Sri Dr. Noordin Sopiee, Chairman of ISIS, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
In foreign policy, one of the fundamental principles that India has always sought to uphold, and will continue to uphold, is to fully preserve her freedom of independent thought and action. Every country is a product of its own history and experience. The way it behaves is moulded by the way it came into being. India’s freedom was the result of one of the most profoundly ethical and visionary struggles that history has witnessed and the principles of our foreign policy came to be moulded by that experience. Our desire to remain non-aligned was an attempt to extend our hard won freedom to the arena of international diplomacy. To preserve our freedom, to extend our autonomy and to reinforce democracy at home with a democratic world order abroad have been the fundamental building blocks of Indian foreign policy ever since Independence fifty five years ago. These principles will continue to guide us in the years ahead.
2. India’s inter-relationship with Asia has always been of vital interest to us. And for good reason. Asia is more than half the world. It is the largest and most populous continent, accounting for nearly 60% of the global population. Eight of the ten most populous countries are in Asia. Several of the great ancient civilizations originated in the continent. Almost all the world's religions - Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism, etc. - originated and continue to thrive in Asia. India’s position at the intersection of Asia’s main cultural and geopolitical zones is most remarkable. As Jawaharlal Nehru observed of India’s situation, 50 years ago : "India is so located that she is the pivot of western, southern and south-east Asia". It is little wonder then that Asian concerns are our concerns as well.
3. India’s engagement with Southeast Asia has been civilisational, stretching back over two millennia, based on maritime interactions, trade, and some intermingling of people leading to a broad synthesis: of language, culture, religion and world view. India has never unleashed armies or exported any destabilising ideology. What it has successfully 'exported' is thought and ideas and culture. This benign association has continued until the present age.
4. In fact, India and ASEAN have no disputes and India has never encroached upon the strategic space of ASEAN. Instead, we have a shared perspective on important issues. We have worked together in several areas including Search and Rescue, Sea Piracy and Disaster Relief. We can do the same in many other areas, notably terrorism, small arms proliferation and their links with drug-trafficking. We have enhanced the quality of our economic interaction over the last decade. But there is still much more that we can do to promote inter-regional trade, investment, transfer of technology, better communication links and better tourism, cultural and academic linkages to name but a few areas that demand greater attention. As we progress down this road, perhaps a wider Asian free trade zone can be visualized in a decade or two.
5. We need to complement our economic exchanges with a more active dialogue on political and security issues at all levels – official as well as non-official. We see in the ARF, an experiment for fashioning a new, pluralistic, cooperative security order, in tune with the diversity of the Asia-Pacific region, and in consonance with transition from a world characterised by balance of power and competing military alliances. Likewise, India’s participation in this security dialogue can only contribute to the stability of the wider region.
6. We are aware that as the largest country in South Asia we have a special responsibility for the welfare of the region. Enduring peace, stability and a spirit of cooperation can release vast dormant resources for the common welfare of the region. The population of all other South Asian countries, put together, is less than half that of India, and India's GNP is more than twice that of the combined GNP of all our South Asian neighbours. We consider it to be firmly in our interest to qualitatively improve relations with our neighbours. Consequently, in recent times, we have chosen to pursue a policy that is asymmetrical. In simple terms, this means that while dealing with our neighbours we are willing to go more than half the way in meeting their concerns. Our policy is based on certain principles that require mutual understanding and agreement. It asks that relations be founded on good faith and trust, that no country allow its territory to be used against the interests of another country in the region, that none interfere in the internal affairs of another that all respect each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that disputes be solved through peaceful bilateral negotiations. We believe this approach will help reawaken a sense of shared destiny and usher in a new era of cooperation and co-prosperity in our region.
7. As a developing country, attaining rapid economic growth is a key priority for us. We are acutely aware of the fact that we need to leverage our strengths of rich natural and human resources to move to the forefront of the Asian resurgence. At the same time, South-South Cooperation has been and remains an important tenet of India’s Foreign Policy. We believe in sharing our experience with fellow developing countries. We have a substantive technical and economic cooperation programme with countries of Asia, Africa and South America. Under our economic cooperation programme, we have undertaken turnkey projects abroad, commissioned feasibility studies, provided consultancy services in wide range of fields and donated equipment and machinery. Human resource development is an important component of the economic cooperation programme. We are committed to continue with this aspect of our foreign policy and it will be our endeavour to further diversify and strengthen it.
8. Permit me now to speak on one or two subjects of broader strategic concern.
9. The induction of nuclear weapons was seen by some commentators as a radical shift in the Indian security paradigm. This perception, I would say is questionable. We believe that the overt exercise of the nuclear option by India has helped remove potentially dangerous strategic ambiguities in the region. It has enhanced the strategic space of the country and granted to it the needed autonomy. This does not imply any complacency. On the contrary it emphasises India's awareness of and commitment to greater restraint. That, amongst other reasons is why we have sought to reassure countries in the region – primarily through the announcement of our intention to maintain only a minimum credible deterrent and a policy of no-first-use – that our tests do not alter the essentially, defensive character of our security policy. Mindful of our increased responsibilities we have also sought to increase the scope of confidence building measures with our neighbours. As regards ASEAN, I reiterate what has been said earlier, namely, that that we fully respect the status of the Nuclear Free Zone in South East Asia and are ready to convert this commitment into a legal obligation.
10. Moreover, our decision to acquire credible nuclear deterrent has not deflected us from our belief that peace between nations in this new century is best guaranteed by nuclear disarmament, and not nuclear deterrence. India will continue to take the lead in formulating genuine multilateral disarmament initiatives, and in their implementation.
11. The Cold War era collapsed together with the Berlin Wall in 1989. The world was still trying to cope with the ramifications of this paradigm shift, but even before we could come to terms with it, the curtain came down on the post-Cold War era as well, on 11 September last year, with the collapse of yet another structure - this time the World Trade Centre towers in New York. The post-11 September period highlighted the acute vulnerability of all nations to asymmetric threats. A wired up world makes these threats anonymous, unpredictable and rapid. Globalisation has magnified the risks of terrorism, by coupling it with the heightened dangers of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
12. The perpetrators of global terrorism believe that there are no innocents. Such an approach turns its back on centuries of civilization and political evolution. Creating fear, inflicting violence and attacking innocents – were long ago declared invalid instruments to achieve political goals; such actions have long been delegitimised in inter-state conduct, and, today, even in intra-state conflicts. Let me state in unambiguous terms, there is no cause or ideology or religion that can be invoked in its justification.
13. Terrorism, therefore, marks a huge regression in the human condition, from civilization to barbarity, from the rule of Law to the law of the jungle, where might is right and brute strength prevails over reason and justice. It is all the more shocking, therefore, that this barbarity has been and continues, post-September 11th, to be supported by some Governments. Indeed, as we have seen in our own neighbourhood, violence and terrorism for some has become an instrument and objective of State Policy. India, has been confronting such a situation for the last twenty years. The latest in the series of such terrorist attacks occurred two days ago against visitors to a place of worship. Thirty innocent civilians lost their lives as a result of this dastardly and cowardly act of terrorism. Our patience has been sorely tested, but we have acted with the utmost restraint. We believe that international cooperation in identifying, isolating and ultimately decimating terrorists and their support structure will be a key area in the global agenda in the years ahead.
14. In the above context, may I mention that the Prime Minister of India in his recent address to the 57th Session of United Nations General Assembly declared that in our South Asian region, nuclear blackmail has emerged over the last few months as a new arrow in the quiver of State-sponsored terrorism. It is India’s view that to succumb to such blatant nuclear terrorism would mean forgetting the bitter lessons of the September 11 tragedy.
15. Friends, collective action requires cooperation among states. States with a strong democratic and pluralistic culture become natural allies in the war against global terrorism because they perceive the threat, directly and intuitively, and together they make a strong coalition. Pluralism in nature may be a fact, but pluralism in society is a civilizational achievement. In a world where dependence and connectivity, between states and within states, is expanding, it becomes vital to defend and nurture pluralism, just as it is vital to defend and nurture freedom. Our foreign and security policy will have to work towards protecting these fundamental values through dialogue and negotiation as well as laws and treaties.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
16. The achievement of Independence by India in 1947 set in motion the inexorable movement towards the end of the colonial era. Country after country, overcoming long centuries under foreign subjugation, realised their dream of Independence. The end of the colonial era was among the signal achievements of the 20th century.
17. The creation of the United Nations brought in the concept of multilateralism. This led the world from war to peace, from dispute to dialogue, and from conflict to cooperation. The concept of "sovereign equality" embodied in the charter of the UN may not have made nations equal, but it certainly fostered a sense of equal belonging in the great debates, dialogues and initiatives of the world community.
18. Democracy has proved to be, by far, the best form of governance especially in pluralistic societies. No alternative to democracy is acceptable. Democracy can be compared to a very delicate flower. Any rough handling can cause it to wither. Those who talk of "controlled democracy" or "sustainable democracy" are in effect destroying the concept and negating its benefits. All democratic societies together should face the challenge of promoting democracy. Let the 21st century be the century of democracy. Malaysia and India can together play an important role in bringing this about.
19 The unfinished task of the democratization of the world order remains. Strengthening of democracy at the level of nations and democratization of multilateral institutions including the UN and Bretton Woods institutions are tasks yet to be completed.
20. The democratization of the UN Security Council to better reflect current day geo-political realities is one of the key reforms required to maintain and enhance the relevance of the United Nations. Today as the world confronts even more serious challenges to its common future – terrorism, drug trafficking, environmental degradation, deadly diseases such as AIDS, to name but a few - it is critical that this process of democratization be expedited.
21. I have outlined some of the key concerns and objectives that India’s foreign policy will have to contend with in the years ahead. Our work will be arduous and complex requiring attention on many fronts, yet our basic approach is simple and straightforward.
Kuala Lumpur September 26, 2002