Indian High Commissioner delivers Ford lecture
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
On 1 February 2010, HE Nalin Surie, India's High Commissioner to the UK delivered the Ford Lecture. Below is the transcript.
Alfred Brush Ford Lecture by the High Commissioner of India to the UK, Mr. Nalin Surie, at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Shifting Roles and Challenges in the New Decade.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you. It is indeed a great privilege to be asked to deliver the Alfred Brush Ford lecture.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century I thought it would be pertinent and useful to look back at the past decade; see whether we can learn some lessons from what happened, where we went wrong and then try to visualise where we are headed. In effect, I would like to present to you an idea of what could be the principal foreign policy challenges confronting the international community and within that, the role that each of our countries would need to play.
I presume that this lecture and the discussion that would follow will conform to the Chatham House rules. I must also clarify that what I am going to say to you does not necessarily represent the position of my government.
If one goes by the international media reports over the years and of late, it is easy to arrive at one set of trends and outcomes. Regrettably, however, these so-called trends and outcomes often hide what has happened, and is happening in large swathes of the world. What is often described as the “international community’s view” represents the views of a small minority of the strong and articulate countries, not necessarily the views of the international community which is often not consulted but whose thought processes have been influenced by the incessant bombardment of media reports. You may ask whether this matters. It does, especially to those nations and peoples who are not included, fully or partially, in the decision making processes that govern the international political, financial and security structures as they exist today.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York and Washington and their aftermath have to a large extent dominated the international security agenda in the first decade of the 21st century. The question arises, however, whether this scourge has been appropriately addressed and met the concerns of those most affected. Cross-border terrorism, which countries like India had been battling singlehandedly for almost two decades by then, suddenly became an “international” issue, very much on top of the world community’s agenda.
The war in Iraq was perhaps the issue second most in focus and has had both intended and unintended consequences. The final outcome there is still not clear. It is work in progress. I might add that the future of Iraq is of critical importance to India. We have civilisational, historical and economic links with that country. It is part of the Gulf region which is vastly important to India.
Even closer to us in India, is the NATO led on-going campaign in Afghanistan to destroy the Al-Qaeda and to prevent the Taliban from regaining power in that country and to ensure that Afghanistan is henceforth governed as a plural democracy and a moderate Islamic state. The war in Iraq has had a major impact on the ground situation in Afghanistan. The most recent outcome of that is the decision to enhance the ISAF’s presence in Afghanistan and to draw up ways and means of better integrating the security, political and economic dimensions of the international community’s assistance to Afghanistan in achieving the objectives that I have referred to earlier. It is our hope and expectation that the international community will stay the course in Afghanistan if the war against terrorism is to be genuinely and effectively waged.
While the international community focused on the major security issues of the decade, a crisis of unprecedented proportions was brewing in the international financial system. This time, the crisis erupted from within the heart of the capitalist system and unlike in the 1990s not in its periphery. The international economy faced a situation of “Great Depression proportions” but unlike in the 1930s, the international community, in the guise of the G-20, took short term measures to resolve the immediate impact. These measures have had some success and growth impetuses are visible. The causes, however, still need to be addressed and the effectiveness of the G-20 global economic compact will now be tested in the years ahead. It will also be revealed whether the G-8 are genuinely willing to share economic power with the other members of the G-20, i.e., the G-12 plus.
While much is made of the impact of the recent global financial and economic crisis on the developed world, the impact on developing countries is not adequately recognised. Many of these countries have perhaps been hit even harder than the worst affected developed countries and any solutions that we arrive at, must address their rejuvenation as much as that of other economies.
Even as the post-cold war world attempted to address the four basic challenges I have referred to, the old problems that seriously impact international peace and security remained intractable. I refer here for instance to the situation in the Middle-East and the Palestine, the DPRK nuclear issue, Somalia, and a host of other crises that continue to simmer in different parts of the world.
The first decade of the 21st century also saw some major politico-economic developments which will impact the future. In these I include the expansion of the European Union to 27. Indeed, the EU is likely to become even larger by the end of the second decade of the 21st century. While the expansion of the area of democracy in Europe is a very welcome development, it is our hope that the expansion of the European Union will not lead to the Union becoming more inward oriented and increasingly preoccupied with the processes of integration rather than reaching out to the world and becoming a genuine pole in the increasingly multi-polar world.
The processes of integration have not been limited to Europe. In South America, UNASUR is evolving in a reasonably sure footed manner. ASEAN, the East Asian community, and SAARC continue to expand their spheres of cooperation and the African Union is determined to play a larger role in weaving together the genius and strengths of Africa, a continent that is so rich in diversity, resources and untapped potential that it can alone help rejuvenate the world economy. The mosaic of sub-regional and regional free trade arrangements has grown across most parts of the world. This has both positive and negative aspects.
There were other positive signs and developments during the first decade of the 21st century. While the advanced capitalist economies grew at relatively low rates, the emerging economies of Asia, Latin America and many in Africa grew at a much more rapid pace. The story of China, India and Brazil’s growth is well documented, but that of other countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa is not so well-known.
The post-economic and financial crisis situation and the growth trends earlier referred to have led to many analysts predicting, and increasingly speaking of, a shift in the centre of gravity of economic power in the coming decades ,especially towards Asia. It is our belief that this shift will cover not only Asia but also Latin America and important segments of Africa.
Let me now come back to some other negative aspects of the first decade of the 21st century.
The inability to arrive at a legally binding agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in December 2009, based on the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali consensus, and the unfinished business of the Doha Development Round of WTO have demonstrated that the developed world can no longer impose its agenda on the developing world to suit the situation of specific countries. Treaty and contractual obligations have to be fulfilled; goal posts cannot be changed at will.
The global economic and financial crisis has had its own major impact on the resolution of these two critical issues viz, the Doha Development Round and Climate Change, thus making the process of negotiations and the search for a meaningful consensual outcome more complicated.
To complete the cycle, I must also refer to some of the other major crises that showed up in the first decade of the 21st century, namely, lack of predictable and sustainable energy supply, food supply difficulties in many developing countries, and inadequate water availability and management. Pandemics have also been in focus. In a world that has seen the pace of globalisation grow at a rapid pace and where interdependence has grown to the extent of making some earlier hypothesis irrelevant, the need to find global solutions that are equitable and just is greater than it was before.
What then is the scenario that policy makers find they must address in the second decade of the 21st century:-
i. The fight against terrorism is far from over. The recent episode of the Nigerian bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is a case in point.
ii. Iraq is far from settled.
iii. AfPak is now recognised as the epicentre of terrorism, particularly the latter, and the international community’s search for a solution is confused. This is partly because strategic allies and strategic problems are seen by some as being interchangeable. Others see the issue as being distant.
iv. The situation in the Middle-East and the Palestine remains unresolved. Somalia, and now Yemen, continue to be/are in turmoil; the DPRK issue continues to simmer and the spread of fundamentalist forces remains a challenge.
v. Secular growth in the advanced economies has yet to take root. Deficits incurred to buy a short term way out of the financial crisis have to be financed. There is a danger that we may ignore the fundamental problems and go back to business as usual solutions once the recovery and major stock markets regain momentum.
vi. The new international financial architecture is not yet in place; the underlying problems have not yet been addressed though the G-20 is hard at work on them.
vii. There is still lack of consensus on issues such as climate change, the Doha Development Round and energy security. These brook no further delay.
viii. The international political architecture is still representative of the situation that pertained at the end of World War II.
ix. The gap in growth rates between the advanced economies and the emerging economies is growing. The number of the latter is also expanding.
x. Multi-polarity, which for Indian foreign policy has been an act of faith and the underlying philosophy since our Independence, is becoming a reality but is still inadequately and grudgingly recognised by those who have got so used to controlling the international political, economic and security structures; and
xi. Regional integration processes continue to strengthen.
The above is not the full picture but represents a fair proportion on a canvas that would be drawn up for our purpose. It would seem from this picture that we are burdened with a situation that is beyond our capacity to address and resolve. But that is definitely not the case and there is no need to be pessimistic. Indeed pessimism would only compound the difficulties that we need to address. With the advances in technology and the growth of the knowledge sector in many parts of the world, especially in the emerging economies, it is optimism and the opportunities that the future holds that outweigh negative tendencies. It is these very factors that should also strengthen the forces of optimism in these countries most affected by the current financial and economic crises.
The war against international terrorism has to be waged in a more determined manner. In the last few years we have seen a very real enhancement in the cooperation amongst nations in this uphill task. Yet, as recent events have demonstrated, international cooperation to ensure success has still a long way to go. It is important that we do not lose focus of the overall objective, i.e., the elimination of international terrorism. It is not enough for any one country to try and insulate itself from this menace. This war cannot be unifocal. There is no good terrorist and there is no acceptable terrorist. Terrorism must be fought on all fronts and equally. The policy of zero tolerance must apply across the board.
The war against terrorism cannot be allowed to become a de facto clash of civilisations. Terrorism represents a most fundamental denial of human rights and is therefore unacceptable under any circumstances.
It is worth reiterating that this menace (of terrorism) is growing and becoming more sophisticated. Terrorists today have better communications, better equipment and specialised warfare knowledge. They are being equipped to ensure long term survival.
A just resolution of the Palestine issue has to be achieved on the basis of U.N. Security Council resolutions and subsequent peace proposals.
A genuine, internationally coordinated effort focusing on infrastructure development, technology transfer, clean energy generation, education and human resource development can help generate new and major growth impulses in the developing world that will not only help these economies speed ahead, but indeed also assist advanced economies emerge from their current difficult economic situation to one of secular growth.
For a world that has recovered from two World Wars, the waste of resources during the Cold War and is blessed with new technology and knowledge centres, the challenges we face are quite certainly surmountable. But, peace and security in the world cannot be realised if there is further growth in disparities between the haves and have-nots. What is necessary is to recognise and adjust to the new political and economic realities and give up the old balance of power approach which still regrettably dominates the thinking in many decision making centres in the world. This requires a genuine mindset change and a new political, economic and financial architecture that is truly reflective of beneficial interdependence and globalisation.
That is the real challenge that foreign policy makers face in the second decade of the 21st century. I believe that there is enough wisdom and good sense in the chancelleries of the world to ensure that this happens. It is also from institutions such as yours, which influence policy makers and which create future policy makers that such change can come from.
Shifts in centres of influence are a fact of history and will continue to happen. What is of critical importance is to ensure that these shifts happen in a peaceful manner and benefit all equally.
We in India are optimistic about the future. The young constitute about 70% of our population, and it is their dynamism that is leading us forward. It is that dynamism that we are harnessing within the parameters of our secular, plural and democratic polity. We thus face our future and that of the world with confidence.