Non-Western Middle Powers and Their Increasing Geopolitical Relevance

In the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine War which began last year, several non-Western countries have been attempting a tightrope walk between the US and Russia. Three prominent examples of such countries are India, UAE and Indonesia. 

India’s decision to purchase oil from Russia, and refusal to criticize Russia outright for the Russia-Ukraine War has drawn admiration from many quarters, though its neutrality has also faced stinging criticism. In February 2023, India was amongst the 32 countries which abstained from voting in favour of a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution which condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine — this was the sixth occasion on which India was abstained from voting against Russia. The resolution was passed exactly one year after the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war – explicitly stated that Russia should ‘end’ hostilities in Ukraine and that Russian forces should pull out unconditionally and immediately. It also underscored the need for “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine in line with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

India while explaining its stance did however put forward its concerns with regard to the damage and misery arising out of the Russia-Ukraine War. 

India which currently holds the presidency of G20, and recently hosted the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting (March 1-March 2, 2023) has called for an end to the Russia-Ukraine War but has stuck to its stance of outrightly criticizing Russia as has been discussed earlier. Due to differences between Russia and the West, a joint statement could not be passed after the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Interestingly, a statement passed after the meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers did criticize Russia in veiled terms stating that the threat issued by Russia to use ‘nuclear weapons’ was inadmissible. 

India has been repeatedly drawing attention to the need for addressing the disruption of global supply chains as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war. 

The UAE on its part has also been seeking to balance ties between the US on the one hand and Russia and China on the other. Washington has been uncomfortable with UAE’s growing economic linkages with China – some of which according to the US have robust security linkages. In a meeting on March 6, 2023, the UAE Cabinet gave a go ahead with the setting up of an office of AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) which has a capital of $100 billion. At the same time, UAE is also an important stakeholder in the I2U2/’West Asian Quad’ and was not happy with the decision of OPEC+ to reduce oil production. In fact, there were even reports of UAE wanting to leave OPEC+ — though it denied the same. 

Indonesia, which in recent years has shared close economic ties with China has also sought to follow a balanced approach on the Russia-Ukraine issue. Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited both Russia and Ukraine in 2022 and offered to intervene. He refused to provide weapons to Ukraine, and despite opposition from the West went ahead with inviting Russian President, Vladimir Putin.  

During his Moscow visit in June 2022, the Indonesian President while commenting on his country’s stance and the economic disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine War said: “Indonesia would like the war to end soon, and the supply chains of food, fertilizers and energy need to be restored immediately because it affects the lives of hundreds of millions and even billions of people.”

While speaking at the opening of the G20 leaders’ Summit held at Bali in  November 2022,  Widodo stated: “Being responsible means creating not zero-sum situations, being responsible here also means that we must end the war. If the war does not end, it will be difficult for the world to move forward.”

Like India, Indonesia too has repeatedly reiterated the need for addressing the issue of global supply chains. Significantly, Indonesia was the second largest importer of wheat from Ukraine before the beginning of the war. While Indonesia has been following an independent stance on the Russia-Ukraine War, the ASEAN nation has also emerged as an important stakeholder in the Indo-Pacific strategy and is also one of the 12 nations which has signed up for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) in May 2022. While cultivating second largest importer economic ties with China, Indonesia has also been seeking to strengthen economic relations with Japan.

While a lot of attention is devoted to the growing importance of great powers and Western middle powers in global politics, it is important to understand the shifts taking place in geopolitics, and the growing importance of Non-Western middle powers such as India, UAE and Indonesia. These countries are not toeing the line of the West on crucial economic and geopolitical issues but neither are they taking an ‘anti-West’ stance on all matters. They are focusing on their national interest and rather than being mere balancers they are seeking to emerge as important players on the global stage.

[Photo by Prime Minister’s Office, India]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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