India is a nation with historically close ties with Russia, warming relations with the United States and Europe, and a complex relationship with China. Delhi is one of the few capitals around the world that offers a representative view of the global order. After engaging with a wide variety of Indian policymakers and public intellectuals during a recent visit to India’s capital, I walked away with a better understanding of how Delhi is grappling with some of the main global issues.

  • Global disorder: The world is currently going through a period of disorder, where tensions are heightened across the spectrum from Europe to the Indo-Pacific, and India’s role should be centered around de-escalation. These tensions might, in the long term, alter the global economy and roll back some of the benefits that have accrued, particularly for the global middle class.

  • The G20 is the only functioning global governance mechanism: In Delhi’s view, the global disorder means that the U.N. mechanism is not functioning, and the G20 is much more representative of the economic and geopolitical realities of the global system — a direct contrast to the G7 or the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council. The U.N. is too large, the U.N. Security Council is not functioning because of the conflicting parties and interests, and the G7 is too Western. Meanwhile, the G20 includes emerging and developed markets, which together represent 85% of global GDP, 75% of global trade, and two-thirds of the world's population. Working with the likes of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Indonesia, India is pursuing a strategy of building a third pole within the G20.

  • The Global South should have a voice: From less access to COVID-19 vaccines to financial and debt crises and food insecurity, there is a need for more equal global governance that is more representative of 21st-century realities. Reforming the U.N. Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization is just a start. The Global South needs its own organizations. To position itself as a leader of the third pole in international politics, Delhi is focused on revitalizing the Global South as a political construct that is able to play a diplomatic role in the current global disorder. To that end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi convened the Voice of Global South Summit, a virtual summit with 120 leaders from the Global South, in early 2023.

  • Issue-specific minilaterals, not full alliances: Because of its history as one of the main leaders of the non-aligned movement, Delhi is skeptical of the idea of full alignment or full alliances even 30 years on from the end of the Cold War. However, issue-based minilaterals are India’s way forward to achieving its geopolitical and geo-economic aims, as these groupings offer Delhi specific solutions or formats to tackle its concerns or maintain its interests. To address the question of a rising China, India is an active member of the QUAD alongside Australia, Japan, and the U.S., while to build an economic and political bloc in West Asia, Delhi joined forces with the UAE, Israel, and the U.S. under the framework of the I2U2. Other trilateral formats, with the likes of Australia, Indonesia, and France, also serve India’s global and regional vision of security in the maritime space around the Eurasian supercontinent.

  • The QUAD is meant for the Indo-Pacific, not Europe: Delhi’s minilaterals serve specific regions or issues, and the QUAD’s main objective is to bolster safety and security in the Indo-Pacific, which is a code name for establishing a balance of power vis-à-vis China in the region. However, India objects to the efforts of the other three QUAD members to utilize the grouping for other purposes, like trying to bring India into a broader strategic alignment against Russia, which, in Delhi’s view, goes beyond the original purpose of the QUAD.

  • India-U.S. relations are about more than containing China: There is a view that Washington’s interest in cultivating a strategic partnership with Delhi is exclusively centered around containing Beijing — a claim I have opposed. I explained my position that there are other factors driving U.S.-India relations, including Indian-Americans and their active role in American society, the growing technology partnership between Silicon Valley and India, and the rise of India on the world stage beyond the Indo-Pacific.

  • Beyond the I2U2: The establishment of the I2U2 reflects an awareness of the need to rebuild mechanisms that support collective defense and trade ties among regional powers. In other words, to rebuild the West Asian system that existed before the British empire — a system that extended from Cairo to Delhi. The I2U2 is not the only mechanism to this end though. India, the UAE, and France recently launched a trilateral focused on the Indo-Pacific and maritime security, while India is also increasing its ties with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well.

  • India’s digital transformation success story: There is pride in the Indian digital transformation story. From digital public infrastructure (DPI) to large-scale financial inclusion, Delhi believes this is a blueprint for the world to follow — especially the emerging markets.

  • Tech competition: The U.S.-China tech competition is a major subject of global conversation, expanding far beyond 5G to include semiconductors, cloud computing, AI, and biotechnology. While it is a considerable risk for many developing nations, there is a sense of urgency in Delhi to capitalize on the tech competition between the United States and China by attracting companies that are diversifying their manufacturing and supply chains away from China. Apple’s move to increase its share of manufacturing in India is an indication of this trend — despite all of the associated challenges in terms of logistics, tariffs, and infrastructure.

By virtue of its civilization, demographics, and economic growth, India is ascending to play a major role in international politics at a time of chaos and uncertainty for the global order. Understanding Delhi is vital to understanding the geopolitical, economic, and technological landscape in Eurasia, the Indo-Pacific, and the Global South.


Mohammed Soliman is the director of MEI's Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program, and a Manager at McLarty Associates’ MENA Practice. His work focuses on the intersection of technology, geopolitics, and business in emerging markets.

Photo by Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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