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Address by Ambassador Nirupama Rao at the Seminar "India as a Global Power: Contending Views from India" jointly organized by the Center for a New American Security, in partnership with The George Washington University's Rising Powers Initiative

Washington, DC
23 January 2012

Dr. Deepa Ollapally, Richard Fontaine, Distinguished ladies and gentleman

• I am privileged to have this opportunity to address the conference on "India as a Global Power: Contending Views from India" that the Sigur Center is organizing as part of its efforts on exploring foreign policy debates of rising powers. The morning sessions would have given you a flavor of the various shades of opinions that exist in India. In my remarks, I would like to share government’s perspective that might echo some of the views that you would heard in the forenoon. This should not come as a surprise. For in India, there has generally existed a broad consensus on foreign policy, even though occasionally there might seem to be sharp differences. This was also recognized in the essay which Deepa co-authored as part of the GWU studies. That essay notes that outlining the various Indian perspectives on Indian foreign policy is somewhat difficult because they fall within a fairly narrow range and that “the differences are not as great as might seem at first sight”. 

India’s global outlook and foreign policy construct

• What drives India’s foreign policy? Like for all countries, our foreign policy seeks to forge strategies that serve India’s interest, protect its sovereignty and its security concerns, and promote its economic development. Our vision of a secular, pluralistic and tolerant society within the country, embracing diversity of opinions and outlook, is sought to be articulated in our dealings with the world. While we have paid attention to the strengthening of our military and strategic deterrent capabilities, we are not protagonists of the first use of force in settling outstanding issues, but rather, we have been advocates, consistently, of the use of diplomacy and statecraft in building relations and addressing problem issues. Of course, in the defence of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity, we have shown our readiness and capacity to defend our interests militarily whenever the situation has so demanded. India’s global outlook and foreign policy is a reflection of the priorities that it has defined for itself as it seeks to develop, to be secure, to withstand external threats, to ensure that it’s national and developmental interests are not diluted by actions by hostile players in the global arena. A key feature of our foreign policy has always been our desire to retain our ability to make independent decisions in the best interests of our people. I believe also that there is a strong sense of realism and pragmatism that informs Indian foreign policy in our new century and is attached to the principles that have guided us in external relations since the early years of our Republic.

• Second, we live in a period of a transitioning world order and where the continent of Asia is at the center of this fundamental change in economic balance, and where our success or otherwise, in forging an inclusive architecture of economic integration and security cooperation for Asia will impact the destiny of a vast cross-section of the global population. Globalization is breaking barriers between countries and regions, and rising expectations in emergent economies as well as new power rivalries, the compulsions of energy security, the unhindered growth and passage of trade between nations, the growing capability of non-state actors, outside any rule-based system, the power and grasp of new technologies and their capacity to change the way we have conventionally defined security and national defense, call for intelligent and creative responses in diplomacy in order to ensure secure and viable solutions.

• For the foreseeable future our foremost national task is to ensure  sustained economic growth so that we can provide opportunities to all our citizens to realize their full potential.  Our primary concern is to ensure a peaceful periphery and good relations with our neighbours. Our geography as a subcontinent must be transformed, as it has been said recently, into a geography of hope. With this, we also seek a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order. India's stakes in a global and regional environment of peace, stability and broader prosperity have never been higher. 

• Today as India’s economic growth provides it more weight and adds to our influence we remain conscious that with this comes ever increasing responsibility – responsibility in weighing every move we make and positions we take with the realization that India is growingly, one of the key players on the global stage today and will be called upon increasingly to deploy its potential in the interest of global peace and development. And buoyed by its sustainable economic growth, India is more willing and able to play a role commensurate with its size and destiny, whether in the UN Security Council or other multinational institutions such as G20.  Let me take a few moments to illustrate these broad themes. How is India working to promote global peace and security?

• Let’s start with our neighbourhood. Developments in Afghanistan over the past few years have demonstrated that peace, security and prosperity in today’s world are indivisible. Both India and the US understand the imperative of ensuring success in Afghanistan. We have been engaged in developmental assistance efforts in Afghanistan at considerable human and economic cost. Our total assistance totaling over US $2 billion has been guided by the priorities of the Afghan government and people. We are in fact supplementing our individual assistance efforts with joint projects with the US in areas such as in capacity building, agriculture and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. We have also been fully supportive of US efforts to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and to bring stability there. In this regard we are keenly watching recent efforts for a political dialogue. While we agree that ultimately there would have to be political solution, we also believe that this should not become an over-riding objective that needs to be achieved at all costs for that would risk the prospect of the victory of the dark forces of terrorism and extremism that have plagued the region for long. Let us not wait for the dusk and the owl of Minerva to spread its wings, with awareness coming too late. Too much is at stake both for Afghanistan, and for our region in what happens in that country.

• In the broader Indo-Pacific region India is working with the US as well as other countries of the region bilaterally and through forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit to put in place an inclusive architecture that would allow all stakeholders to interact and cooperate to address traditional and non-traditional security challenges. One such challenge is maritime security. India has contributed its naval capabilities to help safeguard vital sea lanes in the region. In the past, we have cooperated with Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia to ensure security in the Malacca Straits. Today, we are cooperating with the US and other naval forces in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia to counter piracy.

• Terrorism continues to pose a threat to international peace and stability. India having been a victim of terrorism for many decades, has worked with the international community to strengthen the international framework to deal with this threat. In the UN for instance we have taken the initiative to pilot the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism or the CCIT, with the objective of providing a comprehensive legal framework to combat terrorism. It is also clear that the threat from terrorism cannot be dealt with through national efforts alone. While we have and will take appropriate domestic measures to strengthen our security, given the global nature of the threat we are working with our international partners including the US to tackle the problem.

• This threat is compounded today given the possibility of intersection between terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have been affected by clandestine nuclear proliferation in our neighbourhood. Today, India is constructively engaged in international efforts to enhance nuclear security. In the long term such threats can be met by universal and non-discriminatory disarmament - a cause that India has championed for many years.

• Climate change and the interlinked issue of energy security are increasingly going to affect our sustainable future and long term prosperity.  India’s actions on this front reflect a balance of interests in ensuring our growth prospects and the development aspirations of our people and being a responsible global player.

• The global economic outlook continues to remain uncertain as the international financial and economic crises pose a challenge to a sustained recovery of the global economy. The Indian economy remains vulnerable to global economic turbulence. As a responsible member of the G20, India has tried to shape collective responses in meeting the challenges posed by the crisis and to send a message for building confidence and stability.

India-US global strategic partnership

• Let me take a few moments to talk about our relations with the US. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said last year when he met President Obama during the East Asia Summit  that “there are, today, no irritants whatsoever in our working together on a multiplicity of areas, both bilateral, and regional and global issues.” 

• Today India and the US share a convergence of interests to ensure security of our people and stability in the world. If you just look at the progress we have made across a wide range of sectors in the last two years or so, it would be clear that our bilateral relationship with the US is today better than it has ever been. The visits of Prime Minister Singh to Washington in 2009 and of President Obama to Delhi and Mumbai in 2010; the launch of the Strategic Dialogue whose third round will be held here in Washington in the summer of this year has led to a qualitative change and expansion of our global strategic partnership.

• Our dialogue and cooperation on strategic issues and our bilateral cooperation in counter-terrorism, information exchange, defense, have matured and today there is much enhanced mutual understanding. We have launched a new Homeland Security Dialogue last year that is already imparting further momentum and depth to our ongoing counter-terrorism cooperation.

• We are trading both in goods and services much more than ever before. Investments are now in both directions. Commercial links are strong and growing; research based partnerships are on the increase and technology exchanges are expanding in different fields of economy. I would like to believe that we have outgrown the “buy-sell” paradigm. We are expected to touch US$ 100 billion in two-way trade, both in goods and services, which is growing in a balanced manner.

• Our trade and investment linkages have given rise to new foundations of partnerships in innovation, entrepreneurship, high technology, civil nuclear cooperation, food and energy security, employment and wealth creation in both our countries. We are now working on a Bilateral Investment Treaty that would ensure predictability for investors, and support economic growth and job creation in both countries.

• Our militaries, once unfamiliar with each other now hold regular dialogue and joint exercises. In fact we do more joint exercises now with the US armed forces than with any other country.

• Our defence trade has increased and we have placed orders worth US$ 8 billion on US equipment manufacturers. The C-130J aircraft that we recently acquired from the US played a visibly  important role in the humanitarian relief efforts in Sikkim last year in the wake of the earthquake there. In view of such success stories and the fact that India is continuing the process of modernizing its armed forces, I am confident that our defence trade will grow even more in the future. Ultimately, the paradigm that we visualize for defence cooperation incorporates a strong component of joint production, research and co-development, which are all of strategic importance. I am happy to note that the US Government shares this vision.

• At the same time we have forged new areas of cooperation such as, renewable energy and energy efficiency, agriculture, higher education, health and science and technology that are so critical for the socio-economic transformation in India. For instance we are working together across a full portfolio of clean energy options. The US is assisting us in mapping our reserves of shale gas resources.

• Through our bilateral Science and Technology Endowment Fund of US $ 30 million, we are tapping into our respective scientific and technological strengths and encouraging the co-development of a vibrant S&T eco-system that could produce material benefits for both countries as well as produce common global goods.

• We are partnering with the US across the entire range of issues related to agriculture – from using space technology for better monsoon prediction and crop productivity to improving the linkages from farms to markets.

• Health is yet another critical area where there are exciting opportunities for collaboration tapping into each other’s comparative advantages through recent initiatives such as the Global Disease Detection Center which will facilitate preparedness against health hazards.

• In view of the importance that both our countries have attached to higher education, we held last year the first India-US Higher Education Summit. The Summit underscored the importance of education as a vital pillar of the India-US Strategic Dialogue and has set forth a compelling road map for our joint efforts.

• Both India and the US have a shared interest in ensuring that the rapid pace of changes in the Asia-Pacific region and the consequent shift in geo-political and geo-economic center of gravity to that region promotes overall peace, security and prosperity. We have therefore strengthened our strategic consultations on developments in Asia-Pacific and launched a new trilateral dialogue between India, United States and Japan in addition to strengthening our coordination in the East Asia Summit process. Maritime security issues, including anti-piracy, security of sea lanes of communication, ensuring access to the global commons, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief are all areas of substantive cooperation between us.

• We have also launched new dialogues to exchange views and perspectives on developments in Central Asia and in West Asia. These consultations would in due course provide an opportunity to identify areas where our two countries could work together. 

• This is just a quick glimpse of the tremendous distance we have covered. Our relationship has transformed in a dramatic way and in a very short time. In this context, I might add that we are also a victim of our own success. While we may all want it, it is also true however that we will not always have “big bang” initiatives or cut red ribbons at all times.

• Our multi-faceted partnership  covering almost every field of human endeavor, is now on a steady, onward course. Our governments are committed to further deepen and expand the horizons of our partnership and to realize its enormous promise, bringing our two peoples closer and achieving our shared aspirations and goals.

• But sometimes a few observers tend to mistakenly view this as a “slow-down” of our relationship. On other occasions a difference of views on some of the global developments is mistaken as a sign of discord or a reflection of “old habits” on India’s part. This to my mind is not only incorrect but also unhelpful. Such characterization also obviously ignores the fact that fundamental reasons that have led to transformation of our ties - our converging security and economic interests, vibrant ties between our peoples and mutually beneficial connections among our entrepreneurs as well as our faith in ideals of democracy, individual liberty, rule of law – not only still remain in place but have actually become more compelling.

• As I look at the year ahead, I believe that both governments must work with focus to qualitatively improve this relationship. As my friend, Ambassador Karl Inderfurth noted recently, we need to consolidate, we need to implement. Our development partnership in education, health, in agriculture, science and technology, and clean energy must be strengthened. Ties between our States should be consciously promoted. Our Homeland Security Dialogue must be further consolidated. Our dialogue on export controls and high technology trade must gather further momentum and show results. On the civil nuclear deal, we need to intensify our efforts in the working group that has been set up to deal with liability issues so as to enable the early activation of the agreement and the participation of US nuclear energy companies in this sector that is so important for our energy security. I hope the discussions on the bilateral investment treaty will move forward. The upcoming March visit of Commerce Secretary Bryson to India is targeted at enabling the realization of commercial opportunities for US companies in the infrastructure space in India, covering roads, railways, airports and energy. Indian companies are already investing in a growing number of US States, bringing value, creating jobs for Americans, and integrating with local communities. I have no doubt that our strategic dialogue will intensify further, particularly in regard to regional issues and the situation in Asia, and that it will provide an impetus for peace and stability, and economic growth. Our External Affairs Minister looks forward to the next Strategic Dialogue meeting with Secretary Clinton here in Washington this summer.

In conclusion, I would say that the relations between India and the United States are defined by shared values, convergent interests, the need to bring more progress and prosperity to our peoples, and by the pragmatic realization that we are on the same side when it comes to eliminating those forces that threaten the freedom of our democracies, and hinder our development. The fact that this “GPS”, as it were, identifies our relationship is certainly an encouraging augury for the future. Indeed, it should provide a beacon for our future efforts.