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Foreign Secretary’s Address on “Leveraging Strategic Autonomy in a Turbulent World” at the Diamond Jubilee Seminar of the National Defence College

Posted on: November 05, 2020 | Back | Print

Air Marshal D. Choudhury, AVSM, VM, VSM, Commandant, National Defence College (NDC)
Sh. Samir Saran, President of ORF and Chairperson of this Session
All alumni, faculty and students of NDC
Ladies and Gentlemen

Let me begin by extending my heartiest congratulations to the National Defence College on its completing 60 years. This is indeed a momentous occasion and a proud moment for all participants, faculty members as well as alumni of this illustrious institution. In the last 60 years, the NDC has truly emerged as a center of learning and excellence. It has played a major role in shaping the minds of leaders in the armed forces as well as in the civil services. It is heartening to note that the alumni of this college have held very high ranking positions in the armed forces and the civil services not just in India but in several countries across the world.

2. I am of the view that inter-linkages between diplomacy, security and strategy, academia and policy are fundamental to shaping our world view and overall external engagements. Regular exchanges among all the above mentioned key stakeholders are an important part of that exercise. The National Defence College provides a useful platform for these exchanges.

3. The topic for today - "Leveraging Strategic Autonomy in a Turbulent World” – is an extremely important one in the present context. The concept of "strategic autonomy” is a function of the prevalent structure of the international order making it a more relative concept as opposed to an absolute one. In today's multipolar world, all countries are, at some point or the other, susceptible to external pressures.

4. The international global order as we see today is a sum total of tectonic shifts. The two World Wars, the Cold War phase, post-Cold War era, the breakup of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the emergence of new countries in Eastern & Central Europe, the rise of Asian economic giants, Brexit, and other such watershed events have shaped the contours of the global order.

5. As a result, the world around India changed fundamentally in the last few decades. It is also evident that the structural change that shaped the global order was predominantly a result of the shift in the economic balance of power. In addition, new and emerging issues threats from terrorism, cyber security, climate change and pandemics called for India to adjust its policies to the new realities. Our strategic autonomy thus necessitated the association between an autonomous foreign policy and security decision making capability and the preservation of material assets, both technical and economic.

6. In this changing environment, our focus has been to further our national interests while also contributing to the global good. We have retained flexibility and decisional autonomy in pursuit of the first objective. We have deepened cooperation with our traditional partners. At the same time, we have widened our outreach and forged new partnerships. The second aspect of our global engagement has seen India emerge as a responsible and constructive actor on the world stage. India is an active participant in the global conversations on climate change, terrorism, connectivity and maritime security. As a responsible global power, India has co-founded institutions such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure to bring about greater cooperation in renewable energy and disaster preparedness and relief.

7. In recent years, India’s role in our extended neighbourhood has been that of a "net security provider”. Net security does not have to be seen in the context of hard security. We have been at the forefront of extending humanitarian assistance in natural disasters such as earthquakes, cyclones and floods to name a few. In the wake of the COVID crisis our repatriation flights brought back not only our citizens but also citizens of other countries. Net security also means cooperation with our neighbours in the Indo-Pacific region on maritime security, including anti-piracy, maritime surveillance, responding to maritime pollution etc..

8. We have developed our unique way of sharing developmental experience with partner countries. This has projected Indian capacities and conveyed our strategic intention – to be a force for good – in multiple geographies around the globe.

9. The Covid-19 pandemic is the most catastrophic event after the 2nd World War. It is therefore inevitable that we will experience a different world in the post-pandemic era. We are in the midst of trying to cope with the new reality of going virtual in our day to day life. At the international level, it has uncovered the vulnerabilities of nations and showed us the real manifestation of the practice of international relations. While there is a strong intent to cooperate, the need to retain strategic autonomy is even greater. The last few months thus have been an attempt to first, deal with the domestic situation; and second, look for ways to cooperate.

10. We had a proactive domestic response in dealing with the pandemic and its challenges. We substantially expanded our capacity in the healthcare sector and also channeled our public resources to this critical sector for the development of hospitals, emergency rooms, provision of equipment and supplies and training of healthcare professionals. In addition, our Prime Minister enunciated a forwards looking economic approach under the rubric of Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan (self-reliance) with announcement of stimulus packages of nearly USD 270 billion. Structural reforms and relief measures under the Abhiyaan cover small farmers, migrant workers and labourers, agriculture, the MSME sector, small businesses, start-ups, industrial infrastructure, health care and education to name a few. In today’s world, building at least some domestic capacities for critical supplies – and contributing to a diversification of global supply chains – is also a manifestation of leveraging strategic autonomy.

11. India has played a leading role in initiating and encouraging global conversations on evolving a coordinated response to the pandemic. Further, living up to the teaching of "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the whole world is one family), India played an instrumental role in enhancing global health security by ensuring supply of essential medicines even while meeting its own domestic requirements. We provided medical supplies, in the form of essential drugs, test kits, protection gear etc. to over 150 countries, and are extending medical assistance under grants-in-aid to over 80 countries; we sent rapid response medical teams to help Maldives, Kuwait, Mauritius and Comoros deal with the pandemic; and we dispatched naval assets to deliver COVID related assistance to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles. We have also successfully brought back over 1.8 million Indian nationals stranded abroad due to COVID-19 pandemic under the Vande Bharat Mission.

12. The global economic fall out of the pandemic will continue to remain a challenge for us in times to come. As we saw during the 2008 global recession, economic setbacks of this magnitude require a carefully deliberated approach. The breakdown of the global supply chains has, perhaps for the first time, led us to think and explore alternative possibilities. India’s view has been to look at this challenge not as a constraint but as an opportunity for our economy as well as for rebalancing in the international system.

13. In this situation of crisis, India has sustained the momentum with respect to its global engagements. We have recognized our strengths to work towards deepening our economic cooperation while keeping our strategic autonomy intact. We recognize the value of profitable economic convergence and the need to diversify as the need of the hour.

14. A positive reflection of this approach was evident during the recently concluded Virtual Summits held at PM level with Australia, Denmark, EU and Sri Lanka. Further, the second Australia-India-Japan-United States consultations on regional and global issues of common interest brought like-minded countries together to coordinate responses to the various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore. This is only a small part of India’s outreach efforts. We have extensively used the virtual mode to sustain communication with our friends and partners.

15. India assumes membership of the UN Security Council next year. We remain committed to upholding a rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes. Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries.

16. The UN Security Council dynamics have changed considerably over the last decade. As a rule abiding democracy and positive contributor to the security of the global commons, India aims to bring innovative and inclusive solutions to foster development. Reformed multilateralism is going to be a top priority for us.

17. India has been a supporter of a fair and inclusive WTO, World Bank, IMF and a significant player in the digital taxation negotiations. While there is a new plurilateral space that has opened up for engagement, it is clear that we need to carefully analyze our approach keeping in mind the merits and values of strong bilateral engagements.

18. I would like to once again thank the National Defence College for giving me this opportunity to participate in the diamond jubilee seminar. I convey my best wishes once again to all participants and alumni of the college for a very bright future. I am sure that under the leadership of the Commandant Air Marshal D. Choudhury the college will continue to flourish and attain new heights.