India's Security Challenges and Foreign Policy Imperatives

Address by Pranab Mukherjee, Hon'ble Minister for External Affairs at National Defence College, New Delhi, 3rd November, 2008

Major General N. K. Singh, AVSM, VSM, Senior Directing Staff,
Members of faculty and staff,
Student Officers,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here once again at the National Defence College and share my thoughts on the security and foreign policy challenges before India.

You are all professionally engaged on the various dimensions of security and foreign policy - from the perspective of internal and regional, to the continental and global. The goal of our foreign and security policy remains to increase our strategic autonomy, so that we can like any other country, engage in a reasonable pursuit of its national interests, and bring to bear any capabilities it may have to promote geo-strategic stability and global economic prosperity and contribute to resolving a range of global problems as well as crisis situations. Our policies have been shaped by the geography and history of our region. India has traditionally taken a broad view of security, an approach that goes beyond defence preparedness and includes fundamental issues of economic strength, technological self-reliance, food security, energy security, human security and preservation of core national values and cohesiveness.

Underlying these principles is India's security paradigm, of expanding circles of engagement, with our neighborhood at its center and extending outwards in concentric circles. The framework of a policy embedded in our geography and historical experience and coupled with a paradigm of a concentric security structure has served us well.

The question nevertheless is, in a globalised world have these parameters met our requirements? Is such an approach adequate? These questions assume particular salience given that we are at a historical cross-road; firstly, India is being called upon to assume an increasingly demanding role on the global stage; and secondly, the global architecture is under strain and fundamental shifts are underway. Our response to these challenges will shape and influence the future direction of our country. The past can act as a guide; but it is the decisions we take in the present which shape our future.

Global Developments

Recent developments, particularly the challenges confronting the global financial system, have thrown up a qualitatively different set of questions to security and foreign policy practitioners. The most obvious is the unprecedented linkage between economic stability and security policy. We have in recent weeks seen countries seeking international financial assistance to stave off financial and economic collapse; elsewhere, falling oil prices have dampened political confidence and muted foreign policy and security orientations. In addition we also are hearing protectionist voices as previous notions about globalization bringing in all around benefits are being questioned.

The manner in which the present events reshape the structural contours of the world can be difficult to predict. We can however conclude with some certainty that we will be required to address new challenges the coming years, the biggest of which would be the management of global interdependence.

From India's perspective, we need to see how best to manage the crisis while positioning ourselves to play a role in any future global financial or political structure. The immediate challenge will be to continue with economic reforms, striking a balance between financial stability, price stability and maintaining growth rates. The long term challenge will be to fashion a set of policies encompassing both the security and foreign dimension such that we can ensure an external environment conducive to India�s transformation and continued development.

Immediate challenges

What are the immediate challenges that we face. To my mind, the foremost among these would be (a) to cope with the rise of China; (b) maintenance of a peaceful periphery; and (c) managing our relations with the major powers.

China as India�s largest neighbour and as an emerging power is both a challenge and a priority. As a result of our engagement with China over the last thirty years we have now reached a somewhat normalized relationship. Of course there are some unresolved issues between us. However we need to factor in the fact that as a result of our engagement we have today a completely different situation than when we started. Further the economic developments in this period has given both our countries new capabilities. We are today faced with a new China. Today's China seeks to further her interests more aggressively than in the past, thanks to the phenomenal increase of her capacities after thirty years of reforms. There are also new set of challenges which China poses such as the strategic challenge as China develops its capabilities in outer space; the geopolitical challenge as it reaches out to various parts of the globe in search of raw materials and resources. We would need to develop more sophisticated ways of dealing with these new challenges posed by China. We cannot change our neighbors. It is important therefore for us to recognize and work with the reality. Our belief is that there is sufficient space for both of us to grow together and build a cooperative relationship in the new architecture.

We need to ensure a peaceful periphery and an environment of peace and stability in our region and in the world, which will facilitate maintenance of socio-economic development and safeguarding of our national security. India is already engaged in establishing strategic partnerships and expanding the scope and depth of our economic and strategic interaction with different countries, groupings and regions � whether it is Russia, a long standing partner, South East Asia, Japan, Central Asia, IBSA or many others with whom we are developing a fruitful and active dialogue. The underlying rationale is that in a globalized world, challenges, be they financial or security, can no longer be tackled by countries acting alone.

The biggest threat to peace and security in our region and to the world at large comes from terrorism which emanates from our neighbourhood. This is compounded by the danger posed by terrorists� accessing weapons of mass destruction or related technologies. The series of terrorist attacks in Pakistan shows the fragile internal situation of that country, a situation we continue to monitor closely and which we hope will not deteroriate. The situation in Afghanistan remains grave concern and a resurgent Taliban poses a threat beyond Afghanistan.

Our challenge has been try and work with both countries, to stabilize the situation. With Pakistan, India has called for removing bilateral impediments to trade and economic relations, which should not be predicated on resolving contentious political issues. Some progress has been achieved in this regard, notably along the line of control. We are however continuing to persuade Pakistan to grant overland transit to our goods as this can speed up stabilization in Afghanistan. We believe this can also lead to greater commerce and benefit all the countries in the region.

Our goal of 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. Our economic growth is having an impact in the region and there are increased opportunities for others to benefit by partnering India. The challenge will however be to persuade our neighbors to set aside past mistrust and suspicions which have undermined development of harmonious relations and restricted the space for expression of our natural sentiments of affinity, based on a shared history. We continue to put forward proposals, multilaterally through the SAARC and bilaterally, to our neighbors, by making unilateral gestures and extending economic concessions. The facility of extending duty free access to imports from Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka demonstrates India�s readiness to assume asymmetric responsibilities.

Looking beyond the immediate neighbourhood, we continue to add important elements to our traditional ties with countries in the Gulf and the Central Asian regions by leveraging economic opportunities and long standing cultural and people to people links. Our Look East policy which was based on ASEAN�s economic, political and strategic importance in the Asia-Pacific region and its potential to become a major partner of India in trade and investment has now evolved to include the Far Eastern and Pacific regions.

I have just concluded a visit to Iran, a country with whom we have had a long history of cultural interaction. Today, a sizeable portion of India�s energy requirements are met by Iran. Discussions on an India-Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline are ongoing. We are also exploring possibilities of transit for our goods to central Asia and Afghanistan through Iran, since Pakistan does not permit transit to us. On the nuclear issue, we have conveyed that Iran must fulfill all its international commitments including those it has undertaken under the NPT.

Another set of challenges is that of managing our relationship with the world�s major powers. We need to use our strengths to create partnerships with major powers in a manner which would allow us political and economic space to grow. This will require us to strengthen relations with all the major powers of the world. Over the last few years our relations with all the major powers have substantially strengthened. Our relations with the US are now completely transformed and this is reflected in the successful completion of the civil nuclear initiative. As the US prepares itself for electing a new administration, we can be satisfied with the fact that today there exists a strong bipartisan support in the US for further strengthening and broadening our relations. We have developed a strong partnership with the European Union covering a wide range of areas including trade and investment, culture, science & technology. Our traditional relations with Russia continue to remain strong. PM�s visit to Japan recently further strengthened the strategic and global partnership that we have established with Japan. As we look forward to an increasing role in global affairs we need to expand our network of international relationships, political engagement and economic and technical cooperation with the world. We are also working with the major powers in forums such as the UN, G8, East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum, the trilateral initiative with Russia and China (RIC) and the IBSA forum with Brazil and South Africa. Multipolar engagement allows us to contribute actively to the search for solutions to issues such as regional and international security, terrorism, climate change, economic growth and energy.

In closing, and to illustrate the changes underway in the global order and India�s role, I will use the example of the civil nuclear initiative. The decision adopted by the NSG on 6th September 2008, enabling civil nuclear cooperation with India is a landmark development. You know that the NSG was established in response to our nuclear tests of 1974. On the one hand it is a vindication of our policies, of our impeccable non-proliferation record and our principled refusal to compromise on a well established nuclear policy. On the other, it is a recognition of India�s achievements. Despite years of technology denials and discriminatory measures, India developed a comprehensive atomic energy programme covering the entire fuel cycle in respect of uranium, plutonium and thorium fuels and has established world leadership in heavy water nuclear reactors. Over the years, we have progressively developed and put in place a domestic nuclear infrastructure comparable to the best in the world, including critical designs for validating thorium based advanced heavy water reactor core. The NSG�s decision enables India to make an even bigger contribution to the growth of international civil nuclear cooperation.

The importance of this initiative lies not just in the fact that it allows a resumption of international cooperation in civil nuclear energy with India but also that it would in course of time lead to greater access to technologies that were hitherto denied to us. We would need to adapt and master these so that we can meet the challenges of the future.

To conclude, it is not merely the structure of the international system that is changing at a rapid pace. The challenges themselves are evolving rapidly. We need to charter new waters, leveraging our competitive skills and managerial talent across the globe with confidence. We must be ready to play our rightful role on the global stage through forward looking approaches, based on our ethos of non-violence and peaceful co-existence, which would allow us greater strategic autonomy and space for maneuverability.

Thank you.


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