You are here

Key Address by Foreign Secretary at the release of IDSA Book – India’s Neighbourhood: Challenges in the Next Two Decades

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Ranjan Mathai, Foreign Secretary
    July 13, 2012

    Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director General, IDSA, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

    It gives me great pleasure to be present amongst this audience to launch a document that is the result of an unique collaborative effort between the Ministry of External Affairs and the Institute of Defence Analyses.

    We live during what has been called an Asian Century. This title was used by some academics in the international arena but today it is used mostly by Asians! Over the last few decades, Asian nations, including India, launched themselves along high-growth trajectories that have led to a discernible eastward shift of global political and economic centres of gravity. This has increased their weight and profile in international relations and enhanced their capacity to influence global events. Hence the new slogan. But this has also created unprecedented challenges for policy makers and strategic establishments that have to grapple with difficult and often unfamiliar problems. One is the need to put in place policies and measures that make the trajectory of high growth sustainable over time. Historical experience suggests caution in accepting projections of continuous growth. The second is the need to deal with an inevitable backlash. Shifts in the global balance are not necessarily welcome to those at the losing end even if they only lose in relative terms. The determined effort to choke our growth through environmental norms and regulations is an example.

    These are challenges that cannot be overcome by any one organisation. Multiple strands of thought, multiple perspectives and multiple courses of action have to be taken into account and woven together into composite solutions. “India’s Neighbourhood: Challenges in the Next Two Decades” – the document that is being launched today, needs to be viewed in this perspective.

    It is in many respects a path-breaking document that is the first output of the MEA-IDSA Strategic and Perspective Planning Research Group. This Group is itself the product of a sustained effort by MEA and by IDSA to draw upon the best available talent in the country to peer beyond the immediate policy and time horizon. In this report, independent researchers, with the full support of MEA and IDSA have made an effort to find out what lies, in military parlance, on “the other side of the hill”.

    The intention is to focus attention on the challenging policy environment in our immediate neighbourhood. The intention is also to provoke a debate, and hopefully a lively debate, both within India and beyond its borders. We hope to generate ideas and solutions. We hope that we will be able to think out of the box. Mostly, we hope that this debate will allow MEA to find ways to strengthen, in practical terms, its forward-looking and proactive approach to engaging with our neighbours.

    The promotion of a politically stable and economically secure periphery is a paramount foreign policy objective for India. This is essential to deal with the challenges of fostering sustainable growth and to ensure that regional differences cannot be exploited by those who would keep us absorbed in disputes. We have been hard at work in fostering inter-connectivity and mutual confidence in multiple areas, in promoting trade and investment, and in trying to leverage India’s rapid economic growth into win-win arrangements with our neighbours.

    We are also conscious of the currents of globalization and of the need to take advantage of global trends in political economy. We believe that common South Asian interests must factor in the policy-making process of South Asian nations. A South Asian Economic Union is a distant dream; but even an expanded set of economic connections will not only transform the economies of South Asia but will be a force for political stability.

    I would be stating the obvious in reiterating that there are very few areas of the world where the benefits or logic of regional cooperation are as obvious as in South Asia. But it is also a fact that there are very few regions where the challenges in creating the structures for regional cooperation are so daunting.

    This places South Asian problems in a peculiarly difficult position. Even as we attempt to surmount the challenges that history has imposed upon us, we are being called upon to confront a new generation of problems, the problems of the 21st century. For example, the difficulties in demarcating borders are now accompanied by a completely different set of issues that arise from the growing irrelevance of borders in a globalized world. Demographic trends are producing a South Asia that is young and has high expectations. The so-called demographic dividend, if not managed properly, can turn into a demographic nightmare. Governments that are unable to cope with these expectations will turn their nations into “fragile” or “weak” states that will create challenges of the kind the international community is already struggling to cope with. The dividing line between terrorists and trans-national criminals is disappearing and access to technology is increasing the dangers that they pose. Even as South Asian nations struggle to bridge their internal digital divides, they have to divert resources to foil cyber-criminals who operate in a virtual world.

    One of the major issues identified by the report is the rapidity with which change is taking place in South Asia. Policy makers and practitioners operate in an environment where the unexpected is the norm. Policy and responses have to be constantly updated to ensure that we do not apply 20th century solutions and mindsets to 21st century problems. The democratic upsurge mentioned by the Director General is one of them. We can best influence this by being an example – rather than trying any policy presumption.

    We also have to be mindful of the fact that South Asia does not exist in isolation. This year marks two decades of India’s engagement with ASEAN and a commemorative Summit will be held in New Delhi in December this year. It also marks twenty years of India’s policy of connecting with Central Asia. Our exceptionally close ties to the Gulf region need no elaboration. We are also building an Indian Ocean Littoral community. Our engagement with all these regions is progressing rapidly and it is apparent that many of the problems and opportunities presented in this report need not just a South Asian perspective but have to be seen from a trans-regional angle. We would like our policy towards South Asia and towards these regions to present a seamless continuum.

    The document ends by declaring that South Asia is at a cross-roads. We are presented with threats and opportunities, strengths and weaknesses. It is identifying these and suggesting a policy framework to address them that this report has added value to the ongoing discourse on improving linkages within South Asia. The recommendations of the report about the broadening of India’s foreign policy approach are being examined seriously and will be taken on-board in our internal deliberations.

    I would like to conclude by noting that the Ministry of External Affairs has not been entirely reactive. Nor have we let the acute shortage of resources stop us from taking some proactive steps. We have created bureaus within our Ministry that deal with emerging issues. We have stepped up recruitment of personnel into the Indian Foreign Service. We have also increased the intake from other services and backgrounds to build in-house expertise on non-traditional areas. We are funding an increasing amount of academic research across India on foreign policy issues. We understand that domestic factors will influence policy towards our neighbours and have created a presence in State capitals through Branch Secretariats. We have created a Development Partnership Administration that will look into optimising the programmes that are being devised for development cooperation with our partners in the developing world, particularly with our neighbours. Visa regimes and consular issues remain a challenge but receive our constant attention.

    We will continue with our efforts to be responsive to the needs of changing nation. As the world evolves so will we. But our first priority is and will be for some time the neighbourhood. That is why this is the right time to see how it will look over the next 2 decades and I commend this book to you for opening our debate.