Embassy Archives Embassy Archives

Address by Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister on "India's Strategic Perspective" at Harvard University

September 25, 2006

[Thank you very much for the kind introduction. I would like to thank Prof. Sugata Bose for the invitation to address this learned gathering at Harvard].

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to be amongst this distinguished gathering at America’s oldest and most prestigious university, and to share some thoughts with you on India’s strategic environment and perspectives. Harvard is a great centre of global intellectual discourse; it has given great personalities and great ideas; great citizens, great teachers and six Presidents to the United States of America. What better place, therefore, could we have to reflect on this important theme!

We live in a time of monumental changes in international affairs. Our strategic environment is in a constant flux. The era of cold war has come to an end. The Soviet Union has disintegrated and the socialist world stands transformed. A new Russia, along with a series of new countries, has emerged in the former socialist space. India, China, and several other medium powers are rapidly growing in capabilities and global influence. Globalization is underway in every continent, knitting together industries and economies across nations and creating a radically different order. The rise of religious fundamentalism and terrorism is today one of the gravest security challenges to states, economies, peoples and democratic polities. It has been starkly etched in our memory by the recent Bombay blasts, the London, Madrid and Bali bombings, and, of course, the traumatic terrorist attack on the United States five years ago.

There have been huge gains from globalization, information revolution, and steady democratization through the latter half of the 20th century. At the same time there are also enormous pressures on states, both from within and without, because of the simultaneous pulls of these forces. The nature of threats and security discourse are, as a result, radically changing; nontraditional security issues are occupying increasingly greater space in policy formulation, even as the challenge of securing states and the democratic political order from armed fundamentalist and separatist actors confronts us as never before.

India’s strategic perspectives have been shaped by its long civilizational history, its geography, its culture and geopolitical realities. The country is both a continental and maritime nation with a territory of over 3 million sq kms, a land frontier of 15,000 kms, a coastline of 7,500 kms, and a population of 1.1 billion, the second largest in the world. Its location at the base of continental Asia and the top of the Indian Ocean gives it a vantage point in relation to both West, Central, continental and South-East Asia, and the littoral States of the Indian Ocean from East Africa to Indonesia. India’s projection into this vast and critically important waterway gives it a major stake in its security and stability.

Traditionally, India has been an open society. It has received and absorbed major influences from outside, like Islam and Christianity, and radiated its composite cultural influences outward. India’s civilization, along with the Arab, Persian and Sinic civilizations, influenced many parts of Asia. India has also been a well-spring of human intellectual and spiritual achievement, and the source of the great religious schools of Hinduism and Buddhism. As I have said earlier to another audience in this country, it is customary to talk of strategic perspectives in terms of ‘hard’ power; however, our strategic perspectives need to be viewed also in terms of India’s ‘soft power’ – those of religion, spirituality, culture and commerce; and in recent times, the political thought and peaceful strategy of Mahatma Gandhi. The coincidence of the commemoration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States earlier this month with the 100th anniversary of the launching of Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement in South Africa on September 11, 1906, represented a juxtaposition of diametrically opposing ideologies.

Developments from the 17th century onwards fundamentally altered the traditional orientations and moorings of India’s relations with the outside world. European mercantilism evolved into the maritime domination of the Indian Ocean, changing the very nature of political, trade and cultural ties between India and its regional maritime partners to the east and the west. Further north, in mainland Asia, it introduced relationships of domination and rivalry between imperial powers, where earlier only local powers played out their dynastic destinies. The legacy left behind for independent India was in some ways negative and disruptive.

Several developments in the 20th century, with their roots in imperial history, affected India’s traditional relationships with its neighbourhood. Perhaps the most fateful was the partition of India. Viewed from this perspective, it can be argued that the first half of 20th century was a decided aberration in the evolution of India’s historical and traditional relationship with the outside world. The historical experience of the British East India Company, and imperialism in general, left India suspicious of foreign trade. Following India’s independence, this led to efforts to build a self-reliant and autarkic economy, wary of deeper engagement with the world economy. The model stood us in good stead for a while. It helped set up a robust technical and industrial base. Self-reliance gave us self-confidence. This provided the base for the accelerated growth and increasing globalization of the Indian economy since the early ‘90s when sweeping reforms were adopted by the then Congress Government.

While colonialism disrupted our traditional links, the cold war delayed their restoration. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war has provided an opportunity to recover our traditional, historical linkages that had become weak during the cold war years, and to rediscover our interest in a wider and increasingly integrated global community. 

While the growing economic strength of India has attracted worldwide attention, this endeavour is still a work in process. India’s major priority today is economic growth, which is inclusive and benefits all sections of society. For most of its history, India has been an open society and an open economy. This is the path it wishes to pursue in the future. India’s aspiration for continuing economic growth would depend on a secure and stable environment and its own ability to integrate with the global economy.

In the broad context of this nation-building endeavour, let me touch upon some of our principal security challenges.

The first is the challenge of terrorism. India has suffered the most gruesome and repeated acts of terror since the late 1970s – first in Punjab, then in Jammu & Kashmir, and in recent years in many other parts of our country. The Bombay blasts of 1993 were the original act of mass terrorism. India’s places of worship, symbols of its rapid economic growth, its prestigious centres of learning, popular shopping complexes and symbols of its vibrant democracy have all been systematically targeted. While in most parts of the world, terrorism is perpetrated by non state actors, in India it is sponsored and supported by state agencies from a hostile neighbourhood. 

Second, since its independence, India has had to fight three wars on its western borders and one in the north. India continues to face a proxy war from across its western border. Its unresolved territorial and boundary issues with neighbours persist. 

Third, India has been placed in an arc of proliferation activity running from east to west, which has had an adverse impact on our security situation. The possibility of linkages between proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, which has emerged in recent years, is of great concern for us. 

Fourth, the fragile political fabric of states in India’s neighbourhood is a source of continuing anxiety. Pakistan remains a nursery of global terrorism. Post 9/11, Pakistan has reportedly helped the United States to fight terrorism along its western border with Afghanistan. But it has done precious little to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its eastern border with India. Many terrorists roam freely in Pakistan. India has repeatedly stated that, in order to proceed with the ongoing peace-process between the two countries, Pakistan must implement the solemn assurances it has given to stop all cross-border terrorism. This has not yet happened. In this context, we welcome the positive results of the recent summit between Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and President Musharraf in Havana, in particular the decision to set up an institutional mechanism to tackle cross-border terrorism. If Pakistan claims to be a frontline state in the global war against terrorism, then it must do much more to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism still intact on its soil. 

On India’s northern border, Nepal has been ravaged by Maoist insurgency for many years. Mounting religious extremism in Bangladesh, coupled with illegal migrations, are a source of considerable concern for India. In Sri Lanka, the two decade old ethnic strife has grave political, economic and humanitarian ramifications for India. Thus, developments in these states may pose risks to India and undermine the stable and peaceful environment that India seeks for its own economic growth. 

Fifth, India sits astride the Indian Ocean. The security of the entire region from East Africa to Southeast Asia is increasingly challenged by the rising incidence of violent conflict, growing fundamentalism and terrorism. It is also affected by trafficking in arms, drugs and human beings as well as piracy. 60,000 ships carry merchandise and energy from the Gulf to East Asia, through the Straits of Malacca, every year. Therefore, maritime security is a major preoccupation for India as it is for other littoral states in the Indian Ocean.

Sixth, with the Indian economy set on a higher growth trajectory, its demand for energy is, and will be, increasing rapidly. In this context, energy security and security of sea lanes of communication, on which India’s trade is dependent, assume significance. 

In order to meet the challenges that India faces, it has been focusing on inclusive economic development, strengthening of its defence to deter aggression; ensuring stability and peace in its neighbourhood; developing friendly and mutually beneficial ties in its extended neighbourhood like West, Central and Southeast Asia; and establishing strategic partnerships with all the major actors in the world, particularly the United States, European Union, Russia, China and Japan. In order to deepen its engagement with Asia-Pacific and ASEAN, it is also pursuing its ‘Look East Policy’.

India seeks a stable and strong neighbourhood. Its vision of South Asia is a peaceful and prosperous region where its neighbours see it as an economic opportunity and a partner in progress. 

India’s nuclear deterrence is a measure of self-defence in a hostile and nuclearised environment. Its nuclear doctrine emphasizes no first use, non-use against non-weapon states, voluntary moratorium on testing and a credible minimum deterrence. India has been, and remains, a staunch advocate of nuclear disarmament and it has had an impeccable track record in the area of non-proliferation.

Beyond its immediate neighbourhood, India has been seeking to establish strong strategic partnerships with the major global players. The end of the cold war, and also its bipolar geopolitical architecture, has enabled India to pursue engagement with all great powers, specially with the United States.

China is India’s largest neighbour and developing stable and cooperative relations with it is a high priority for India’s foreign and security policy. With frequent high-level exchanges, including my recent visit to China, the process of building trust and understanding has gained momentum, and our cooperation has diversified across a wide range of areas. Our relations with China have reached a certain degree of maturity. We are both keen to build significant ties and identify newer areas of mutually beneficial cooperation. At the same time, we are striving to address our differences in a proactive and purposive manner, without allowing them to affect the comprehensive development of our relationship. As China grows in power and influence, it will shape our strategic environment in a variety of ways. India’s policymakers understand this reality and would evolve policy options to deal with the emerging situation. We look forward to intensifying the positive aspects in our relations where President Hu Jintao pays a visit to India later this year.

Our ties with Japan are also expanding rapidly. Japan plays a major role in our development programmes through its Overseas Development Agency. In recent years we have stepped up our defence and security ties, based on the premise that all countries and regions need to cooperate actively in order to tackle effectively the evolving global challenges. I have recently been to Japan, where I had the opportunity to discuss in detail a range of issues with my counterpart and some of his senior Cabinet colleagues.

India has an institutionalised summit level dialogue with ASEAN, with which it has land and maritime boundaries. India’s trade, security and energy ties with East Asia and the Pacific region are set to grow rapidly in the coming years. Southeast Asia and China are already two of our largest trading partners in this region, and South Korea and Japan among the leading investors in our country. 

Building strong and cooperative relations with the United States is one of the fundamental goals of India’s current foreign and security policy. The growing warmth between the two countries is based on shared values and common concerns. The US remains the dominant global power and central to peace, prosperity and security of the world. India believes that the emerging ties with the US in trade, investments, technology, defence, energy, nonproliferation, and counter-terrorism would have a major impact not only in the bilateral domain but also in a global perspective. Our partnership will also help shape global norms and institutions that are universally accepted and democratic. Clearly, Indo-US relations are set to emerge as one of the fundamental inter-state ties of the 21st century.

In this context, the decision of President Bush and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, to address the shared challenge of energy security by engaging in full civil nuclear energy cooperation, is a welcome departure from the era of technology denial regimes imposed on India. India is now seen as a partner and not as a target of global non-proliferation efforts, precisely because its impeccable record in this regard is now fully acknowledged. 

Our traditionally close ties with Russia have withstood the test of time. We greatly value our strategic partnership with that country, based on shared interests, mutual trust and benefit. The strength and stability of our relations are manifested by long standing defence cooperation and common concerns on issues such as international terrorism. 

The European Union has emerged as another major global partner with which India has a summit level dialogue, based on strong shared interests across a range of political, security and economic issues. We look forward to the steady strengthening of our close cooperation with our European partners, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

Ladies & gentlemen,

India has been fighting terrorism for many years. This challenge is complex on account of cross-border linkages. However, India rejects any linkage between terrorism and religion. India’s secular Constitution, entitles all its citizens the freedom of religion. Personal laws on marriage and inheritance are based on traditional religious codes. Our Constitution draws a clear line between state and religion. The tradition of religious tolerance and moderation remains strong in Indian society, despite occasional aberrations. In the struggle to contain and eliminate terrorism, India has sought to strike a balance between security imperatives and political measures. The cost to our security forces has been high but the political battle will be won. It is our belief that both in Jammu & Kashmir and in the North-East, stability, peace and reconciliation would be restored in the coming years.

Much will depend on the success of the ongoing peace process with Pakistan and its approach towards support to terrorism and irregular warfare both in India and Afghanistan. International pressure would have to remain on Pakistan to change, and to reform and democratize its polity. This would clearly be among the foremost tasks in international security in the coming years, and an area in which India hopes to work closely with other partners. 

India has willingly contributed its naval capabilities to help safeguard the vital sea lines of communications that stretch from the Gulf of Hormuz to the strategic Malacca Straits. Towards this objective, we are actively cooperating with friendly navies in the region. India has backed a major security initiative to monitor shipping, mooted jointly by Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia to enforce “compulsory pilotage” of the channel against pirates and maritime terror. India, as a major user-state, is willing to assist in the project and share its expertise in maritime security with nations of the region. With more than 50 per cent of India’s maritime trade passing through the channel, security of the Straits is important for us. 

India has always sought a nuclear weapon free world and is determined to work with others to achieve the objective of universal and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament. As this is a long term objective, India is willing to take interim steps to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons. At the current UNGA session, India will present a comprehensive paper on nuclear disarmament, calling for early multilateral negotiations on a universal and non-discriminatory treaty banning the development, production and use of nuclear weapons, on the model of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

India does not harbour any territorial ambitions. It does not wish to impose any ideology on others, except to advocate peaceful co-existence and tolerance. India’s strong military, its maritime capabilities, and its nuclear deterrent are for self-defence and its highest national priority is rapid economic development. India is an open society and an open economy, and a vibrant democracy that is rapidly integrating with the world. It has the second largest Muslim population in the world that has rejected distorted notions of jehad and begun to embrace modernity like all other sections of Indian society. All the different segments of India’s society remain wedded to the ideals of secularism. India aspires to play an increasingly larger role in ensuring peace and prosperity in its neighbourhood, in a new and resurgent Asia that is likely to eventually emerge as the world’s economic and strategic hub. 

Before concluding, I take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation of the efforts being made by Harvard University to further promote studies on India and thereby contribute to closer understanding and stronger relations between India and the United States of America.

[Thank you for giving me a patient hearing].