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Home > India > News > Columnists > Pranab Mukherjee

Security in the Asian Century

February 06, 2008

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Asia in the 21st century will be a very different place than what it was in the past. For over 200 years, external powers played a dominant role in shaping Asia's political, social, economic and cultural arenas. This situation has been undergoing significant changes for quite some time now.

The balance of influence on Asian affairs has begun to shift in favour of the countries of Asia. Japan [Images] was a lone swallow in the first half of the 20th century. But in its second half, it blazed a trail that was followed by the East and Southeast Asian tiger economies.

China and India have further fanned this Asian revival with their prowess in the manufacturing and service sectors. Asia today contributes just around a quarter of the global GDP, and this share is expected to rise to more than 50 per cent of the world by 2025. As Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] recently noted, by the middle of the century, Asia may well account for more than 50 percent of foreign trade, income, saving, investment and financial transactions of the globe.

Asia's economic revival has given rise to many predictions about its future. These projections are based on two factors. The first is Asia's growing and relatively youthful population. It has been estimated that by 2010, 60 per cent of the world's population in the age group of 20 to 35 is likely to be Asian. And the second is the rapid growth of several Asian economies during the last few decades.

China, for example, has been averaging a growth rate of about 9 per cent a year since 1980. For its part, India has averaged 8.5 per cent a year in the last five years. It is believed that these two factors would enable Asian countries to dominate the international economy and, by extension, international politics and security.

Whether this scenario comes about or not depends on a number of domestic and external factors. But what seems certain is the growing influence of major Asian countries on the structures and processes of international relations in Asia.

At the same time, we cannot overlook the influence of external actors on the continent. Asian security in the 21st century will thus be shaped by the interactions between major Asian powers and influential external actors such as European Union, Russia [Images] and the United States.

Many security challenges confront Asia today -- the spread of nuclear weapons, the threat of terrorism, threats to energy security, and so on. And many more challenges are likely to arise in the course of the century, including the issue of climate change.

India has a critical role to play in tackling these challenges. With its economy growing at an impressive rate over the last few years, India has emerged as one of the drivers of economic growth in the world. India is a unique example of a country where development and democracy have gone hand in hand. Its role has become crucial for international economic integration and trade organisation, for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, for tackling the threat of terrorism, for stabilising conflict-affected states like Afghanistan, for dealing with the issue of climate change, for building and strengthening multilateral institutions, and for collective and co-operative security in Asia.

A principal cause of concern in recent years has been the threat of nuclear proliferation. This is not limited only to new states acquiring nuclear weapons capability. It also extends to the very real threat of terrorist groups laying their hands on nuclear material and even fully assembled nuclear weapons.

These two security challenges are interlinked. And they are products of the demand-supply dynamic. On the supply side, the proliferation problem is a product of two factors. One is the inability of states to sufficiently safeguard their nuclear material, technology and facilities against attempts to procure WMD relevant items. The second factor is deliberate and callous proliferation by states including state failure to exercise adequate control over personnel engaged in nuclear programmes. It is well known how transfer of uranium enrichment technology, equipment and even weapon design has taken place clandestinely and flagrantly in our region.

Even more alarming is the interest shown by radical terrorist groups in acquiring nuclear material and technology and the linkages that they had forged with a few nuclear scientists.

The challenge before us is to make sure that national laws and international commitments are better implemented by states to prevent leakage of material and technology from established nuclear programmes. The challenge also is to do this consistently and without short-term considerations of political expediency.

On the demand side, the best way to address the dilemmas in the nuclear domain is to focus our efforts on the goal of global nuclear disarmament.

India, as you know, has held a principled position on the issue of nuclear weapons since the dawn of the nuclear age. It has many firsts to its credit in promoting arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. As early as 1954, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru issued the first ever call for a standstill to nuclear weapons tests. In 1965, it was India that first put forward the principles for a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indian enthusiasm for the NPT waned when it saw the reluctance of established nuclear powers to give up their arsenals.

But in all these years, we have strictly abided by all the basic obligations enshrined in this treaty as they apply to nuclear weapon states. Today, as a responsible nuclear weapon power, we are even more mindful of our duty to control the spread of WMD technologies and their delivery systems. We have signalled our willingness to be a part of the international consensus by adopting a comprehensive WMD Export Control legislation.

We have also harmonised our export control lists with those prescribed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime. These measures also fulfill the obligations prescribed by UN Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls upon states to refrain from supporting non-state actors in their quest for weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

We do not wish to see the emergence of additional nuclear weapon states, for it will only further endanger international security. And our goal continues to be a world free of nuclear weapons. This year marks 20 years the since the late Rajiv Gandhi presented a bold action plan for a nuclear weapon free and non-violent world order. The central premises of the 1988 Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan are of current significance and relevance as they were two decades ago:

  • First, a binding commitment by all nations to eliminate nuclear weapons in stages;
  • Second, participation by all states in the process of nuclear disarmament and here I would like to emphasis that nuclear disarmament does not alone mean arms control;
  • Third, demonstration of good faith and building of confidence through tangible progress towards the common goal of a nuclear weapon free world;
  • Fourth, changes in doctrines, policies and institutions to sustain a world free of nuclear weapons.

The vision of Rajiv Gandhi continues to guide India's approach to nuclear disarmament. Personalities such as Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry who were at the center of crafting nuclear policy and who thought that nuclear weapons were essential to the security of their state are having a rethink today.

We welcome this development and hope it leads, as envisaged in the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan, to a commitment by all states to a nuclear weapon free world. As a responsible nuclear weapon power, India is ready to play its part in the process leading to global, non-discriminatory and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons.

I now turn to the challenge of terrorism which haunts the world today. Asia in particular is home to by far the largest number of terrorist groups in the world. India has been facing this curse since the 1980s; first in Punjab, then in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], and now in other parts of the country as well. We have consistently highlighted the need for a unified international response to trans-national and trans-border terrorism.

Terrorists derive their justification from politics, perceived or genuine grievances and economic disadvantage. In our view, no goal or grievance can justify the targeting of innocent people. In our view, terrorism is best defined as the deliberate targeting of innocent men, women and children. The September 11 attacks, the Madrid train bombing, the tragedy at Beslan, targeting of the London [Images] underground, the serial bombs that ripped through Mumbai's commuter trains during rush hour in July 2006, all demonstrate this basic fact. Secondly the fact that terrorists have successfully used weakly governed territories to organise attacks, recruit and train their cadres should not obscure the responsibility of the state concerned to prevent the misuse of its territory for terrorist attacks. Terrorism is not a political tool to be deployed and withdrawn at will, for it can turn around and critically wound the state that wields it.

Afghanistan under Taliban rule was the most telling example in this regard. Continuing to allow these groups to enjoy the luxury of this space will have terrible consequences for the world at large. It is vital that Afghanistan emerges as a stable and peaceful country that no longer serves as a base for these groups.

The legitimately elected government in Kabul must be enabled to extend its rule throughout the country. Reconstruction activities need to go hand in hand with efforts to combat radical groups and ensure security. India is one of the largest contributors to the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. We have committed around $800 million. Three thousand five hundred Indians work in various projects in that country. We will persevere with our earnest efforts in this regard and we will continue to co-ordinate these efforts with those of the international community.

It is equally important to stabilise Iraq, which is being torn apart by various factors including sectarian conflict and a violent insurgency. Failure will have repercussions throughout the West Asian region. Regional instability could damage the international economy by disrupting energy supplies and further driving up oil prices which have already breached the 100 dollar mark.

In the context of instability in West Asia, we need to reflect on issues impinging on energy security. Rapid economic growth, especially in Asia, is causing increased demands for fossil fuel. At the same time, reserves are estimated to deplete in future. There is the additional fear that energy flows could be disrupted either by the actions of states or non-state actors.

Asian countries, which predominantly source their fossil fuel requirements from the Persian Gulf, seem particularly vulnerable to such disruptions. They all feel the acute need to ensure the security, stability and sustainability of fossil fuel supplies.

Allow me to share with you my thoughts on another important future challenge that will confront Asia as well as the world at large. This is the issue of climate change due to the accumulated and continuing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Weak and fragile states are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of climate change.

You will recall that a few months ago UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the correlation between climate change and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region. Climate change is truly a global problem and it requires global solutions. Developing countries like India cannot be expected to unilaterally forego the economic aspirations of their people. Advanced economies indeed have a greater obligation to cut down on emissions by encouraging more sustainable patterns of consumption. We need to devote greater efforts to generate alternate technologies and industrial processes that are environment-friendly and these technologies must be provided at affordable cost. The key principle is common but differentiated responsibility.

None of the challenges I have outlined can be effectively tackled by individual countries on their own. Pooling national efforts and resources and channelling them through the co-operative structures of multilateral frameworks and institutions is essential. Only then can we muster the necessary will and resources to tackle these challenges.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan succinctly pointed out in an address at Harvard University in June 2004, and I quote a few lines from there: "It is in the interest of every country to have international rules and to abide by them. And such a system can only work if, in devising and applying the rules, the legitimate interests and points of view of different countries are accommodated, and decisions are reached collectively. That is the essence of multilateralism �"

Excerpted from External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's speech at the 10th Asian Security Conference organised by Institute of Defence Studies and Analyis in New Delhi on February 5.


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