M.K. Narayanan, Indian National Security Advisor

Posted in NATO , India | 05-Feb-06 | Source: Munich Conference on Security Policy

M.K.Narayanan,National Security Advisor, India.
Asia’s Global Foreign Policy and Security Interests

It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to share with such a distinguished audience India's perspective of Asia's foreign policy and security interests. The growing salience of Asia in the global economy, and consequently in the global polity, is one of the key changes underway to-day. The nature of this process, its implications for Asia and for the world, and the opportunities and challenges that it throws up, are a subject of intense debate. Indeed, the very title of this panel begs the question whether there are broader pan-national Asian foreign policy and security interests, and whether they are so perceived by Asian States and the international community.

I propose to divide my remarks into two broad segments. In the first, I would like to lay out some of the characteristics of the current international system with particular reference to Asia's priorities. In the second, I propose to share our assessment on how India is likely to respond to some of the major global challenges.

The primary distinguishing feature of the international situation to-day is the increasing pace of globalisation and the close inter-linkages being forged between States. It is an exceptional country that has isolated itself from larger global processes. None of us seriously believe that this is a sustainable position. Equally important also, is the shift in economic activity that is currently taking place - from North America and Europe to Asia., though I would not over-dramatise the changes underway. North America, Europe and Japan will, I believe, still maintain their technology leads for the foreseeable future, and this would balance to a very considerable degree the rapidly rising manufacturing and services' contributions of Asia.

It is perhaps the nature of the changes underway in Asia that are particularly significant. There is a fundamental difference between the simultaneous rise of China and India to-day and the earlier emergence of Japan and the Asian tigers. This is not merely one of scale. By virtue of their history and culture, the power implications of China and India's growth - and their integration into the global economy - are certain to be far more profound for the international system. These are old civilizations that have shaped lifestyles and thought processes well beyond their national boundaries. Their re-emergence as global economic players, consequently, would seemingly have a far-reaching, if not cataclysmic, effect.

Meanwhile, the nature of the challenges faced by the international system has also undergone a major transformation. This is due to a concatenation of several factors and circumstances. Inter-state competition is manifesting itself in a more intense manner as a result of globalisation. The world is witnessing a struggle for influence as against attempts to maintain a balance of power as was the case previously. Asia is still grappling with implications of a possible move towards a post-Westphalian world, where inter-linkages and shared stakes could result in a diminution of regional and local conflicts. In much of Asia, therefore, the cost-benefit analysis is only now beginning to tilt in the direction of stability and of conflict avoidance.

Coming to the subject matter of my remarks to-day, I might mention that to be discussing the subject of Asia's global foreign policy and security interests is, in itself, a recognition of the importance of Asia to-day in international politics and security. India, China, Russia and Japan are the four most important countries in Asia, a continent that is home to around two-thirds of humanity. It is also uniquely distinctive that after remaining relatively submerged for around three centuries, the two large civilizational powers of Asia, India and China, should be simultaneously on the rise. It is even more notable that this rise is taking place without any armed conflict or by flexing military muscle, but through the steady build-up of their economic and cultural sinews.

There are many variants of the kind of challenges that humankind is likely to face in the 21st Century. What is not disputed, however, is the pivotal role that Asia is destined to play in this Century. This is driven as much by projections of where China (with a projected GDP of US $ 44 trillion), India (with $ 27.8 trillion) and Japan (with $ 6.7 trillion) would be in 2050, as by geography and history and a shared sense of destiny.

Economic imperatives are bound to compel the emergence of new mindsets. Advantages and benefits will thus be perceived in areas previously clouded by suspicion. The demonstrative impact of high growth is itself a dramatic force for change. Enlightened self-interest will slowly but surely make headway against historical prejudices. The objective reality of new markets, new services, and new demands is already beginning to dominate the Asian political discourse.

In South Asia, for example, those of our neighbours who were farseeing enough to understand the benefits of linking their economies to the Indian economic motor have been rewarded handsomely. Whether they are addressing demands of services, energy or goods, their rising living standards tell their own story. In fact, as the full potential of the unfolding socio-economic processes begin to be appreciated, new options could well emerge even for historically intractable problems. It is with this optimism of new opportunities and broader horizons that India now approaches its neighbours and the rest of Asia.

Sustaining rapid growth will, no doubt, raise a host of issues and challenges. A competitive scramble for energy and other natural resources can be anticipated and this will have global political ramifications. It will play back into the national politics of countries of the region and will shape the perceptions that Asian states have of each other. The economic costs of high intensity competition will thus need to be evaluated carefully. In India's case, Energy and infrastructure are the major constraints to development. In both areas, there is a strong case to come up with more imaginative approaches, but we fervently believe that a modernization of infrastructure will promote freer flow of goods and services and transform the continent not just physically, but conceptually as well.

As Asia's energy requirements grow, this will constitute a major element of its foreign and security policy. It is already apparent that the largest demand for nuclear power in the coming years is going to be in Asia. Indeed, this could well lead to a revival of the nuclear power industry globally. In that context, the agreement between India and the United States for resumption of full civil nuclear cooperation - when formalized -would be a landmark development. It would be an acknowledgement of India's responsible record on non-proliferation and an appreciation of the contributions that India can make in this field. Vis-à-vis the US, it would enhance the larger strategic partnership that is emerging between the two countries.

Distinct from, but in many ways inextricably linked to, is the overarching impact of geography, India's location, straddling as it does all the major sub-regions of Asia, provides it an unique vantage point. India has a long border with China; Central Asia is on India's north-western periphery; the Nicobar Island chain is a mere 100 kilometers from Indonesia, India's Exclusive Economic Zone stretches from the Malacca Straits to the shores of the Persian Gulf; and indeed India's historical footprints have extended to the eastern part of the African continent.

If the basis for a stable and prosperous Asia lies in both political and economic integration - cutting across cultures, historical divisions, ideologies and barriers (both physical and ideological) - then India is eminently suited to play a leading role. India's backing of an Asian Economic Community is based on our clear conviction that Asia's potential can be used to foster inter-dependence in the region in a manner where each country has a substantial economic stake in the larger developmental enterprise affecting the region as a whole. Our PM observed on the occasion of the inaugural East Asia Summit in December last year that such a Community would be a seamlessly integrated market for goods, services and investment, which could pool together its enormous resources to tackle common challenges. Since 2002, the relationship between the Association of South East Nations and India has been elevated to the Summit level. Additionally, India has been the driving force behind the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Tehcnical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) which brings together Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The Indian Ocean littoral also plays a key role in determining India's policy perceptions and is an important element in its security calculus. The world's busiest trading routes crisscross the Indian Ocean. Half of the world's container shipping, one-third of its bulk cargo, and two-thirds of oil shipments pass through this Ocean. Over 97% of India's trade by volume and 75% by value are transported through the sea route. As maritime borders become more porous in the era of globalisation, India cannot afford to ignore the danger that oceans can pose, providing opportunities for arms smuggling, drug trafficking, piracy, illegal immigration, economic offences and for terrorist and subversive activities.

From a contemporary perspective - both in the near and the mid-term - hence the more challenging domain might well be the evolving security dynamic in the region and outside it. The challenge of terrorism, fundamentalism and WMD proliferation, as well as cyber security or maritime security, deserves particular mention. In the past, we tended to underestimate this and to particularly neglect the prospect of their coming together. On terrorism itself, certain countries have not fully outgrown the temptation to regard it as a convenient instrument of state policy. Almost as shortsighted is the belief among many countries - the host in particular - that the war against terrorism can be segmented or selective. A greater awareness of the risks inherent in toleration of terrorism would contribute to a more secure Asia. The phenomenon of non-State actors which has acquired special prominence lately deserves special mention in this context. In any future global risk evaluation, it is this relatively unchartered territory that will need very close attention.

Asian nations do face a particularly daunting task. There is, hence, need for new management structures and better calibration of efforts among Asian nations to foster better cooperation to face these kinds of threats. Dismantling of the infrastructure of terrorism across the subcontinent is a sine-qua-non. While international opinion is clearly coming round to an accurate appreciation of the gravity of the problem, and pressures are being mounted upon individual leaders to act against fundamentalist and extremist elements, what is yet to be achieved is the cleansing of the system as a whole. The cancer of violence - including jehadi violence, extremism and fundamentalism - has to be eliminated and in its place we need a more inclusive political discourse.

In approaching many of these issues, India brings to bear an outlook that reflects its history and tradition. As a society, we have been unique in our openness and pluralism. Our value system puts a premium on diversity and respect for differences. Our heritage, as a result, allows India to take full advantage of the possibilities that have opened up by a globalising world. We have always been an open society, but are increasingly becoming an open economy as well. Even at a time when our capabilities were significantly less, India has never shirked global responsibilities. Our record in peace-keeping is a telling example and the tsunami response last year only underlined this trait. In its approach to global challenges, you can be assured that India will not pursue a limited mercantilist world view but instead, look beyond its immediate interest. Such an outlook would also naturally favour a more inclusive approach to regional and global problems.

Soft power has always been part of India's legacy and we take pride that the message of India was spread beyond our region without recourse to arms. The 'empire of the monsoons', to use a convenient phrase, was built through trade, travel and the flow of ideas. The knowledge economy, in many ways, is embedded in our culture. The internet, for us, is an ally and not a threat. This soft power has gained in recent years with the demonstrated success of India's democratic polity. We are not just raising the living standards of a billion people and more, but doing so within a framework of liberal values and rule of law. The uniqueness of this effort is underlined by the diversity of ethnicities, languages and faiths that it encompasses. A globalised world must necessarily be a more pluralistic and rule-based one.

We believe that there is space in Asia for meeting the developmental demands of all its peoples across the region. Given India's demographic dynamic with 550 million Indians below the age of 25, its 300 million strong middle class as a potential market for increasing numbers of consumer goods, its burgeoning human resource capabilities as it leverages a knowledge economy through its 290 universities, 1500 research institutions and 10,000 centres of higher education that produce over 2 million undergraduates, 300,000 post graduates, 200,000 engineers and 9000 PhD's every year, there is cause for optimism that ours can be a substantial contribution to the developmental dynamic of Asia.

Within this rubric the building of social capital in the region is also an area where India's role can be immense. While India is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia, and larger indeed than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, ours is a secular, pluralist society that respects the right of all its citizens to practice his or her creed or religion. The reason I broach this issue is because we firmly oppose the pernicious doctrine of a clash of civilizations. If anything, the logic of history dictates a confluence of civilizations and the current dissonances across the world are more a reflection of political differences than any deeper cultural divide.

India's foreign policy and security interests are inextricably tied to Asia and the rest of the world. The international system that is coming into being will increasingly recognize the economic, technological and knowledge capabilities of States when assigning them due value in the future. India, with its long record of responsibility and contributions, is earning global appreciation. We are confident that there would be greater support in the coming years for India - and Asia - to play a more central role in global decision-making.

India is prepared to play its role in fostering global peace and security. We are clear in our minds that economic development, knowledge based partnerships, and the accoutrements of soft power will be as important in attaining our foreign policy and security objectives as defence preparedness or technological competitiveness. The Indian Prime Minister recently observed in a speech at Moscow University that the 21st Century would be "predicated on knowledge" in which the development of human resources will hold the key. Demographic characteristics will acquire a strategic significance. The development of capabilities in science and technology will provide the value addition. We accept the irresistible logic and potential of knowledge based strategic partnerships that can tackle the problems of tomorrow. I believe the participants of this distinguished conference share this assessment.

The spoken word is applicable!