Monday, May 27, 2024

Bilateralism Vs Multilateralism


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India-Greece Relations

By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri

India-Greece bilateralism received a new impetus in an international seminar, organised at Jawaharlal Nehru University early this week. The seminar was devoted to discussing various dimensions of India-Greece relations – history, tourism, culture, geo-politics, diplomacy, trade etc. In my presentation, while commending the initiative of augmenting bilateral relations, I raised the issue of the artificial dichotomy between bilateralism and multilateralism and the need to balance it.
Pointedly, I referred to the European Union (EU) as a multilateral regional organisation which is by far the best example of regional integration. Yet, the EU so far has failed in projecting its political personality to the world. The EU was created not only as an economic union, but a political player in promoting pluralism, democracy, human rights etc., the values the EU member countries dearly seek to adhere to. But there has certainly been a mismatch between these values and the trade policy they adopted. In particular, EU trade with China has been booming although the latter is universally considered to be an autocracy and a consistent violator of human rights.
Likewise, the other multilateral bodies have failed in their objectives. The biggest of them all, the United Nations, which was created after the horrendous Second World War, to prevent the recurrence of wars, becomes a helpless onlooker as the wars in Ukraine and Gaza rage unabated. The UN certainly has unequal structures, namely the Security Council which is immobilised by the pernicious Veto exercised at will by any of the Permanent Five. The reform of structures and functions of the United Nations is another debate we will not engage here.
The point to note is if multilateralism is being infructuous, it is advisable to focus on bilateralism. At any rate, while multilateralism in a globalised and an interdependent world should be aspired for, bilateralism lays out the building blocks. What has been happening is that the quest for multilateralism has downplayed bilateralism. It is, using the popular metaphor, missing the trees for the forest. The India-Greece bilateral efforts should correct the fault line in contemporary geo-politics.
On India-Greece relations, Amrit Lugun, who served as Indian Ambassador to Greece, narrated the developments between the two countries from during his time and till today. He informed that the long historical link between two countries is reflected in the Greek psyche even today. The former Lt. General Philip Campose, a strategic expert, made a meticulous presentation of the contours of bilateralism.
The bilateral relations got a shot in the arm in August 2023 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Greece. He was doing so after 40 years of visit by an Indian Head of Government to Greece. Also, significantly, the bilateral cooperation was elevated to a strategic partnership during this visit. Campose attributes this sudden shift to strategic partnership to a response to the growing trilateral relationship between Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The strategic partnership is a logical extension to the said response as Greece has stood firmly with India on the Kashmir issue and encountering Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
The second push to India-Greece relations came from the visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis early this year as the Chief Guest on the Republic Day parade as well as the keynote speaker in the Raisina Dialogue. He made a strong case for deepening India-Greece relations. He said, “India could not find a better gateway than Greece to Europe and Greece will have no better gateway to Asia than through India”. He asked for work on the IMEC project – India-Middle East-Europe Corridor despite the war in Gaza. The Greek PM’s attitude and statements pointed certainly to the acceleration of relations between India and Greece.
Building India-Greece relations should certainly invoke the rich legacy of history involving both countries. It goes back to 326 BC when Alexander invaded India. The historical anecdotes suggest that Alexander, a great fighter, had to retreat in the North-West of India when an Indian king paraded the elephants on the battlefield. The legend has it that an Indian king from Punjab offered his daughter in marriage to Alexander to buy peace. That sets a matrimonial relation between Greece and India. Likewise, many Greeks came to India as soldiers or traders and settled down forever in this country.
There is evidence of Greek art and architecture in Indian society and civilization. In India and ancient Greece, there were similar allegories and analogies, particularly in Plato’s Phaedrus and the Katha Upanishad. The image of the chariot in Phaedrus portrayed the structure of an individual’s soul whereas in Katha Upanishad, it is used in order to describe an individual’s structure. There were also maritime trade contracts of the Graeco Roman world with South India. The Greek Indologist Dimitrios Galanos lived in India for 47 years and breathed his last in 1833 in Banaras. He translated Indian Vedic texts into Greek language and produced a Sanskrit-English-Greek dictionary of 9000 words.
Currently, India and Greece need each other in their mutual interests. Greece is a high-income economy and India is a growing economy with a huge workforce and potentially the largest market in the world. The bilateral trade is low at the moment but has the potential of growing manifold. Greece is a member of the European Union and NATO, two powerful bodies, economically and militarily, while India is the most populous country in the world and is spearheading the Global South. India would need Greece to counter China’s influence in the Mediterranean region, for access to her port and shipping industry and a market, both Greece and EU for its exports.
Likewise, Greece would need India for its tourism sector, expertise of Indian companies, investment in privatisation of public assets and a market for goods produced in Greece. The future road map for bilateral relations should consist of cooperation on defence and security issues, connectivity between two countries, cooperation in ecological security, skilled manpower migration, joint training by army, navy, air force and special forces and developing inter-operationality and cooperation in key areas of special interest to both countries.
That said, the elephant in the room is, as usual, China. One of the Greek participants asked for India’s reaction to China having a port in Greece, Port of Piraeus, as India is also in the process of acquiring a port. The answer to that question is, it is for Greece to decide whether it would open its strategic space to an autocrat like China “posing a systemic threat to the world” (Germany’s stated view). The West – America and the European Union – have created China almost like a Frankenstein. It is time they decide whether they should neutralise the Frankenstein or feed it to become stronger. India will inevitably counter China, Greece and the European Union have to decide whether they will correct the mistakes of the past or continue with it in regard to dealing with China.—INFA
(The writer is Secretary General, Assn for Democratic Socialism)


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