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“Indian Foreign Policy: A Road Map for the Decade Ahead” - Speech by External Affairs Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee at the 46th National Defence College Course

November 15, 2006

  1. I am delighted to be among you again and share a few thoughts on the roadmap for India’s foreign policy in the years ahead. India’s Foreign Policy is a product of its history, geopolitical setting and the needs and aspirations of its people as distilled by its democratic institutions. This policy is inspired by the vision of our founding fathers, in particular Pandit Nehru, and is nourished by a tradition of continuity and consensus.
  2. What would be the shape of India’s Foreign Policy ten years from now? How would it contribute to the well-being of the citizens of India and indeed to peace and prosperity in the wider world? Allow me to hazard a few lines of reasoning.
  3. India is set resolutely on a path of economic growth of at least 8% per annum. In a decade from now India is slated to be the 3rd largest economy in the world with a significant portion of the world’s output in key areas such as Information and Communication Technologies, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, automotive manufacturing and light engineering. Given current trends, Indian companies would have spread themselves further afield and become important players in the global supply chain. Human resource is our most vital asset. Indian professionals and workers will play a key role in the economic resurgence of India and would emerge, with the Indian diaspora, as significant contributors to the reassertion of India’s economic weight.
  4. Ladies and Gentlemen, I foresee Indian Foreign Policy playing a major role in this economic renaissance. There is a range of foreign policy instruments available today to advance our economic interests – traditional commercial work, negotiation of preferential or free trading areas, active participation in multilateral forums etc. We need to creatively add to this tool box and in fact retune mindsets so that our entire approach to a bilateral relationship is premised primarily on that relationship’s contribution to our economic well-being. It would be my endeavour to boost both the resources – human and financial – as well as the synergies required to face the challenges of the coming decade. To list only a few, these include a significant upgrading of our economic relationship with South East Asia, East Asia, Latin America and Africa, building new investment driven partnerships with the US and EU and nurturing a web of cooperative energy security networks in Asia and with new suppliers in West Africa, Central Asia and Latin America.
  5. The primary task of Indian foreign policy has to remain the facilitation of India’s developmental processes, leveraging our international partnerships to the best possible effect. Our focus in the coming decade should be on promoting trade and investment flows, in assisting the modernization of the infrastructure, in assuring predictable and affordable energy supplies and in securing the widest possible access to technologies.
  6. Traditionally threats to India’s security have largely come overland from the North and the West and from the waters in the South and the West. In future the importance of the East in our security calculus is slated to rise. Maritime security, WMD proliferation, energy security and terrorism are important and emerging issues with a bearing on the security of the region. We have to promote an environment of peace and security in the region and beyond, which indeed is a pre-requisite for development.
  7. The other major theme for India Foreign Policy a decade hence has to be a significantly different set of relationships in the neighbourhood. A major power has hardly ever emerged - or sustained itself - on the world scene from amidst a conflict-ridden and impoverished neighbourhood. The street on which we have to build our future home has to reflect our values and our aspirations, in particular our desire for a peaceful and prosperous future. India, as the largest country in South Asia with land and sea borders with all its neighbours in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and indeed as the eldest ‘sister’ in South Asia, has to assume greater responsibility for the region’s challenges. I want India’s Foreign Policy to pay particular attention to each and every one of our bilateral relationships in the neighbourhood from Myanmar to Afghanistan and provide them with depth and diversity of mutually beneficial interaction. We need to work on innovative use of development assistance, India’s growing economic and S&T capabilities as well as our soft power to advance this goal.
  8. India’s neighbours can and should share in our drive for prosperity. Obviously, as sovereign states, these are choices that they have to make. But from our side, we are clear that stronger cooperation offers immense benefits to all parties. Already, we can contrast the results of those of our neighbours who see in India’s growth an opportunity to advance their interests, and others who are less perceptive or farseeing. Bhutan, for example, has significantly raised its per capita income as a result of its energy exports to India. Sri Lanka has drawn full value from its importance to the logistics of Indian trade. Both Maldives and Sri Lanka are benefiting from Indian tourism. So too is Mauritius, which also serves as an investment route into India. Citizens of Nepal have long sought employment opportunities in India, a trend that will only become stronger. More recently, China has discovered the advantages of trading with India, and our bilateral trade is growing at an astonishing 60% plus per annum. With Thailand, India has concluded an FTA and with Myanmar, we are exploring new opportunities in energy and infrastructure. Afghanistan has benefited from the participation of Indian companies in its reconstruction and economic revival. As the European example has demonstrated, a modernization of the infrastructure in the Indian sub-continent that will promote freer flow of goods and services can transform the region conceptually. In more ways than simply economic, the future of the Indian sub-continent depends on whether this open mindedness prevails over the more traditional mindsets. On its part, India has extended its hand in all directions and is willing to go the extra mile for a better future.
  9. The coming decade is crucial for India-Pakistan relations, which even today are at a cross-roads. It is not possible for us to change borders, but we can surely reduce the salience of borders in our relationship. We have endeavoured to do precisely that with a series of initiatives that promote people-to-people relations. In the process, what has emerged is the deep yearning amongst ordinary people for peace and normalcy. Sustaining and expanding this process would be one of the important challenges of India’s foreign policy. But this can happen only when diplomacy is allowed to function without interruption. If, on the other hand, terrorism is perceived and practiced as an instrument of statecraft, then the most imaginative diplomacy will founder on lack of domestic support.
  10. A focus on the neighbourhood does not imply a parochial or near-sighted approach to world affairs. India’s foreign policy today looks at India’s environment in expanding circles of engagement starting with the immediate neighbourhood of Southern Asia and moving on to and beyond the extended neighbourhood of West Asia, Central Asia, South East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. This is reflected in our political, economic and defence engagement with these regions particularly after the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the economic reforms process in India. This intensified engagement is the beginning of the reassertion of India’s historically benign and stabilizing role in these regions premised on the commerce of ideas and goods.
  11. India’s relations with the major powers - United States, European Union, Russia, China and Japan as well as the emerging powers of Latin America and Africa have undergone a major makeover in the past decade and a half. The bandwidth of engagement with these powers is wider than ever. India’s Foreign Policy would need to actively promote the building of a qualitatively different relationship with the major powers in the decade ahead thus contributing positively to our political, economic and security objectives.
  12. The exponential and qualitative change in India-US relations has rightly attracted global attention. The India-US civil nuclear agreement symbolizes not only a maturing of our bilateral relations but also a clear recognition of the responsible record of India as a state possessing advanced nuclear technologies. Our cooperation on matters impinging on regional and international security is a reflection and recognition of our capabilities and our role in fostering peace and security. In the future I expect the relationship to build more on the convergence of values and interests between India and the US and to add a bigger economic element to our cooperation. As India grows and integrates with the global economy, there is bound to be more demand for US goods, technology and services and at the same time greater penetration of the vast US market by Indian companies. There is another evolving significant factor of complementarities in human resources. All these have the potential to unleash a much broader and deeper strategic engagement between the two countries.
  13. India’s strategic partnership with Russia has had to weather the difficulties thrown up after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Developments in the post-Cold War period have imposed different sets of constraints but have also offered newer options for both India and Russia. For India, Russia is a partner in our fight against global terrorism, an ally in the field of civil nuclear, space and defence technologies and a key player in our quest for energy sufficiency.
  14. India and Europe share values of democracy, pluralism, human rights and respect for rule of law with similar institutions such as a free press and an independent judiciary. India is now one of EU’s six strategic partners and the EU remains India’s largest export destination and one of the largest sources of foreign investment into India. Our strategic partnership is based on mutual interest and the great potential both sides see for enhanced cooperation, including in tackling global problems such as terrorism and environmental degradation. Our multi-faceted links with Europe also reflect a desire for a more effective multilateral approach in meeting global political and economic challenges.
  15. Ladies and Gentlemen, India’s civilizational, religious and cultural links with East and South East Asia can be traced back many millenia. India has been the source of many ideas both spiritual and material that have rippled across the East. India has also acted as firewall on destabilizing influences. Our recent intensified engagement is the beginning of the reassertion of India’s historically benign and stabilizing role in these regions premised on the commerce of ideas and goods. Japan, South Korea, China and Singapore are strategic markets for our goods and services and important sources of investments and technology. Indian companies have long had a presence in ASEAN. Now they are venturing farther and investing in China, Japan and Australia.
  16. India’s "Look East” policy was more than an economic imperative. It was a significant shift in India’s vision of the world and her place in the emerging post-Cold War global scenario. In the years to come it will be our endeavour to strengthen political, physical and economic connectivity between India and East Asia and broaden the underpinnings of our quest for peace and prosperity.
  17. The India-China relationship is bound to be one of the most important bilateral relationships in the coming decade simply by the sheer weight of demographic and economic numbers. How we manage this relationship will have a tremendous impact on peace and stability in the regional and increasingly the global context. India-China relations have traditionally been viewed through the prism of ‘balance of power’ or ‘conflict of interests’ with Asia as the theatre of competition. This theory has become outdated in today’s interconnected and interdependent world. It is increasingly recognized that there is enough space and opportunity for both to grow. Both countries have taken a number of initiatives to improve bilateral relations across a range of areas, without allowing existing differences to affect the overall development of their ties. China is set to emerge as India’s leading trading partner in the future and both countries, which face many common challenges, are exploring cooperative approaches to a range of issues including terrorism and protection of the environment.
  18. We attach great importance to close, cooperative and friendly relations with Japan, the second largest economy in the World, and the other major pillar in Asia of our foreign policy. India’s ‘global partnership’ with Japan reflects our common search for geopolitical, strategic and economic options in a rapidly changing world. In the next decade this relationship is set to become one of the most important factors in India’s foreign policy matrix.
  19. India’s foreign policy has always had a strong element of developing country solidarity and south-south cooperation. From the early days of our independence we have worked with countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to further the interests of developing countries. In recent years these ties have been bolstered by transcontinental links such as India-Brazil and South Africa Initiative or IBSA. We are also adding important elements to our traditional ties with the countries of the Persian Gulf region by leveraging economic opportunities and the shifting geopolitical landscape of the region. It is notable that the King of Saudi Arabia visited India after fifty years.
  20. Ladies and gentlemen, I have given you an overview of our emerging relations. In the coming decade, India’s foreign policy would have to contend with intensified engagement with not only the major powers but also emerging power centers as well as our immediate and extended neighbourhood. Demographic trends, policy choices and India’s inherent societal strengths have come together to put India among the key players of this century. While we still have many challenges in addressing the basic needs of our people, the world’s perception of India, its capacities and its strengths has changed irreversibly. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for our foreign policy. We have to act, and more quickly than before, from a platform of increased self-assurance and responsibility to ensure that India continues to enjoy a peaceful and supportive environment for pursuing her development goals as well as to ensure that the world’s expectations of India are met and we are able to contribute, as our forefathers have always wanted, to the fashioning of a better world based on universal human values.

Thank you.

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