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Valedictory Address at the 17th Asian Security Conference on “Asian Security: Comprehending the Indian Approach”

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  • Deputy National Security Advisor India, Dr. Arvind Gupta
    February 13, 2015

    Brig Dahiya,
    Distinguished participants,
    Ladies & gentlemen,

    Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the valedictory address at the 17th Asian Security Conference.
    ASC is not only the signature event of the IDSA, it has emerged as a key event in the global calendar of important conferences. The issues discussed in the conference form the core competency of the IDSA. We keenly look forward to the outcome of the deliberations of this conference.

    I had the chance to go through some of the papers and listen to some of the presentations that have been webcast live. People want to understand India’s role in the emerging international order. The refrain of the discussion has been that India is passive even as the world is changing. Many analysts feel that India should take on greater regional and global responsibilities. This conference has deliberated over these and related questions. Some of the questions raised in the last three days of deliberations might be answered if we examine the emerging trends in India’s regional and global approach. Let me dwell upon a few of the recognizable trends.

    1. Engagement
    2. Any one would notice that in the last few months, India’s engagement with the world has deepened further. Beginning with an unprecedented outreach to its neighbours, India in the past few months, has engaged with the major and significant powers across the geopolitical spectrum. Proactive engagement with the world is becoming a norm in Indian foreign policy. The process of engagement has just begun and will deepen in the future.

    3. Shape of the world
    4. A second trend to be noticed is that India is making a realistic assessment of the world situation. The world is perceived as full of challenges and opportunities. It is trying to make proper assessment of the environment and evolve a balanced and calibrated approach. The challenges have to be met and the opportunities taken advantage of. The challenges of terrorism, space, cyber or energy security can be met only with international and regional cooperation. India has come up with a series of positive ideas on key issues. India is also willing to participate in regional and global projects which promote international peace and stability.

    5. New thinking
    6. India is conscious that in this time of great flux and change, the world is witnessing unprecedented tensions and turmoil. In West Asia, extremism and fault lines are growing. Several flash points have reared their head in Asia. Violence and conflict has emerged right in the heart of Europe. Tensions among the major powers have increased. The threat of terrorism is taking new dimensions. Security of the oceans, space and cyberspace have become of paramount importance. Stability and security in the Indian Ocean is vital for global and regional prosperity. Climate change is an existential threat. In order to meet with these challenges, genuine international partnerships will be required. Prime Minister Modi, in his speech at the UN last year emphasized that in view of rapid global change, it is essential that “we change with the world and incorporate new thinking”. He pointed out that in the era of globalization, new poles of growth and opportunities for employment have risen. At the same time, inequality has also increased. In order to deal with these changes, he emphasized three things; the developed countries should abide by their commitments to provide funding and technology to the developing countries; secondly, national measures should be informed with creativity, and thirdly, there is also need to change lifestyles based on the efficient use of energy. This approach finds reflection in a number of joint statements and documents which India has signed in the recent past with other countries.

    7. Domestic priorities
    8. A third trend is the establishment of direct linkage between domestic priorities and the foreign policy. National interests are being defined more clearly. Indian policies are being tailored to achieve the national goals of economic growth, development and security. The domestic agenda, underlined by the overall theme of VIKAS or development, has been populated with a large number of ambitious projects and schemes such as Digital India, Make in India, financial inclusion, skill development, infrastructure development, investment promotion, manufacturing, smart cities, connectivity and so on. Many countries have welcomed the opportunity to participate in India’s growth story. This has given a new meaning to bilateral and multilateral engagements. Realistic roadmaps are being set up to implement the various dimensions of a comprehensive engagement.

    9. Technology
    10. The fourth discernible trend is that in the new development model, technology has been given a prominent place. India believes that technology can play a major role in resolving the problems of developing countries as well as global issues. A programme like Digital India touches every individual. India is keen to cooperate with other countries in technological sphere more productively. A number of technology partnerships have been forged with advanced countries.

    11. Sub-Regional Engagement
    12. A fifth feature of India’s evolving approach is that it is increasingly involved in sub-regional cooperation with neighbours. There is emphasis on engagement through groupings like IORA and BIMSTEC. With Sri Lanka and Maldives, we are involved in maritime cooperation in the trilateral format. Two weeks ago we held the second JWG meeting on sub-regional cooperation between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. India’s vital interests transcend the immediate neighbourhood and extend to strategic neighbourhoods in West Asia, Central Asia and South East Asia. India is also trying to overcome constraints of geography. Better connectivity through Iran will improve access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The International North South Transit Corridor through Iran and the Caucasus to Russia will reduce transit time and transport costs between Asia and Europe.

    Not a reluctant engager any more

    The upshot of all this is that India is not a reluctant engager any more. In the last few months, intense engagement have taken place with the US, China, Japan, Russia, Australia, Nepal, Bhutan, etc. In addition, the Indian PM has met a large number of his counterparts on the sidelines of important summits and conferences. The PM has travelled to Fiji and met several leaders of the Pacific island countries. PM has met with leaders of over forty countries including through bilateral interactions and on various multilateral foras such as UNGA, G-20, BRICS, EAS, ASEAN and SAARC. PM has interacted on four occasions with the Russian President and on three occasions each with the US President and Chinese President. In the neighbourhood, PM has interacted thrice with leaders of SAARC countries and five times with the Bhutanese Prime Minister. He has also interacted twice each with leaders of Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Singapore. The Indian diaspora now occupies a key role in India’s foreign policy priorities. India has participated fully in global and regional institutions including the UN, SAARC, East-Asia Summit, Russia-India-China trilateral format, BRICS, G-20, etc. The declaration by the UN of June 21, as the International Yoga Day is a recognition of India’s soft power. India’s approach to global and regional issues is neither reluctant nor a zero-sum game. The articulation Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, the world is a family and Vishwa-Bandhutva, the brotherhood of the world, by the PM is reflection of the fact that India’s approach will be marked by a desire to work with all and to resolve global problems in a cooperative spirit.

    India is becoming increasingly active at the global and regional fora and making contributions to the strengthening of the multilateral and regional institutions, building connectivities, forging international cooperation to deal with terrorism, building human resource capacities in India and abroad. India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping is a huge factor of stability in the world. A special focus has been on maritime security, cyber security and energy security. Defence cooperation is emerging as a key focus in India’s foreign policy. The joint statements issued during the important visits contain extensive roadmaps as to how to take the cooperation forward.

    I would like to draw your attention to some of the important take-aways from India’s engagement with different countries:

    • US: The issue of operationalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal has been addressed in the recent summit meeting. The signing of Indo-US Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region was a major development which helps the two countries to promote regional cooperation within the framework of the US Pivot to Asia and India’s act East policy.
    • Japan: The upgradation of the strategic partnership with Japan will further deepen India’s Act East policy. Indo-Japan relationship also complements the emerging trend of greater global engagement visible in Japan’s foreign policy.
    • China: Relationship with China is complex. Its rise has had global and regional consequences. No country remains unaffected. It is interesting that the Indian economy is beginning to grow while that of China is slowing down. These developments will have geo-political consequences. On the one hand, there is a great deal of untapped potential in Sino-Indian relations, on the other, unresolved problems, particularly the border issue, persist. The Sino-Indian joint statement identified many areas of cooperation. China has committed itself to invest $20 bn in India’s infrastructure. It will set up industrial parks and manufacturing facilities in India. There was also progress in railways cooperation. The message to China is clear. India will like to have an early settlement of the border issue but in the meanwhile it would engage with it in realizing the economic potential of the relationship.
    • Russia: A lot has been written on the significance of Russia in India’s foreign policy as the latter begins to build partnerships with US, Japan and other countries. The joint statement signed during the visit of President Putin’s visit to India recently, “Druzhba-Dosti – a Vision for Strengthening Indo-Russian Partnerships over the Next Decade” shows that despite the skepticism, Indo-Russia partnerships remain relevant to each other and to the world. The Indian side “deeply values the monumental contributions made by Russia to India’s developmental and defence needs”. The two sides have deep cooperation in the field of energy, defence, technology and innovation. This is likely to deepen further. They also have a role to play in global order and world peace.
    • RIC: The Russia-India-China trilateral, one of the oldest geometries, has taken an added meaning as Russia’s relations with the West come under strain. Foreign Ministers of Russia, India and China meeting in Beijing at a time of great international flux have come up with innovative ideas. They have agreed on early conclusion of negotiations on Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, a first. They agreed to set up a trilateral consultation mechanism on Asia Pacific Affairs, again a first of its kind. Russia and China welcomed India’s participation in APEC. This indicates that consensus is now forming on India’s engagement with Asia Pacific region.
    • Maritime Security: The emphasis on maritime security has been discernible. India has agreed to work with like-minded partners to preserve the integrity of these global commons and reiterated commitment of freedom of navigation and over-flight. Joint exercises between the Navies and Coast Guards have been encouraged. India is working with its maritime neighbours, Sri Lanka and Maldives in the trilateral format to improve Maritime Domain Awareness and cooperation in maritime oil pollution response, search and rescue, etc. India has also launched project Mausam to improve India’s traditional and historical linkages with countries with whom it has shared maritime connectivity.
    • Cyber Security: Cyber Security is emerging as one of the key areas in international security. Three set is issues which deserve attention are those relating to internet governance, norms of state behavior in cyber space and CBMs as well as technical cooperation. India being one of the largest users of cyberspace and with huge technical capabilities is naturally an important player in cyber security discussions. A large number of countries are willing to engage with India on these issues. A series of cyber security dialogues have been held in the recent past. Make in India gives an opportunity to develop ICT as well as cyber security products and services in India. Cyber security will remain a major area of engagement for India with the rest of the world.

    India is indeed aware of the challenges that it faces. The growing schism between the great powers can undermine international security. The critical security issues like terrorism, maritime security or cyber security can undermine not only global security but also affect the individual. Multilateralism, particularly the UNSC, the IMF, the World Bank is in need of reforms. Since these are difficult issues, international cooperation becomes that much more important.

    Often India is criticized for not being proactive enough in global norm setting and in regional and global fora. It needs to be appreciated that to be counted, India will need to build its own capacities. A return to high economic growth trajectory will help India play a proactive global and regional role. India will also need to build its own technological and human resource capacities to deal with these challenges. A synergized whole-of-government approach will be essential to support India’s diplomatic efforts.


    To conclude, the recent trends in Indian foreign policy clearly show that India is poised to play a leading role in global affairs. India’s approach is calibrated. Undoubtedly the needed capacities will have to be built. Implementation will be a challenge. But, the conditions are favourable. In the recently concluded Conference of the Heads of Missions, the Prime Minister articulated his world view clearly and asked the Indian diplomats to take advantage of the current global environment to position India in a “leading role”. This gives an insight into India’s approach to the engagement with the world.
    Thank you.