In the complex world of international relations, where former adversaries can swiftly become future allies, it is an era of transition. The global distribution of power is shifting, and key global actors like China and Russia are expanding their influence and challenging the liberal international order through both soft and hard power.1 Amid increasing competition between Washington and Beijing, middle powers are seeking a middle ground where they do not have to side exclusively with either power.2 They are leaning towards a multi-aligned world that enables them to maintain their strategic independence and are seeking alternative approaches to cooperation outside of the multilateral framework.

It is against this backdrop that an alternative approach to cooperation has gained in popularity – minilateralism. Minilateral partnerships operate on an informal, voluntary, non-binding basis. They enable groups of countries to address specific issues or pursue shared objectives in a more targeted manner – one partnership typically includes three to seven areas of focus. Minilateralism does not fundamentally challenge or threaten the existing system of governance. Rather, it provides countries with a complementary and flexible mechanism for cooperation and problem solving.


Multilateralism falters

In a shifting global order, states are gravitating towards minilateralism as a more practical and ad hoc approach to cooperation. Multilateral cooperation – always vulnerable to geopolitical competition and ideological conflicts – is faltering. The United States’ (US’s) abrupt withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the Iranian Nuclear Deal during the Trump administration are two recent illustrations of how multilateral frameworks can be undermined or derailed. Confidence in the ability of global institutions to maintain international peace and security and respond to global crises is also diminished. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) faced a critical test in responding to the 2014 Russo–Ukrainian War, and 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and failed. Russia, a permanent member of the UNSC, utilised its veto power to thwart the UN General Assembly resolution demanding an immediate end to the Russian invasion, leading to an impasse that hindered the UNSC’s ability to take decisive action.3 And despite the UNSC’s role as a key international decision-making body, it took a rather protracted eight-month period to address a resolution condemning Russia’s military intervention and subsequent attempt at annexing Ukrainian territories. Unable to fulfil its mandate of maintaining international peace and security, the council is no longer serving as a multilateral collaboration for upholding global peace.


Minilaterals have their moment in MENA

It is in this space that minilateralism’s more flexible and ad-hoc framework has grown in popularity. Minilateral partnerships operate outside the boundaries of formal institutions, giving participating countries greater flexibility and alignment without being burdened by divergent interests beyond the point of collaboration.4 In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where states are increasingly prioritising internal stability and are focusing on expanding relations with both the East and the West, minilaterals are becoming a trendy mechanism for this very reason. They are an opportunity for states to capitalise on a range of opportunities, particularly economic ones, without having to make a political choice between key players.5 It is a strategic move driven by rational self-interest, mutual benefit, and non-alignment with one bloc in order to maintain their autonomy.

One notable collaboration is the I2U2 partnership between the governments of Israel, India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the US.6 In July 2022 the first I2U2 summit took place virtually between the foreign ministers of the four nations. In a joint statement released after the summit, they announced their intention to collaborate in the following critical sectors: water, transport, space, health, technology, food security, and energy.

Each of the four I2U2 members view their participation in the partnership as a means to achieve concrete goals that serve their national priorities. India’s participation is primarily driven by its economic priorities and ambitions. It seeks to increase investment in the country and promote trade diversification, especially to address food insecurity – a key concern for multiple states following the disruption to global supply chains caused by the Russo–Ukrainian War. The UAE has already committed to invest $2 billion in building a series of integrated food parks in India through the partnership. The US and Israeli private sectors will also participate by providing their expertise and innovative solutions, thereby enhancing the project’s sustainability.7

For the UAE and Israel, the I2U2 is an outcome of the Abraham Accords and a pathway to developing stronger economic ties. It presents an opportunity for the UAE to increase its cooperation with Israel in technology, as well as knowledge transfer on shared issues including energy, security, trade, and water security. In 2022 the two countries achieved over $2.5 billion in bilateral non-oil trade volumes, with the UAE aiming to reach $10 billion by 2030.8 Additionally, in terms of the political benefits the I2U2 gives the UAE greater leverage with Washington and ensures ongoing normalisation between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi.

On the US side, the I2U2 is an opportunity to strengthen both economic and security ties between the MENA region, Israel, and India. The US views India as a counterbalance power to China,9 which is expanding its geopolitical and economic influence in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI aims to connect China with the world through two new trade routes.10 It is investing across the Middle East and West Asia in ports, roads, rail, energy pipelines, and associated infrastructure – many of which are priorities within the Arab Gulf states’ own development plans – to establish a global trading structure that serves China’s energy and security interests. A key concern in Washington is that the BRI will create an economic system outside its control. By drawing on a stronger interconnection between India and the region, Washington hopes to redefine “West Asia” and confront China’s expanding influence.

Importantly, the I2U2’s approach – to diversify relationships based on shared interests –enables economic growth and regional stability to take priority over political and ideological differences. This allows states an equal representation on issues. India, Israel, US, and UAE come to the table as equals and counterbalance each other – each has something to offer and something to gain, therefore, political weightings do not matter. This gives confidence to all parties that collaboration will lead to clear, direct, and relevant benefits. The I2U2 partnership accommodates countries with various foreign policy stances on Iran: the minilaterals model allows states to transcend these differences to pursue balanced engagement between members.11


Complementary approaches enhance global governance

The October 7th multifaceted attack launched by Hamas against Israel will be a critical test of the apolitical nature of minilaterals in the MENA region, such as the I2U2. Their prioritisation of practical collaboration over political considerations is increasingly important in the face of such geopolitical turmoil, and they should be viewed as a resilient and adaptable means of fostering dialogue and cooperation, even when political tensions run high.

Multilateral organisations are increasingly insufficient and ineffective in the face of today’s geopolitical challenges. While they still have the capacity to enforce rules and norms, and formal treaties and binding conventions remain important in addressing global challenges that require broad-based cooperation and consensus, such as climate change, political tensions have made them increasingly unable to fulfil the role for which they were designed. Established in the wake of World War II and vital in forming the global order in its immediate aftermath, they are becoming out of date, cumbersome due to their size, and therefore difficult to reform. As Stefan Lofven, Chair of the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism appointed by the UN Secretary-General in 2022, states: “Multilateralism can work, but it must work better.”12 Countries should take advantage of both minilateral and multilateral approaches to deal with the complexities of global governance effectively.



1 Pinto, Teresa. “The Failures of Multilateralism.” GIS, March 30, 2022.

2 Haqqani, Hussain. “The Minilateral Era.” Foreign Policy, January 10, 2023. Why Minilateral Diplomacy Is Having a Moment (

3 Majid, Shelby, and Yulia Shalamov. “Russia’s Veto Makes a Mockery of the United Nations Security Council.” Atlantic Council. March 15, 2022.

4 Tirkey, Aarshi. Minilateralism: Weighing the Prospects for Cooperation and Governance. Issue Brief No. 489. Observer Research Foundation. 2021. PDF

5 SRMG Think Research and Advisory. MENA Forum Report: The Case for Co-operation Beyond De-escalation. September 2023.

6 Calabrese, John. “The US and the I2U2: Cross-Bracing Partnerships Across the Indo-Pacific.” Middle East institute. Sept 27, 2022.

7 Markey, Daniel, and Hesham Youssef. What You Need to Know About the I2U2. United States Institute of Peace. July 28, 2022.,according%20to%20Israel%27s%20economy%20minister.

8 Uppal, Rachna, and Lisa Barrington. “Analysis: UAE Plans Long-Term Economic Ties with Israel Despite Political Strains.” Reuters. April 4, 2023.,lot%20of%20ups%20and%20downs.

9 Schuman, Michael. What Limits Any U.S. Alliance With India Over China.” The Atlantic. March 1, 2023.

10 Jie, Yu, and Jo Wallace. “What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?” Chatham House, September 13, 2021.

11 Baig, Muhammad, and Alyaan Waheed. Analysing the First I2U2 Summit. Edited by Arshad Ali. Institute of Strategic Studies. July 22, 2022.

12 United Nations University Centre for Policy Research (UNUCPR). A New Blueprint Calls for Reinvigorated Global Governance. April 18, 2023.,Goals%20and%20the%20Paris%20Agreement.