Our generation has been conditioned to think of this primarily in economic terms. The general meaning is that of trade, finance, services, communication, technology and mobility. It expresses the interdependence and interpenetration of our time. What COVID has brought out, however, is the deeper indivisibility of our existence. True globalization is more tied to pandemics, climate change and terrorism. They must form the heart of diplomatic deliberations. As we saw in 2020, ignoring such challenges comes at a huge cost.
Despite its many advantages, the world has also experienced strong reactions to globalization. Much of this response is due to inequality of benefits, between and within societies. Regimes and exemptions that are not aware of these phenomena are therefore called into question. We need to ensure that these aren’t winners and losers, but foster sustainable communities everywhere.
COVID-19 has also redefined our understanding of security. Until now, nations have thought primarily in military, intelligence, economic and perhaps cultural terms as well. Today, not only are they placing more importance on health security, but they are increasingly concerned about reliable and resilient supply chains. The tensions of the COVID-19 era have highlighted the fragility of our current situation. Additional growth engines are needed to ward off the risks of the global economy, as are greater transparency and better market viability.
Multilateral institutions have not made good use of this experience. Apart from the controversies that surrounded them, there has not even been a claim to a collective response to the most serious global crisis since 1945. It is a cause for serious introspection. The reform of multilateralism is essential to create effective solutions.
Crafting a strong response to the COVID-19 challenge is expected to dominate global diplomacy in 2021. In its own way, India has led by example. She did this by defying the prophets of doom and creating the sanitary means necessary to minimize her death rate and maximize her rate of recovery. An international comparison of these numbers tells its own story. In addition, India has also established itself as the world’s pharmacy, supplying drugs to over 150 countries, many in the form of grants.
As our country embarks on a mass vaccination effort, the assurance given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that this would help make vaccines accessible and affordable to the world is already being implemented. The first shipments of Made in India vaccines have not only reached our neighbors such as Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sri Lanka, but also partners far beyond such as Brazil. and Morocco.
Other major current global challenges deserve similar attention. As a central participant in the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, India has stood firm in the fight against climate change. Its renewable energy targets have multiplied, its forest cover has increased, its biodiversity has expanded and the focus has been on water use. The practices developed in the country are now applied to its development partnerships in Africa and elsewhere. By example and energy, Indian diplomacy is leading the way, notably through the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
The challenge of the fight against terrorism and radicalization is also formidable. As a society, long subjected to cross-border terrorist attacks, India has strived to raise global awareness and encourage coordinated action. She will be a major component of Indian diplomacy as a non-permanent member of the Security Council and in forums such as the FATF and the G20.
Among the lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience is the power of the digital realm. From contact tracing to providing financial and food support, India’s digital orientation after 2014 has yielded impressive results. The practice of “working from anywhere” has been as strongly enhanced by COVID-19 as that of “studying from home”. All of these will help expand the toolbox of India’s overseas development programs and aid recovery for many partners.
The year 2020 was also marked by the largest repatriation exercise in history – the homecoming of more than 4 million Indians. This fact alone highlights the importance of mobility in contemporary times. As smart manufacturing and the knowledge economy take hold, the need for reliable talent will certainly increase. It is in the interest of the whole world to facilitate its circulation through diplomacy.
Getting back to normal in 2021 will mean safer travel, better health, economic recovery and digitally-driven services. They will express themselves in new conversations and new understandings. The world after COVID-19 will be more multipolar, pluralistic and rebalanced. And India, with its experience, will help make a difference.
Dr. S. Jaishankar is the Minister of External Relations of India and author of “The IndiaWay: Strategies for an Uncertain World”.
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