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Transcript of a speech by Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India at the National Defence College, Delhi, Thursday, 18 September 2014.
[General Ghei, members of the NDC Faculty, distinguished course members, friends and colleagues]
I had the honour of addressing this distinguished institution last year. I am delighted to be invited back. I am also delighted that members of the course had a successful visit to the UK a few months ago: we were very pleased to welcome you.
I am going to talk today about the future. But I want to begin my remarks with the past. This year is the one hundredth anniversary of the start of World War 1. So I want to start by paying tribute to all the Indian servicemen who participated so bravely in that conflict. One million Indian soldiers fought in WW1, and over 70,000 Indian servicemen died. We intend to honour their memory this year with an important series of commemorative events.
The Indian Army played a major role in the conflict. It fought in every theatre of the war. It fought in Western Europe, in some of the most famous battles like Ypres (Belgium) and the Somme (France). It fought in the Mediterranean and at Gallipoli. It fought in the Middle East, in what was then Mesopotamia (now Iraq), in Palestine and in Suez. And it fought in East Africa.
The Indian Navy also contributed to the war effort, and Indians served in the Army Flying Corps too. Indian servicemen fought with great distinction. Many won military honours for their courage and endeavour, including the highest honour of all, the Victoria Cross.
This year, one hundred years after that conflict began, the British Government plans to honour the memory of all who participated in WW1. The commemorations will be global. Here in India, in partnership with the United Service Institution, we plan a series of events to commemorate Indian involvement in WW1.
Later this autumn I will host a major event at my Residence, to which we will invite dignitaries from all nations, representatives past and present of the Indian armed services and the families of those Indians who fought.
We will honour the six Indian soldiers who won Victoria Crosses in the conflict by awarding commemorative plaques to their home towns. We will publish a book on the conflict and a guidebook to the battlefields of France and Belgium for Indian families wishing to visit the sites where their grandfathers fought. And we will present digitised versions of the War Diaries of the Indian Regiments which fought to the present commanders of those regiments. I will also be honoured to invite all of you from the NDC - the Commandant, faculty and course members – to the event at my Residence. I hope to see you there.
What kind of world order?
Let me turn now from the past to the future. Today I am going to try to predict it. Anyone trying to do that should be very humble. History is littered with examples of people who got their predictions about the future very wrong.
In 1876, the US telegraph company Western Union concluded in an internal memo:
This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication
In 1895, the leading scientist in Britain, Lord Kelvin, told the Royal Society that:
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.
In 1927, when all movies were silent but the technology had been developed to add sound, Hal Warner of the American film company Warner Brothers said:
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
In 1949 the US magazine Popular Mechanics confidently told its readers:
Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
And in 1977, Ken Olson, President of the US computer company Digital Equipment Co, said:
There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
In 2006 I spent a year at Harvard University. Undeterred by the failure of people in the past to predict the future, I wrote a paper on The World In 2020. Today we are only six years away from that world. So as I was preparing for this speech I looked again at that paper. I thought I should tell you what I got right, and what I got wrong.
I did get some things right. In 2006 I predicted that
The US would remain the only hyperpower. It has remained so. The US is the only global power willing and able to project force around the world. The US’ soft power remains huge.
China and India would be rising great powers, and that in relative terms the power of Asia would be rising and the power of the West declining. This is happening.
Most conflicts would not be between states but within them, or asymmetrical conflicts between terrorists and states. That has been the case, including in this region.
The greatest threats would come from Islamist terrorists and nuclear weapons. The Islamist threat has certainly risen in the last few years.
Thankfully nuclear weapons have not been used. But the risk remains. The worst of all risks would be terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.
But I have to confess that in my predictions eight years ago, I also got some things wrong:
Energy security: I thought that the world in 2020 would be even more dependent on oil and gas, and on getting it from the Middle East, with obvious strategic consequences. That may turn out to be wrong. The West is finding other sources of oil and gas in its own backyard, including through fracking and shale, which is reducing global dependence on Middle East sources. And as the cost of renewable energy reduces and the effects of climate change rise, we are seeing global efforts to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons. That may change a lot of conventional strategic calculations.
Europe: I failed to foresee that Europe would see a return to conflict. Events in Ukraine show us that no region of the world is immune.
Globalisation: in 2006 I failed to foresee the 2008 market crash that did so much damage to economies around the world. That included the UK, though I am happy to say that the UK economy is now getting back to strong growth – indeed the UK economy is today the fastest growing in the G8.
I think I also failed to foresee one other thing, which you may want to contest, which is this: that despite everything, today’s world is – overall – a better place to live than it was not many years ago.
In the last two decades, billions of people have been lifted out of poverty. Life expectancy is greater. Most people in the world now have more life choices than their fathers and mothers. There is more freedom, with fewer totalitarian states and more democracies. Women are becoming more empowered. The internet has put the world’s knowledge in the hands of everyone.
So the best advice I can give to anyone trying to make predictions is this: don’t. And if you do want a prediction about the future, the safest thing to say is that the world will stay unstable and unpredictable; and that there will probably less rather than more order in the world over the coming years.
What kind of India?
If we will see a weaker world order over the next few years, which is bad news, I believe that we will also see a stronger India – and that is very good news.
I think we will see an even stronger India over the coming years for two reasons.
First, because India has a combination of strengths that other countries do not: talent, ambition, scale, optimism, unity in diversity, a deep commitment to education, world-class excellence in areas like IT, medicine and scientific research, a huge rising middle class and a vibrant democracy. India has another asset too: armed forces which are highly capable and hugely respected by the Indian people they serve.
Second, because Prime Minister Modi has set out a compelling vision to take India forward, and his government has a strong mandate to do so. He will have our full support.
What do we expect from India in that world order?
How will India act in this unstable and unpredictable world? I expect to see India focus on three things over the coming years.
First, on stability in its own region. India’s strategic goal over the coming decade will be transformation: to transform itself into a successful 21st century power through modernisation and inclusive development. To do that India needs peace on its borders and stability in the region, without which it cannot focus on making progress at home.
That is why we are seeing the new government here in Delhi energetically pursuing good relationships with its neighbours. Prime Minister Modi’s invitation to all the SAARC leaders to attend his inauguration sent a clear signal of intent, and was applauded around the world. His first bilateral visits outside India – to Bhutan and Nepal – have underlined the importance he and his government attach to the region. So have the visits of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other near neighbours.
Second, beyond the region, I think we will see India pursue partnerships with the key global players who can help transform India: with the US, which Prime Minister Modi is due to visit shortly; with China, whose leader is in India this week; with Japan, to which PM Modi paid a very successful visit recently.
In the list of those countries which are able and willing to help PM Modi in his goal of transforming India I would include my own.
PM Modi has been clear that he wants investment to drive growth: the UK is by some measures the single biggest investor in India. PM Modi wants trade to boost jobs: UK/India trade was over £16bn last year and rising. PM Modi needs capital to finance his ambitious plans: the best place to raise that is the City of London. He wants to modernise India’s infrastructure, for which he needs expertise and financing: the UK can help. He wants to boost manufacturing in India, with his call to the world to “Make In India”: the UK has some of the most advanced manufacturing industry in the world and is ready to partner India on this.
To transform the economy, PM Modi needs to give 500m young Indians the right education and skills: UK education is the best in the world and we are ready to help. And PM Modi wants to clean up the Ganga, a project of huge political, religious, ecological and economic significance: the UK can help here too, by sharing our experience of successfully cleaning up the River Thames.
And the third thing I expect to see India do internationally over the coming years is what my country also does – pursue action with the rest of the international community to advance our collective interests and make this a better world for all. We in Britain think India is and will be a responsible player on the world stage – a force for good, for stability and prosperity. That why my government is and will remain a strong supporter of India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council.
How can the UK and India work together to make this a better world order?
I believe there are many issues on which the UK and India can work together over the coming years to make this world better, safer and more prosperous. Let me give you a few examples.
Let’s start close to home, with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan matters greatly to both Britain and India. It matters first and foremost to our security. An Afghanistan which became once more a safe haven for terrorists would threaten both India and the UK. It matters strategically, because an unstable Afghanistan would threaten this whole region and the UK’s friends in this region, including India.
And that is why – a point I want to emphasise to you today - the UK is not leaving Afghanistan after 2014. Our combat troops are leaving: most have already gone. But Afghanistan is too important to be abandoned by us or the rest of the international community. So Britain will stay deeply engaged there for the foreseeable future.
The best way to protect our own security is to help Afghanistan protect its security. So the UK is playing an active role in supporting the development of the Afghan National Army through training and funding. We will continue to support Afghanistan’s development: the UK will provide over $300m per year in development assistance until at least 2017. We will continue to support Afghanistan’s democracy: we are helping build the Afghan institutions that can ensure good governance, the rule of law, accountability and lasting stability.
Our goal is a stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. We think we are making progress towards that.
We also think that India has a central role to play. India has vital interests in Afghanistan. India’s proximity and size means it will be a key actor in the country over the coming years. India has influence in Afghanistan that other countries don’t. India has the trust of the Afghan people: opinion polls regularly show that India is the most highly regarded by Afghans of any foreign country.
India’s $2bn aid programme is playing a major role in the development of Afghanistan. And Indian companies are among the largest investors there: India’s prosperity and close trading links with Afghanistan mean it will be crucial in helping develop and sustain the country’s economy over the coming years.
So Afghanistan matters hugely to both the UK and India, and both of us matter to Afghanistan. That’s why I believe there is scope for the UK and India to work more closely together over the next few years to promote the successful Afghanistan we all want to see.
From one regional challenge let me move to a global one: terrorism.
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge India and the UK face at present is that from global terrorism. There is an arc of instability from north Africa and the Sahel to the Middle East. Developments in Iraq and Syria pose a particular threat. And that terrorism is not confined to its source countries. Its reach is long and it threatens all of us. Both India and the UK have been victims of it on our own streets.
We cannot deal with these threats by ignoring them. British High Commissioners do not usually deploy quotations from Leon Trotsky. But Trotsky did say one very memorable thing, which was this: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you”.
We should be alert but not alarmed by the terrorist threats we face today. We can deal with them successfully if we work together.
Part of the answer to the emergence of Islamic State or ISIL in Iraq and Syria is military. That includes helping those who are fighting ISIL on the ground, as the UK, US and others are doing by stepping up our support for Kurdish and Iraqi security forces.
Another part of the response is close cooperation between our security agencies to prevent terrorist activity on our own soil and against our interests in third countries. India and the UK are already working closely together in this area. That collaboration is unseen, for obvious reasons. But it has saved many of our citizens’ lives around the world.
But while a strong security response to the global terrorist threat is essential, we cannot rely on our military strength and counter terrorist agencies alone. We must use all the resources at our disposal – military, intelligence, economic, political, diplomatic.
Terrorists thrive on political instability. So we must invest in the building blocks of free and open societies, including by seeking to create a genuinely inclusive government in Iraq that unites all Iraqis, and by supporting efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. We must also do all we can to alleviate the terrible humanitarian suffering in both countries.
India has interests and influence in these countries and the region. We are keen to work with India to alleviate the suffering of ordinary people there and to create the conditions in which terrorism can no longer thrive.
Let me turn now to Europe, and in particular to Ukraine. I know that the Russian Ambassador spoke to you about this recently. I have great respect for him, and for Russia and its people. But we in the UK take a different view of Ukraine, and I wanted to put that before you and let you make up your own minds.
In the view of the UK, Russia’s annexation of Crimea is illegal. We also believe that Russian forces are operating on Ukrainian soil, against the wishes of the government of Ukraine.
In our view, Russia’s actions in Ukraine threaten stability in Europe. They also threaten to create a dangerous precedent. The principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, respect for the rule of law, and the right of each state to determine democratically its own future are great principles to which the UK and India both attach the highest importance. We should all support Ukraine’s right to secure borders and to determine its own future.
Security alone will not guarantee stability. For that you need prosperity too. India and the UK can also work together to create the conditions for global growth and prosperity.
We can start by boosting further the trade and investment between our two countries. UK/India trade last year was over £16bn. UK companies are the biggest foreign investors in India. And every year Indian companies invest more in the UK than in the whole of the rest of the European Union. Those links are generating jobs, growth and prosperity in both our countries. But we are determined to do more.
And we can also boost our own and global prosperity by supporting efforts to open up each other’s and world markets, and to make trade between the countries of the world easier.
That is the rationale for the Trade Facilitation Agreement which the 160 nations of the World Trade Organisation have negotiated. It will cut red tape and bureaucratic delay. It is estimated by the World Bank that it will add nearly 5% to world GDP. Every country in the world will benefit, and the biggest of all beneficiaries will be developing countries like India. So as negotiations resume this week in Geneva we hope that an agreement will be found which will allow the Trade Facilitation Agreement to be implemented.
The UK will remain a global military power
I have talked a lot about diplomacy, trade and other non-military ways to build security in this uncertain new world order.
But finally, let us not forget the opportunities for military to military cooperation between the UK and India. India has some of the largest and most capable armed forces in the world. The UK’s forces are smaller, but we believe our capabilities are world class and we intend to keep them that way.
Britain is determined to maintain one of the best and most versatile Armed Forces in the world. We will retain the capacity to project military force around the globe.
Britain will remain strong on land. The UK Army is significant and well-equipped. We will continue to be one of few countries able to deploy a fully equipped brigade-sized force anywhere around the world and sustain it indefinitely. We have reconfigured our Army to make it more mobile and more flexible. It is now better adapted to face current and future threats, with the equipment it needs to prevail in today’s and tomorrow’s conflicts.
Britain will remain strong at sea. Our Royal Navy will retain the capability that only aircraft carriers can provide – the ability to deploy air power from anywhere in the world, without the need for friendly air bases on land. We are procuring a fleet of the world’s most capable nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines. We are producing six Type 45 destroyers and developing more modern frigates to take on today’s new naval tasks of tackling drug trafficking, piracy and counter-terrorism.
And Britain will remain strong in the air. By the 2020s – the period I was trying to predict at Harvard - the Royal Air Force will be based on two of the best fighter jets in the world: a modernised Typhoon/Eurofighter capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions; and the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat jet. The UK’s fast jet fleet will be complemented by a growing fleet of Unmanned Air Vehicles in both combat and reconnaissance roles, by modern air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and by an enhanced strategic air transport fleet.
We are also committed to retaining and renewing our independent nuclear deterrent – the United Kingdom’s ultimate insurance policy in this age of uncertainty.
So Britain will remain a worthy military partner for India and the other friendly countries represented here today. We look forward to continuing to work with you to protect our people and our interests.
Let me sum up:
Predicting the future world order is a risky business. If I was really good at it I would be a billionaire investor not a poor diplomat.
But it’s safe to say that over the next two decades the world will remain complex and unpredictable, and that it will throw up as many threats as it does opportunities.
India will be an increasingly important player in that world. It will play a positive role as a force for stability, peace and prosperity.
We welcome that. We in Britain aspire to be India’s partner in building that better world.