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The strategic circle
The global conference circuit is one massive socialisation and networking experience. These are like entire worlds in themselves. Depending on which world you occupy, the conference circuit embeds you deeper in it by integrating your professional and personal lives.
Conferences are judged by two things - the quality of services provided and the kind of networking opportunities they offer to push you further into your chosen field. The top dollar conferences are in the tech sector and business and economics - because corporates still have the most money.
The strategic/defence/foreign policy world comes way down the ladder but it's deeply seductive because you can be lulled into believing that you may be instrumental in making or witnessing great changes in the way the world is run. That's a bigger potential high than top-notch corporate conferences which splurge more on the recreation or the facilities for your spouse who gets a holiday on the side.
Indians hob-nob with the Pakistanis as well as the Bangladeshis at these conferences. Meanwhile, Pakistanis and Afghan delegates politely (sometimes dispensing with the niceties) skewer each other. That's the new trend in the strategic and foreign policy conference circuit - Indians and Pakistanis are friends except on the minor matter of the terrorism coming from the latter. Pakistanis catch every American they can. The real South Asian conflict is now between Pakistanis and Afghans. There used to be a huge
Kashmir lobby at work at these conferences, but ever since the Ghulam Nabi Fai scam broke, these guys are, shall we say, tainted by the whiff of ISI support.
You should expect to see the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, at most of the meetings where there is a European interest. Generally, national security advisers and top officials of the current government are in great demand. So are top thinkers - Joseph Nye who pontificates on soft power, Ahmed Rashid from Pakistan who continues to beat the drum for talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Chinese and Japanese thinkers are in great demand too - even ones that are clearly uncomfortable in English.
The big conferences to be seen at are the Shangrila Dialogue in Singapore, which has a huge profile because the US defence secretary attends it every year and where the US-China tango is played out;the Aspen meet in Colorado, US, which sees a distillation of top minds in the US;and the Brussels Forum where transatlantic issues are thrashed out. The Munich Security Conference and the Manama dialogue too bring together top national security advisers. This is a rarefied atmosphere where national policies can be changed, or heavily influenced.
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