN, but also provide a methodology for success and failure in achieving cooperation through its multilateral efforts.
Case Studies and Results
As the world’s fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, India has been a central player in the negotiations of the two most recent climate change accords under the auspices of the UN. Indeed, India was recognised as a drafting author of the agreements and a leader within the Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC) coalition, as well as the broader Group of 77 (G77) coalition at, both, the Copenhagen and Paris Conferences of the Parties (COPs). However, India’s position on climate change has been described as expressing “genuine concern for the issue with a resolute refusal to consider limiting its own emissions.” India’s levels of per-capita emissions remain well below the global average of five metric tons at 1.7 metric tons in 2010, and India has argued that “poverty reduction and expanding access to energy rank higher than reducing emissions in terms of priorities for the nation.” India has also advocated forcefully for the inclusion of the principle of “differentiation” in these accords, which “calls upon developed countries to absorb more stringent responsibilities in reducing carbon emissions than their developing country partners,” which have been endorsed by India’s partners in BASIC and the G77.
Cooperation on Climate Change Negotiations
In its engagement and negotiations on climate change under the auspices of the UN, India achieves all three levels of effective multilateral cooperation. India has consistently sought a multilateral agreement to combat climate change. Indeed, India has described its own engagement, leading up to the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP-15) in Copenhagen, as “[taking] initiative in facilitating international dialogue and discussion on critical climate change issues that are important for developing countries.” India used similar language to describe its engagement on climate change in the Paris negotiations in 2015, when India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar described the Paris Agreement as a “victory of multilateralism.” He described how “India was always perceived to be a naysayer and negative in its approach and took a corner seat in most of the international conferences… But in Paris, Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced the concept of climate justice driving home the message of sustainable development.” Such rhetoric underscores not only India’s participation in multilateral forums, but India’s active desire to seek multilateral solutions and for cooperation with the international community. Therefore, India achieves Level One engagement in its multilateral approach. Its engagement, however, does not stop here and paves way for greater cooperation with its partners -- as seen in the Copenhagen and Paris negotiations.
India’s push for cooperation on climate change has focused on more than simply seeking a multilateral solution to organising and uniting the emerging powers, or “newly industrialised” countries of the developing world into a united coalition. India joined Brazil, China, and South Africa to form BASIC by an agreement signed by the representatives of the four countries on 28 November 2009. The coalition emerged as a key player during the COP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. The alliance created a united position among the four countries on climate change, and worked in accordance with fellow members of the G-77. The institutional framework of negotiations under the UNFCCC created a natural bias for an Indian alliance with its fellow members in BASIC, since member states in climate change negotiations are grouped into three “annexes” which separate developed economies from the developing ones. BASIC’s and by extension India’s position was outlined in a press release following the signing of the agreement in November. The countries agreed that:
- Developed nations should contribute funds and share green technology to support developing and poor nations to take major actions on environmental protection;
- Developed countries cannot use the issue of climate change an excuse to set up trade barriers or resort to trade protectionism;
- Developing countries should be allowed to reduce emissions voluntarily and take what they consider to be “nationally appropriate actions”; and
- Developing countries will not accept the concept of a “peaking year”, under which each country will have to indicate on what date they will reach the highest level of emissions before undertaking steps to reduce emissions.
Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of the Environment and Forests at that time, had declared that “the four countries…[had] agreed to a strategy that involves jointly walking out of the conference if the developed nations try to force their own terms on the developing world.” Therefore, India has effectively organised a strong coalition with a united position through BASIC, highlighting how India also reached the second level in multilateral engagement.
India’s Level Two engagement through BASIC continued in the negotiations for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris as well. In Paris, India was viewed as acting in a much more conciliatory manner, and willing to take on “a leadership role on climate negotiations.” This conciliatory tone was shared by India’s partners in BASIC, which announced that they were looking forward to a “comprehensive, balanced, ambitious and legally binding agreement emerging from the Paris Climate Change conference.” The BASIC countries stood their ground on ensuring that the differentiation principles, already part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as a result of past agreements, should remain central to the discussions. They also declared that they would not accept any agreement that did not include “specific and clear provisions on financial support.” While they did not threaten a walk-out during the Paris negotiations, the BASIC countries had already come to be recognised by their fellow states, particularly France -- the chair of the conference -- and the United States, the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as an important faction in the negotiation. India continued its push for cooperation through the BASIC coalition at COP-21 in Paris, reinforcing Level Two operations on climate change negotiations.
However, by adopting such an approach, India became a central player in the negotiations and was able to achieve effective cooperation with its developing country partners. The strategic alliance under the auspices of BASIC, and the threat of the walk-out in particular, ensured that that India and its coalition had the power to shape and impact the negotiations in Copenhagen and Paris. Indian negotiators, themselves, recognized this power during the meeting. Shyam Saran, India’s Special Envoy of the Prime Minister on Climate Change and chief negotiator in the multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC, stated that “India had built up an influential coalition in the BASIC Group,” and that other countries recognised this. Saran outlines how a last-minute agreement struck between the United States and leaders from BASIC led to the adoption of the Copenhagen Accord. This trend continued in Paris, where BASIC continued to hold a united position and fellow member states like the United States and the European nations continued to view BASIC as a central player in the negotiations. Since India was impressively able to build a strong and united coalition that had a profound impact on two major international agreements on climate change, it is evident that India achieved Level Three multilateral approach in its engagement on climate change negotiations.
Effectiveness of Cooperation
The adoption of this multilateral approach has been effective for India, in terms of achieving its negotiation objectives on climate change policy. After the Copenhagen Accords, India’s Minister for the Environment, Jairam Ramesh, stated, “My mandate was to protect India’s right to development . . . India’s right to faster economic growth…We protected our national interest.” In particular, the BASIC coalition was able to prevent European demands for an ambitious global goal for a 50-percent cut in emissions from current levels by 2050, which the BASIC countries believed would have hampered developing countries’ ability to grow and industrialise. Minister Ramesh said, “The BASIC group has emerged as a powerful force in climate change negotiations and India should have every reason to be satisfied with the role it has played in catalysing this quartet.” Such a level of success extended to the Paris Agreement as well, where the concept of “differentiation” was referred to multiple times. Not only was the principle acknowledged, but the Agreement went a step further by outlining different kinds of commitments for developed and developing countries, which was central to India’s policy position. Regarding support for developing countries by developed countries, the Paris Agreement also included provisions for industrialised nations to provide “financial and technical support for capacity building actions in developing countries,” and developed countries were bound to stay true to their promise of $100 billion in climate finance support. India could also announce the launch of the Indian-proposed International Solar Alliance, a multilateral alliance of 120 countries in support of “efficient exploitation of solar energy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.” Therefore, India was extremely effective in its advocacy for cooperation through such a Level Three multilateral engagement in both Paris and Copenhagen Agreements.
The 2030 Agenda
The 2030 Agenda, earlier known as the Post-2015 Development Agenda, was the result of the UN’s intergovernmental process to create a framework for global development that would succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The process initially began as an effort of the UN Secretariat, when, in 2010, the then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created the UN System Task Team for the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, and launched a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HPL) to advise him. The Task Team would coordinate efforts among the 60 UN agencies, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, and would, along with the HPL, report to Amina J. Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning. However, in 2012, the process shifted to the General Assembly at the conclusion of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. At this conference, the member states of the UN agreed to establish an intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) to design the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed the MDGs. The OWG began its negotiations in January 2015, which culminated in the “Outcome Document”. This document listed 17 goals and 169 targets that comprised the SDGs that would guide the development agenda for the next 15 years. These goals were announced on the 70th anniversary of the UN, and adopted at the Sustainable Development Summit, held at the UN Headquarters in September 2015.
Cooperation on the 2030 Agenda
India’s strategy on the 2030 Agenda resembles its multilateral approach to climate change negotiations, achieving all three levels of engagement. India reaches the first level after its selection to serve within the Open Working Group negotiating on the Sustainable Development Agenda. Indeed, “the Working Group [was] to comprise 30 representatives nominated by Member States from the five UN regional groups… after six months of negotiations… the final list comprises 69 countries, grouped as 30 representatives.” India’s election to serve on the Open Working Group not only signalled its commitment to a multilateral agenda for sustainable development, but also a recognition by other member states of the need to bring India’s perspective to the table. Moreover, India’s active participation from the first session of the OWG was marked by a push for greater cooperation. Speaking on behalf of India as well as Pakistan and Sri Lanka, its partners who shared the seat in the OWG, Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri pledged “the troika’s full support,” and called for a greater need to “coordinate the work of this Open Working Group and other parallel global efforts on the post-2015 development agenda… [and] collectively fast track all these activities through effective institutional reforms in the UN system.” Advocacy for such a global approach, rooted in the multilateral framework of the UN, highlights India’s Level One engagement on its negotiations on the 2030 Agenda.
In a similar fashion to the BASIC Coalition, India actively participated in a coalition of developing countries, and even adopted a leadership role. Indeed, India joined the Group of 77 coalition, and volunteered to serve as one of the “facilitators”, or one of the delegations tasked with organising and compiling the positions of the G77 and coordinating with the facilitators of the process as a whole, as well as the facilitators within other coalitions on negotiations. India, therefore, was a leader in a bloc of 134 developing countries, and organising their inputs to the final outcome document. India also forcefully articulated its position within the G77, which became a part of the group’s position as a whole. India called for the creation of specific indicators and national reviews on the progress of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was adopted in the Group’s position. It noted how this was an important but missing component in the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and stressed that any outcome document should include such indicators and targets. Another Indian proposal, within the G77, was the creation of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism through which developing countries could gain access to new and affordable clean technologies that could assist in attaining the SDGs. These positions have also been adopted by the rest of the G77, highlighting India’s ability as a facilitator to organise a united position in its coalition. Therefore, India’s role in the G77 underscores its achievement of Level Two engagement on this issue at the UN.
As a coalition leader during the 2030 Agenda negotiations, India was also particularly effective in using its role to influence the content of the outcome documents. It had called for member states to not conflate issues of peace and security with the development agenda. India recognises that issues of conflict, crime and violence, which hamper development are distinct from the broader issues of “peace and security”; the latter require a different approach. India has called for “peace and stability in the context of the development agenda [to] be looked at from a developmental lens, and not a political one.” These views are clearly reflected in the outcome document, which highlights the G77 coalition’s power to influence the debate and the content of the final agreement. Moreover, due to India’s ability to organise the positions of the members of the G77, the coalition held a significant amount of power of the negotiating process, as the coalition alone controlled over half of the membership of the UN. India, therefore, not only participated in a united coalition but also took on a leadership role in a coalition powerful and influential enough to impact the content of the Outcome Document and the voting in the 2030 Agenda process. These factors clearly underscore how India adopted and engaged with this process at a Level Three multilateral engagement.
Effectiveness of Cooperation
India’s multilateral engagement proved successful in achieving cooperation on the 2030 Agenda as well. On this issue, India achieved most of its stated objectives. The G77’s demand -- as negotiated by India -- for specific indicators and national review frameworks was considered and reflected prominently in the outcome document passed by the OWG, and adopted by consensus at the Sustainable Development Summit. Moreover, India’s Level Three lobbying led to the creation the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, which was announced at the Financing for Development Conference, held in Addis Ababa as a forerunner to the Sustainable Development Summit in New York. In its closing remarks at the final session of the OWG, India expressed its satisfaction that the 2030 Agenda had remained focused on development and that matters on peace and security were tackled from a “development lens”. The Prime Minister of India recognised in his speech to the Sustainable Development Summit that India was successful in synergising its National Development policies with the 2030 Agenda, stating that “much of India's development agenda is mirrored in the Sustainable Development Goals.” India had accomplished all of this through its role as a facilitator within the G77, highlighting how its Level Three multilateral approach had been effective in achieving India’s goals of global cooperation on this issue.
Within its engagement on international security, India has prioritised the adoption of an intergovernmental framework to combat terrorism. India’s proposal for such a framework is the passage of an international treaty that defined terrorism and enhanced “normative processes for the prosecution and extradition of terrorists.” To this end, India introduced the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in 1996 (CCIT). Beyond the CCIT, India has also participated in other multilateral efforts on counterterrorism, particularly after the Mumbai attacks on 26 November 2011. This engagement includes advocacy and support for the adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in the General Assembly, and adoption of the 13 “sectoral conventions” on terrorism negotiated at the UN. India also chaired the Counter Terrorism Committee in 2011, which was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1373. However, its engagement on counterterrorism has been unable to achieve similar levels of cooperation compared to its advocacy on issues of international development.
Cooperation on Counterterrorism
When comparing Indian engagement with counterterrorism issues at the UN to its efforts at the development front, the contrast is visible in its multilateral strategy. India’s adoption of a new approach in its engagement on counterterrorism at the UN comprises two components: the de-escalation of Indian multilateralism from “Level Three” to a “Level One,” and India’s decision to utilise targeted bilateral engagement to garner support for its position. In its multilateral engagement, India’s foremost priority on counterterrorism is the “early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.” A proposal put forward by India, the CCIT was first tabled at the UN in 1996. It has remained deadlocked since 2013 in the Sixth Committee of the UN (The Legal Committee). The main tenets of the CCIT are:
- To agree upon a universal definition of terrorism that all 193-members of the UNGA will adopt into their own criminal laws
- To unite the international community to ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps
- To outline special laws under which all terrorists could be prosecuted
- To make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide
India took an active role to draft the text of the treaty in 2007 and to lobby its fellow member states to support the adoption of the CCIT. India’s engagement beyond the CCIT includes active participation in several counter-terrorism discussions, such as drafting a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in the General Assembly in 2006, serving as a founding members of the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF), and supporting counterterrorism mechanisms established by UN Security Council Resolutions, such as Resolutions 1267, 1988, and 1989 related to sanctions against Al-Qaeda/Taliban, Resolution 1373 establishing the Counter-Terrorism Committee, and Resolution 1540 addressing the non-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction to terrorist organisations. During India’s tenure on the Security Council in 2011-2013, it served as the chair of the Counter-Terrorism Committee.
However, this is where India’s advocacy makes a significant departure from the effective multilateralism that it utilised when engaging on climate change negotiations and the 2030 Agenda at the UN. While India has won support for its position from a few countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, it has not been able to build a united coalition that advocates, or votes on this issue like it did with the G77 on issues of development. India’s proposals have faced resistance from partner states that it has worked with on issues of development. These include the United States, members of the Group of Latin American Countries (GRULAC), and members of Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). At the heart of the resistance from these countries is a fierce disagreement over the definition of “terrorism,” particularly as the OIC and the United States call for separate and opposing exclusions for what counts as terrorism. While the OIC has called for the exclusion of “national liberation movements” (such as the Palestinian liberation movement), the US has demanded exceptions for acts committed by military forces of states to protect its own soldiers from, in their opinion, being wrongly accused of terrorism during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, the US opposes the proposed exception from the OIC, and the OIC has refused to budge in opposing the US’s proposition. This opposition reinforces India’s inability to reach Level Two or Level Three engagement, because the members of the OIC and GRULAC have historically been in coalitions with India within the G77 and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Such a situation has limited the ability of India to use any of its weight to influence the debate or passage of the agreement. Moreover, the US, which had previously supported India and the CCIT, has now withdrawn its support, signalling India’s inability to keep its coalition united. Despite India’s calls for the “early adoption of the CCIT,” there has been little to no movement towards passage, and India is very clearly not able to “form a united position that is powerful enough to alter the debate and control the content and passage of agreements” on this issue. Therefore, it has been unable to escalate its multilateral engagement on this issue beyond Level One.
In response, India has pivoted to a new strategic approach, holding bilateral meetings with opposing states to lobby them toward some compromise or agreement. For example, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj held bilateral meetings with her counterparts at the Gulf Cooperation Council and from the 22-member Arab League. Counterterrorism initiatives have also been a major part of the bilateral relationship with the US and China, particularly vis-à-vis Pakistan, which India accuses of fostering cross-border terrorism. India has also established a number of Joint Working Groups on Counter-Terrorism (JWG-CT) as part of its bilateral relationships with other countries. The latest round of consultations held under these Joint Working Groups were part of bilateral relations with Russia, Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, China, Japan, France and Egypt. In these exchanges, as well as during high-level exchanges at the Ministerial and Head of State/Government levels, India has lobbied for support for the adoption of the CCIT. This highlights how India has moved beyond its effective model of organising a coalition of developing countries, to one where it uses bilateral lobbying in order to gather support for a multilateral framework for countering terrorism.
Effectiveness of Cooperation
In implementing this new strategic approach, India has achieved only mixed success in attaining its stated objectives. Firstly, and most significantly, India has not yet succeeded on convincing its fellow member states towards the adoption of the CCIT. India had some peripheral success in undertaking discussion linked to the CCIT which have led to the adoption of three separate protocols that aim to tackle terrorism:
- The International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted on 15 December 1997;
- The International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on 9 December 1999; and
- The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted on 13 April 2005.
However, the CCIT itself remains to be adopted. Recently, there were developments to advance cooperation. News reports from July 2016 said Indian bilateral discussions, led by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, with her counterparts in the Gulf Cooperation Council and the League of Arab States on the CCIT had been “received positively.” These nations represent a large portion of the biggest voting bloc, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in opposition to the current draft of the CCIT. Moreover, China expressed its support for the CCIT, which also served as a breakthrough in advancing multilateral cooperation. However, these developments came at the cost of significant amendments and compromising on the language of the draft without a declaration of full-throated support. Till date, the “positive reactions” from the members of the OIC have not yet translated into support at the UN. Other member states in opposition, such as the United States and Latin American countries, remain unmoved, underscoring Indian inabilities to convince these members. According to diplomats engaged with these issues at the UN, the prospects for passage still seem very slim. Therefore, despite adopting a combination of multilateral and bilateral engagement strategies, India remained unable to achieve its objectives on this issue.
Security Council Reform
Perhaps India’s most important and longest-standing priority at the UN has been the Indian demand for reform of the UN Security Council, particularly the expansion of the “permanent” category of membership. As part of its advocacy on this issue, India’s position has been to seek an expansion in, both, the permanent and non-permanent categories of the Security Council to “reflect contemporary realities of the twenty-first century.” India is also a candidate for one of the new permanent seats in the Security Council, and seeks the extension of the same rights and privileges to it and other future permanent members as the current P5, including the veto. India has been mentioned as a candidate for a reformed Security Council in some permanent or “renewable seat” category since 1992, when the issue of Security Council reform was brought up in then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s “An Agenda for Peace”. In advocating for its candidacy, India joined Brazil, Germany, and Japan, to create the G4 to jointly campaign for the creation of new permanent seats, and for their candidature to fill those new seats. It also led a coalition known as the L.69, a group of 42 developing countries seeking lasting and comprehensive reform of the Security Council. However, India’s engagement on this issue has not been able to achieve cooperation in a manner similar to its engagement on issues of international development.
Cooperation on UN Security Council Reform
Analysing India’s strategy on Security Council reform, there are immediate and obvious departures from India’s model of Level Three multilateralism engagement on issues of international development. Rather, India pivots towards a new strategic approach similar to the one deployed in India’s engagement on counterterrorism, where it maintains its multilateral advocacy past Level One to Level Two for Security Council reform, but also engages in bilateral engagement with select countries. India’s multilateral engagement on this issue is somewhat intuitive, since India is attempting to reform a multilateral institution of which it is a member. However, what reinforces India’s Level One engagement on this issue is India’s steadfast commitment to the negotiation processes. India has been committed to the multilateral negotiations between all members of the UN since the issue was first raised in 1992. It was an active participant in the two forums for negotiation on Security Council reform, the Open-Ended Working Group (OWG) from 1992 to 2008, and its successor, the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN). Even when India found that the OWG was not proceeding to its satisfaction, it did not abandon the process, and rather lobbied to have the OWG’s framework replaced with one that, according to them, would be better suited to the negotiations. These actions clearly highlight how India remained steadfast to its Level One engagement on Security Council reform.
Beyond this commitment to the multilateral reform process, India was successfully able to achieve Level Two multilateral engagement. Unlike in its advocacy on counterterrorism, India successfully organised two coalitions with a united position, and even adopt the role as a coalition leader within the two blocs: the G4 and the L.69. The L.69 holds monthly meetings at the Permanent Mission of India to discuss strategies and the group’s position. The group has also expanded from its initial membership of 25 to currently 42 members. A clear signal of India’s Level Two engagement here was that the L.69 also submitted a united policy position to the Intergovernmental Negotiation’s Framework Document, calling for an expanded Security Council with 27 members, with 11 permanent seats and 16 non-permanent seats. Similarly, the G4, too, has scheduled meetings, albeit less regularly than the L.69. The most high-profile meeting took place in 2015 during the opening of the General Debate of the 70th Session of the General Assembly when Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the leaders of Brazil, Germany, and Japan at the G4 Summit. The G4 also submitted a united policy position to the IGN’s Framework document calling for an expanded Security Council with 25-26 members, with 11 permanent seats and 14 or 15 non-permanent seats, reinforcing a united coalition with an agreed-upon position. Therefore, India has continued its multilateral engagement in its strategic approach to Security Council reform.
However, in a departure from its approach on international development issues, India has not been able to replicate its Level Three multilateral engagement in negotiations on Security Council reform. Unlike the strength India demonstrated as a leader in the BASIC and G77 coalitions on development, its coalitions have failed to make actionable impacts on the debate on Security Council reform. While India has organised two united coalitions that have a common policy position, these coalitions -- in two separate instances -- have been unsuccessful at articulating their demands and unable to use the coalition power to influence the negotiations. This was first evident at the 2005 World Summit where the G4 was unable to coordinate its position with the members of the African Union, who had previously supported the G4’s position for expansion. The setback showed a clear example of India’s coalition unable to use its influence to push for an agreement in the manner India was able to at Copenhagen. A similar instance took place during the impasse over the procedural motion of the OWG in 2007. Despite having a 25-member strong coalition and the support of other emerging powers, such as Brazil, South Africa, and Nigeria, India ultimately had to withdraw its proposal in favour of a compromise motion. While this negotiation did lead to the creation of the current round of intergovernmental negotiations, it highlighted India’s repeated inability to use the power of its coalition. These episodes, therefore, underscore India’s inability to rise above a Level Two multilateral engagement on Security Council reform.
In an approach similar to that in its engagement on counterterrorism, India has utilised its bilateral relations with key nations to complement its multilateral efforts on Security Council reform. India has targeted a small number of important nations such as the current five permanent members and has lobbied them to support its candidacy on Security Council reform outside the auspices of the UN. Bilateral relations at the Foreign Secretary, Foreign Minister, and Head of State/Government level with China, Russia, and the US have featured prominent and extended discussions regarding Security Council reform. Even within the context of the UN, India has undertaken some bilateral efforts to reach out to other Permanent Missions to ensure that countries outside the L.69 and the Uniting for Consensus coalitions support India’s candidature and position on reform. Therefore, the difference in Indian engagement on Security Council to include bilateral lobbying is a stark departure from the model of multilateral engagement on international development at the UN.
Effectiveness of Cooperation
Like India’s record of success on counterterrorism, India has also experienced mixed success in its engagement on Security Council reform. India’s biggest success in leadership of its coalitions came on September 14 2015 when the General Assembly adopted General Assembly Decision 69/560 by consensus. The decision made an explicit mention of the Framework Document compiled by the chair of the IGN, H.E. Courtenay Rattray, Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the UN,  which was a symbolic yet significant victory as it meant India and other reform-minded countries could use the Framework Document to commence text-based negotiations. Outside of its multilateral engagements, India has made some significant progress as well. India has successfully convinced over 130 countries, as part of its bilateral lobbying, to support its candidature publicly at the UN, including the entirety of the African Union, as well as support from France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the US. However, these successes are pale in comparison to India’s many setbacks on Security Council reform. India is yet to make any progress on even having text or draft resolutions for negotiations on Security Council reform since negotiations first began in 1992. Even after Ambassador Rattray’s Framework Document was recognised as a basis for possible text-based negotiations, India made no significant progress on any text-based negotiations. India has also been unsuccessful in translating the support of four of the five permanent members for its bid into tangible progress. China has remained committed to undermining the G4 by only offering a conditional support for India’s bid in exchange for India dropping its support for Japan’s bid for a permanent seat, while the US and Russia having continued with stalling tactics, withholding support from any Indian, G4, or L.69 proposals. These setbacks clearly underscore how India’s strategic approach for engaging on this issue at the UN has not been particularly effective.
Findings and Implications
Two key lessons emerge from this analysis of India’s engagement across four case studies, two each on the thematic areas of international development and international security. First, India is more successful at achieving cooperation on matters of international development than on matters of international security. Second, an inability to overcome the dilemma of common interests at the heart of security issues underscores why India is unable to achieve similar levels of cooperation on these matters at the UN. While conventional thinking, as advanced by Snidal, argues “that cooperation in PD is less likely… as asymmetry decreases,” the analysis in this case study shows precisely the opposite. Indeed, an asymmetric distribution of benefits and costs (where a smaller sub-group sees disproportionate benefit or costs from cooperation) across the member states at the UN makes cooperation less likely, not more. Moreover, India’s advocacy for a shorter time horizon – (or a fewer expected number of iterations of the game) also pushes a greater number of countries to choose noncooperation rather than compromise and support India’s position. This is in stark contrast to India’s engagement on development issues, where policy positions advanced by India are rooted in the distribution of benefits and costs symmetrically across all partners. Moreover, a longer time horizon and repeated interactions on the same issue also foster cooperation with fellow member states. These factors serve as an explanation as to why India achieves cooperation on some issues, but not on others.
The first factor that serves as an obstacle for India in reaching cooperation at the UN is the asymmetric distribution of, both, benefits and costs for states should they choose to join India’s position and cooperate on issues of security. Conversely, there is a more symmetric distribution of costs and benefits on issues of development. This runs contrary to an accepted hypothesis in ICT, which says that “for a given average payoff, a more asymmetric distribution of benefits means that a smaller sub-group is able to benefit from cooperation and therefore that cooperation within the group is more likely.” The analysis of India’s engagement on development showed that the country’s policy positions—such as fighting for climate change policy to not interfere with the economic growth of developing countries, and fighting for the creation of specific indicators and national reviews on the progress of achieving the SDGs---underscore the benefits shared not only by India’s developing country coalition, but all nations that supported the eventual draft resolutions including India’s proposals. Similarly, the costs of cutting emissions under a legally binding Paris agreement, or of implementing the indicators and reviews for the SDGs is a cost that would be shared proportionately among cooperating member states. As such, India is able to foster cooperation with its partners and achieve the passage of its objectives at the UN.
A similar symmetrical distribution, however, was not present in negotiations on security issues at the UN, where certain member states believed that the benefits of cooperation would be enjoyed by only certain countries, while joining India in cooperating would force them to absorb disproportionate costs. Such a phenomenon was first observed in CCIT negotiations, where cooperation on the common interest of defining terrorism in any one particular way would benefit countries disproportionately. A definition without exceptions which have been advocated for by the United States or the OIC would not benefit those countries, as they would find such an outcome not desirable or Pareto-optimal. Including certain exceptions and not others, given the opposition of each group to the other’s proposals for exceptions, would further create disproportionate benefits for the one group and costs for the other. Including all exceptions would be, as India has articulated, tantamount to the current suboptimal status quo of having an inadequate definition of terrorism. Similarly, on Security Council reform, India’s member states continued to believe cooperation with India would mean an asymmetric distribution of benefits and costs, which hampered cooperation. First, the analysis demonstrated that the hesitation of the existing permanent members, particularly China, Russia, and the US, to expand the Security Council and cede power to new candidates for new permanent seats is rooted in their desire to preserve their own power and status. Supporting India’s position would be suboptimal and noncooperation a rational strategic choice. Members of the UfC coalition also oppose expansion in the permanent category of membership, as the G4 are their regional rivals, and support for them would be altering the status quo in a way that forces them to absorb geopolitical costs vis-à-vis an advancement in the legitimacy and stature of such rivals. Therefore, other member states at the UN continue to view cooperation with India as disproportionately distributing benefits and costs contrary to their Pareto-optimal outcomes.
Another factor that prevents India from achieving cooperation on issues of international security is its advocacy for immediate reforms on security-related issues. On issues such as climate change and the 2030 Agenda, India has been part of a structure that ensures multiple iterations and regularity of stakes. Climate change negotiations take place every year under the Conference of the Parties framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Moreover, while stakes do change from one year to another, they do remain regular and incremental, ensuring stability within the interactions. Similarly, on the 2030 Agenda, the negotiations were part of an ongoing OWG framework with regularity, and have been a continuation of the MDGs adopted in 2000, underscoring a long horizon for debate on this issue. Such time horizons change when it comes to issues of international security.
On matters of security, India itself has advocated for shorter time horizons and immediate resolution on negotiations. On counterterrorism, India has called for the “early adoption of the CCIT,” effectively calling upon its partners to rally around one definition of terrorism, and conclude negotiations sooner rather than later. Such an approach incentivises states to choose non-cooperation, as that is the rational strategy in a single-play game where an enforceable agreement is uncertain, which is the perception given India’s desire for immediate progress. This perception of single-play is further advanced by the near certainty that no future iterations would take place once negotiations conclude as once a definition is reached and adopted, further debate on alterations or iterations to the accepted definition would be pointless. The finality of such a decision further incentivises countries to adopt a strategy of noncooperation. Similarly, India’s call for “immediate” or “urgent” reforms to the composition of the Security Council has pushed countries to choose to not cooperate with India’s position. In this scenario, too, a decision to expand the membership of the Security Council will most likely be a singular and final decision, wherein the modalities of the new composition and subsequent election of new permanent members to the Council will be virtually irreversible, incentivising states to choose noncooperation as an optimal strategy given the condition. Such advocacy for immediate resolution on counterterrorism and Security Council reform positions the issue closer to a single-play game, which influences states to select a strategy of non-cooperation.
The impact of this game theoretic analysis of India’s ability to achieve cooperation at the UN has significant implications for India’s UN engagement, both from an academic and a policy perspective. From the perspective of ICT, this finding is significant as it underscores how an asymmetric distribution of benefits actually impedes cooperation instead of fostering it. While Snidal notes that it is only with the right caveats that asymmetries increase the likelihood of cooperation, this finding is significant given its applicability to two distinct cases of Indian engagement at the UN. This analysis also considers the symmetry in the distribution of costs, which is missing from Snidal’s analysis, but is captured as geopolitical considerations that present themselves as impediments to cooperation. These findings are also relevant for Indian policymakers, who could benefit from the revelations of this paper to adjust their multilateral strategies in the future. India’s geopolitical challenges, vis-à-vis Pakistan, have a significant impact on its multilateral advocacy on international security unlike on international development, where these geopolitical challenges are not important factors. India shared its seat on the OWG on the Sustainable Development Agenda with Pakistan, and the two countries caucused together within the coalition of the Group of 77.However, on international security, these rivalries presented insurmountable roadblocks to India’s advocacy. While Indian diplomats have recognised that regional geopolitics and game theory have played a factor in the effectiveness of their UN engagement, there is yet to be a significant shift in strategy that is aimed at overcoming these barriers. This finding reinforces the need for more innovative multilateral strategies as India continues to negotiate on these issues.
While India continues to remain committed to engaging constructively at the UN, it finds that cooperation on issues of international security at the UN is limited by an asymmetric distribution of benefits and costs, and advocacy for a shorter time horizon for debate on these issues. These factors contribute significantly to India’s success on issues of international development, and lack thereof on issues of international security. These factors also lead India to adopt different strategic multilateral approaches on negotiations over climate change policy and the 2030 Agenda when compared to its approach to negotiations on passage of the CTIT, or for expansion and reform of the Security Council. As India continues to emerge as a key player in the international system, it will have to address the strategies of engagement and improve upon them. Success in achieving India’s objectives on counterterrorism and Security Council reform will not only reinforce India’s status as an emerging power, but also add greater credence to its reputation as a committed multilateral partner, furthering its soft power.
I am grateful to Prof. Martha Finnemore for supervising this thesis project at the George Washington University, as well as to Prof. Robert Sutter and the Elliott School of International Affairs for their support to this project through the Undergraduate Research Award. I would also like to thank Prof. Harsh V. Pant for his support, and Ms. Vinia Mukherjee, and the anonymous reviewers at ORF for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.
Aman Y. Thakker is an Analyst with Protagonist (formerly Monitor 360), a strategy consulting firm based in Washington D.C. He is also a Contributor for The Diplomat Magazine, writing frequently about Indian foreign and national security policy. He is a graduate of the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, and earned a B.A. magna cum laude in International Affairs. He also spent one year studying at the London School of Economics.
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