Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the annual session of the UNGA was succinct and comprehensive. It laid down in clear terms his analysis of the current global situation which in his view is fraught with "great uncertainty and profound change". How should his speech be assessed in the context of India's world view and its foreign policy?
The PM's analysis of the world situation covered a wide range of issues: the economic slowdown in the US, Europe and Japan will have a negative impact including on developing countries; food and energy prices are escalating uncontrollably; the sea lanes of communications in the Indian Ocean "are under siege" from pirates; nuclear proliferation continues to pose threats to international security; the unresolved Palestinian question remains the source of threat and instability. The PM also touched briefly on the developments in West Asia, Gulf and North Africa as well as in Afghanistan. He avoided mentioning China, Pakistan or Iran in his analysis of global and regional security.
While he mentioned "new threats' to international security (food, energy, piracy, nuclear safety, financial instabilities, poverty, terrorism, radicalisation of the youth), he left out water, climate change, pandemics, militarization of space, etc. He also avoided mentioning biological weapons though a review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention is due in December.
Why is the world facing so many problems at the same time?
The PM's answer was simple - the negative impact of globalization. He said, "Till a few years ago the world had taken for granted the benefits of globalization and global interdependence. Today we are being called upon to cope with the negative dimensions of those very phenomena."
How should these problems be resolved? The PM's recipe was unambiguous – a strengthened and reformed UN and UNSC; more international cooperation; avoiding protectionism, reform of global financial institutions by making them more inclusive; no external interference; and, adherence to rule of law in international relations. In a significant passage warning against the growing tendency on the part of the international community to interfere in the internal affairs of countries, he said, "People in all countries have the right to choose their own destiny and decide their own future….Actions taken under the authority of the United Nations must respect the unity, territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of individual states."
In the speech there was no mention of ties with the US. Only Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Palestine were mentioned in the context of bilateral relations. Indo-Bangladesh security cooperation came for special praise. India's support for socio-economic development in Afghanistan was mentioned. Palestine's membership of the UN has been a hot issue at the current UNGA session. The PM extended India's "steadfast" support to the Palestinian cause and its membership of the UN.
He also chose to highlight India's growing relations with Africa. Since India aspires for a permanent membership in the UN Security Council, it will need the support of the wider international community. He strongly argued for renewed focus on developmental issues in the agenda of the UN which seems to have been hijacked by the security concerns of the west.
India seems to be making efforts to reclaim its traditional leadership role in the developing world in the age of globalisation. The PM made a pointed reference to India's partnership with the Least Developed Countries when he said, "During the recently held 4th United Nations - Least Developed Countries Conference, India has strengthened its partnership with the LDCs through significantly enhanced lines of credit and assistance in capacity building." The reference to poverty was in the same vein. He said, "There are still millions living in poverty across the world. Their plight has worsened, for no fault of theirs, due to the global economic and financial crisis of the recent years. The actions of governments around the world are therefore under close scrutiny."
On the sidelines of the UNGA, the PM met with President Ahmedinejad of Iran, whose strong anti-US rhetoric had triggered a walk out of some western countries from the hall. According to media reports, the PM has accepted Ahmedinejad's invitation to visit Iran. The visit, signalling a major shift in India's foreign policy of recent years, might assuage the feelings of Iran which has been miffed at India's vote against Iran at the IAEA and also at the recent action by the Reserve Bank of India to suspend the Asian Clearing Union arrangement through which India used to pay for crude imports from Iran. A fresh start in India-Iran relations is required at a time when the situation in Afghanistan is changing so rapidly and India' need for more energy is so pressing. India will need to convince the US that Indo-US relations will not be affected by India-Iran rapprochement and in fact might help in removing misunderstandings between the US and Iran.
Many analysts believe that since the signing of the Indo-US nuclear deal, India's foreign policy had shown a preference for the west. The PM's pitching for a stronger relationship with the developing countries, his criticism of the global governance deficit, his call for democratisation of the international financial institutions, his warnings that international community should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, his unhappiness at the tendency to prescribe prescriptions from the outside, all show that Indian foreign policy may be rediscovering age old themes which had got somehow subdued in recent years. A more confident India can expect to get a better hearing this time than earlier.
The author holds the Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at the IDSA, New Delhi. The views expressed here are personal.
- Originally published by IDSA
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