As the annual G20 summit takes place in New Dehli, India, from Sept. 9 to 11, geopolitical processes, a shifting world order and a disoriented G20 call into question the viability of the initiative’s future. The G20 can trace its origins to two major crises. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis compelled the G7 developed countries to recognize the growing importance of developing economies and led to the formation of the G20 as a meeting ground for finance ministers and central bankers. A decade later, the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 reshaped the G20 into a summit of national leaders, expanding its role and remit. In both cases, the interconnectedness of the global financial architecture and the rapid spread of economic challenges from one region to another provided the momentum for collaboration and collective action.
The Group of 20 adopted the New Delhi Declaration at its summit in New Delhi, India, on Sept. 9, Reuters reported the next day. Under the theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” the declaration highlights sustainable development goals, food security, financial inclusion, green development and reinvigorating multilateralism, among other concerns.
The declaration reinforces India’s prioritization of economic and environmental concerns over geopolitical and security issues, and it also helps establish India as a diplomatic leader on the global stage. Additionally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effective push for the African Union’s permanent membership in the G20, as well as his representation of the Global South’s ongoing concerns (like food security, climate change and the reform of multilateral development banks), further cements India as a leader of the Global South.
G20 members initially struggled to agree on language referencing the Russia-Ukraine war, but India, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa played leading roles in preventing fractures.
Ultimately, the New Delhi Declaration softened the G20’s language on the war from its position in 2022, when the group condemned Russia and demanded its withdrawal from Ukraine.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the G20 format was that it represented a recognition by the developed (in particular Euro-Atlantic) world that the global concentration of economic heft was diffusing and shifting. Global trade was shifting to the Pacific from the Atlantic, long the center of the global economic and financial architecture. The end of the Cold War, less than a decade before the Asian financial crisis, reinforced the belief in the West that the global financial architecture founded in the aftermath of World War II was not only victorious but universal.
The Asian financial crisis didn’t shake this belief but rather reinforced it, despite Western-inspired or directed reforms in part triggering the crisis and Western investor activities accelerating it. The divisions in the G20 due to competing philosophies — China’s economic success and the universalist assertions of the Western liberal order — are complicated even further by an inflating agenda, particularly since the inception of the leaders’ summits. When it was founded, the G20 had a fairly narrow remit, but as time went on, it became a forum for numerous issues ranging from health to climate to local wars. The leadership summit becomes a convenient and enticing place to put political issues on the agenda and bring national or regional interests to leaders of more than three-quarters of the global economy.
The writer is Islamabad based regular contributor.