Address by Foreign Secretary at the 3rd MEA-IISS Seminar on “Perspectives on Foreign Policy for a 21st Century India” at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London
The MEA-IISS Foreign Policy Dialogue has, from modest beginnings, now become a dynamic platform, facilitating wide-ranging exchanges between scholars and experts from India and the UK.
Given the rather broad canvas of the topic that I have been asked to speak on, I have structured my presentation along the following lines. First, a delineation of our foreign policy priorities, and how our approach is shaped by a globalizing world. Thereafter, I shall focus on the three issues – climate change, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and terrorism - which form part of this seminar today. I will conclude with a few remarks on India’s neighbourhood.
Our Republic is sixty years young this year. And, our foreign policy also has a trajectory that covers almost the same period. As the country has grown, so also our foreign policy has evolved and adjusted to the growing demands and challenges posed by rapid economic growth, the situation in our neighbourhood, the realization of our interdependence and integration into global markets, and our consciousness of what India stands for in a changing and often turbulent world as a pluralistic democratic country that has created a successful standard for managing diversity. As far as the last aspect is concerned, some call it the power of the Indian example, of a big country that symbolizes the universal values of inclusiveness, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence. This self image is not new; in fact, from the very early years of the founding of our Republic, there has been awareness that our ability to manage diversity and respect pluralism would as some scholars have noted, be “a source of (India’s) legitimacy in the international system”.
It is a foreign policy truism that our aim is to secure an enabling environment to achieve the overriding domestic goal of all round, socially inclusive development. The corollary to this is that a free and democratic India is a source of stability and a force for moderation in the region. India accounts for more than 70% of the population and more than 80% of the GDP of South Asia. We want to widen our development choices. We have a keen sense of our potential to be a great power by virtue of our population, our resources and our strategic location. A fundamental goal of India’s foreign policy is to create an external environment that promotes the fulfilment of our economic growth targets and ambitions. And, these include three dimensions – capital inflows, access to technology and innovation, as well as the promotion of a free, fair and open world trading system that recognizes the development imperatives of a country like India. This requires a peaceful and stable neighbourhood and external environment, a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order.
We close the first decade of this century with the realization that the intersection, and the overlap, between the national and the global is an undeniable reality. Consequently, the challenges before us – be it sustaining economic growth rates, putting in place poverty alleviation strategies, addressing the challenge of climate change, energy security or global security issues, in particular the threat posed by international terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc – all require collaborative approaches.
That we live in an increasingly inter-dependent world was clearly demonstrated as never before during the global economic and financial crisis of the last year and more. The global financial downturn has seen negative rates of growth, a rising tide of unemployment which is yet to be quelled, rising trends of protectionism in the developed world, particularly, and a welcome introspection about the need to reform global financial institutions and systems of financial regulation and governance. That we are in a period of transition where the rapidly resurgent economies outside the traditional circles of global economic dominance are setting a new pace and direction in regional and international growth and development is an absolute truth.
At the global level, India has worked with our international partners to address the complex challenges to revive the global economy. The 2008 global economic and financial crisis triggered the further evolution of the G20, of which India is a key constituent. At the Pittsburgh Summit, the G-20 was designated as the premier forum for international economic cooperation. We see the G-20 process as a move towards a more representative mechanism to manage global economic and financial issues. The Group has taken some positive steps in this direction, for instance by committing a shift in IMF quota share to dynamic emerging markets and developing countries. Simultaneously, the new global realities require that we revisit and reorganize existing governance models which were put in place over six decades ago. In this regard, a dynamic global political and security order requires the urgent reform of the UN Security Council as well. We see our case for permanent membership of the Security Council as valid and legitimate.
India’s growth in the four years preceding the onset of the global financial crisis was around 9%. In 2008, with the advent of the global financial crisis, India’s growth slowed down to 6.7%. Forecasts for the current year are for a growth rate of 7.75%. Today, India has emerged as the third largest economy in Asia. It is a trillion dollar economy and has joined the ranks of the top ten economies of the world. In a knowledge- and technology-driven world, India has demonstrated certain unique strengths – our IT exports for the current year are poised to touch the $50 billion figure; the December 2009 index of industrial production surged month-on-month by a record 16.8%. Cumulative industrial growth is pegged at around 9%. The most noticeable feature of India’s economic growth is that it is driven primarily by domestic demand.
Yet, we also need to acknowledge that while average growth of around 7% over the past few years has resulted in material difference for India this has not been enough. To abolish poverty in India and to meet our development needs, we need to keep our economy growing at 8-10% every year for the next 20 years. As the literacy levels of our largely young population go up, we will have to ensure that their employment needs are also met which means that we require a rapidly expanding economy and the infrastructural growth of our cities and manufacturing sectors, so that we can reap the advantage of this demographic dividend for our economic growth. This also means that nation building or socio-economic transformation in India would continue to be primary concern of our foreign policy and this is accordingly reflected in our positions on issues such as global trade and climate change.
I will now turn to the three specific issues that are a part of your deliberations. In doing so, I do not in any way wish to influence or set the tone for your discussions. Instead, I will merely share India’s perspective on these issues.
Climate change is one of the most important global challenges facing us. For India, it is not merely an environmental issue, but is intrinsically linked with the growth prospects and developmental aspirations of our people. Its impact on the pace of our development is a very clear and continuing concern.
Our developmental imperatives project a general trend of growth in energy consumption in India. We expect that fossil fuels will remain an important element of our commercial energy mix. The emerging paradigm of global action on climate change must, therefore, acknowledge every human’s claim to global carbon space and take account of our differential capacities. Despite 17% of the global population, our own GHG emissions today are currently only 4% of the global total. Even with 8-9% growth per annum, our energy use has been growing at less than 4% per annum. We are concerned that the developed countries tend towards ignoring, implicitly, the huge adaptation challenge that we face with climate change. Today we spend 2% to 2.5% of our GDP on meeting adaptation needs. There is need for stable and predictable financing from the developed countries, and this we believe should not rely on market mechanisms but, rather, on assessed contributions. There is also need for a global mechanism whereby climate friendly technologies can be disseminated to the developing countries.
As a country vulnerable to and already suffering from the impacts of climate change, India has an important stake in the success of the on-going multilateral negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We are aware of our responsibilities as citizens of the globe and have participated in the negotiations in a constructive manner. It is in this spirit that we conveyed our voluntary mitigation obligations to the UNFCCC in January this year. We were of course disappointed that an agreed programme of action mandated by the Bali Roadmap could not be achieved at Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Accord was perhaps the best that could be managed under the circumstances. It is a political document that can serve the purpose of contributing to the negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol and on Long Term Cooperation. It can complement these core international agreements but cannot be a substitute for them. Our collective effort should now be to bring the significant points of convergence reflected in the Accord into the larger multilateral process under the UNFCCC in order to ensure a balanced, comprehensive and above all, an equitable outcome, at the Mexico Conference by end-2010.
Nationally, we have adopted an ambitious Action Plan on Climate Change, which is not merely mitigation oriented, but is located within a larger perspective of sustainable development. Prime Minister has set up a high level Council on Climate Change to coordinate national action for assessment, adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Our announcement of the voluntary domestic target of reducing the energy intensity of our GDP growth, excluding emissions from the Agricultural sector, by 20-25% by 2020 in comparison to the level achieved in 2005 reflects India’s seriousness in addressing the issue of climate change with commitment and focus, even as it seeks to meet the challenges of economic and social development and poverty eradication.
Till date, the global energy market has been susceptible to non-market considerations which give energy issues an unpredictable and strategic edge. We believe that these vulnerabilities are best addressed through a participatory global energy model and by pursuing a truly open, transparent, competitive and globally integrated energy market. The reality as we know is quite the reverse. Therefore, we visualise that, as a developing country, an emissions reduction strategy to be comprehensive has to embrace both conservation and efficiency. With a large and rising demand for energy, we assess nuclear technologies to be a viable long-term solution in helping us correct the skew in our energy mix. The underlying determinant in this calculus is the environmental dimension and the associated costs of large-scale deployment of traditional carbon fuels, particularly coal. In this regard, nuclear power generation, despite its high entry level costs, provides a way out, particularly in relation to the wider issues of global warming and climate change.
Nuclear disarmament & non-proliferation
I am aware that concerns are voiced over the possible proliferation dimension in the use of nuclear energy. This should, however, not deter us from pursuing the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. India is fully cognizant of the safety and security implications arising from the expansion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We must instead work together with our partners to help reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.
The challenges of nuclear terrorism and nuclear security have to be addressed. We have been affected by clandestine nuclear proliferation in our neighbourhood. We are naturally concerned about the possibility of nuclear terrorism. We have, therefore, taken the lead at the UN General Assembly on an effective law-based international response including on WMD terrorism. India has joined the Russia-U.S. led Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. We believe that the Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010 hosted by President Obama will be an important milestone in our efforts to build international cooperation to prevent nuclear terrorism.
The constructive and forward-looking approach that was adopted towards India in September 2008 by the NSG has enabled full international civil nuclear cooperation with India as also our nuclear energy cooperation agreements with major partners including the United States, Russia, France and the UK. These constitute not only a long overdue recognition of India’s standing as a country with advanced nuclear technology and responsible behaviour but have also opened up significant opportunities for technical collaboration. I believe that this change would also serve as an important step towards strengthening international partnerships to ensure that advanced nuclear technologies are only utilized for peaceful purposes.
You are well aware of India’s long-standing commitment to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament. As early as 1988, our then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi presented one of the most comprehensive proposals to achieve a nuclear weapon free world to the UN General Assembly. In 2006, India tabled a Working Paper on nuclear disarmament to the UNGA. We feel encouraged by some recent positive steps. President Obama’s administration has signaled US willingness to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its nuclear strategy and to work towards a nuclear weapon free world. The renewed debate underway on this issue harmonizes with our long held positions.
We have identified some initiatives that I believe could be explored further as building blocks of a new global, verifiable nuclear disarmament framework. These include: a global agreement on ‘no-first-use’ of nuclear-weapons and non-use against non-nuclear weapon states; measures to reduce nuclear danger through de-alerting, reducing salience of nuclear weapons in security doctrines and preventing unintentional or accidental use; a Nuclear Weapons Convention prohibiting development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and on their destruction etc..
We hope that we can achieve progress in the Conference on Disarmament. We will support the emerging consensus in the CD to adopt a programme of work. Last year, we supported the work plan including commencement of negotiations on the multilateral FMCT. On this latter issue, which we see as an important non-proliferation measure, India has had a consistent position – we are willing to negotiate a multilateral, non-discriminatory, effectively and internationally verifiable FMCT.
Terrorism poses an existential threat to the civilized world. It is a pivotal security challenge for India and in our neighbourhood. Terrorists have sought to undermine our sovereignty, security and economic progress, aided and abetted by forces beyond our borders. Our embassy in Kabul has faced vicious suicide bomb attacks twice, in 2008 and 2009. The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 and the more recent outrage in Pune, have once again demonstrated the barbaric face of terrorism. Terror groups implacably opposed to India continue to recruit, train and plot attacks from safe havens across our borders.
Open democratic societies such as India face particular challenges in combating the threat of terrorism. The United Kingdom is also familiar with this debate. We are acting nationally to address this through legal, institutional and administrative measures. We have recently amended the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 to reinforce the legal and punitive provisions, including financing aspects of terrorism. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has been established as a federal body for investigation and prosecution in respect of terrorist acts with all-India jurisdiction. Regional hubs have been created for the National Security Guards. The National Multi Agency Centre (MAC) has been strengthened and made functional round the clock.
At the same time, it is clear that the threat from terrorism cannot be dealt with through national efforts alone. Global outreach and linkages among terror networks are now quite evident and they are becoming more active. The global nature of the threat has been recognized widely. Global efforts to tackle the problem also need to be intensified. Terrorism needs to be countered collectively and expeditiously. It is time that the international community works towards early adoption of a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism that was tabled at the UN over a decade ago in 1996. We must act jointly and with determination to meet the challenges posed by terrorism and to defend the values of pluralism, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me turn to our neighbourhood. From India’s perspective, the goal of ushering in a peaceful, stable and prosperous neighbourhood is predicated on enabling each of our neighbors to pursue the shared objective of the development of our peoples. We do not see this as a zero sum game but as a cooperative endeavor, requiring collaboration rather than confrontation, so as to enable each of our neighbours to grow. We do not see this as a compulsion but as a natural choice voluntarily made; a corollary of the inter-dependent world we live in. We believe that our strengths place us in a unique position to actively support the socio- economic development in our region.
The greatest threat to peace and stability in our region emanates from the shelter terrorists find in the border of Afghanistan-Pakistan and in Pakistan itself. The recent international approaches to Afghanistan, in particular the London Conference last month, are focusing on security and reintegration, development, governance and regional and international cooperation. The issue of reintegration should be tackled with prudence, the benefit of hindsight, foresight and caution. We believe that any integration process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led, and should include only those who abjure violence, give up armed struggle and terrorism and are willing to abide by the values of democracy, pluralism and human rights as enshrined in the Afghan Constitution.
For the Afghan Government to take greater ownership of security, it is imperative that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are properly trained and equipped. Similarly, in order to stengthen governance and institution-building, priority should be accorded to building adequate capacity to deliver on developmental objectives. It is self-evident that for this process to be enduring, Afghan ownership should go hand in hand with Afghan leadership.
Afghanistan is centrally placed to emerge as a trade, transportation and energy hub connecting Central and South Asia. The international community must work together to realize this potential. Growing economic interdependence would complement efforts to promote peace and prosperity in the region.
India is an important neighbour of Afghanistan and we share undeniably close ties that have endured through the centuries into present times. Our focus there is on development activity with the aim to build indigenous Afghan capacities and institutions. This will enable an effective state system to improve the delivery of goods and services to Afghan people. Our assistance, now over US$ 1.3 billion, is spread over a large number of provinces in Afghanistan. In addition to several small and medium development projects, India has built the Zaranj-Delaram road and the power transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul. We are also constructing Afghanistan's new Parliament building, a symbol of our common commitment to pluralism and democracy. At the recent London Conference, we have announced new initiatives in the agriculture sector and in institutional capacity building.
Our relationship with Pakistan is complex. Out of our desire for peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with Pakistan, we have repeatedly taken initiatives in the past to improve the relationship. You are aware that the dark forces of terrorism sought to erase the good that stemmed from such well-intentioned initiatives. We are now making another attempt of dialogue with Pakistan. However, calls of jihad, hostility and aggression continue to be made openly against India. This reflects the real and tangible difficulties that we face in dealing with Pakistan. If the process of normalization that we desire with Pakistan, is to be sustained and taken forward, effective action against such groups by the Government of Pakistan is an absolute must.
Under pressure and faced with the threat of terrorism in its own country, Pakistan has initiated some steps to fight this scourge. But these steps are selective. Distinctions between Taliban, Al Qaeda and terrorist outfits such as LeT are now meaningless, since they are now in effect fused both operationally and ideologically. We have consistently maintained that Pakistan should bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attack to justice expeditiously and in a transparent manner. It should act decisively to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its territory.
As I said previously, India is making another sincere attempt to initiate dialogue with Pakistan. I have invited my counterpart, the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan to Delhi for discussions later this week. We hope we can build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern between our two countries.
With Sri Lanka our political relations are close, trade and investment have increased exponentially, and there is broad-based engagement across all sectors of bilateral cooperation. We view the conclusion of the military operations against the LTTE as providing an opportunity to finally achieve a lasting political settlement acceptable to all communities, including the Tamils, within a united Sri Lanka.
Our relations with Bangladesh have acquired further substance and scope in recent months, particularly after the very successful visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in January this year. Our security related cooperation has developed positively as also our cooperation in infrastructural development in Bangladesh, for which we have announced a US $ 1 billion concessional Line of Credit.
It is a universally held truth that India’s economic growth has a positive impact on our region. Today, with sustained high economic growth rates over the past decade, India is in a better position to offer a significant stake to our neighbours in our own prosperity and growth. We have made unilateral gestures and extended economic concessions such as the facility of duty free access to Indian market for imports from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. We have put forward proposals multilaterally within the framework of the SAARC or the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation where we have assumed asymmetric responsibilities.
Turning to our extended neighbourhood, it is evident that with the rapid rise of China and India, the global and regional situation is being re-defined. There is much that is said about China’s rise and its implications for India. There is both competition and collaboration in the dynamic equilibrium of our relationship with China. Both our countries have always thought in civilizational time-frames. Even as we are discussing the unresolved boundary question, we have ensured that there is peace and tranquility in our border areas. China has emerged as India’s largest trading partner. We are consulting each other on global issues such as multilateral trade negotiations, climate change, and in the G-20, etc.
In the decade ahead, India will have to, as one writer noted recently, provide itself with “the widest possible field of vision” when it comes to China. This will entail not only a multi-dimensional approach to developing relations with China but also creating our menu of strategic options to ensure that we are able to protect and promote our interests effectively in our region.
Key elements in the India-China relationship like imbalances in bilateral trade, the unresolved boundary question, our dialogue on water resources with regard to the trans-border rivers like the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej point to the complex and evolving nature of our dialogue. The rapid growth of our economies has engendered a search for resources by both countries in third countries and regions across the globe. In some cases we have developed patterns of collaboration with the Chinese, in others, we have been in competition. This is the reality of the relationship. In our own region, which remains geo-politically unstable, China has an enduring strategic relationship with Pakistan, and a growing presence in other neighbouring countries. We are conscious of these leverages that China has developed in our region and realize fully that our relations with China cannot be uni-dimensional, or seen through a narrow prism. Our own relations with our South Asian neighbours acquire crucial importance in this scenario. Our economic strength and increased commitment to the economic development of our neighbourhood in South Asia, sustained dialogue at the leadership level, security-related dialogue especially as it relates to better border management, cooperation in health, education and environment-related sectors, and creating the infrastructure for better intra-regional connectivity and transportation, together with the attraction of India’s soft power are all factors that can be, and are being, mobilized in this context.
With Japan, we are developing the foundations of “strategic global partnership” with a strong economic and strategic content. Recent years have seen a qualitative shift in relations with defence dialogue and security cooperation emerging as important aspects of our relations. Our relations with the United States are in a new and transformative phase, with convergences in foreign policy priorities, and shared approaches to some of the most complex regional and global challenges of our times – from countering terrorism to working together for energy security, mitigating the impact of climate change to maritime security, nuclear security and safeguarding the global commons to name a few areas. With Russia, our strategic partnership has been continuously strengthened, and our multi-faceted relations span a number of sectors including defence, nuclear energy, space research, science and technology and hydrocarbons. Our ties with France have been further enhanced through regular summit-level meetings and the triad of cooperation in the civil nuclear, defence and space sectors. The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) and the Russia-India-China (RIC) cooperation forums have also helped us engage more closely with these countries in forging ties of dialogue and cooperation on economic and development-related issues.
India’s engagement with the ASEAN has grown manifold over the past decade and half and is set to get a fillip with the conclusion of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement.
Myanmar is an ASEAN member country with which we share a border of more than 1640 kms. We have advocated engagement with Myanmar since it is a close neighbour of ours. It is important for India to ensure a peaceful periphery with Myanmar. We strongly believe that any political reform process in Myanmar should be peaceful and not cause instability within that country or on our borders with it. We have urged the Government of Myanmar to take forward the process of national reconciliation and political reform and broad-base it to include all sections of society, including the more than 18 ethnic groups in the country.
On the security architecture for the region, there is a need to evolve a balanced, open and inclusive framework for Asian countries and major non-Asian players to interact and cooperate to address traditional and non-traditional security challenges. The ASEAN Regional Forum has provided a useful model for such cooperation based on dialogue and consensus in diverse areas such as counter terrorism, trans-national crimes, maritime security, disaster relief, pandemics and nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. India is also a member of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). We have also partnered with the international community in deploying an Indian naval presence for anti-piracy escort operations to ensure maritime security in the Gulf of Aden.
Before I finish, let me say a few words about our relations with the UK. The UK is an important interlocutor for us in the bilateral, EU, G8 and global contexts and our multi-faceted bilateral relationship has intensified specially since its upgradation to strategic partnership in 2004. Our engagement is most wide-ranging including high-level visits, parliamentary and official-level exchanges, business interaction and cultural interchanges. President Pratibha Patil was on a State visit to the UK from 27-29 October 2009. There have been regular exchanges of visits at the Prime Minister-level. Institutional linkages have continued through regular FOCs, JWG and India-UK Round Table. Our trade and investment partnerships are both-ways and expanding rapidly. India is the second largest source of students to UK with about 31,000 students. Science & technology is a focus area for our two countries. On 11 February 2010, we signed a Joint Declaration on civil nuclear cooperation which will give a new dimension to our already multi-dimensional and vibrant ties.
Once again I want to say how delighted I am to be with you this morning and to be given the privilege to be a part of your deliberations. I have no doubt that the MEA-IISS relationship will scale greater heights in times to come which is a tribute to your vision and long-term perspective about the need for the world to engage India more closely, to forge understandings, and to promote more inclusive dialogue with key stakeholders on both sides. I wish the deliberations of the seminar success.