India’s foreign policy establishment seems to favour the American proposal to expand the G8 to include South Korea, Russia and Indonesia, in addition to China and India. It is wise for us to play ball as national interest is a genuinely bipartisan long-term game
This time around, however, our foreign policy establishment seems to be taking a positive stand on the American proposal to expand the G8.
Given the intransigence of China in Ladakh, globalising the differences seems to have its advantages for India. Sanjay Baru, in his column in The Indian Express (June 5), had reiterated the not-very-easily-understandable cool position of the Manmohan Singh government on invitations to sit at the high table with the G8. He also attributed the origin of the idea of inviting India and China to the G8 to the French. In fact, it was the Canadians liberal leadership and not the French that pushed the idea globally, sometimes at a considerable personal political cost at home.
This time around, however, our foreign policy establishment seems to be taking a positive stand on the American proposal to expand the G8. The idea of including South Korea, Russia, Indonesia, in addition to China and India, has been talked about for almost two decades. Australia, however, has been introduced for reasons not quite clear. Paul Martin, then finance minister of Canada, had, in 2010, proposed that India and China should be invited to be a part of the G8.
A new global think tank, set up by Jim Balsillie, the CEO of Blackberry, in Waterloo (around 90 km from Toronto), made this proposal. Balsillie wanted to put his home city on the global map after the fortune he made from Blackberry. The think-tank was called the Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). It was funded liberally, and John English, a Canadian MP, former junior minister and biographer of Pierre Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father), was its founder-director.
They organised a meeting to define the agenda for global security in the 21st century, and invited China and India as participants in the discussions with the G8.
For reasons I never understood, I was also invited to the meeting. The proceedings were published in a well-known bestseller (classic) on international studies: Leadership From the Top, edited by John English, Andy Cooper and a New Zealander of Indian origin, Ramesh Thakur.
The papers in the book, with very persuasive analytical and data support from John Kirton—the Canadian head of The Munk School and G8 Institute at the University of Toronto—amongst others, argued that India and China being part of the top-four economies in purchasing power parity terms and, most certainly, in terms of power for good or bad, given their size, should sit at the high table. In global politics, not just per capita but absolute size matters.
Martin went with this proposal to the G8 meeting in the Bahamas and got it accepted, giving China and India a status of Permanent Invitees. In fact, some Canadian analysts attributed Martin’s absence from Canada in that crucial election week as a reason for the Liberals defeat at the hand of the Conservatives and their political vanvas for the subsequent decade. It was reversed only by the younger Trudeau recently. For some years, India did attend the meeting as a Permanent Invitee.
Kirton came periodically to visit India since his Institute was the Secretariat of the G8. But Indian bureaucracy, always snobbish about intellectual inputs, virtually ignored him. Some of us in civil society hosted him.
Incidentally, in the Leadership From the Top volume, Anna Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Studies at Princeton, and later foreign policy adviser to President Clinton, predicted that human security in this century would be threatened not by nuclear war, but viruses. Elementary game theory indicated that a nuclear war was a no-no unless there was lunacy in the policy.
Mind you! Lunacy cannot be ruled out in the age of fanatics and tinpot dictators. But Anna Marie Slaughter predicted a global virus from Africa, and not Wuhan. In the Leadership from the Top volume, I wrote a paper with RK Narayan of The Malgudi Days fame, titled Sherpas And Coolies. It argued that India was interested only if problems of food security, land and water were addressed.
This became a slogan. A decade later, The European Institute of Strategic Studies started their annual lecture, tracing the decadal developments, commencing with Sherpas and Coolies, even though, accepting little progress. If president Trump is resurrecting the idea in a real sense, it is wise for us to play ball. National interest is a genuinely bipartisan long-term game.