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Address by Foreign Secretary Smt. Nirupama Rao at Harvard University on 'India's Global Role'


Mr. Michael D Smith, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Dr Sugata Bose,
Distinguished Guests,

It is indeed an honour and a privilege for me to be here today. Coming back to Harvard – and all the wonderful memories it brings back of the year I spent in 1992-93 as Fellow at the Center for International Affairs or the Weatherhead Center as it is now called, and an earlier stint when my husband was Edward Mason Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1983-1984 – is truly a pleasure and a privilege. When I came to America for the first time, it was to Harvard, and Harvard became my introduction to America. I shall always treasure that connection.

The annual Harish C. Mahindra memorial lecture series has become one of the most talked-about events in Harvard promoting exchanges with South Asia specialists and public figures from South Asia as also in understanding the challenges facing the region. Harish Mahindra has been justifiably compared to someone like a prince of Florence, truly a Renaissance figure, a man who personified the true spirit of intellectual and entrepreneurial endeavour and who knew the beauty of life. In this context, the topic of this evening’s discussion, “India’s Global Role”, has a resonance and topicality that will, I am sure, prove to be a catalyst for an even greater involvement between Harvard and India.

Of late, India’s global role has been mentioned frequently against the backdrop of what we would call a shift of economic power to Asia. Today, it is almost de rigeur to speak of the dynamic Indian growth story despite the ravages of the global economic crisis. But, to put our arms around the Indian experience, you have to beyond just the factor of fast economic growth. And that would lead us onto the quest of India’s attributes and its enduring stability as a modern and democratic nation state.

We are celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the adoption of India’s Constitution, this year. I believe that all those who have studied India’s evolution since our independence in August 1947 would agree that the most important, and indeed the most durable, element of India’s profile as a modern nation state is its democratic orientation. Pratap Bhanu Mehta who taught here at Harvard, spoke recently of the deeper virtues from which our Constitution sprang, and I quote : “an ability to combine individuality with mutual regard, intellectualism with a democratic sensibility, conviction with a sense of fallibility, amibition with a commitment to institutions, and hopes for a future with due regard for the past and present”. Ideally, I should like to think that these attributes are as valid in their application to India’s global role in the 21st century, as they were to the founding fathers of our Constitution. Our democratic transformation and the empowerment of millions of Indians who moved from being subjects of a colonial power, to citizens of the world’s largest democracy, is in itself an epic story. Indeed, the Indian model of democratic governance together with its economic strength and dynamism, propels the promise and the potential of India’s role on the global stage.
When we talk of India’s economic transformation, we expect India, at an average growth of a minimum of 7.5% growth in GDP per year to achieve a ten-fold increase in per capita income in the next 30 years and join the ranks of the developed countries; at this rate of growth, by 2020, we should be able to be categorized as a middle income developing country. We do not underestimate the challenges we face of meeting the education, health, energy and infrastructure needs of our population. 66% of our population live in the rural sector which at present contributes only around 20 per cent of our GDP. The issue of increasing agricultural productivity, planning urban growth, ensuring sustainable development while controlling and reducing emissions intensity as a proportion of our GDP, reducing income inequalities, meeting the surge in education demand and ensuring that education access becomes a driver of equality, increasing power generation, and building infrastructure – roads, railways, airports and ports – better management of water resources, are all challenges we have to meet on the road ahead. We have to ensure that growth is inclusive, equitable and empowers the most disadvantaged sections of our population. This approach has shaped and defined India’s role on the global stage today, as the policies we seek to articulate and endorse internationally are based on our own domestic experience.

Sixty years into India’s life as a vibrant democracy, what is the transformation we see in India’s global role? One of my distinguished predecessors, Shri M.K. Rasgotra put it succinctly when he said that the “transformation of India into one of the world’s leading economies, a responsible nuclear weapon power with demonstrated scientific and technological competence, and a stable democracy is a truly phenomenal achievement of our time”. What were the well-springs of India’s foreign policy as we began life as an independent nation? Issues such as decolonization, the creation of an Afro-Asian community of like-minded countries, the emphasis on the principles of peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect between nations, striving for an equitable global system for socio-economic development, initiatives towards global disarmament and a robust participation in United Nations peacekeeping activities can be said to have shaped the initial imprint left by India on global affairs in the last five decades of the twentieth century. These issues are not irrelevant to our participation in global affairs today. Driving our foreign policy priorities and our desire for strategic autonomy are factors of external security, internal security, the need for sustained economic growth, our energy security, maritime security and access to technology and innovation. Further, India is too large a country to be dovetailed into alliance type of relationships. In order to modernize our country we need to, and we have succeeded in, forging well-rounded strategic partnerships with all major powers.

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.

Speaking to our Ambassadors from around the world recently, our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh spoke of the critical need to remove mass poverty in India for which we need a fast expanding economy. Where our global role, and our foreign policy comes into this growth story is to ensure that we create an environment, an external environment that is conducive to an increased flow of capital into the country. We also need to make increasing use of modern science and technology to boost our development profile – the import of such technology therefore becomes an important constituent in our quest to accelerate the pace of our socio-economic development. In our search for energy security, we must look not only at West Asia, but farther afield, to Africa, and to Latin America so that we can develop hydrocarbon resources in these regions and also import such resources for the successful pursuit of our development goals.

Any visualization of India’s global role must begin in our immediate neighbourhood because situational factors in that environment affect our internal security and therefore merit our greatest attention. The Indian economy with its rapid growth and the impact this exerts beyond our borders, is fast becoming an anchoring element in the region. We have articulated a policy in our neighbourhood that stresses the advantage of building networks of inter-connectivity, trade, and investment so that prosperity can be shared and that the region can benefit from India’s rapid economic growth and rising prosperity. We want to create an economic environment with our neighbours so that we can work together to fulfil our common objectives of economic development. A peaceful neighbourhood is mandatory for the realization of our own vision of economic growth.

The close and contiguous geographies we share with our seven neighbours who together with us make up the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation or SAARC, compel increasing acknowledgement and recognition of the common destiny we share when it comes to issues such as food security, health, poverty alleviation, climate change, disaster management, women’s empowerment, and economic development. 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 where we have assumed asymmetric responsibilities.

However, our vision of an enhanced South Asian cooperation for development is challenged by violent extremism and terrorism, which originates in our region and finds sustenance and sanctuary there. Terrorists have repeatedly sought to undermine our sovereignty, security and economic progress, aided and abetted by forces beyond our borders. Terrorist attacks on our embassy in Kabul and the horrendous Mumbai attacks of November 2008 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. There is increased infiltration from across the border. Open democratic societies such as India face particular challenges in combating the threat of terrorism. It is also clear that the threat from terrorism cannot be dealt with through national efforts alone. The global nature of the threat has been recognized widely. Global efforts to tackle the problem also need to be intensified. 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, freedom, peaceful co-existence and the rule of law.

Our relationship with Pakistan has been complicated by the issue of terrorism and the need for Pakistan to take ameliorative action to eradicate terrorism against India. Despite this threat, we understand well the Kautilyan advice that a great power loses stature if it remains bogged down in neighbourhood entanglements. We are determined to persevere in our dialogue with Pakistan in order to resolve outstanding issues so that our region will be stable, and so that the rationale of economic development in an atmosphere of peace, for all of South Asia remains our steadfast goal.

Let me briefly also speak about Afghanistan. We are supportive of the US efforts to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and to bring stability there. We have a direct interest in Afghanistan, not because we see it as a theatre of rivalry with Pakistan but because of the growing fusion of terrorist groups that operate from Afghanistan and Pakistan and their activities in India. Indeed, developments in Afghanistan over the past few years have demonstrated in ample measure that peace, security and prosperity in today’s world is indivisible, and that therefore, the international community in Afghanistan must stay the course.

Indian assistance to Afghanistan amounting to over US$ 1.3 billion has helped build vital civil infrastructure, develop human resources and capacity in the areas of education, health, agriculture, rural development, etc. Our development partnership, which has received wide appreciation of the Afghan people, has been guided primarily by the needs of the Afghan government and people. We stand by this commitment despite the grave threat under which our personnel and people are working in Afghanistan to transform the lives of ordinary Afghan people.

China is our largest neighbor and the rise of China is a reality that faces the entire world, today. The question asked is whether our relationship with China will be one dominated by increasing competition for influence and for resources as our economic needs grow. I believe the proposition should not be exaggerated in a way that it overshadows all attempts to rationalize the relationship between India and China. The reality is that India and China have worked hard over the last two decades to deepen dialogue and bilateral relations in a number of fields. Peace and tranquility have prevailed in the India-China border areas, despite the unsettled boundary question. Our trade with China is growing faster than that with any other country. Therefore, we need not see our relations with China as being only competitive. The complicated history of the outstanding boundary question entails that discussions to resolve it cannot be of short duration with easy fixes. As our Prime Minister has said, India and China will continue to grow, simultaneously, and our policies will have to cater to this emerging reality. China’s growing ability to project its military strength, its rapid military modernization, and its very visible economic capabilities, introduce a new calculus in the security situation in our region. We are also alert to the continuing and close security relationship between China and Pakistan. These factors serve to further underscore the complexity of the India-China equation, today.

This brings me to global and regional commons that surround us. India is an Indian Ocean country. The Indian Ocean has a palpable human dimension, as one Indian strategic analyst put it recently, given the fact that millions of people from Saudi Arabia to India to Indonesia, live in close proximity of the Ocean. The demography of its littoral States and the hydrocarbon energy index associated with it give the Indian Ocean a distinctive identity. The strategic relevance of this area derives from the vast hydrocarbon resources in West Asia, the connectivity provided by the Suez-Malacca route, and the geo-political imperatives flowing from this reality. Non-state threats to maritime security are also on the rise from piracy and smuggling. All major powers today have a vested interest in keeping the sea lanes open given the demands of trade, commerce and energy flows that will only increase in coming years. Dialogue and cooperation are thereby essential to evolve a stable transparent maritime security system so as to ensure that a cooperative framework is evolved for the management of the Indian Ocean and its resources.

It is a well-accepted fact that the world is witnessing a shift of economic and political power to Asia. We believe that 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. Our “Look East” policy, articulated in 1992, has enabled us over the past two decades to integrate our geo-economic space with our neighbours in South East Asia. 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. Our participation in events such as the East Asia Summit has enhanced our role in our continent, which in turn influences our global role today. As the world witnesses the resurgence of China and India, and the balance of global political and economic power shifts to Asia, we are determined to ensure that there is more interaction between India and South East Asia and East Asia. The new, transnational dimensions of regional security also demand that we build an open, inclusive, plural and flexible architecture to deal with them.

Rules of the road are also required for managing the security of the global commons – which cover outer space, our oceans, cyberspace and global transport and communication networks. New dimensions of security like cyber security require to be addressed internationally especially since information technology has become critical to our needs in development, infrastructure, defence and security.

Coming to the central themes of India’s global role today, the focus is naturally directed at India’s participation in the architecture of global governance, as represented by the United Nations. Our priority in upholding the United Nations system has been a leitmotif of our foreign policy and our global role. However, the world today is a very different one from that at the end of the Second World War. In the United Nations system, there is today a majority view in favour of reform of the United Nations, and especially its major organs like the Security Council, which is responsible for collective peace and security. India has been at the forefront of this move, seeking an enhanced global role as a permanent member of the reformed Security Council, commensurate with its size, capabilities, contribution to UN peacekeeping operations and impeccable track record in upholding the UN system. On global economic issues, 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.

India is often mentioned in the context of the ongoing Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations being conducted in the WTO. Our commitment to the WTO, which we joined as a founder-member in January 1995, is rooted in our global approach to international trade. India was one of the 23 original members of the GATT, which preceded the WTO, and played an influential role in shaping the non-discriminatory, equitable, rule-based system that the WTO today represents. It is a measure of our commitment to this vision that in September 2009, India took the initiative to convene a mini-Ministerial meeting of WTO members in New Delhi to break the deadlock in the negotiating process, which has resumed in Geneva since last December. Even as we discuss the shape of the next era of integration of world markets, India is proactive in upholding the integrity of the WTO system, inspiring other countries to join her in implementing the objectives of the WTO Agreement.

A major issue facing the international community today is climate change. The issue is critical for us as the steps we take will need to be intrinsically linked with the growth prospects and development aspirations for our people. Nationally, we have taken several steps to improve energy efficiency and ensure sustainable growth. It is important to note that despite our accounting for 17% of the global population, our own GHG emissions are currently only 4% of the global emissions. 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 often tend to ignore, 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, but this is not adequate. There is need for stable and predictable financing from the developed countries, and this we believe should not solely 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. We need to redouble efforts in these multilateral negotiations, especially after last year’s Copenhagen Conference, to ensure full, effective and sustained implementation of the UN Framework Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, and to conclude these negotiations with a balanced, comprehensive and above all, an equitable outcome, with equal emphasis on all four pillars – mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology transfer.

Many of you here today have followed the debates swirling around the agreement on civilian nuclear energy cooperation between India and the United States signed in 2008. Some have sought to undermine this major initiative by calling into question India’s policy on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The constructive and forward-looking approach that was adopted towards India in September 2008 by the Nuclear Suppliers Group 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. It is equally important to see the relevance of these developments in the context of India’s energy requirements and challenges of climate change.

I think it would be important to underline that India is fully cognizant of the safety and security implications arising from the expansion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. We are working together with our partners to help reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation. We believe that 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 given the security situation in our neighbourhood. 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. The first Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in April 2010 was an important milestone in our efforts.

You are well aware of India’s long-standing commitment to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable nuclear disarmament. 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.

I also wish to briefly comment on our bilateral relations with the US. Despite being fellow democracies and sharing common values, we failed to realize the potential in our relations on account of differences during the cold war. That changed slowly in the nineties and gathered momentum in the first decade of this century. The conclusion of the bilateral civil nuclear agreement in 2008 was a major milestone. Today, the range and the depth of our bilateral relations and strategic global partnership is truly transformational in nature as described by Secretary Clinton. There are, as President Obama defines it, new wellsprings in our cooperation with each other. Today we are not only discussing issues such as strategic cooperation, counter terrorism, defence, high technology, civil nuclear and space sectors cooperation but also a broad range of development issues that directly and positively impact on the lives of our citizens including cooperation in education, health, agriculture, weather forecasting, innovation, etc. We are also engaging with each other and cooperating on most major global issues as also on capacity building in third countries. Ours is a defining and enduring partnership. This November, President Obama will visit India and we believe that this visit will enhance the depth of our understanding on a number of issues of vital importance, bilaterally, regionally, and globally.

I would not like to conclude without referring to the role of the growing Indian diaspora in the projection of India’s global, national and foreign policy interests. In countries like the United States, and the UK, the diaspora has increasingly demonstrated the effectiveness of its voice and its capability to advance the Indian interest. The projection of Indian power globally is in many ways energized by the demonstrable success and achievements of the diaspora.

Finally, India’s global role is also being articulated as it becomes an increasingly effective development and technical cooperation source for a number of countries in regions like Africa. Education, agriculture, capacity building in a number of areas, private sector investments, trade and communications outreach, define our relations with a number of African countries today. Apart from this, the unleashing of our managerial and entrepreneurial talent has also seen the expansion of Indian industry’s global horizons – with investment outflows from India to North America and Europe being around 14 billion US dollars in 2008 alone. The role of India’s soft power, the dynamism of its free and unfettered media, its entertainment industry, and the attraction that Indian culture exerts are also vehicles for enhancing India’s global influence today.

In sum, India’s global role today is determined by the calculus of our national interests, our interest in ensuring the flow of capital, technology and innovation to further accelerate our growth, our conviction that inclusive structures of dialogue and cooperation to address the new dimensions of security threats are necessary, that the institutions of global governance including the United Nations should reflect current realities, and that the dynamism and energy of the Indian economic growth story must be shared with our region, and that to sustain our growth trajectory we need an environment that is free from transnational threats like terrorism. India has consciously sought to engage and develop its partnerships with both its neighbours and also the major powers in this process, with the strategic aim of ensuring that the balance of interests thus created ensures that we are able to better deal with the challenges that confront us and that we derive tangible political, economic and security benefits as a result. In an Asia-centred century, we would naturally wish to ensure a role for India that is commensurate with its size, its growing economic strength, its democratic stability and proven capacity to manage its enormous diversity, its contributions to global peace and security, and its justified quest for a greater voice in a multilateral system that is balanced, equitable, and representative of new global realities.

Once again, I would like to thank Dr Sugata Bose and his colleagues at the South Asia Initiative at Harvard for having invited me to speak here this evening.
Thank you.