Indian Ocean Power Competition

Analyzing Multilateralism in Light of BIMSTEC


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: BIMSTEC

Mains level: Read the attached story



  • While the efficacy of multilateral cooperation is often questioned amidst the compelling the politics of force and global power politics, the world simply does not yet have any other alternative to structured cooperation. Much like the progress and relevance of multilateral cooperation, the fate of BIMSTEC too needs to contextualized in a world order that demands action and resolve.

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What is BIMSTEC?

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation: (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian nations, housing 1.73 billion people and having a combined gross domestic product of US$4.4 trillion (2022).
  • Members: The BIMSTEC member states Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand are among the countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal.

Present status of BIMSTEC

  • Poor connectivity and resources: On the one hand, the geographical limits of BIMSTEC suffer from poor intra-regional connectivity which is fundamental to enhancing economic engagement; on the other, the grouping itself is beleaguered by the lack of an institutional structure, operational blueprint, and financial resources.
  • New found interest: The BIMSTEC has indeed shown intent in recent years with member nations taking the first steps since the organisation’s inception towards according the latter agency, mobility, and funds.
  • Most recent activities: These include the adoption of a charter that accords the grouping a legal status; a reduction in the number of priority areas from 14 to seven pillars thereby allowing for more focused engagement, the signing of memorandums on technology transfer, diplomatic training and a master plan on connectivity all of which are of import to the grouping’s future as aspirational countries in a region that has already become the gravitational centre of global geopolitics.
  • Outcome of economic and political stability: The ‘renewed interest’ after remaining dormant for over two decades is attributed to the economic and political stability and growth that member states (barring Myanmar) have witnessed together with the world’s interest being directed towards the opportunities and Indo-Pacific and an increasingly hostile China.
  • BIMSTEC has lot of ground to cover: As a regional organisation, the BIMSTEC is, on paper, well-positioned to gear shared efforts towards the harnessing of economic, natural, and labour potential of member nations.

Understanding the Multilateral cooperation/Multilateralism

  • Hybrid rather than binary affairs: An assessment of multilateralism has to move away from binary understandings of world architectures. They are in essence, hybrid affairs, combining universal aspirations such as human rights with a more prosaic system of managed competition. This format is here to stay.
  • Achieving common objectives through collective strengths: Multilateral organisations help as facilitators of regional objectives by pooling the strengths of members for advancement, as lobbying entities for regional aspirations and demands on the global stage functions which form the core purpose of these groupings. But multilateralism also suffers from its own set of drawbacks.
  • Political disagreements: Perhaps the biggest limitations of multilateral engagement are ineffectiveness and becoming unwieldy as they comprise several member countries in terms of certain types of decision-making, particularly, those which are political.
  • This is particularly true of large regional or global organisations, with ASEAN being the exception that proves the rule.
  • Mini-laterals: To mitigate this challenge, smaller and more focused undertakings began in recent years in the form of mini-lateral engagement to enable smaller, and more ‘like-minded’ nations to band together for function-based cooperation.
  • BBIN as an example: In the South Asian region, an example of mini-lateral engagement is the BBIN sub-regional framework which has, however, because of the operational complexities, continued to struggle.

What should be the way forward?

  • Addressing the illegal migration: Multilateral forums also allow for united articulations of challenges unique to particular regions. Among the BIMSTEC’s common challenges are irregular migration, environmental degradation, transnational crimes, terrorism and insurgencies and drug trafficking, the efforts towards the mitigation of many of which, particularly the issue of migration and climate action, need the involvement of the world’s major powers.
  • Support through G20 presidency: India’s G20 presidency in 2023 offers a unique opportunity to leverage New Delhi’s enhanced position in global politics to usher support for BIMSTEC’s necessities and objectives.
  • Intent is stronger than hurdles: The success of groupings be it large or small rests on intent shown by members regardless of operational, financial, political or institutional constraints.
  • Finance, institutions and structure: A grouping that comprised members from what is frequently referred to as the least integrated region in the world, without sufficient financing, and devoid of institutional structures to guide its operations, there has been much to be concerned about regarding BIMSTEC. And yet, because the grouping has demonstrated intent, so far, BIMSTEC’s promise holds more sway than its impediments.


  • BIMSTEC have suffered from lack of funding, dedicated institution and proper structuring of the grouping. Hopefully new mini-laterals (BBIN) will revive the BIMSTEC in much objective stronger and successful way. India should take the lead in revival of this multilateral forum.

Mains Question

Q. Analyze the present status of BIMSTEC. What are the weaknesses of BIMSTEC and suggest way forward?

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