There is an increasing trend of like-minded countries coming together for collaborating on specific issues in the global arena. For emerging countries like India, these “coalitions of the capable and willing” appear to be conducive alternatives to sclerotic alliances, historically perceived to constrain maneuverability. Such issue-based and niche coalitions also supplement India’s emphasis on multilateralism.
Coalitions of like-minded countries are the new game in town. These are loose groupings of countries tackling issues of mutual interest. These groupings are flexible in nature and are not based on hard security guarantees. This article explores the various areas in which India has demonstrated its intent in forging innovative combinations.
The common thread in most new-age coalitions of ‘like-minded” partners is to reduce structural dependencies on China, enhance meaningful exchange of technology through multi-stakeholder partnership and build robust infrastructural alternatives for the participant nations.
In recent times, India and the US have felt the need for cooperation with like-minded partners for creating a robust governance architecture for emerging and advanced technologies, a phenomenon precipitated to counter China’s multiplying technological capabilities. Other motivations for tech coalitions include the urge to cooperate with similar techno-democracies like EU, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Canada and Israel to enhance individual and mutual capabilities. Various ad-hoc arrangements like the D-10, T10, T12 have already been proposed. AI, telecommunications, quantum computing, financial technology, semiconductors, drones, autonomous weapons and biotechnology are potential areas gathering steam. These are important as technological innovations form the foundation of a country’s economic and military strength.
A practical example assuming shape includes the Clean Network initiative, which calls for adoption of rules on digital governance. Such initiatives are aimed at reducing dependencies on China for technology acquisition and use, especially in the light of developing Chinese espionage and surveillance capabilities. Ostracization of Chinese telecom companies like Huawei in many Western countries is a tangible outcome.
Such coalitions improve supply chain resilience, reform global norms, mitigate national security concerns and give a leg up to technological competitiveness of the participant countries. Setting technological standards is also a crucial component of the QUAD partnership.
Various experts have called for building coalitions around cyber-security. This would help in recognizing and working on broad data privacy norms while being nimble enough to make room for domestic approaches to protecting data privacy. Recognizing broad norms could pave the way for implementing internet regulations to tackle mischievous cyber activity, grounded on values of transparency and accountability. A workable manifestation could be an international cybercrime center to coordinate botnet takedowns.
A natural beneficiary of this process will be digital trade flows between countries based on mutual trust. This could also entail removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers on digital goods; advancing digital flows.
In 2019, India took the lead in establishing the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) for sustainable development. CDRI aims to make infrastructure systems resilient to tackle climate and disaster risks. CDRI is a partnership of multiple stakeholders including national governments, private sector organizations, knowledge institutions, UN agencies, multilateral development banks and financing mechanisms. Various countries from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America have demonstrated their interest in joining this initiative.
India along with Japan and Australia has also launched the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (RSCI) to complement the QUAD’s efforts to reduce vulnerabilities in global supply chains.
Experts have called RSCI to promote integrated supply chain clusters of manufacturing bases which are backed by financial incentives like favorable regulatory and tax policies. Recently, a new roadmap has been outlined by 18 countries including the EU, US, Japan, Singapore and India for building supply chains grounded on the values of transparency, sustainability, diversification and security.
India has also demonstrated keenness in joining niche new-age coalitions that seek to “bridge the gap between theory and practice on AI.” An example in point is the Global Partnership for AI (GPAI) supported by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED), France and Canada.
GPAI aims at multi-sectoral cooperation for promoting cutting-edge research to support the responsible evolution of AI. This complements India’s own efforts for leveraging AI through its National AI Strategy and National AI Portal. The NITI Aayog has also launched its “AI for All” initiative which fits under the overall rubric of the GPAI.
In outer space, the US led Artemis Accords is an agreement for lunar exploration and beyond. As of March 2022, it has 18 signatories. It is in the context of the decaying nature of the Outer Space Treaty (OST) regime that the Artemis Accords are gaining shape. it aims at promoting transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance and peaceful international cooperation. The benefit of this arrangement lies in its usefulness to have great powers agree upon and comply with a common set of principles, guidelines, best practices to ensure better compliance with the established governance treaties.
Seasoned diplomats have called for India to introduce a Growth with Renewable Energy, Entrepreneurship and Nature (GREEN) coalition of countries to intensify efforts for greenhouse gas reduction, introduction of clean technologies, climate adaptation and development of renewable energy sources.
Underlining India’s civilizational links to nature, India, along with France, has taken the lead in establishing the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in 2015 to promote solar energy and marshal investment for utilization of solar energy at affordable costs, increasing its access and reach. This coalition has already onboarded 89 countries, many of them developing countries of Africa and small island states.
The I2U2 grouping between India, UAE, US and Israel has publicly stated its goals which include focus on joint investments, private-sector partnerships, start-up collaborations and new initiatives in water, energy, green technologies transportation and space. Some analysts have viewed this grouping through a security lens, calling it an attempted integration of two separate strategic contexts of the Indo-Pacific and the Middle East to counter Chinese influence in the region. However, imposing geostrategic models on a nascent idea might perhaps be a little early. The grouping is exploratory in nature and has primarily revolved around economic themes and opportunities for the future.
The QUAD is the most pertinent and trumpeted example of comprehensive strategic convergence spanning many fields and areas.
Potential Coalitions that India should work with in the future
There are some new evolving coalitions that India is not yet a part of. This is due to India’s lack of significant expertise or natural resource endowments in these exclusive areas. Building substantial proficiency and bandwidth in the long term will help India economically and will also act as an entry pass into these coalitions. Two relevant coalitions are Minerals Security Partnership and Chip 4 Alliance.
The Minerals Security Partnership (MSP) aims to explore and build alternatives to China, which has built crucial processing capacities and has acquired mines in Africa for Cobalt. MSP aims to strengthen mineral supply chains between countries bound by trust and shared interests.
Existing supply chains of rare earth elements, with huge dependencies on China, like Cobalt, Nickel, Lithium etc. have become vulnerable due to the sharpening geopolitical environment. Securing these elements is necessary as they are crucial inputs for making batteries in electric vehicles, semiconductors, solar panels, wind turbines and high-end electronics.
The United States has taken the lead in putting together an ad-hoc grouping ‘Chip 4’ alliance that seeks to create a semiconductor supply chain between US, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The implicit message is to keep China out and cut Beijing’s access to intellectual property from firms in these four countries.
Severe semiconductor supply constraints faced during the Covid-19 pandemic have propelled US to initiate cooperation with Taiwan, Japan and South Korea on design and production of semiconductor chips. However, South Korea is treading cautiously as it doesn’t wish to abandon the massive Chinese market; where South Korean firms have noticeably established themselves.