With G20-IMEC plan, the global order shifts to Eurasia

At the G20 Summit, President Joe Biden, joined by the leaders of India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, France, Germany, Italy, and the European Commission, unveiled the multi-modal India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC). This economic Corridor comprises an eastern route, facilitating India’s connection to the Arabian Gulf via sea lanes, and a northern route, linking Saudi Arabia to Europe through Jordan and Israel. The combined GDP of the IMEC nations (including the EU as a bloc) is roughly $47 trillion, representing about 40 per cent of the world’s total GDP.

The IMEC embodies a collective vision for the broader Eurasian supercontinent, extending beyond trade, energy and digital resilience. The Corridor aims to forge a path towards an increasingly interwoven transoceanic system that extends from the Mediterranean region through West Asia to the expansive Indo-Pacific.

Furthermore, the IMEC serves as an implicit acknowledgment, on the part of Washington and Brussels, of the palpable ramifications of the rise of non-Western powers and the undeniable shift of the economic and geopolitical centre of the world further east. The IMEC underscores the necessity of ceding more substantial global leadership roles to India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the actors at the forefront of reconfiguring the future of the economic and geopolitical system in Eurasia. Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, New Delhi, and other emergent powers in Eurasia will wield substantial sway in recalibrating the broader power dynamics across the supercontinent.

A few days after returning from New Delhi, Secretary Antony Blinken addressed the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, emphasising, “what we are experiencing now is more than a test of the post-Cold War order; it’s the end of it”. This statement encapsulates the US strategy central to its engagement in and support for the IMEC: Forging coalitions with partners and allies to influence the emerging multipolar world order. India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE symbolise this new world order, while Europe represents the ageing post-World War II liberal world order.

While Washington and Brussels may be tempted to portray the IMEC as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, for Delhi, Abu Dhabi, and Riyadh — either existing members of (in the case of India) or newly admitted to (in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE) the BRICS group — the IMEC signifies the rise of a West Asian system. Within this system, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Egypt are progressively integrating beyond energy, remittances, and ideology.

An underappreciated aspect of the IMEC is how its mere existence, aside from the design and operational challenges, represents another attempt to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together under a single transcontinental framework and contributes to ongoing US-backed efforts to secure a normalisation agreement between the two nations.

The IMEC embodies the US’s Eurasian strategy in the post-US hegemony era, with Washington aiming to shape a balanced power structure across the broader Eurasian landscape. The goal is to prevent a loose coalition of states such as China, Russia, and Iran from dominating the supercontinent by strengthening the profiles of countries like India, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, enabling them to project economic and geopolitical influence and actively contribute to a balanced Eurasian power structure.

For Europe specifically, the Corridor symbolises the bloc’s most ambitious effort to attain geopolitical significance and unity outside the European mainland in the new multipolar reality by embracing this transoceanic framework. Rome, Berlin, and Paris, with London conspicuously absent, seek to align their efforts with the United States and Asian powers, going beyond occasional maritime exercises in the Indo-Pacific as they work to integrate their economic systems into high-growth markets in the East.

The symbolism of the Corridor’s launch in New Delhi amid the G20 Summit (the highest functioning global governance mechanism at present) and the noticeable absence of Russia and China at the Summit should not be overlooked. It is important to reiterate that this symbolism should not lead Washington and Brussels to draw the wrong conclusions.

For India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others, achieving a balanced Eurasian structure does not mean forming a dual containment coalition against China and Russia. Putin’s statement that the IMEC is “an addition to our North-South project” should be interpreted in this context.

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The launch of the IMEC marks a significant milestone in the ongoing global shift of power towards the East. It signifies the commitment of the US, Europe, and emerging powers such as India, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE to promoting a more balanced and interconnected Eurasian order.

However, the success of the IMEC depends on several critical factors. These include conducting a realistic assessment of each nation’s rationale for participation, advancing the project beyond a Memorandum of Understanding, addressing logistical and operational challenges, and prioritising electricity, digital connectivity, and clean hydrogen at the initial stages of the Corridor.

The IMEC nations should also be bold in proactively addressing potential security challenges arising from increased Eurasian connectivity. If the IMEC proves successful, it could serve as a blueprint for other transcontinental initiatives aiming to establish a more balanced Eurasian structure.
The writer is director at the Middle East Institute in Washington

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