As a rising power, India plays an important role in shaping global responses to critical challenges ranging from climate change and health security to international trade and nuclear disarmament. What is India’s approach toward these multilateral issues? How does India negotiate international rules? What are the domestic sources that drive India’s negotiation strategy?
Carnegie India hosted Karthik Nachiappan, who examined these questions, based on his new book Does India Negotiate? The discussion was moderated by Srinath Raghavan.
- India’s Multilateral Behavior: Participants emphasized that India’s approach toward negotiating multilateral treaties varies—New Delhi enthusiastically leads some negotiations, it is lukewarm toward others, and simply rejects many. The literature on India’s multilateral behavior, they noted, paints a picture of a country which is averse to making concessions and follows an adversarial approach to negotiating treaties. Critical of this narrative, participants highlighted that this doesn’t explain how India has signed and ratified several international agreements, particularly since the 1980s. Participants highlighted that political economy factors, shaped by India’s economic and security interests, impact India’s negotiation strategy. They argued, India’s interdependence on the international system leaves it with little choice, but to participate in negotiations that impact India’s interests.
- Determinants of India’s Strategy: Participants illustrated that India’s approach to international rules is determined by two factors: state capacity and interest group advocacy. Regarding the former, they argued, institutional responses during negotiations are affected by the extent to which the executive branch of government understands the issues under consideration. India will only negotiate and ratify the rule if the state believes it would help tackle existing policy problems, but it will resist the rule if the state believes it could upset the status quo, they explained. They also clarified that Indian negotiating team typically include officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, other relevant ministries, and domain experts. The latter two take the lead during technical negotiations, they added. Interests groups, participants said, have the potential to influence India’s approach toward negotiations based on how effectively they articulate their positions. Participants highlighted that when the interests of the state and the interest groups converge, India emerges as a “rule-shaper.” However, when they diverge, India emerges as a “rule-breaker” and rejects or abstains from ratifying the concerned rules.
- India’s Negotiation Strategy: Participants highlighted that New Delhi has functioned as a rule shaper on numerous occasions, particularly while negotiating the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aligned with Indian health officials’ priorities leading to robust engagement, and the Framework Convention on Climate Change, wherein the state and influential interest groups converged around a political approach toward global warming, that emphasized equity. Participants also discussed India’s proactive approach during the Uruguay Round Trade Agreement, as both the government and business lobbies recognized the need for greater market access. In contrast, participants highlighted India’s role as a rule-breaker while negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This, they argued, was in response to the P-5 states seeking to dilute the provisions to ensure greater space to conduct tests. Domestically, the absence of a consensus among Indian security experts provided the Ministry of External Affairs with more leeway to reject the treaty on their own terms. Overall, participants explained that it is difficult to see India passively accepting international rules as a rule-taker and highlighted that, even when Indian negotiators lack expert knowledge, they work with like-minded countries to limit the domestic impact of such rules. Participants agreed that it is also difficult for any country, including the United States, to be a rule-maker since the negotiation process involves countless trade-offs.
- Current State of Global Governance: Participants argued, so far interdependence had allowed international actors to convene and address collective problems through multilateral negotiations. However, they observed, the nature of interdependence itself seems to be changing and becoming more coercive. They highlighted that due to increasing fissures in the international system, today, there is little appetite among the major powers to create international rules for issues related to emerging technologies and climate change, among others. Instead, they argued that we are witnessing global governance by stealth along with the weaponization of interdependence, whereby rules on key issues, particularly technology, are crafted within national jurisdictions and then exported abroad through bilateral agreements by leveraging asymmetric trade patterns and commercial relations. They cautioned that this could restrict India’s ability to devise domestic laws and constrain its position within global governance frameworks.
This event summary was prepared by Rahul Bhatia, a research intern at Carnegie India.
Karthik Nachiappan is a research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore with a joint appointment at the NUS South Asian Studies Programme. His research focuses on India’s approach toward global governance with specific emphasis on technologies like data protection, cyber-warfare, artificial intelligence, drones, space, and financial innovations like blockchain.
Srinath Raghavan is a senior fellow at Carnegie India. His primary research focus is on the contemporary and historical aspects of India's foreign and security policies.