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Address by External Affairs Minister at Third Raisina Dialogue, New Delhi (January 17, 2018)

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It is a great pleasure to welcome you all, to the Third Raisina Dialogue. 

This year the theme of the Dialogue is "Managing Disruptive Transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms”.

The Dialogue began yesterday, with the key note address by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

We were privileged to have Prime Minister Modi in our midst on that occasion. 

In the course of the next two days, different facets of this phenomenon would be deliberated upon in over 50 sessions. The success of the Dialogue is underlined by the fact, that this year we have participation from over 86 countries. I am happy to learn that 33% of the panellists in this dialogue are women.

I am confident that the Dialogue would host stimulating discussions on a wide range of subjects.

Few would disagree with the proposition, that today, we are indeed a world in transition. Undeniably, change is both constant & unrelenting, and, in fact, its pace has quickened with the spread of technology.

But what characterizes international relations today, is a sharp departure from longstanding assumptions and practices. Some of that certainly reflects structural trends, that have led to the rebalancing of the global economy, and consequently, of international politics. This is particularly true in respect of Asia. 

At the same time, there is no denying that in response to a combination of security, economic and social developments, globalization itself is in retreat politically. The manner in which the world identifies and prioritizes challenges, is no longer the same. In many ways, neither is the conduct of international relations, especially in its shift away from multilateralism and alliances.

What has been notable in this transition, has been the impact of disruptive phenomena on it. This includes disruptions within societies, as well as between them.

Nations and regions may well function in their individual contexts, but some broad trends are nevertheless discernible. Within societies, both opportunities and challenges have had disruptive implications.

At its most positive, there has been an undeniable growth in prosperity in wide swathes of the world. Societies, that for many years lived below poverty levels, are today witnessing rapidly expanding middle classes. This is reflected in the emergence of new centres of production as indeed it has of consumption.

With the passage of time, it has produced new mindsets, lifestyles and aspirations. This is most visible in Asia, including in its two largest nations, India and China. The journey towards modernization is both, a reflection and a driver of this changing dynamics. Very often, the changes are evolutionary, and are absorbed without much debate or even awareness.

In other cases, especially when a direct outcome of policy choices, they can be more immediately impactful. The history of Asian development has demonstrated, that governance is a mix of such decisions. What matters at the end of the day is, whether they keep us going in the right direction.

In India, we are seeing all of this underway, at the same time. A range of social, economic and developmental initiatives and campaigns have truly unleashed transformational possibilities. Some address longstanding issues of gender balance and literacy levels. Others focus on equipping our youth for employment, through skills preparation and start-up capabilities.

Emphasis on expanding manufacturing is matched by an equal determination to bridge the digital divide. Steps towards a more unified and formal economy have been taken through bold decisions. The path to progress is, neither smooth nor inevitable.

Governance is, therefore, an exercise in leading and managing change. This is not just the case with India.

The developmental examples I have given are, after all, fully reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Other nations have their own versions. Our concerns about employment, digitization or corruption are also shared by most societies.

We may debate the nature and outcome of our inter-dependence. But the reality is that even in disruptions, what happens in one part of the world can no longer leave the others unaffected, whether it is in terms of outcomes or ideas.

The domestic consequences of development may largely be in the growth of aspirations and expansion of opportunities. Its external reflection, however, is expressed more in the emergence of new power equations. That arises from shifting economic capabilities & changes in comparative advantage. Rising powers naturally seek to exert greater influence and create ecosystems, more favourable to themselves.

In contrast, societies with a more defensive mindset are today struggling to protect their interests, even if it means moving away from political correctness. In a historical sense, we can see this, as a natural rise and decline of societies.

However, if the outcome is perceived as a result of not playing by the rules, then it creates its own differences and tensions. It is even more important in a world of disruptive transitions that international law is scrupulously respected. Use of force or threats in that regard must become an anachronism in the 21st century. 

This makes it all the more important that the world today debate and clarify the practices and ethos which underwrites the international order.

Having radically divergent views of how the world runs is more likely, than not to increase unpredictability and enhance disruptive tendencies.

This conversation will not be easy because, as you will be debating in a particular session, there are question marks about the old liberal order. Finding greater common ground for more effective international relations and more efficient global economics is today a big challenge. 

Terrorism is undeniably the mother of all disruptions today. Our attitude towards it has evolved in the last few decades. There was a time when it was seen as other people’s problem or a law and order situation. Not just that, it was also actively utilized as an instrument of statecraft. That time has long gone by. 

We are all now very clear that terrorism anywhere can threaten societies everywhere. The challenge is even more serious in a digital age, with greater propensity to radicalization. However, there are still old assumptions and established mindsets in this regard. Partly because of the 9/11 precedent, we associate terrorism with ungoverned spaces.

The more recent example of ISIS has reinforced this stereotype. While not without basis, what is even more dangerous is terrorism from governed spaces; in fact, terrorism actively supported and sponsored by states. To expect that an activity which draws on all the ills of the world – fanaticism, crime, bloodshed and illegal trade – will not have a corrosive impact beyond its intended arena is unrealistic.

Nor will it spare its originators and practitioners. Ensuring zero-tolerance towards terrorism is the call of the day.

The message is particularly to those who continue to believe that it can be an instrument of convenience.

The threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is another disruptive element that this Dialogue would be discussing. While it has its own history, we should not ignore the fact that proliferation threats are encouraged in large measure by arguments that favour the actual use of WMDs, especially nuclear weapons. I am glad that there is also a session devoted to nuclear unpredictability.

Let me add that support for proliferation may also not just be theoretical. Many contemporary developments have their roots in longstanding proliferation linkages that the world deliberately chose to overlook. Like terrorism, nuclear proliferation cannot be addressed effectively in a segmented manner. Fuller disclosure and greater accountability are a must.

Economic and commercial happenings may not pose the same sharp sense of concern in a world driven by headlines. But over a longer term, they shape the global order in a very profound way. While the focus in the past was essentially on comparative advantage and market access, there is now a growing realization of the critical importance of connectivity.

It can certainly expand choices for those societies which lack them currently. The Chabahar Port and air corridor to India have demonstrated that for Afghanistan. The Trilateral Highway holds the same potential for India-ASEAN connectivity as does the International North-South Corridor for that between India, Iran and Europe. 

Implementation of our SAGAR doctrine will similarly have a positive effect on sea-borne trade. But connectivity can also constrain at the same time, if it is not well thought through. In a globalized economy, it is important that the building of connectivity is a consultative process. Not just consultative but also one based on norms of transparency, good governance, commercial viability, fiscal responsibility and respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

New lines of connectivity must certainly be treated as positively disruptive when they accord with such practices. India itself is very active in expanding connectivity, both to its East and its West. There are many initiatives involving a large number of nations in this regard. The role of multilateral institutions in building connectivity is also important. Again, establishing and implementing global norms in this regard is of utmost priority.

While connectivity is largely a matter of national decision making, even though it has international ramifications, a related concern is the safety and security of the global commons. More so than any other domain, it has been impacted by a shifting sense of responsibility towards global governance. The maritime world is experiencing this particularly sharply.

The old order is expressing its limitations through both policy and posture. The new order, however, is far from being clear. This is really a world in transition. For the foreseeable future, it appears, that nations with growing capabilities and larger awareness will have to step forward and bear more responsibility. 

On India’s part, I can state that this is already happening. Whether it is the civil war in Yemen, the earthquake in Nepal, the landslides in Sri Lanka, the water crisis in Maldives, the cyclone in Myanmar or the typhoon in Fiji, we are amongst the first responders in humanitarian assistance and disaster response situations. 

However, the world should not exist on the caprice of national decisions alone. A more consensual effort to address global challenges of maritime security is as important as towards climate change, nuclear proliferation or terrorism. Among the issues under examination, in this Dialogue are facilitating the flow of capital to match global priorities.

Some of your deliberations are focused on trends that could militate against such international cooperation. There are some for whom this has been a limited part of their history, tradition or thinking. In the case of others, the inclination is towards limiting their own contribution and working with partners. That, in itself, may well be a positive development by creating the basis for future arrangements.

But, the turn inwards has larger implications, for the international economy. Economic and commercial expectations will have legitimacy only as long as they are perceived to be fair and reasonable. Nor is it realistic anymore, that some aspects of global economic activity are more constrained than others. The international discourse cannot focus on goods and investments while neglecting services and mobility.

I know, that in the next two days, different aspects of our global economic future will be deliberated at this venue. These include, developments pertaining to jobs and growth, to the role of women in the workplace, as well as to innovation and technology. Each of these has its own disruptive aspect.

But, a conference like this should lead to a better understanding of the concerns and expectations that different parts of the world have of each other so that they can be more effectively reconciled.

The manner in which international politics is being conducted, is itself undergoing a significant change. Understandably, diplomacy has become more bilateral, of late, with nations, pursuing their immediate interests with greater focus and vigour. Having noted that, we cannot overlook the fact that regional and multilateral efforts remain in play to a large measure.

In fact, in a flatter world with greater uncertainties and less rigid structures, regional cooperative endeavours may now acquire greater credibility and salience. In our own region, we are finding a renewed interest in collaborative activities in the Indo-Pacific and even in the Bay of Bengal. I am, therefore, particularly pleased, that there are sessions exclusively devoted to exploring possibilities in this regard. Obviously, there are also regions that are under stress, and how they come out of their current predicament, is equally worth looking at.

Significantly, contemporary diplomacy has responded to the limitations of both bilateralism and multilateralism by not only seeking more regionalism but also coming up with innovative and flexible groupings that are focused on issues and challenges.

The rise of the pluri-lateral and the mini-lateral, may well be one of the innovations of this transition. There may even be a new rationale for older groupings such as the Commonwealth.

In a world, where the pressures of the immediate often take precedence over the calculations of the future, it is imperative, that strategists and thinkers find appropriate ways of balancing the two.

We all feel the change underway, even if its causes and implications remain subject to debate. Solutions and reactions come in different forms and some of them are already visible.

Digitization is impacting on governance and accountability in ways that we are only just beginning to understand. Artificial intelligence and robotics will surely impact industry in a manner that will be profound.

We have new multilateral banks like the AIIB or energy-related institutions like the International Solar Alliance. Cultural projection and soft power activities are more prolific and balanced and we Indians take pride in the International Day of Yoga.

New methods of warfare are being discussed as actively as new forums of business.

The agenda, format and participation of discussions on international issues is itself very different. The winds of change have started to affect even the United Nations. This Dialogue is intended to promote global discourse in this regard. That it is taking place in India and all of you from different parts of the world have responded so enthusiastically is a statement in itself.

I thank you all for coming to the 3rd Raisina Dialogue and wish you very productive deliberations.

Thank you !

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