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Foreign Secretary’s Virtual Keynote Address at the Inaugural Session of the Course on ‘India and the Reshaping of the World Order’ , St. Stephen’s College

September 21, 2020

At the outset, I wish to thank St. Stephen’s College for giving me this opportunity to speak at my alma mater, albeit virtually. I would, of course, have liked to visit the College in person. Unfortunately, our current circumstances preclude this option for now. My special thanks go out to Principal Prof John Verghese and the organiser of this program, Mr. Blesson Mathew. I also take this opportunity to extend my greetings to the members of the Governing Body and Supreme Council as well as the faculty of St. Stephen’s College. My best wishes also go to my fellow alumni as well as current students of St. Stephen’s College who have joined this session.

2. At a personal level I am very happy that St Stephen’s has introduced a new certificate program on International Relations. I have for long maintained the view that for a country like ours with strong external engagements and an increasingly important world view, greater academic focus on international relations is highly desirable. My felicitations therefore to St Stephen’s College for taking this important step forward. What adds greater value to this initiative is that the course is being conducted in the new Center for Advanced Learning with a focus on governance issues, policy and international affairs.

3. I wish to congratulate the participants of the certificate course in international relations. I understand that admissions to the course have involved a rigorous selection process. I take this opportunity to wish you the very best in your endeavors.

4. The subject of my remarks today is "India and the Reshaping of the World Order’’. This is an important subject for an audience such as yours. Many of you are already working in roles that are associated with international affairs and many of the course participants will do so in the years to come.

5. We live in a world that has two prominent characteristics. The first is that we are globalized. We live in an international community linked together at multiple levels by multiple arrangements. Economies are interlinked. The air we breathe and the water we drink are drawn from global commons. Technology obeys no borders. Our education and our entertainment are drawn from global content pools. Our families live across the world. No man, literally, is an island unto himself.

6. The second striking characteristic is the rate of change. When I was in college there was no internet and no cell phone. There was no e-commerce, no streaming media, no social media and no apps. Renewable energy, biotech, autonomous vehicles, genetics and many advanced materials were far from being the reality that they are today. This exponential growth in technological innovations in recent years and the changes it has brought about in our lives and into our consciousness is without precedent in history.

7. Globalization and change, particularly driven by technology, do not however mean that nothing is the same. The fundamentals of governance and policy-making remain constant. The right intentions, an open mind, the willingness and ability to learn, the ability to listen, adaptability, diligence and application to work remain as important today as they were decades and even centuries ago. These are required in equal measure by public servants and by enlightened citizenry like you.

8. The study and practice of international affairs is both an art and a science. It is a science because it requires an ability to ascertain and determine facts. It is an art because it often involves the divination of patterns and lessons in a non-linear manner. Experience, study, contemplation are necessary.

9. The practice of diplomacy, like that of public administration and management, is also both an art and a science. Our effectiveness as public servants ultimately depends on our skill in executing policy objectives and priorities.

10. I presume that you are attending this course because you have more than a passing interest in international relations and international affairs. I would further presume that this interest is linked to a recognition that the outside world, through processes of globalization, is going to impact us on a daily basis even more in the years to come. Many of you will, or may want to, work at the intersection of the forces of globalization and change with our national journey.

11. This is a rapidly expanding space. We are a country with global interests. We have one of the largest and most able diasporas. Our economy, and our material well being, is linked to global value chains and supply chains. We are a services powerhouse with a distinct international presence. We see the world as a borderless economy with an interlinked marketplace.

12. It is important to remember that the globalized world is a very complex world. It is also important to remember that the rate of change brings heightened levels of uncertainty to our world. The current pandemic underlines some of these complexities.

13. We are faced with new and uncertain risks and threats even as we struggle with existing ones. Terrorism, radical ideologies, and transnational crime have been joined by cybercrime and biothreats as security challenges that recognise no borders.

14. The international affairs space, with its mix of opportunities and threats, will grow further in the years and decades to come. The contours and dimensions of this space and its content will change with time but the investment you make today in the study of international affairs will remain relevant for the rest of your working lives.

15. Let me now turn to some of these priorities and our current diplomatic objectives. Let me try and describe where India stands in the World Order.

16. I would have to begin by saying that the severe disruptions of the current pandemic notwithstanding, India has generally changed for the better in our lifetimes. We are, I believe, an emerging power. This is a statement both of fact and of aspiration. It is a fact because we have come a long way. It is a statement of aspiration because we continue to look ahead.

17. The pandemic has disrupted an international order or system that has been in existence for much of our working lives. We are a collection of nation states organized around the concept of sovereignty and on the general principles that disputes should be resolved peacefully and that one should not normally interfere in the affairs of other states. It is what is often called a Westphalian system. To this system has been added a network of international organisations such as the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organisation, the G20. The recent past has seen this system revisiting ideas about sovereignty and devoting much attention to concepts such as international law, soft laws and norms.

18. To work with this system, to shape it and to reform it has been a major foreign policy priority. We are believers in this multilateral system.

19. Multilateral diplomacy has to be based on rules. We are committed to an international order based on rules.

20. We also believe that the content of globalization needs to change. We believe that multilateralism must be reformed to accommodate current trends and realities. Our Prime Minister has spoken of a human-centric globalization that transcends the purely economic agenda that has defined globalization so far. We would like a new form of globalization, based on fairness, equality and humanity in the post-COVID world.

21. We have long been a constructive actor in the shaping of a human welfare-centric international system. We have extensive development cooperation engagement with our neighbours and other partner countries in the Global South. In our neighbourhood, we are regarded as the first responder to humantarian crises. We have undertaken humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations even beyond our immediate neighbourhood. In response to natural disasters, we have extended assistance over a space stretching from Indonesia to Mozambique. We have supported a number of our friends and partners during the current pandemic. We have spearheaded the launch of international organizations dealing with critical issues such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. At the United Nations, we have initiated what are now two iconic global events, the International Day of Yoga on 21st June and the International Day of Non-Violence on 2nd October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

22. Periods of growth follow all crises. Like the crises preceding it, the current crisis is also expected to be followed by a similar trend. One of our priorities, in this context, is to make India, in the words of Prime Minister, the "nerve centre of global supply chains”. This is also in line with his vision of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’. We are actively engaged in promoting India as an alternative manufacturing hub and an innovation destination.

23. All crises alter geopolitics. Some things will, however, not change. The fundamental spatial orientation of our policy remains Neighbourhood First. Initiatives such as BIMSTEC link Neighbourhood First to another fundamental pillar of our foreign policy, viz., Act East. We have a growing dialogue with ASEAN through multiple channels. Think West – our outreach to the Gulf and West Asian countries – has become an increasingly important pillar of our foreign policy. Our engagement with Africa, both in political and economic terms, has also intensified as never before. We have also outlined our vision for engagement in the Indo-Pacific region based on a free, open and inclusive order, and on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful resolution of disputes, and international rules and laws.

24. Our key bilateral relationships continue to get our close attention.

25. We are focused on serving our Diaspora and the creation of a global system of delivering public services.

26. Some of you may have seen the ‘Howdy Modi’ event that was organized almost exactly a year ago in Houston.

27. In the last section of my talk, I would like to make a few general points about the nature of higher decision making in statecraft.

28. Firstly, we have to understand that this is a highly complex multi-layered and multi-dimensional operating environment. The space that we operate in defies geometry. It would perhaps be described as a many-sided polygon. The ability to think in terms of complex patterns is therefore an essential skill in international affairs.

29. Secondly, the business of statecraft is not one of binaries. One rarely has the luxury of choosing between black and white. One usually has to negotiate the greys, and make do with sub-optimal choices.

30. Thirdly, it requires an ability to think both global and local. It requires the ability to mentally multi-task across time-zones, geographies and cultures while remaining rooted in one’s own culture and environment.

31. Fourthly, we do not live in a moral vacuum. We are a nation that believes in "vasudaiva kutumbakam” and in the principle of ”nishkama karma”, that good needs to be done for its own sake. This is why we tried to act as a "pharmacy of the world” during the current crisis and provided medications and essential medical supplies to more than 150 countries internationally. At their request, rapid response medical teams were sent to a number of countries, including Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritius and Comoros to assist them in dealing with the pandemic.

32. India, in the midst of the pandemic, went out of its way to be a net provider of security. We decided, in these very difficult circumstances, to continue our role as a responsible member of the international community and take a far-sighted view that will stand us in good stead in the post-pandemic world. We placed humanity at the centre of global prosperity and international cooperation as inherent in responsible international citizenship.

33. I would like to end by looking at the future. We know that the future is uncertain. So what do we do about it?

34. I would say we need to be prepared to continuously adapt and innovate. We must build resilience and capacity. We have to be agile and flexible in the conduct of international diplomacy.

35. We would like to run an effective diplomatic establishment with very swift decision making structures and rapid reflexes.

36. There used to be a time when diplomacy was restricted to the elites. It is a popular legend that this college has been a major nursery for the Indian Foreign Service. A large number of our officers can indeed claim that this is their alma mater. Today, the Service is far more representative with officers from diverse backgrounds. It reflects the success of our socio-economic transformation over the years. We wish for greater interest among the student community in seeing a future in diplomacy. In this context, I hope to see young men and women of exceptional caliber from St. Stephen’s College in the Service.

37. I hope that I have been able to convey a sense of the breadth and expanse of the area that you will study in your course. I also hope I have been able to convey the understanding that major challenges in future will require not just a whole of government approach. They will require a whole of society approach. It requires the active involvement of well informed and skilled professionals like you.

Thank you.

New Delhi
September 21, 2020

 

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