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The Menon view
Over 120 ambassadors and heads of Indian missions have returned to their posts overseas after an annual brainstorming exercise that left them wiser and certainly more knowledgeable about Indian policy on the great issues of our time.
The Foreign Service has traditionally been a little 'out of it' where domestic politics is concerned. Long stints overseas enhance that sense of living in a bubble. For many, this lack of connectedness actually affects their professional output.
Annual jamborees like this are a great way of connecting with each other, and with the ideas and political realities that inform policy at home. Unsurprisingly, Shivshankar Menon, national security adviser, gave the meeting its intellectual spirit, laying out what he likes to call a "meta-narrative" within which Indian foreign policy is embedded.
While his remarks were largely extempore and therefore off-limits to the likes of journalists, I'll try to give a flavour of the "Menon world view" as I have gathered through the NSA's statements in recent months at various forums:
We live in an international order where the state is the primary unit. Yet, challenges blithely skip political boundaries, which will make it increasingly difficult for us to conceive of 'national' solutions.
The declining power of the West means that the emerging world order will no longer be controlled by one hyperpower, but a clutch of major powers and a superpower. Power, therefore, will be exercised by groups that come together on common interests.
The rise of China bears watching all on its own, particularly because no one can say with any degree of certainty what kind of a power China will be. But to view China's rise merely as a threat would be to deny India its opportunity to capitalise on China's rise.
The global centre of gravity is shifting towards Asia. Traditional and newly minted rivalries are becoming overt, which, again, should keep Indian strategists on high alert, as we look for possibilities to expand India's strategic footprint.
The rise of Asia is an opportunity and a challenge. India's greatest challenge is to be able to grasp at the opportunities when they present themselves.
While the prospect of wars in a globalised world is less likely, militarisation has become the name of the game again, as nations are arming themselves in battle gear.
The so-called Arab Spring is a continuing change, and no one is quite sure how this will play out. In the short term, India's challenge is to make sure we can keep our nose clean on the sectarian nature of the evolving conflict.
But we should be prepared to witness a long-drawn out battle for the leadership of the Islamic world, between Shias and Sunnis, between Persians and Arabs, between the West and the other, between 'modern' and 'traditional, between autocracies and some version of de mocracy, or Sharia law.
The continuing unrest affects India's energy security, a 6-million strong diaspora and over $45 billion in remittances.
The US' new 'status update' as an energy su perpower will have huge implications for India - it might lighten the US footprint in the Middle East. India is being called upon to become a net provider of security. India has the capabilities, but do we have the will?
Similarly, the US' 'strategic pivot' to the Pacific will have its own implications, not all bad for India, as long as we know where and when to cash in our chips.
The South Asian neighbourhood continues its troubled trajectory, but more and more, we can hear talk of a "common South Asian destiny" where erstwhile rivals are exploring new trade and development opportunities together. "Irrelevant borders" is not a fantasy and an orga nic economic integration may blossom. From Bangladesh to Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and now even Pakistan, there is a desire to grow and grow together. Can we overcome traditional baggage? That's a job for the diplomats.
The oceans occupy a growing space in our strategic matrix. Call it the Indo-Pacific or what you will, India's capabilities in becoming a major determinant of security and power, are well known. How well we exploit this will affect our rise as a major global power.
Increasingly, international security has new meta-tags - energy, water, sustainable development, secure communication networks, secure seas. The bottomline: in a changing world, India, as the non status-quo power, should think on its feet. Because the opportunity is there for us to grasp - or lose.
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