Let me thank you for inviting me to this very educative conference. For me it’s a privilege. I also wish to thank Dr. Shula Bahat of the American Jewish Community, who has enabled me to come here.
This is my second visit to Israel. In March 1998, I was the first Indian army chief to visit Israel at the invitation of my Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Lipkin Shahak. Since then, a lot has happened, and I think that this needs to be stated here. It is important and it needs to be stated, because it also reflects certain changes in Asia. First, I would like to say a few words about the Indian Jewish community and the current state of India-Israel relations. Today we have very few Jews left in India -most of them have come to Israel already. Only about 4500 to 5000 Jewish Indians have remained in India. This is a very small number, but to make a point, there have been two lieutenant generals recently from this very small community. I’m saying this only to make a point regarding the opportunities available for everyone who’s there. India is among the few countries in the world where Jews have never been persecuted. We have no history of anti-Semitism.
Now coming to the current relations, we consider each other bastions of democracy that share many values and views, and bilateral and multilateral negotiations. Ever since we established full diplomatic relations, trade between India and Israel has risen to nearly $2 billion from a mere $160 million just a few years ago. India is the second largest trading partner of Israel in Asia. According to an agreement signed last month, Israel will help India with $4 million of research and development funds to set up high priority programs in agriculture, medical and environment biotechnology, nanotechnology and genome research.
Recently the prime minister of Israel was in India for a while. Israel has also emerged as a very, very major partner in defense cooperation. This could not have been possible unless both countries share a long term perspective. India today is the largest buyer of military equipment from Israel. Indian-Israeli military trade is estimated to be close to $10 billion ever since we started, and the latest acquisition signed with IAI for Five Falcon airborne AWACS and control system was nearly 1.1 billion dollars. Last month Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. of India and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) formed a joint venture for worldwide marketing and product support for the ATL Hindustan Aeronautical Ltd. True Helicopter. While ATL builds the helicopter, IAI’s integrated avionics package for the helicopter will include a comprehensive electronic warfare suite, day and night observation capability, a targeting system and flexible armament guiding capability. Incidentally, today Indian imports of equipment from Israel stand at number 2 in the world. Russia is first and India is second, and that beats all other nations, and I know that there are some people who are envious of that. So that has long term perspective and I thought I must mention this.
Now I shall go on to global tensions and strategic tensions in Asia, and India’s role. I am looking at it from the Indian point of view, and will try not to make the same points that Stanley Roth made. Well, the only thing constant in nature today is change, and it is not the reality that is changing, but change that is becoming reality. The difference now is that evolution in technology and military affairs is causing change much faster than it ever did before. A few weeks ago, Dr. Hendrike Sinja, of the Global Tendency Strategic Shifts came to India, and he listed the following major trends on the global scene:
1. A shift in the center of the gravity of the world from the Atlantic to Asia.
2. Terrorism and the uprising of radical Islam against the secular and democratic world, including moderate Islam.
3. Spread of weapons of mass destruction.
I have been asked by the organizers to focus on Asia. Asia has been described as the mother of continents and the father of history’s major civilizations. A third of the world’s population is in Asia today. The debate on whether or not the 21st century belongs to Asia is an ongoing one, but there is no denying the fact that Asia is poised to play a significant role in international relations. Asia is now the center of economic growth and commercial dynamism. It has the world’s most youthful earning population. It is the fastest growing continent, with China and India set to emerge as the world's second and third largest economies over the next few decades.
In the coming years, the economic dynamism of Asia will be sustained by growing connectivity and infrastructure development, which are on the move. It is also a principal source of energy supply, and we are not talking about the new discoveries of oil and gas in the Gulf region, but rather about the discoveries made in India, Bangladesh, Miramar, Indonesia and Vietnam. China sits on foreign exchange reserves of nearly $500 billion today. India, on the other hand, is emerging as a major hub of international technology products and services. And just last week, our foreign exchange reserves rose to $130 billion. Indian exports have recorded a steady growth of 10% in recent years.
At the same time, Asia is troubled by some of the most intractable tensions of our time. The decolonized, newly independent countries of Asia are acutely sensitive to political and economic bondage. Large parts of Asia are prone to instability on account of national and regional rivalries, economic and political transitions and rapid social transformations. Security concerns, it appears, are keeping pace with the economic growth of Asian regions and sub-regions, and terrorism is rapidly increasing. Economic growth and security appear to have become inseparable.
In West Asia, let me very briefly cover some of the major flashpoints that are threatening Asian regional stability. In West Asia, we have the bleeding sores of Palestine and Iraq. As discussed this morning, we have witnessed the passing away of an era in Palestine and are awaiting the forthcoming elections in Iraq. There is now an opportunity and a ray of hope. We hope that this will lead to a conflict resolution. We heard the Minister of Defense this afternoon talk about a democratic solution without the further sharpening of ideologists. In Iraq, a high degree of internationalization is the only realistic option, for stability and meaningful internationalization also requires a focus on issues other than security.
In East Asia, we see simmering tensions over the Taiwan issue, and the new threat of the nuclear polarization of the Kurdish Peninsula. Fortunately, the forces recommending engagement continue to be predominant over those recommending armed escalation. Incidentally, I was in China about two months ago, and interacted with many people. We believe that a regional multilateral approach like the six–party forum, which is addressing nonproliferation as well as the political and strategic objectives of the region’s nations, is the right approach. The central Asian republics have yet to acquire the strong political, social and security muscle necessary to resist internal insurgencies and national onslaughts of Islamist revivalists. Currently they are sitting in a potentially explosive terrorism environment. Nations that welcome the US troops and bases for the Afghanistan war are now feeling vulnerable to the Islamist threats.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization was timely, but it now requires a boost. Until now, it hasn’t helped much to curb fundamentalist militancy in the region, or in South Asia. South Asia geopolitically represents an integral security zone, with India’s unique centrality. North to south, Asian nations are interacting with each other directly, without touching or crossing Indian land, sea or air. India has special ties with each of our neighbors. These include language, culture and common historical experience, and shared access to multilateral resources like water.
India provides security and stability to other nations of South Asia. It is not so much the other way round. Fortunately, the focus of national attention in this region too is shifting towards economic issues and human development. Despite historical territorial disputes, political dialogue between India and China, and between India and Pakistan, has now become reconciliatory and less confrontational. India and Pakistan are now talking to each other, and not at each other. Now, since this morning I have been listening to these points about nuclear flashpoints. Let me just mention a point here very briefly. Firstly, we don’t believe that Kashmir or any other dispute is a nuclear flashpoint or that South Asia is a nuclear flashpoint. We don’t believe that. We believe that it is terrorism in that region which may escalate to a conventional war, and then it may escalate further. So the point that I want to make is that it is not the nuclear capability of the two countries that is cause to worry. What is causing worry today is the containment of terrorism in that area.
The second point is that some people ask: what is India’s approach towards nonproliferation? India does believe in nonproliferation, but it also believes in nondiscrimination. We would like to cooperate, and we know that we can make a significant contribution, but the problem today is whether India is construed as a rogue nation, a pillaged nation, or if it cooperates? So you have to first recognize its legitimacy. You have to accept India as a nuclear nation. It won’t go back.
The third point that I wish to make is that even before Cargill war, India and Pakistan were on the right lines as far as nuclear escalation is concerned. Not many of you may know that in February 1999, before the Cargill war, we signed a memorandum of understanding on strategic weapons, and if you were to go through that memorandum, you would realize that there is no agreement in the world with the conceptual nature of that kind. One of the clauses was drafted during the time when I was the army chief. One of the clauses is that we shall keep each other informed about the nuclear doctrine, and about anything that is likely to worry each other. Well, with nuclear weapons that are here to stay, it is hard to perceive a large-scale conventional war between India and Pakistan, or for that matter between India and China. The probability of an all-out high-intensity war between these two nations hereafter will remain low. Even if it does break out, it is likely to remain limited in time and in scope.
I had some other points which I’ll just very briefly go through. One is the trend towards regionalism and institutionalization of cooperation and mutual understanding. The trend in Asia is more towards regional economic cooperation, and that is what is flourishing. The trend is towards free trade and eventual preferential agreements on mutually agreed tariffs, but it is not only in economics- there are also other issues on the sidelines, like the Asian regional forum discussing security issues related to religion, terrorism, gun running, drug traffic, etc. There is also a rise in ethnic nationalism, about which I won’t go into detail, but this is one of the worries, particularly for pluralist, multi-ethnic countries like India.
I want to very briefly touch upon global terrorism. We have a slightly different approach to what is terror. The first thing I want to say is that any premeditated and unlawful act of violence against innocent people, noncombatants, irrespective of its cause and motive, is terrorism, and yet we continue to fight over its definition. The notion that someone’s terrorist is someone else’s freedom fighter reflects mischief and lack of commitment to the war of terror. As a soldier who has spent decades fighting insurgency and terrorism, I also wish to emphasize that Jihadi terrorism is not just a military problem. It is primarily a social political problem in the worldwide counterterrorism strategy. Besides checking violence, we have to isolate and combat an ideology that is irrational and not acceptable to modern society. We have to bridge the ideology gap, not create one. For this, we need both hard power and soft power. Hard power to deal with armed terrorists, and soft power to deal humanely with societies, their culture, traditions and ethos.
But ladies and gentlemen, these persuasions, these pressures, cannot include military force. A military regime is awarded with the title of a major non-NATO ally, and it is given eight PC-3 Orion aircraft, 2000 antitank missiles and 6 Phalanx close-in weapons. And for what? To bolster its surveillance capabilities against terrorists, against terrorism. I don’t know how these can be used against terrorists. There is a need to rebuild fundamental principles of law and order. The new global changes cannot be met only collectively. Global terrorism, the situation in Afghanistan, developments in Iraq, the Middle East peace process and the continuing international debate on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions make it inevitable for all powers in the west and the east to stay engaged, and maintain a permanent dialogue process with strategic partners such as China, Japan, India and also with regional groups. A concrete desert of such an engagement is a nuclear program agreement that the EU-3 has been able to broker with Iran. The debate between unilateralism and multilateralism must transcend with such a perspective in mind, and I quote Dr. Hendrike Sinja once again: unilateralism for its own sake is self-defeating, but so is abstract multilateralism. So let us be ideal and be pragmatic. Thank you very much.