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'Power shifts creating a world where power is widely held'

Last updated on: December 8, 2011 08:30 IST

'Power shifts creating a world where power is widely held'

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Speaking at the Gulf Forum 2011, in Riyadh, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon said that if the centre of gravity of world politics has shifted to Asia, it is now also the cockpit of rivalries and the stage on which international competition is played out.

Following is the speech delivered by Menon on 'Global Power Shifts and the Role of Rising Powers'.

Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, fellow speakers, excellencies and distinguished participants. I wish to thank the Institute of Diplomatic Studies and the ministry of foreign affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the honour of speaking at this prestigious forum on the Gulf and the Globe.

Allow me to make a few points to start off a discussion on the topic that was suggested to me, namely, 'Global Power Shifts and the Role of Rising Powers'.

We live in a time of unprecedented change. No one knows this better than the sub-region where we are today. It is hard to think of another area which has been as transformed in the last fifty years as the Gulf. Often the scope and pace of change is beyond explanation or comprehension and our thinking still has to catch up with reality. This is true of the economic shift that has accelerated after the financial crisis of 2008.

It is also true of the rapid shifts in regional and global balances of power. Some of the change is positive. For the first time in history 60 percent of mankind has been exposed to sustained growth rates of over 6 per cent for an extended period. Balance of power shifts and technological change are creating a world where power is more widely held. We seem to be moving to a situation of multiple major powers in the international system with the ability to produce or influence outcomes.

Unprecedented change also brings with it unprecedented uncertainty and insecurity. This is evident around us. Globalisation has created interdependence, knitting the world together. If the centre of gravity of world politics, and soon the economy, has shifted to Asia, including the Gulf, Asia is now also the cockpit of rivalries and the stage on which international competition is played out. Uncertainty and insecurity lead powers to follow hedging strategies, each acting on their own worst fears, and thereby risking making them come true.

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Image: National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Reuters

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'Flip side of common prosperity is common security'

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But the same change that creates new challenges also opens up space for creative diplomacy. There is space opening up in the international system for medium powers and others to play a more active role in this world of multiple powers, economically interlinked and embedded in a new balance of power.

What are the drivers of this change? They range from technology (such as nuclear fission, Information and communications technology and uses of outer space), to economics, to politics, and to new issues like climate change and the uses of soft power in an interdependent world. Technologies like ICT have empowered small groups and individuals and the state itself, opening up new domains with new rules and practices, and new forms of contention.

We see the effects of these power shifts all around us. Developments in North Africa, West Asia and Gulf are evidence. The epicentre of global growth shifting to Asia is another. If this transformation is to be continued, for the benefit of the global economy, energy will be the key, and the Gulf will be critical to the rest of Asia's growth and therefore to global economic health.

The flip side of common prosperity is common security. Asia's security is also interlinked across this great continent. India has therefore argued for an open, inclusive Asian security architecture to be evolved by the powers of the region itself. We face common challenges of proliferation, terrorism, and maritime security and need to find a way to ensure the peace and stability that is essential to our futures.

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'India's economic prospects are good and fundamentals strong'

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What is the role of emerging powers in this situation? First, a problem of definition. Many of these so called emerging countries are really re-emerging powers, better described as rapidly developing countries rather than as rising powers. Today the world is fortunate to have several growth poles simultaneously in East Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, the Gulf and in Africa.

The larger countries in this category, (irrespective of whether you call them rising or emerging powers), are likely to continue to have several poor people even as they accumulate power in the international system, unlike the situation in the 19th or 20th centuries when Europe and North America developed. They are therefore unlikely to behave as the older or traditional powers did, and their domestic imperatives will take priority in policy formulation.

I can only speak for India, and give you Indian's view on the role of so-called emerging powers. We in India still have a long way to go in realising our domestic goal of transforming India to the point where each Indian has the opportunity to fully realise his potential. The scale of our domestic task is enormous, and for a long time to come our primary responsibility will be to sustain the pace of inclusive growth at home. I remember a Chinese friend saying once that the best contribution that India and China can make to global food security is to feed themselves. There is considerable truth in that.

Over the last two decades years India has averaged over 6 percent growth, which has accelerated to between 8-9 percent in the last five years. With a domestic savings rate of 35 percent and investment rate slightly higher than that the economy can sustain high growth rates. India's economic prospects are good and the fundamentals are strong.

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'For India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are vital partners'

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We also recognise that we live in an increasingly interdependent world and that India's own success is increasingly bound to the fate of the rest of the world. When we began economic reforms twenty years ago only about 14 percent of our GDP was related to the external economy. Today that proportion is closer to 40 percent. (That figure is almost twice that for China.) We will therefore work with our international partners, contributing within our capacity to creating an enabling external environment for the domestic transformation of India. That is what India and Saudi Arabia have attempted to do together in the G-20.

This requires an external environment of peace. It is important that our strategic partnership also extend to creating that climate of peace working together on issues of regional security.

For India Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are vital partners. Almost 6 million Indians live and work here, and our trade is now over 100 billion dollars a year. India has a stake in issues relating to peace and stability in the wider Gulf region including Iran and Iraq.

India and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial and friendly relations reflecting centuries of economic and social ties. The landmark visit of His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to India in January 2006 opened a new chapter in India-Saudi Arabia relations, which was carried forward by the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010, giving new impetus to our strategic partnership.

One thing I can assure you. India will not be like the traditional big powers. Mrs Indira Gandhi used to say India will be a different power, a power that works for development, peace and international understanding, in its own interest and in that of its friends and partners abroad, Asia is not Europe and our indigenous strategic cultures are strong and lasting. I am confident that, working together, India and the Gulf will be able to face the challenges that the new geopolitics are throwing up and take advantage of the opportunities that these changes are opening up.


Image: File photo shows King Abdullah taking part in a religious festival in Riyadh
Photographs: Reuters

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