Event ReportsPublished on Jan 23, 2023
Think20 India Inception Conference | Reformed Multilateralism: A Global Imperative

As the international community grapples with the challenges of a rapidly changing global landscape, this panel explored whether multilateralism could survive in a world that is becoming increasingly multipolar. It addressed questions including how the G20 can address the urgent need for reforms in key multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations (UN), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? Can the G20 advance the forward-looking agenda to sustain recovery and steer the global economy towards strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth?

Spotlight: Vijay Thakur Singh, Chair Task Force 7 - T20 India, Director General, ICWA


  • Tetsushi Sonobe, Dean and CEO, Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI)
  • Feodor Voitolovsky, Director, IMEMO, Russia
  • Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, President and Founder, Emirates Policy Center, UAE
  • Stormy-Anika Mildner, Executive Director, Aspen Institute, Germany
  • Nicolas J.A. Buchoud, Co-Founder and President, Grand Paris Alliance for Metropolitan Development, France

Chair: Shikha Bhasin, Senior Programme Lead, CEEW, India

Think20, India Inception Conference, Multilateralism, Vijay Thakur Singh, WTO, UN, WHO, UN, IMF, G20, food security, climate change, terrorism,

Opening the session, Amb Singh said that the global landscape is rapidly changing, and a new order is emerging. She pointed out that a multipolar world is in play. Other challenges like food security, climate change, terrorism, and tech advances are also emerging, requiring new responsive, effective governance structures. She mentioned the G20’s remarkable record in tackling economic crises and the Covid-19 pandemic, demonstrating it has a forward-looking orientation. But can it do the same for making multilateral institutions more coherent, effective, and accountable?

She mentioned the need for multilateral reforms that have been emphasised since the UN Millennium Summit in 2000. She suggested that UN reforms should cover its working methodology, which should be transparent and accountable. In addition, these reforms should cover specialised bodies like the WHO to ensure they can respond promptly to emerging challenges. They should also cover the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, which are out of sync with contemporary global realities. Most importantly, these reforms should take place in a timely manner before the 2024 UN Summit of the Future.

The discussion then proceeded to a panel which explored the role of an international rules-based order in ensuring global stability. Opening the panel, Chair Shikha Bhasin highlighted that global challenges have local consequences. And multilateral institutions have completely failed to respond to these challenges and tackle these consequences. So, can and should the G20 & T20 supersede existing multilateral structures to shape global governance structures?

In response, panellists highlighted that multilateral institutions lack credibility, and their reforms are delayed. Minilaterals and plurilaterals have emerged as a consequence of this delay. The G20, however, can bring coherence between the UN and many of these emerging structures.

The discussions also highlighted that international cooperation has become difficult over the last five years. However, Nicolas J.A. Buchoud highlighted that the G20 has remained largely immune from this adverse environment and has produced consensus documents. Therefore, notwithstanding the criticism of the G20 process, we need to make the G20 more effective, particularly the engagement groups, to tackle global challenges like climate change, pandemics, food security, etc. He also highlighted that it is important to make people understand that G20 is not just one leaders’ summit, but a series of events which focus on the goal of advancing global cooperation. He also emphasised that the T20 has a critical role in taking forward the ideas and inputs to the government leaders. For this, it needs to strengthen linkages between various engagement groups and other processes such as T7.

Stormy-Anika Mildner underlined that the multilateral process had not failed us, but member-states had. Therefore, there needs to be a greater political willingness to cooperate. Feodor Voitolovsky echoed this point and added that multilateral institutions are in crisis not only because of the divergences among major powers but also the evolution of international structures, particularly those responsible for international peace & security that are heavily influenced by the post-World War II order. In his view, other multilateral institutions have the element of the post-Cold War order. As a result, emerging institutions are becoming more niche at the cost of existing multilateral structures.

According to Ebtesam Al-Ketbi, multilateral institutions were not built for multipolarity. Alternatives have emerged in the East to the ‘Free Speech, Free Order, and Free Trade’-based multilateral order. Therefore, bilaterals might be a better way to reach multilateralism. In this, finding the multilateral global security order will be the most challenging aspect.

Tetsushi Sonobe mentioned that we need to bridge the gap between research, ideas and the policymaking process. Moreover, there needs to be continuity in the ideas presented at the T20. So, engaging a larger set of stakeholders will ensure the effectiveness of this process. In essence, the G20 & T20 need to find like-minded partners & forums to advance this proposition of multilateral reforms.

Adding to Amb Singh’s point about UN reforms, Feodor Voitolovsky argued that the UN Security Council should be expanded to include more permanent members with veto powers, including India and Brazil. However, he also expressed scepticism about whether this expansion will enhance the effectiveness of the Security Council.

Panellists discussed the global trading order and agreed that WTO reforms are crucial for a stable international trading order. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi mentioned that the world of finance has evolved and become complex. But there is a need to ensure that it delivers its benefits to the last needy person.

The discussion also brought forth expectations from India’s G20 presidency. According to Stormy-Anika Mildner, India’s G20 presidency is important because, for the first time, the G20 troika leadership is shared by emerging economies. So, it is an excellent opportunity to bring in new ideas. Ebtesam Al-Ketbi added that the Indian experience in advocating a multilateral approach needs to be demonstrated. The world is looking at India to ensure that the existing order is reformed. That will be the contribution of India’s G20 presidency.

Watch the full session here.

This event report is compiled by Sameer Patil, Senior Fellow, ORF Mumbai.

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