Presidential Address at the 13th Asian Security Conference IDSA

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    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney
    AK Antony

    Shri N.S. Sisodia, Director General, IDSA, distinguished conference participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.

    My warmest greetings to you all and in particular our Muslim brethren, on the happy occasion of Id e Milad, birthday of the Holy Prophet Mohammad. I am certain we have the blessings of the Holy Prophet since he urged all to exert in the way of peace. In fact, his greetings to people was ‘Assalamalaikum’ or ‘May peace be upon you’.

    Another person whose blessings are no doubt with us is Shri K Subrahmanyam. He would surely have been present here had destiny not willed otherwise. In fact that we have gathered here today in this auditorium owes much to his vision and energy in helping establish and sustain this Institute since its founding days. The strategic culture he helped forge in India is reflected in the manner the IDSA has moved to its present status. His contribution to key strategic policies and decisions such as the 1971 War, the development of India’s nuclear capability and doctrine, heading of the Kargil Review Committee and the creation of the National Defence University are just a few instances among many. It is for the strategic community gathered here to take his work forward in securing India into the future. To the younger scholars here I recommend that you emulate his hard work, respect for other points of view and his moral courage. Shri K. Subrahmanyam was the doyen of India’s Strategic thinkers. Perhaps, the best way to honour his unique contributions to strategic thinking in India would be to promote the work, he persued with passion all through his life. Towards this end, I am happy to announce that Shri K. Subrahmanyam Chair is being established at IDSA.

    It is a befitting tribute to Mr. Subrahmanyam that the conference takes on the ambitious topic, ‘Towards a New Asian Order’. It has been long apparent that the 21st century belongs to Asia. Given that history has moved its arc lights towards Asia, building a New Asian Order would be critical to this century now already into its second decade. The contours of the Asian order will have considerable impact on the world order. It therefore becomes necessary to deliberate upon how this Asian order should look and be shaped. The topic challenges the distinguished speakers from around the world to share their perspectives about Asia as a whole. I am confident that their thoughts would help enlighten the way towards achieving such a stable, secure, equitable, prosperous and just order in Asia. That they come from Asia’s various subregions and from states interested in Asia’s trajectory, enables bringing to bear their diverse insights on envisaging the New Asian Order.

    At the outset, a possible outline of such an order could be hazarded. Firstly, it would be the responsibility of states to create and sustain such an order. Secondly, at the core would be the traditional Asian ethos based on the Panchsheel principles, namely, respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty; non-aggression; non-interference in each other's internal affairs; equality and mutuality and peaceful co-existence. The aim would be for peace and security between states leading up to economic prosperity, social well-being and equity with justice for the peoples of Asia. While contentious issues will continue to exist, no doubt, these would be resolved through mutual understanding, bilateral and multilateral dialogue, and a pan-Asian framework.

    India has been at the forefront of thinking on this score since even prior to Independence. In the early years of Independence, the Asian Relations Conference at New Delhi had as its objective ‘to provide a cultural and intellectual revival, and social progress in Asia.’ Over the years, Asia has achieved this admirably. Continuing down this route entails protecting and furthering the gains we have made as individual nations and collectively in our sub-regions of Asia. One way this can be done is through visualising and implementing an overarching Asian Order.

    History of the last century bears witness that jostling of rising powers is fraught with uncertainty. Ensuing conflict can potentially set back the clock of progress. To repeat history in the nuclear age is unthinkable. Given the strides made by Asia since overthrowing the colonial yoke, there is much to lose in treading down the path of strategic tryst alone. While forging power equations may be necessary to stability of a regional order, managing these through mutual cooperation and mechanisms created for the purpose is prudent. I hope that the conference deliberations will throw up some ideas on this score.

    As any glance at the map would indicate, Asia is more than its sub-regions. Take for instance, India’s strategic location in Asia. While being central to South Asia, it is on the flanks of West, Central and South East Asia. Likewise, China, though seemingly an East Asian state, has a presence across Asia due to shared borders with Central, South and South East Asia. Even states such as Japan, that are apparently on one flank, help link Asia with the Pacific. Japan’s trade and energy related interest in the Indian Ocean makes for its wider interest in Asia as a whole. The Gulf states, on the other flank similarly have concerns, such as relating to security that are extra regional. The US, being a global player, has pan Asian presence and interests evidenced by its multipronged partnerships that exist across Asia.

    Given this interconnectedness of Asia, one subject to constant enhancement in the age of communication and globalisation, it is but natural that security and associated problems and their solutions require a regional as against a sub-regional approach. The challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, managing the commons and the economic order, militate against thinking in sub-regional compartments. While sub-regions are basic building blocks, an over-arching Asian identity and architecture needs to evolve. Thinking and action must however not be confined by geography. Here on, Asia needs to be thought of holistically.

    The Asian Security Conference, now in its thirteenth edition, has been designed to progress such thinking. It had on inception dwelt on the security challenges facing Asia and in subsequent editions those confronting its sub-regions. This time round it has set itself the ambitious task of conceptualising the security architecture for Asia going beyond mere balancing but to envisaging cooperative security. For this, strategic wisdom needs to move beyond its traditional confines of realist thinking to include insights from interdependence theory and from new disciplines as peace studies.

    I can but offer a few pointers as direction to your ongoing efforts here.

    Clearly, even as you think innovatively on constructing and shaping an Asian Order, you need to build on pre-existing foundations. These are already present in highly developed sub-regional arrangements such as the last East Asia Summit having as its theme ‘Towards an Asian Community: From Vision to Action’. Other regional efforts are not absent, but merely ‘under construction’ to eventually fulfill their potential such as the one in South Asia, SAARC. The example of Europe exists as useful precedence in two senses. One is in the integration they are attempting today. The second is that they have got this far after traversing two great wars and the Cold War. Even as their destination is a laudable standard, their path also has its lessons.

    Next, even as I am certain that fresh insights from latest International Relations and Strategic Studies theory informs your reflection, I would like to draw your attention to the remarkable cultural trove that is the legacy of Asia. India for its part has been the beneficiary over the millennia of these intellectual breezes across frontiers. Even as you would choose to be mindful of Sun T’su and Chanakya in your deliberations, I would urge you to also look at other cadences in indigenous Asian thinking. For those in South Asia, many protagonists for peace come to mind beginning with Lord Buddha. Nearer our time are Mohammad Iqbal, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. In the larger Asian pantheon number the prophets and sages who have inspired the world’s leading religions – Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism, among others. Since you would be also engaging with issues of conflict avoidance, confidence building and security cooperation, looking towards philosophy for inspiration may prove equally rewarding.

    Thirdly, you would recall the major finding of the preceding two Asian Security Conferences here. It is that the concept of security has vastly expanded of late. The referents of security not only include the state as hitherto, but also populations; and not only people as inhabit states and regions today but also those generations as yet unborn. In other words, security encompasses human security and has to be reckoned with as trans-generational. The security decisions taken today cannot merely be in relation to the immediate causes of friction or long standing differences between states, but must take into account consequences over the long term and in their echoes and ripple effects into the future. This negates unilateral self-interested choices by states and is instead in favour of a security conceptualised as a shared bank balance. The more the contribution to the kitty, the more there is to be shared around and the more that can be bequeathed to the future. This is true in particular in respect of the fresh security issues such as climate change, managing the commons and joint direction of the global economy, which I note figure among the issues that the conference is to address.

    Lastly, I would like to dispel any scepticism on the space available in Asia for the rise of Asian powers. Our Prime Minister has articulated India’s position that sufficient space exists for the rise of all of Asia, together. That this is an idea that is shared by China is evident from the joint statement after the discussions between our two Prime Ministers during the visit of Chinese Premier Mr. Wen Jiabao to New Delhi late last year. It said and I quote, ‘There is enough space in the world for the development of both India and China and indeed, enough areas for India and China to cooperate.’ Creation of space is not necessarily inevitable but would require constant effort. The forces of globalisation are in favour of this understanding, but yet conscious steering is required in face of retarding modes of thought and anachronistic forces. The relationships Asian states and peoples share with varying degrees of proximity with extra-regional actors, such as Europe, Russia and the USA, need to be harnessed with this end in view. I expect your deliberations would inform how this space is to be constructed, preserved and enhanced.

    I now want to dwell briefly on what India is already doing as an exemplar.

    The aim to create a security environment that not only facilitates Indian aims in respect of economic, social and political progress, but in doing so enhances the security of neighbours and the wider region. India treasures its inherent democratic values. Its democracy provides a direct stake, a sense of participation and control for the common citizen. India has been attempting a rapid transformation of its society under the democratic framework.

    Our endevours are in conjunction with our immediate South Asian neighbours, with states in a wider arc comprising Southern Asia and with nations in the next concentric circle comprising rest of Asia. India’s relations of growing intimacy with all global players ranging from the great powers to regional powers elsewhere, such as Brazil and South Africa, are being leveraged to enhance India’s standing but not at the cost of our relations with any other state.

    India is forging multi-vectored partnerships with all powers so as to create a multipolar world. It has contributed to global confabulations, such as on trade, economy, climate change, nuclear security and changes in the UN system, in keeping with its growing strength and deepening interests and with a sense of self-regard as a major power. President Obama in his visit to New Delhi noted this stating (and I quote), ‘India is not simply emerging: India has already emerged.’ India’s unbeatable credentials as the largest democracy, its economic strides even during the recent downturn, status as an IT superpower and potential in terms of expanding infrastructure of upto a trillion dollars over the 12th five year plan, defence sector acquisition expenditure of about $ 100 billion over the decade, FTA agreements as the one with ASEAN and youthful demographics have helped earn the endorsement. India’s hectic diplomatic schedule over this winter is a pointer to India’s ‘arrival’. Not only did principals of the P5 states visit India, but India was a major presence at the G20, at Cancun and in the East Asia Summit. India won the non-permanent member seat in the Security Council with 187 of 190 votes.

    India’s approach to issues with its neighbours is of engagement. The thirteenth round of discussions at the level of special representatives on the border issue was completed with China. With Pakistan, periodic meetings at multiple levels have substituted for the peace process, in abeyance since Mumbai 26/11. Its relations with its smaller neighbours enable asymmetric advantage for each of them. In respect of AfPak, India has been constructive in its position being supportive of both Afghan led development and reintegration efforts. The logic behind India’s foreign and security policy and posture is that India’s sense of security is dependent on the perception of security of its neighbours.

    India’s growing stature and its right to higher aspiration owes to its strategic doctrine of deterrence. Its policy of strategic restraint, repeatedly tested, has helped maintain regional stability in the larger global interest against terrorism. India’s defence budget has consistently been in the region of 2-2.5 per cent of the GDP. It has historically employed force defensively. Use of force in internal security has been restrained and has several lessons for those similarly beset countering insurgency in the region and elsewhere. Its participation in peacekeeping is renowned. It has been to the forefront in lending a helping hand, whether it is against natural disasters as the Tsunami in mid-last decade or in situations of armed conflict such as obtains in close vicinity in Afghanistan. It is increasing its reach for measuring up to its weight. A demonstration of this is in the anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and several joint military exercises it conducts with states ranging from Oman to Singapore and US to China. Though heading towards a nuclear ‘triad’, India abides by nuclear No First Use (NFU) and unconditional negative security guarantees for non-nuclear states.

    India’s efforts are in sync with its civilizational values, the ideals of its freedom struggle and norms of interstate behaviour. Since these values are present and shared across Asia, it is possible to build an Asian Order with Asian traditions as guide. These are not incompatible with a ‘flat world’. Indeed their emphasis on peace and accommodation makes them an abiding cultural resource against the militarisation of disputes and inevitability of conflict.

    I would like to conclude by complimenting the IDSA once again for bringing together this brilliant galaxy of intellectuals to apply their minds collectively to the new Asian Order. I wish you success in the balance of your deliberations on this rediscovery of the Asian Way.

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