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India & the World - SEMINAR REPORT

#158, 8 October 2005

India-UK Strategic Defence Relationship: Challenges and Opportunities

Rt Hon Dr John Reid, MP
Secretary of State for Defence, UK

I am delighted to be able to address you on my first visit to India since becoming Secretary of State for Defence, especially as it follows on from the extremely successful Summit between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair. I am especially pleased to be here in India - a nation that has demonstrated to the world how to respond successfully to the accelerating rate of global transformation.

As we all know we live in an increasingly interdependent world in which not just goods and services but information flows ever more freely and rapidly. The Internet is increasingly introducing billions of people to each other - their billions of individual stories are becoming one story. Today none of us can turn our eyes away from the tragic events that afflict our brothers and sisters, none of us can plead ignorance of events as they unfold. The fact that the processing power of microchips has been increasing exponentially by doubling every 24 months has transformed our world - bringing prosperity to both of our nations in ways which even a generation ago would have seemed inconceivable. It is astonishing that over the last few thousand years of human history half of our knowledge has been gained in the last fifty years.

Our interdependence is clear but our ability to influence it let alone manage it is to say the least imperfect. We continue to struggle for better ways and improved structures. We know that organisations such as the United Nations need fundamental reforms if they to remain relevant and useful to a world in which change is the only constant. That is why along with other reforms the British Government supports making India a Permanent Member of the Security Council.

The Indian and British Governments share a common set of values and a strong commitment to democratic principles. We both believe in rights and responsibilities at home and abroad. One of our most important responsibilities is to act as a midwife to change. Not only is our friendship important for its own sake but also for the influence we can exercise together in this rapidly moving world.

Such changes were discussed at the Shangri-La Dialogue which I attended in June. This brought home just how this region is increasingly setting global political, social, and economic trends. However, as history teaches us, profound change often leads to instability. Some commentators draw parallels between Asia today and Europe at the height of its wealth and global dominance at the end of the 19th Century. An interesting comparison but the analogy is far from perfect and lessons from history are never simple.

There is every reason to believe that Asia can manage its affairs in the 21st century far better than Europe did in the 20th century. Nonetheless, there are three potential crises in this region - over North Korea, the Straits of Taiwan and over Kashmir - which could provoke a possible regional conflict with the risk of nuclear escalation.

At the same time, the emergence of China as an economic superpower poses serious questions for all of us. I disagree strongly with those who want to "contain" China in the way that the old Soviet Union was 'contained'. Such a response would be ineffectual and counter-productive. It is far better to engage so that China plays its full and responsible part in the international community. We have seen recently how China has played a very positive role in the 'Six Party Talks' over North Korea.

However, a critical factor lies in internal developments. China's economic growth might be undermined by problems caused by rapid industrialisation or by the increasing disparity between rich and poor. Growth also requires massive energy supplies - inevitably in competition with other potential users. We favour managing that competition through a combination of free market mechanisms and appropriate dialogue with China on addressing the environmental and other consequences of this increasing demand for energy. These problems pose significant challenge to Beijing - hence, the leadership's preoccupation with internal and external stability.

There are other significant challenges within the region. Islamic extremism is rising across Asia, notably in Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Terrorist attacks have been directed against Western interests as with the Bali Bombing but are equally likely to be against Asians. Indeed terrorism knows no ethnic or national boundaries. Terrorism has been inflicted on innocent people across the world and in every continent.

Our shared values are under attack from extremists. As our Prime Minister said during his recent visit to India - "There is absolutely no justification or excuse for terrorism, for innocent people being killed in cold blood, or for anybody giving support or succour of whatever nature to people carrying out such acts of terrorism."

Efforts to counter terrorism need to be global as well - we need to be increasingly smart in exchanging information and co-operating on a bilateral and multinational level to deal with terrorism. And we need to be acting as great democracies can - to diminish and ultimately eliminate the threat of extremism. We are rising to this challenge, we will pursue our efforts relentlessly and I know that we must and will prevail no matter how long it takes.

Nor can I pass on without mentioning Jammu & Kashmir. Let me make it clear that the British Government totally condemns the use of terrorism. The way to resolve this issue is through the political process and patient bilateral discussion and negotiation, not through terrorism. I would just like to say that we are hugely encouraged by the current rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad over the issue.

Let us also recall the reason why the international community is involved in Afghanistan today. This was the source of the attacks of 9/11 on the USA which indiscriminately killed citizens from your country and mine. Terrorism must never again be allowed to spring from the ungoverned space of Afghanistan. That is why Britain stands ready to support the expansion of the UN-mandated ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Next year under British command NATO's Rapid Reaction Head Quarters will deploy to take over the mission. In addition ISAF will expand its operations into Southern Afghanistan and we are currently considering increasing the UK's military presence to support this expansion. No final decisions have been made but we are in detailed discussions with our NATO allies about this new deployment. We will ensure that we have the right force package in place to build the secure and stable Afghanistan we all want to see. This will require the implementation of a comprehensive programme that addresses economic, political and social challenges, that supports the rebuilding of policing and judicial systems, above all that gives the Afghan people the peace and security they so desperately need.

These and other vital issues have been at the heart of my discussions with Indian colleagues. The key milestone in defining our bilateral relationship was reached on 24 September 2004 when Tony Blair and Manmohan Singh signed the Joint Declaration. I know from personal experience that Tony Blair attaches immense importance to the Indian-British relationship and that he was extremely pleased with the success of last month's Summit. Our relationship is founded on our shared values: respect for the rule of law, for the rights of the individual and a faith in democratic government. Moreover, as the world's largest democracy, India offers a superb model of how even a country as vast and as diverse as this can resolve its problems through peaceful means and how economic growth does not have to be at the expense of freedom.

More widely, Indian-UK defence ties have never been stronger. Only last week, a high-powered Indian delegation, led by the new Defence Secretary visited London to take forward our bilateral defence relations in the Defence Consultative Group.

We also have a healthy and growing programme of joint exercises, officer exchanges, common training courses and high-level visits in both directions. In March 2005, we held Exercise EMERALD MERCURY in Hyderabad, the first Indian-UK joint exercise since 1947. Next spring, we have a further joint exercise - naval this time - in which a British Aircraft Carrier, a submarine and escort vessels will participate. It's worth pointing out that our contacts in these areas of exercises and training have increased threefold since 2002.

Another very successful example of co-operation is the Hawk project. Under the 2004 agreement, this world-class trainer aircraft is to be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Bangalore. This will prove an outstanding asset to the Indian Air Force and open the way for further co-operation with the RAF. There was a significant landmark this May when HRH Prince of Wales witnessed the first Indian Hawk pilots graduating alongside their RAF counterparts from the training facility at RAF Valley.

There are also areas where India and the UK are co-operating to promote regional stability such as in Nepal. As I am sure you are well aware, the UK has close historic links with Nepal. We are therefore naturally extremely concerned with recent events there following the King's assumption of direct personal rule. The UK believes this makes peace and stability more remote than ever and only a return to the negotiating table by all parties can lead to a lasting peace and the UK is working with India and with other interested members of the international community to achieve this.

It is also a matter of considerable pride to both our countries have been such significant supporters of UN Peace Support Operations. India ranks 3rd in terms of personnel currently deployed on UN operations and is second only to Canada in terms of total numbers deployed with over 71,000 personnel having served in 42 missions. We in the UK were particularly grateful for the major deployment by India to Sierra Leone. This is an area where I am sure our two countries can mutually benefit from sharing our relative experiences and from closer co-operation.

If there is one theme that dominates all of our thinking on defence and security, it lies in globalisation making us all part of an increasingly crowded and integrated world. No country, not even the US, can act entirely alone and hope to achieve peace and stability. On the other hand, joint action by like-minded countries can and should be a 'force-multiplier'. Indeed, if we are to hope to find a solution to serious problems facing us - terrorism, narcotics trafficking, maritime security, environmental damage, failed or failing states - then we have to act together. This is why I believe the relationship between India and the UK - two like-minded democracies with shared values and aspirations - is so critically important.

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