The changing world order and relevance of G20

Head of states from G20 Nations/ Image: MOFA Japan

Organizations like the G20 can seem to be a great platform for countries to put forward global issues and discuss solutions in a more systematic manner, but how relevant is the G20 (and organizations like the G20) relevant and useful in contemporary international relations, and what actual importance do they hold?

In past years critics have acclaimed the failure of the G20 and similar organizations in actually having an impact on international relations and making global changes due to their nature that runs along with a western advantage bias. This critical claim cannot be negated, as such nature is easily visible, directly or indirectly, with international organizations (IOs) that were created with the idea of having peaceful talks for interstate problems and creating solutions that result from unbiased judgements or stands. International relations academics have been debating around the actual role of IOs for quite some time now. They contend it majorly to be that of connecting multiple issues and then establishing an environment for cooperation and discussing solutions. And for developing countries like India and China, stages like the G20 can prove to be a platform of opportunities to bring out issues that these countries face and can possibly do good with some global help.

For starters, as pointed out by Andrew F Cooper and Asif Farooq, countries like India and China share a neo-Westphalian commitment to state sovereignty and non-intervention. They proclaim the need for a rule-based, stable, and predictable world order that respects the diversity of political systems and stages of development.[1] It is hard to judge if such an environment is present in practice (and not just in theory) at these forums. The challenges and issues raised by critics are many.

Firstly, it is unclear if negotiations at such organizations can actually bring any changes. To be more specific, if these organizations can bring any changes that the countries were planning on implementing in their own states anyway before the meetings and negotiations take place. An interplay of the realist perspective comes into account here, where if actually analyzed properly, these organizations may seem like more of talking more and no (or hardly any) changes ones. A realist perspective on this issue brings into picture the emphasis of limited outreach due to the “wariness of the possibility of member states being caught up in the agendas developed in the outreach processes that they cannot always control or clash.”[2] This also includes stringent and stubborn foreign policies especially by countries like the United States, which makes negotiations hard to follow up to. It also brings into attention the fact that countries are often wary of other countries and have strategic rivalries that might come in the way of negotiations. For example, countries like India and China have tensions in their relationship since they both are big emerging economies. They also have tensions when it comes to military and border issues. Both are rising regional powers. Competition between them creates tensions, those that can play a negative role while trying to come down to a consensus at big forums. Countries also expectedly have their best interest in their mind, therefore, even if a group of country representatives sit down to discuss solutions for the common good, if it affects their respective countries negatively even to a small extent there is a possibility of disagreement. Such small problems can add up and collectively ruin the idealistic idea that built international organizations like the G20 in the first place.

Other issues pointed out by critiques for organizations like G20 is its narrow participation base.[3] The limited inclusion of member states within the G20 limits its diversity and representation of problems that the developing world in particular needs to address. Steven Slaughter points out other simple alternatives for broader inclusion of other countries through forums where some countries are specifically invited to attend forums, such as the G8 + 5 summit in 2005 where Tony Blair invited Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to attend some of the proceedings of the G8 summit.[4] Issues of inclusion however then raise questions of what limit there should be whilst including or adding more members to such organization. These limits are also hard to determine since economic conditions in every country are subjective and different. Inclusion of more regions, however, should be accommodated, perhaps by including more regional representative countries that bring out collective regional issues at these meetings.

Critics have also consistently pointed out the biased advantage towards western countries, specifically the United States and/or the P5 countries. Not just the G20, but other organizations, for example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) prove to be more advantageous for certain countries. The weight of a vote that counts for each country is different in the IMF, the highest percentages going to countries like the USA, France, Germany, etc. Similar direct and indirect advantages are the ones that critics acclaim certain countries of getting, which questions the actual legitimacy of such international organizations. These advantages make it easier for countries with the upper hand to direct the discussions into their favour, which is unfair and directly or indirectly biased.

These critiques and questions that challenge the legitimacy and working of International Organizations should not, however, be confused for total irrelevance or inadequacy of these bodies. However small the impact, they prove to be essential factors in driving a number of important and beneficial courses of actions that prove as a benefit to all countries and not just a few. Meetings at these organizations promote face to face interactions of country representatives, which often gives them a better chance and hand at lobbying their policies and negotiations. The influence that people have on each other can be drastic. Country representatives get the chance to lobby effectively and strengthen ties with other countries, sometimes even countries that they don’t typically informally ally with. This also means the ability to additionally discussing other issues informally than the ones that the meetings are set for. It gives a chance for side meetings, informal conversations, and a space to raise important concerns for developing countries. In the recent G20 summit in Osaka, the head of states of Russia, India and China had a separate meeting where they discussed regional economic and security matters that they were facing. In the current trade war going between China and the United States, China could do with some regional allies during this period, and discussing economic issues in the region during this separate meeting with India and Russia does mean that possible concerns over tariffs and trade issues were raised. Such meetings are examples of these summits being a standpoint where country representatives can meet and discuss issues collectively, additionally from what they typically would do by country visits or other means. But more than that it means that there is an arena of opportunities, especially for developing countries, to strengthen their bases and ties, increase their significance slowly in international politics and policymaking through lobbying and meetings. It means that there is an opportunity for geopolitical precedence that regional powers (or even rising developing nations) can assert through influence. At the very basic level, these organizations provide opportunities for all member states to bring up issues, a task which was typically hard before the existence of these organizations, specifically for countries that remain under-represented.  

In addition to all of that, media coverages of these summits, forums, etc., which are held regularly at these international organizations help bring international pressure from people into pushing such IOs into actually doing some work rather than just having meetings that end up being more of a showcase of practice of diplomacy and solution building if that ends up being the case. Moreover, with increasing access to information to what happens at these forums, it becomes important for these organizations to prove themselves to be legitimate and productive in what they aim to do.

All these plus points keep international organizations from falling their accountability down to a complete zero. This, however, does not mean that international organizations are completely relevant in contemporary international relations. To prove their significance, there needs to be an increase in their legitimacy and an address to the critics of these organizations, whilst actively trying to act on solving the issues pointed out by them.


[1] Cooper, Andrew F., and Asif B. Farooq, The Role of China and India in the G20 and BRICS: Commonalities or Competitive Behavior? in: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, (2016) 45, 3, 74

[2] Steven Slaughter (editor), The G20 and International Relations Theory: Perspectives on Global Summitry, 211

[3] Andrew F Cooper, The G20 and its Regional Critics – The Search for Inclusion, Global Policy Volume 2

[4] Steven Slaughter, Debating the International Legitimacy of the G20: Global Policymaking and Contemporary International Society, Global Policy Volume 4, 48

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Prashasti Saxena

Prashasti Saxena is a Research Intern at The Kootneeti (22 June 2019 - 28 July 2019). She's a student of International Relations at King's College, London. Her specific interests in the field, circle around tracking and improving development in India, Middle Eastern politics, Terrorism, Extremism and Counterinsurgencies, Mapping security issues and the statecraft of diplomacy. She can be reached at prashasti01@gmail.com || Twitter @saxenaprashasti

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