G20 : Economic Cooperation ahead

The deep void in global leadership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much.

Mains level: Paper 2- International cooperation to deal with the coronavirus is a need of the hour.


The coronavirus’s flight across the world at lightning speed has exposed the total void in collective leadership at the global level.

No global plan of action to combat the virus

  • No plan of action: Three months into the catastrophic war declared by an invisible virus, there is as yet no comprehensive, concerted plan of action, orchestrated by global leaders.
  • The G20 meeting: The G20 has just had a virtual meeting, at the prodding of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • $ 5-trillion into the world economy: It is encouraging to learn that the G20 leaders have agreed to inject $5-trillion into the world economy to partially counter the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. This is indeed good news.
  • Need to do more: But taking collective ownership to fight a global war against the virus will require a lot more than writing cheques.

SAARC meeting stands out in the world

  • Pandemic is not treated as a common enemy: World leaders are obviously overwhelmed with their own national challenges and do not appear inclined to view the pandemic as a common enemy against mankind, which it is.
  • Delay in reporting by China: China delayed reporting the virus to the World Health Organisation (WHO), and perhaps, contributed to the exacerbation of the spread of the virus across the globe.
  • Unilateral suspension of flight by the US: It was reported that the Trump administration did not even inform the European Union before it shut off flights from Europe.
  • Why the SAARC meeting stands out? It must be acknowledged that the initiative taken by Mr Modi in the early days to convene a meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries stands out in contrast to the pusillanimous leadership around the world.

Need for leaders of nations to come together for collective global action.

  • Pandemic to persist: There is no evidence that, at the global level, the pandemic has abated yet and would be brought under control soon.
  • Massive lockdown, not a solution: To imagine that nations would be able to tame the virus soon with massive shutdowns might be just wishful thinking.
  • National shutdowns and physical distancing have been a challenge not only in the United States and some European countries, but it would also be more so in populous countries such as India.
  • At any rate, such lockouts come at enormous economic and social costs.
  • The utility of long suspension of international travel: As long as the virus is alive in some corner of the world, it would resume its travel across the world the moment international travel restrictions are relaxed.
  • Is it realistic to imagine that international travel will remain suspended until the last virus alive on this planet is extinguished?
  • This is a war. A good war against a bad enemy, and a common enemy, that respects no borders.
  • It is a global challenge to be fought by collective global leadership: If this global challenge is not a battle to be fought by a collective global leadership, nothing else is.
  • And yet, the typical response by all affected nations has been to impose ‘National distancing’ by closing borders.
  • While this is no doubt, a most appropriate response, there is a much bigger and emergent need for leaders of nations to come together for collective global action.

Two reasons for the lack of collective global action

  • 1. Right-wing nationalism: The swing towards right-wing nationalism, as a guiding political ideology, in large swathes of the world, particularly in the U.S.
  • This ideology posits ‘global good’ being in conflict with and inimical to national interests.
  • 2. Ineffectiveness of the multilateral institutions: The United Nations was the outcome of the shared vision of the world leaders after World War II, that collective action is the only way forward to prevent the occurrence of another war.
  • That institution has notoriously failed to live up to its expectations to maintain peace among nations in the nearly 80 years since its formation.
  • Its affiliate organisations have, in several ways, failed to deliver on their lofty missions.
  • In particular WHO has proven to be too lethargic in reacting to pandemics in the past.
  • Its responses to COVID-19 has come under the scanner, not merely for incompetence, but also for lack of intellectual integrity.

G-20 offers hope

  • A nimble outfit, not burdened with bureaucracy, is required to manage a global crisis of the nature that we are confronted with, today.
  • The G20, with co-option of other affected countries, itself might serve the purpose for the present.
  • What the global leadership must acknowledge: What is important is for the global leaders to acknowledge what every foot soldier knows: winning a war would require the right strategy, rapid mobilisation of relevant resources and, most importantly, timely action.
  • The following actions should come out of such a collective-
  • 1. Dealing with the shortages: The collective should ensure that shortages of drugs, medical equipment and protective gear do not come in the way of any nation’s capacity to contain or fight the pandemic.
  • Assistance from other countries: It is very likely that some nations that have succeeded in bringing the pandemic under control, such as China, Japan or South Korea, might have the capability to step up production at short notice to meet the increasing demand from other countries which are behind the curve.
  •  Development of information exchange: This would typically involve urgent development of information exchange on global production capacity, present and potential, demand and supply.
  • This is not to mean that there should be centralised management, which is not only infeasible but counterproductive, as the attendant bureaucracy will impede quick action.
  • A common information exchange could restrain the richer countries from predatory contracting of global capacities.
  • 2. Protocol among participant countries: Protocols might need to be put in place among participating countries to ensure seamless logistics for the supply chain for essential goods and services to function efficiently.
  • This might be particularly necessary in the context of controls on international traffic and national shutdowns.
  • There would need to be concomitant accord to eliminate all kinds of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
  • 3. Exchange of information: There needs to be an instantaneous exchange of authenticated information on what clinical solutions have succeeded and what has not.
  • A classic example is an issue relating to hydroxychloroquine, which is being used experimentally, bypassing the rigours of randomised clinical trials.
  • While there is no substitute to classic clinical proof, the more field-level information is shared within the medical community, the better will be the success rates of such experimentation.
  • 4.Cross country collaboration on the trials: This is a time to have cross-country collaboration on laboratory trials and clinical validation for vaccines and anti-viral drugs.
  • It must be acknowledged that WHO has already moved on this issue, although, perhaps, belatedly.
  • The best way to ensure speedy research is to pool global resources.
  • This attempt to collaborate might also bring in its wake an acceptable commercial solution that adequately incentivises private research while ensuring benefits being available to the entire world at affordable costs.
  • Such a framework might be necessary for sustained collaborations for future challenges.
  • 5. Easy movement of trained health professionals: There is a need to facilitate easy movement of trained health professionals across the world to train others and augment resources wherever there are shortages.
  • In other words, nations should come together to organise a global army to fight the pandemic, equipped with the best weapons and tools.
  • 6. The anticipation of food shortages: We must anticipate food shortages occurring sooner or later, in some part of the world, consequent to the national shutdowns.
  • Ironically, while we might have saved lives from the assault of the novel coronavirus, we might run the risk of losing lives to starvation and malnutrition, somewhere in the world if we do not take adequate precautions.
  • This requires not only coordinated global action; it would also turn out to be the test of global concern for mankind in general.

Reconstruction of the global economy

  • Devastation no less than after the world war: Eventually, there is no doubt that human talent will triumph over the microscopic virus. But the economic devastation, that would have been caused as a result will be no less than the aftermath of a world war.
  • What should the reconstruction of economy involve? An orderly reconstruction of the global economy, which is equitable and inclusive, will eventually involve renegotiating terms of trade among key trading blocs, concerted action among central bankers to stabilise currencies, and a responsible way to regulate and manage global commodity markets.


Does India have the power to awaken the conscience of the Superpowers and catalyse collective global action? Remember, historically, it is always the weakling or the oppressed, who have caused transformational changes in the world order.

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