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Address by Ambassador Rao on "India's Global Outlook and Foreign Policy" at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Mr. Marshall Bouton,
Ladies and Gentleman,

It is indeed an honour and a privilege for me to have this opportunity to speak to you today about India’s Global Outlook and Foreign Policy. I would like to thank Marshall Bouton, the President of Chicago Council on Global Affairs for initiatives to create a better understanding of India in the US and his consistent support to strengthen India-US relations.

In recent times, there has been a considerable interest in India and the developments there. The focus generally has been on India’s sustained economic growth particularly against the backdrop of the international financial and economic crisis. But an interest that focuses only on the economic growth or on the opportunities that India offers might be too narrow. To better appreciate India’s global outlook and its foreign policy, I feel that there is a need to have a broader look at India’s experience as a modern nation state since her independence in 1947. It is this cumulative experience that informs and drives our global outlook and foreign policy.

Our independence struggle, a unique example of non-violent peaceful mass movement that lead to the overthrow of a colonial regime, has had a strong influence on our outlook and our interaction with international comity of nations, as we began our journey as a young and independent nation. A key feature was our desire to retain our ability to make independent decisions in the best interests of our people. Having gained independence after more than two hundred years of colonial rule, we were not willing to surrender our autonomy to the cold war politics that engulfed much of the world in the middle of the last century. Issues such as decolonization, creation of an Afro-Asian community of like-minded countries, emphasis on the principles of peaceful co-existence based on mutual respect between nations, efforts to establish an equitable global system for socio-economic development, initiatives towards global disarmament as well as a robust participation in United Nations peacekeeping activities animated our foreign policy discourse and were the hallmarks of our interaction with global community. These issues are still relevant to our foreign policy; but they have also been supplemented by new factors.

India today represents a unique model of development in the world. Nowhere else you will find a country of India's diversity, of India's complexity. Sixty five years into India’s journey as a vibrant democracy, I would say that it is the Indian model of democratic governance together with its economic strength, resilience and dynamism of its people that propels the promise and the potential of India’s role on the global stage.

We have over the past twenty years been able to sustain an annual economic growth of more than 6%. Today we are world’s fourth largest economy in purchasing power terms. The sustained growth has led to dramatic transformation in India, lifted millions of people out of poverty and has led to the rise of a large middle class.

While we have made considerable progress in the last two decades, there still remain enormous challenges that we need to overcome to realize the potential of the promise that the future holds for us. A large section of our population still remains below the poverty line. We need to create modern infrastructure, manufacturing capacities and services to benefit from our demographic asset. Therefore, for the foreseeable future our foremost task is to ensure a sustained economic growth so that we can provide opportunities to all our citizens to realize their full potential.

Our foreign policy priorities are therefore geared to assist in the major socio-economic transformation and nation building efforts. This would include maintaining external security as well as internal security, the need for sustained economic growth, ensuring energy security, maritime security, ensuring access to capital inflows, technology and innovation. To be able to achieve the outcomes that we seek we need to have a peaceful and stable neighbourhood, a conducive external environment, a balanced relationship with the major powers and a durable and equitable multilateral global order.

Let me take a few moments to elaborate on each of these aspects beginning first with our multilateral engagement.

Globalisation has led to a more interconnected and interdependent world today than any period in world history. And the challenges of the 21st century – be it political, economic, social, environmental or demographic – are also global in nature. Challenge such as terrorism or global financial and economic crises have amply demonstrated that in today’s world our destinies are shared. Unlike the past, countries whether they are big or small, developed or developing, they cannot take comfort in their isolation. What does this imply? To us it is clear that if we are to successfully meet these challenges, it is necessary that we have an enhanced level of cooperation and coordination among countries.

Thanks to sustained economic growth and the accompanying transformation that has taken place in India, there has also been a change in the way India interacts with the world. India's stakes in a global and regional environment of peace, stability and broader prosperity have never been higher.  Buoyed by its rapid and 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. 

Last year, India was elected to be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2011-12 with the overwhelming support from the members of the General Assembly. The Security Council has had to respond to unprecedented challenges this year. We have strived to be a voice of moderation and constructive engagement. But it is also necessary that we work towards comprehensive and meaningful reforms of the UN to make it better equipped to effectively respond to the evolving needs of its membership. Objective realities underscore the need for expansion in Security Council in both its permanent and non-permanent categories, so that developing countries that are capable of taking on increased global responsibilities are included as its permanent members.

The terrorist attack in Delhi a few days back that led to tragic death of several people is a stark reminder of the continuing threat that terrorism poses to democratic, plural and open societies like India and the US. During its current membership of the Security Council, India has assumed the chair of its Counter Terrorism Committee as well as the working group 1566 which deals with threats to international peace and stability by terrorist acts. India has taken the initiative to pilot the comprehensive convention on international terrorism or the CCIT in the United Nations, 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, the global nature of the threat requires that global efforts to tackle the problem be intensified. To be effective, the fight against terrorism must be long-term, sustained and it must tackle not just the perpetrators of those acts but also those who sponsor them.

Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction has always been a threat to international peace and security. This threat is compounded today given the possibility of intersection between terrorism and proliferation. India has consistently advanced the cause of universal and non-discriminatory disarmament. We also remain committed to strengthening the non-proliferation regime. It was our exemplary record on non-proliferation that led to the decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 to restore international civil nuclear cooperation with India. During President Obama’s visit to India last year, the US extended its support to India’s membership in various multilateral export control regimes. This support was borne out of our shared belief that India can contribute to enhancing international non-proliferation efforts. We have been affected by clandestine nuclear proliferation in our neighbourhood and are therefore 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. The first Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in April 2010 was an important milestone in our efforts. India is constructively engaged in these international efforts.

Maritime security has emerged as a new challenge in recent years. All major powers today have a vested interest in keeping the sea lanes open given the demands of trade, commerce and energy flows. India has supported and contributed to the international efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. India is among the founding members of the Contact Group on Piracy off the coast of Somalia. As piracy is increasing and spreading from the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin to the larger Indian Ocean, our Navy is working with other navies in order to better coordinate the international effort to combat this scourge.

Climate change and interlinked issue of energy security are challenges that we need to address for our sustainable future.  In India, we have adopted a long-term perspective plan on energy and an ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change, which seeks to increase the share of clean and renewable energy in our energy mix, increase energy efficiency across the economy and expand our forest cover. Even with 8-9% annual GDP growth our energy usage has been growing at less than 4%. The steps that we will take will have to be intrinsically linked with our growth prospects and the development aspirations of our people. In the international negotiations under the UN auspices we have tried to play a constructive role.  

The global economic outlook continues to remain uncertain as the international financial and economic crisis continues to pose a challenge to a sustained recovery of the global economy. While we have been able to sustain our economic growth we do remain aware of the risks. 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.

Let me turn to our neighbourhood. A peaceful neighbourhood is mandatory for the realization of our own vision of economic development. We have therefore articulated a policy in our neighbourhood that stresses the advantage of building networks of inter-connectivity, trade, and mutual investment so that prosperity can be shared and the region can benefit from India’s rapid economic growth. As Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh said during his visit to Dhaka earlier this month, we would like to make our borders “frontiers of hope and opportunity as we work to build our common prosperity”.

Towards this objective, 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 made proposals multilaterally within the framework of SAARC – the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – where we have assumed asymmetric responsibilities. 

While we desire friendly and cooperative relations with Pakistan our relationship has been complicated by the issue of terrorism and the need for Pakistan to take ameliorative action to eradicate terrorism directed against India. We believe that a stable Pakistan which acts as a bulwark against terrorism and extremism is in its own interest as much it is in our interest and in the interest of our region. We are determined to persevere with our dialogue with Pakistan in order to resolve outstanding issues so that our region is stable. Our Foreign Ministers had a useful meeting in New Delhi in end-June this year and the two countries have decided to continue their dialogue process. Naturally, such relations can only grow in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.

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. Developments in Afghanistan over the past few years have demonstrated that peace, security and prosperity in today’s world is indivisible. It is also because of this reason that we have been engaged in developmental assistance efforts in Afghanistan. Our total assistance totaling over US $2 billion has been guided primarily by the priorities of the Afghan government and people. We are committed to assist the Afghan people in their civilian reconstruction programmes and capacity building efforts despite the threat under which our personnel and people are working in Afghanistan.

China is our largest neighbor and the rise of China is a reality that faces the entire world, today. I am often asked whether our relationship with China will be one dominated by increasing competition for influence or for resources. I would not like to characterize our relations in such stark terms.  Over the last two decades we have sought to deepen our dialogue and strengthen bilateral relations. Today China is our largest trading partner in goods. Peace and tranquility have prevailed in the India-China border areas. At the same time we do remain alert to the fact that China’s growing ability to project its military strength, its rapid military modernization, and its visible economic capabilities, and the continuing and close security relationship between China and Pakistan, do introduce a new calculus in the security situation in our region.

Going beyond our immediate neighbourhood, our global engagement is also reflected in our enhanced engagement with Asia-Pacific, West Asia and Africa. With the countries of these regions we have had historical and civilizational links. In the recent years we have attempted to reconnect and strengthen these links.

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. Economically, the Asian region to the east of India has gained tremendous significance accounting for about one-third of India’s trade. We have signed a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN in 2009. We are currently working towards agreements in Trade in Services and Investment with ASEAN, which would act as a catalyst to bring down the cost of production on both sides and further increase our trade.

The ongoing geo-political changes in Asia have been the subject of much comment in the strategic community. It is a well-accepted fact that the world is witnessing a shift of economic and political power to Asia. India supports the evolution of open, transparent, inclusive and balanced regional architecture in the Asia Pacific region for Asian countries and major non-Asian players to interact and cooperate to address traditional and non-traditional security challenges. This year US and Russia will formally join the East Asia Summit process. We have welcomed their entry which, we believe, will add to peace and stability in the region and also enhance ongoing cooperation.

The West Asian region is of vital importance to India and we closely monitor developments there. We have more than six million Indians who live in the Gulf region. This region is also crucially important for our energy security. Parts of the region are also facing unprecedented changes, the Arab Spring – that has been propelled by popular aspirations of the people in the region. As a democracy, India has been supportive of people’s aspirations for reforms and believes that such issues should be resolved through dialogue and in a peaceful manner.

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 the region including in Africa. The second India-Africa Forum Summit was held in May this year where we agreed upon a broad canvas of cooperation including not only economic and political cooperation, but also cooperation in science, technology, social development and capacity building.

I also wish to briefly comment on our bilateral relations with the US. Our bilateral engagement with the United States has witnessed remarkable transformation and has matured into a strategic partnership of global dimensions. Our multi-faceted strategic partnership is based on our converging strategic and economic interests, the vibrant ties between our peoples and businesses, and our shared values.

The visits of Indian Prime Minister to US in 2009 and President Obama’s visit to India in November last year, were landmark milestones in the development of our relations. 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 engaging with each other and cooperating on most major global issues as also on capacity building in third countries. As President Obama put it, India-US partnership will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.

To conclude, I would like to say that global outlook and foreign policy is a reflection of the priorities that a nation defines for itself as it seeks to develop, to be secure, to withstand external threats, to ensure that its national and developmental interests are not diluted by actions by hostile players in the global arena. In an Asia-centred century, we 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. At the same time, we are also conscious that with power comes ever increasing responsibility – responsibility in weighing every move we make and positions we take with the realization that India is one of the key players on the global stage today and will be called upon increasingly to deploy its manifest strengths in the interest of global peace and development.

Thank you.