Introduction to Indian Strategic Thinking for Diplomats 2.0
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On 17 February 2020, VIF held the second workshop for foreign diplomats posted in embassies based in New Delhi. It was the second time this initiative was taken to bring together diplomats from countries around the world and introduce them to the conceptual frameworks and thought processes that define India’s strategic outlook. The three days’ workshop saw the participation of 25-30 distinguished diplomats from political as well as military section of the embassies. The lectures were so designed, that each lecture/presentation were followed by a candid interaction with the participants to facilitate a mutual exchange of knowledge and ideas.

The tone for the workshop was set by Shri Gurumurthy, Chairman, VIF, who explained the implications of India as a civilisational state on its governance, politics and engagement with the rest of the world. This has led to our focus on the durable aspects of human life instead of the materialistic impulses guiding the world at large today. He insisted that India be perceived as a civilisational entity to understand her approach to strategic affairs. He noted that India’s existence today has to be based Swami Vivekananda’s philosophy of Harmony in Diversity.

Dr Sanjay Baru took the podium next to throw some light on the state of Indian Economy and its future outlook. He highlighted the paradigm shift in India’s economic policy in the 1991 and links it as another way of re-establishing our civilisational links with Asia, more to our East. This also accelerated the growth of Indian Economy post the reforms. He owed this pace of growth to three major factors namely, increase in share of investment in national income, increase in share of trade in national income and increase in productivity (both in agriculture and manufacturing sector). India’s overall experience with inflation as a developing nation too has been a positive one. Dr Baru assessed that the future of manufacturing needs to be skewed towards domestic defence manufacturing in India.

The overall picture of India’s foreign and security policy was painted by Amb Kanwal Sibal in his lecture. He spoke on the recent developments and challenges for India on this front, given the flux in international relations of late. Amb Sibal pointed that what we have seen until recently has been the product of trans-Atlantic alliance and its allies. This has all changed with the coming of President Trump and his stance against the existing agreements and structures. Concurrently, under PM Modi India now has a better view of its role in the world, which is being pursued more vigorously. He noted that India has asserted itself not as a swing power but as a leading power, maintaining its strategic autonomy. However, he clarified that the phrase “strategic autonomy” implies that India will establish partnerships with all countries rather than supporting values under certain structures it fundamentally differs with.

Another important aspect of India’s strategic capabilities was taken up by General NC Vij while addressing to India’s defence policy. He mentioned the old fable of Panchatantra to define India’s concept of national security which highlights that the most important gift that nature has given us is that of security. This view, he said, has been shared by all the Indian prime ministers since India’s independence. However, the point which shouldn’t be missed is that today’s wars are strategically and technologically dynamic. And the future wars will be dominated by factors such as cyber warfare, information warfare, and space militarisation, among others and hence requires providence in these matters along with conventional soldiering. Jointness among armed forces hence becomes an important force multiplier to fight future wars, which India has pursued actively in recent years. Another step suggested by Gen Vij is the presence of a body like National Preparedness Council, to take up national security as an ongoing national pursuit by the nation.

The non-traditional aspects of security and India’s strategic approach to them, are discussed by Dr Uttam Sinha. Under policy implications, Dr Sinha mentioned that it is difficult to segregate the traditional and non-traditional aspects of security. This implies that security needs to understood from a holistic perspective. The level of inter-connectedness today has shrunk distances between regions, throwing new challenges in our way. We are constantly living with threats and risks making us ‘risk society’, while security has been re-defined in the 21st century. He looks at issues like water security, energy security and climate change becoming hard security issues today. This calls for an integrated approach against these threats, best defined by the phrase that hunters ‘hunt the stag together’.

To further this integrated approach, Amb Basant Gupta, spoke on India as a Soft Power. He categorized soft power elements into cultural diplomacy, democratic traditions and foreign policy which use elements non-military and non-economic. To understand the ancient Indian philosophy to points to the three civilisational setups on the banks on Saraswati river, Indus river and the Ganga river. He spoke about the storehouse of ancient wisdom that India has got from the Vedas. He took to these texts to re-define the concepts of university, teacher and even the war-learning ethics.

To narrow down India’s foreign policy imperatives, particular regions of neighbourhood, China and Pakistan were discussed in the subsequent lectures. Amb Ashok Kanta explained India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis China by talking about the rise of China and what it means for Asia and the world at large. The important point to be noted is the transition period that China is undergoing currently. Mr Tilak Devasher, brought to the fore the complicated Indo-Pak relations. He spoke about the Pakistan movement which led to the creation of Pakistan. This baggage was carried forward by the Pakistani leaders in the years after independence. He highlighted the identity crises that has persisted for Pakistan as a nation, further complicated by the Islamization movement by its former President Zia ul Haq.

Amb Veena Sikri later elaborated on India’s active and dynamic neighbourhood first policy. These aspects, she suggests, are interlinked with the domestic development of India. Shared prosperity and shared development is the only way forward for India. She comprehensively explained this aspect of India’s foreign policy under the concepts of security, people to people interaction, trade agreements and few sub-regional mechanisms. Cooperation has been pursued by India both at bilateral and multilateral level in South Asia.

Finally, Lt Gen Ata Hasnain gave a comprehensive presentation on the situation in J&K and Counter terrorism and radicalisation. As an oldest sufferer of cross-border terrorism, India has now taken strong stance against state-sponsored terrorism by Pakistan. He explained the geography of J&K, considerably influenced by its history. He presented some of the core issues that lie at the heart of the Kashmir problem and standoff in India today. He concluded his session by underlining the strategic importance of Siachen glacier for India.

The objective of the workshop was achieved with the involvement of participants with diverse perspectives, cultural and national background. Such interactions reflected the curiosity with which the foreign diplomats attended the sessions.

Event Date 
February 17, 2020
February 19, 2020

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