Global Security: an Indian Perspective


National Security Advisor and Principal Secretary to Prime Minister of India
At National Defence Institute, Lisbon
April 13, 2000.

 The title of my presentation contains the phrase “global security”.  This concept is indicative of the change in our thinking about security.  No longer is it possible for major countries to be able to insulate themselves from developments taking place around them in an interconnected and interdependent world.  Yet this is a recent realisation.  The end of the Cold War, the changing nature of security, and the technology driven dynamic of globalisation - are factors that have contributed to this realisation.  While countries will still have a ‘national perspective’ arising out of their own geography and history, it is increasingly accepted that we are now dealing with global trends and global challenges.  Our task today is to develop global responses.

2. The Cold War ended a decade ago.  For want of a better phrase, the last decade is often referred to as a “post-Cold War” period, indicating its transitory character.  One thing is clear - the early optimism of a peace dividend has been belied.  Also, the adversarial bipolaity has yet to yield to a cooperative multi-polarity.  In the interim, what we see is the growing preeminence of the US in political, military and technological fields.  This has given US, enhanced capabilities, in the post-Cold War period, in developing coalitions where these are consistent with US national interests.  Russia and China have increasingly voiced concerns at this development.  In some European countries too, there is a growing perception that such a preeminent position for any single country in an increasingly globalised world does not make for lasting stability and security.  The impact of unsettled relations between US and Russia and US and China has far reaching consequences.  EU, with its own Common Foreign and Security Policy, may find itself hard pressed to reconcile competing demands of alliance member partners and Europe’s imperatives of economics and geography.

3. The Cold War arms control process seems to have run aground.  Clearly, the principles of symmetry between USA and USSR and the two military alliances they represented, with other countries relegated to a relatively marginal role, are no longer valid.  Equally out of date is the Cold War arms control objective - to reduce risks of competition and mitigate the US-Soviet arms race.  Today, security perspectives have diverged.  This has been evident from the uncertainty surrounding the future of bilateral arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty and the START-II as well as multilaterally negotiated agreements like the CTBT.  The key challenge, therefore, today is to bring about a return to stability and predictability in relationships among major powers.

4. The threat of nuclear war between the two super powers may have receded but conflicts abound and civilian casualties continue to increase.  The nature of conflict has changed.  In the early years of the 20th century, Imperial powers engaged in conflict for territorial expansion.  During the Cold War, conflicts became proxy wars supported by the two super powers caught up in an ideological divide.  Neither remains valid today.  The end of the second World War witnessed the fading away of colonialism and economic globalisation has largely eliminated the benefits of territorial acquisition.  Yet, we are painfully aware of the fact that during the last decade of the 20th century, there have been as many as 60 conflicts, the vast majority of them described as internal conflicts, generating casualties of nearly 5 million people, four-fifths of whom were innocent civilians!

5. It is true that the world has moved during the last century towards democratisation.  At the beginning of the 20th century, only six out of the then 43 countries could have been described as democracies and that too with limited suffrage.  By 1980, 37 out of 121 countries were democratic societies; today, 118 countries, accounting for 54 percent of the global population are accepted as democracies.  And yet, the impact of internal conflicts is evident from the fact that the number of international refugees has grown from less than 4 million in 1975 to more than 15 million in 1999.

6. A major reason is that the definition of security is changed.  It is no longer limited to military might but extends beyond to a more comprehensive definition encompassing economic strength, internal cohesion that enables exercise of national will and technological progress.  Food security, energy security, a clean environment, equality before law and good governance form part of the notion of comprehensive security.  Undoubtedly, this change in the definition of security ha been driven by globalisation.  During the Cold War, the market place was subjected to political and strategic imperatives; today, we witness the triumph of capitalism which has generated a globalised economy.  The disjunction arises because in a globalised economy, economic geography and political geography no longer coincide.  Subjects considered within the domain of national sovereignty increasingly become vulnerable to the unknowns of a market place.  It is important to recall that during the Cold War period, Western societies restrained unfettered capitalism with doses of liberalism in public interest, to prevent abuses and protect against failures.  Similarly, the uncritical triumphalism today also needs to be tempered.  Today’s challenge is greater because developing countries do not often have the resilient institutional mechanisms that many Western developed countries have evolved over two centuries.  Yet, if these countries get marginalised, it will only lead to growing tensions and instabilities.  Therefore, a global order has to be consciously constructed and mechanisms found to tackle the negative consequences of social dislocation.

7. What do these developments mean for a large democratic and secular developing country like India which is not a member of any military alliance but seeks to pursue an independent foreign policy even as it enhances its economic engagement with the rest of the world in order to meet the rising socio-economic aspiration of its billion strong population?

8. First, these developments make it necessary for India to ensure stability on our borders and in our extended neighbourhood - the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, Indian Ocean region and Southeast Asia.  Sourcing India’s energy needs, presence of large number of Indians in Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia, growing economic and security linkages with ASEAN, the threat of fundamentalism in Central Asia - are evident factors that necessitate greater Indian engagement with these regions.  As a plural, democratic society, India’s engagement imparts stability in its neighbourhood.  In recent years, India has offered increased political and economic cooperation to its neighbours, building and strengthening structures of functional cooperation, e.g., South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Indian Ocean Rim initiative.  The nature of our interaction in such organisations reflects our conviction about a comprehensive view of regional security that goes beyond the absence of conflict towards a mutually beneficial cooperative partnership.

9. The traditional security challenges of resolving outstanding issues with Pakistan and China remain a major preoccupation.  India is fully conscious of the importance of keeping the probability of an armed conflict low, by maintaining an adequate level of defence preparedness and negotiating and implementing appropriate confidence and security building measures.

10. Relations with China are back on track, with resumption of normal exchanges, establishment of a security dialogue and the forthcoming visit by the President of India to Beijing as part of the commemoration of 50 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  China now acknowledges that as two major countries of Asia, India and China bear an important responsibility for the maintenance of regional peace and stability.

11. The Kargil conflict and subsequent developments in Pakistan, including the military coup have prevented resumption of dialogue with Pakistan that was envisaged in the Lahore process.  Pakistan’s open support and involvement in cross-border terrorism and belligerent statements reflect its unwillingness to give up the path of military confrontation.  It is a sad fact that democracy in Pakistan has often been a victim of its leader’s obsession of seeking parity with India and a military solution to Jammu & Kashmir.  However, developments in Pakistan are not merely a matter of concern to India because the Pakistan-Afghanistan region today has become a global source of instability - the second largest producer of drugs, a major proliferator of small arms and light weapons, and the single largest gene-pool of global terrorism.

12. Improvement of relations with Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar has the long term positive implication of dealing with the vexing issue of migration of people and refugees.  Yet, these are not only relationships limited to boundary management but wider in scope.  With Myanmar, transportation in border areas has a positive impact in curbing drug trafficking and smuggling.  The potential for energy cooperation, particularly with Bangladesh and Nepal, is a priority area, given the rising energy demand generated by Indian economic growth.

13. While improving relations with countries in its neighbourhood, India has also sought to increase its level of engagement with other major countries - USA, Russia, Japan and EU members.  President Clinton’s recent visit to India has laid the foundation for a closer and qualitatively different bilateral relationship.  The two countries have agreed tha they shall be partners in peace with a common interest and complementary responsibility for ensuring regional and international security.  The relationship with Russia has been a long-standing strategic relationship that has withstood the turbulence of the last ten years.  Both countries share an identity of views on a wide range of issues and maintain a tradition of high level exchanges and dialogues.  Concerns generated in Japan after India’s nuclear tests in May, 1998, have been addressed during a recent visit by the Indian Foreign Minister.  This has been followed by the first ever visit of an Indian Defence Minister to Japan, reflecting the growing realisation that both countries need to develop this aspect of their bilateral relationship.  India’s increasing interaction with the EU is reflected in the decision to schedule the India-EU Summit later this year.

14. Let me dwell briefly on the nuclear issue.  The tests undertaken by India in May, 1998, were in response to the failure of international non-proliferation regime in addressing India’s security concerns.  Nuclear proliferation in our neighbourhood, including by NPT members, was well established, with missile proliferation adding a more dangerous dimension.  Yet, it should be clear to any observer that India’s decision was marked by restraint and a willingness to cooprate with the international non-proliferation regimes.  This approach, I would say, has now been acknowledged and has enabled us to address satisfactorily many of the misperceptions and apprehensions that were voiced immediately following the tests.  We have emphasised our requirement of maintaining a minimum credible deterrent and refraining from being drawn into an arms race or a search for parity.  A policy of no-first-use is entirely consistent with the role of a deterrent for which Indian nuclear weapons and deployment policy has been designed.  At the same time, India’s commitment to global nuclear disarmament remains undiluted.  The old arms control percepts that I mentioned earlier, which also underline the NPT, have to give way to new equations if multilaterally negotiated arms control has to succeed.  This is as relevant in dealing with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missiles as at the other end of the spectrum, in dealing with small arms and light weapons proliferation.

15. The Indian perspective is, therefore, not dissimilar from the European perspective because it is rooted in sustaining plurality through engagement.  In India, we are seeking a society built upon allegiance to constitutional and republican principles for only such a society can celebrate the multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual idea that India respresents.  There is a parallel in this with European efforts to build a new set of European institutions.  In both ventures, we are redefining the system of nation-state that was consecrated on this continent in 1648 with its notions of absolute sovereignty but people forget that this concept originated in an era when democracy did not exist.  Democratic pluralism requires the shift from narrow territorial or ethnic nationalisms to a broader civic nationalism.  The threat to such an exercise, wheether in India or in Europe, comes from one source - intolerance and extremism; whether fired by racism or religious fundamentalism.  In our neighbourhood, we have seen it take its toll on democracy and human security in Pakistan; in your backyard, you have witnessed the tragic disintegration of Yugoslavia.  These phenomenon run counter to the systemic of globalisation; they seek to divide while globalisation seeks to join.

16. Today’s globalisation is qualitatively different.  We know of the globalisation before 1914, but that era rested on a political structure of imperialism.  In the inter-war period, people realised how destructive it was for countries to turn their backs on economic interdependence.  In 1945, political leaders once again chose the path of openness and cooperation.  The post-World War II system of multilateralism has made it possible for economic globalisation to emerge once the Cold War was over; globalisation has progressively rendered its designs antiquated.  The  UN Secretary General notes pithily that “our post-war institutions were built for an international world, but we now live in a global world”.  One response has been the growth of regional multilateralism; another is the growing linkages of civil society networks cutting across boundaries.  Yet, in a collective sense, we still need to define an organising principle.

17. It is clear that we need a new kind of cooperation, a cooperation not based exclusively on alignment of national interests, a cooperation which while not violating national sovereignty, promotes a shared responsibility for globally managing the new threats to global security.  Such a cooperative venture requires both greater participation and greater accountability. It requires greater engagement, not only when it suits national interests, but in an unceasing manner for that is the dynamic of globalisation.  Plural states and states based on principles of civic nationalism are natural partners and allies in such a venture for their societies are nurtured on traditions of openness and transparency.  In sum, the organising principle for a globalised world in dealing with security is evidently the “Concert of Open Societies”.