- With multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union unable to coordinate their foreign policies, some countries now prefer to operate outside formal institutions, opting for issue-based and short-term partnerships.
- Minilaterals are narrower in scope than multilaterals, usually informal, and bring together fewer states that share the same interest.
Scope of Minilaterals
- Minilaterals are practical, adaptable, economical, and voluntary—without being tied down by institutional constraints.
- Most multilateral institutions must cater to the competing expectations and ambitions of more countries, slowing down decision-making and incurring large bureaucratic costs.
- Most minilaterals are designed to enhance functional cooperation between like-minded countries, avoiding geopolitical conflict.
- Most minilaterals are also voluntary and not legally binding.
- They involve multiple stakeholders, including corporations and nongovernmental organizations, instead of being state-centric; this makes them bottom-up rather than top-down.
- Issue-based minilaterals tend to be geographically non-congruous, unlike regional groupings such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the African Union, Organization of American States, and the European Union.
India’s turn to minilateralism
- Contemporary geo-politics is witnessing a strategic transition, from the declining significance of multilateralism to the emergence of minilateralism. The growing great power antagonism has hampered the consensus building in the multi-lateral groupings.
- China’s belligerence in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean region has given rise to many such minilaterals in the Indo-Pacific region.
- Some of the prominent ones are Quad and AUKUS (a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States).
- The Quad which consists of Japan, US, India and Australia is focusing on establishing a rule based global order through strategic and economic partnership.
- India has become a leading proponent of minilateralism, an important element in its quest for multipolarity. In the beginning of 2023, France, India, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came together to announce a new trilateral partnership to work on a number of areas including defense, technology and energy.
- India and the UAE are also part of the Middle East Quad, the I2U2 grouping that includes India, Israel, the UAE, and the United States.
- This Middle East Quad has a big focus on economic and technology partnership while building on areas such as water, transportation, and clean energy.
- Minilaterals allow India to maintain its policy of strategic autonomy—not allying itself with any major power—while enabling close partnerships with the United States and others in specific fields.
- Despite the strategic viability of these minilaterals, these have been alleged to have diminished the sanctity of multilateral frameworks such as the United Nations, but also themselves.
- The increased preference for minilateralism and its channelized growth, has disrupted the process of international interdependence and globalisation, leading to the fragmentation of the global governance mechanisms as seen in the ambiguity of the QUAD’s strategic interests to curtail Chinese belligerence.
- Taking into account both it’s strategic prospects and drawbacks, it could be said that minilateralism as a process cannot remain isolated and has to complement the existing multilateral institutions.