Written by Ann George.

The Raisina Dialogue 2018 took place in New Delhi between 16-18 January. This is India’s flagship conference on geo-politics and geo-economics, organised by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). The theme of this third edition of the conference was ‘Managing disruptive transitions: Ideas, Institutions and Idioms’, exploring “today’s dynamic, disruptive times, when old partnerships are fracturing, new partnerships are conditional, and the notions of power and sovereignty are being dramatically altered”.

Raisina 2018 was inaugurated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishanker in attendance. Around 5000 delegates, speakers and participants attended over the course of three days. At the inaugural session, PM Netanyahu praised India’s efforts in innovation, technology and the ease of doing business, stating that “The future belongs to those who innovate. We are doing it and India is doing it”. PM Netanyahu emphasized the importance of being powerful (“The weak don’t survive. You are able to maintain peace by being strong”).

The dinner session on ‘Navigating the Chrome Age’ discussed the Fourth Industrial Revolution, “marked by increasing proliferation of machines, automation and augmented reality”. Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Jayant Sinha stressed that “Rather than a farm to factory manufacturing model, we must think of a farm to franchise mass services model where jobs considered traditionally urban can be integrated into suburban sectors …” OECD’s Chief of Staff and G20 Sherpa, Gabriela Ramos, explained that 9-15 percent of today’s jobs would disappear and 35 percent of today’s jobs would transform, creating a pressing need to invest in re-skilling, education and global competencies.

The panel discussion on the ‘Terror State: Innovative Solutions to New Threats’ examined how the international order could respond to the terror groups of the Digital Century. General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Army Staff India, proposed that there should be international consensus on who is termed a terrorist, as the contours of terrorism are fast changing. He called upon the global community to identify nations that have a policy of supporting terror. Former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani agreed with the problems of defining terrorism. He argued that what complicates the designation of terrorist countries is that some of the countries hosting or supporting terrorists were often large countries who were allies of the West. He argued that such exceptions needed to end to achieve a global front against terrorism.

The discussion moderated by Dr Raja Mohan, Director, Carnegie India (‘Strat-Con: The Emerging Security Dynamics in the Indo-Pacific’) analysed the alignment, re-alignment and de-alignment of major power relations in the Indo-Pacific, how countries responded to the changing geopolitical and security dynamics, the weakening of old institutions and creation of new ones like the Quadrilateral. Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Defence Industry, Australia, spoke about the role of great powers in the Indo-Pacific and the rules-based international order. Maliki Osman, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, Singapore, delineated the role ASEAN could play in the emerging dynamic. Ram Madhav, BJP National General Secretary, discussed the six strategic realisations India has had with the advent of the new century, which Dr Raja Mohan joked was in true Chinese style.

Michael Fullilove, Executive Director, Lowy Institute moderated the panel on ‘Contested Connectivity: Economic Tracks – Political Cargo?’ and set the tone explaining the creation of the post-war world order with Asia’s unique hub and spokes model of alliances. However, seventy years after the Second World War, he forecasted that we might be overseeing the destruction of that world order, “with the US inching back from world and rising powers stepping forward into it”. He pointed out that “emerging powers (were) establishing (their) own networks, reviving ancient trading routes across land and water. These initiatives have some characteristics of the Marshall plan but are even more ambitious, creating worldwide webs of trade and influence”, for example China’s Belt Road initiative, the India-Japan led Asia-Africa Growth Corridor. Such “economic and strategic initiatives have huge implications for the world order” and “consequences for regional governance”.

Speaking on ‘Nuclear Unpredictability: Managing the Global Nuclear Framework’, Professor Shen Dingli of Fudan University reiterated that “China is doing its best to try and control North Korea, but is unable to do so effectively despite applying embargoes against it”. The “US should refrain from developing destabilising weapon technologies and look towards more bilateral negotiations”. Rory Medcalf, Head, National Security College, Australian National University reminded everyone that “Nuclear weapons were everyone’s business; middle-powers and non-nuclear states also had an important role in nuclear discussions”.

The session ‘Unchartered Waters: In Search for Order in the Indo-Pacific’ saw the presence of the four admirals of the Quadrilateral (Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, India, Admiral Harry Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan and Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Chief of Navy, Australia), hash tagged on Twitter ‘#QuadSquad’. Dino Patti Djalal, Founder, Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia was on the panel too. Samir Saran, Curator of Raisina 2018, quipped that this was a difficult panel to organise, as one had to be mindful of headlines in newspapers claiming Indonesia wanted to join the Quadrilateral. The Chinese delegates posed questions to the panel on how inclusive the Quad would be and if China wished to join, would it be accepted.

The keynote address (Re-imagining the Commonwealth for the 21st Century) was delivered by Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh. He discussed the challenges facing the Commonwealth and ways to increase its relevance at the grass-root level. He reiterated that the Commonwealth needs to lead by example, rather than preach. He also criticised the Myanmar government for failure to act on the Rohingya exodus and humanitarian crisis.

The concluding plenary, ‘A Disruptive World: Solutions for Tomorrow’, saw a discussion on “ideas to respond to the dramatic transitions in the New World Order” led by Secretary Jaishankar, General (Retd) David H. Petraeus, US Army, Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, Secretary-General, Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, France. Secretary Jaishankar spoke about four disruptions and a transition, quipping that he was inspired by ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ (rather than by the Chinese Way like Ram Madhav). Gourdault-Montagne called upon nations to stick to the Post War world order that has been patiently built up.  Gen. Petraeus spoke about the five lessons that the world should have learnt about terrorism and called on Muslim countries to be allies in the fight against terrorism. An attendee questioned the panel on the use of the word ‘Islamist terrorism’ (as it disengaged the remaining 1.85 billion Muslims worldwide). She also questioned the lack of mention of Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Balochistan. Gen. Petraeus defended his use of the precise term ‘Islamist extremism’. He also offered that in his years as Director of CIA, or Commander, US Central Command or in Afghanistan, he had never once heard of the term ‘Indian state-sponsored terrorism’. Secretary Jaishankar claimed that the directive from the organisers was to discuss ‘facts, not fantasy scenarios’. Secretary Jaishankar was given a memento that said, ‘Co-Founder of the Raisina Dialogue’ as he completed his tenure as Foreign Secretary.

The Dialogue contributed to the search for solutions to present-day challenges – like those brought on by digital economies, autonomous warfare, smart cities, global terrorism and the emerging new world order. It contributed to delineating India’s place in the evolving geopolitics. There was constant reference to the narrative of ‘Rise of China’ and, in Gen. Petraeus’ words, the new normal of ‘the answer is India’. The refrain that emerged from Raisina 2018 could be best summed up in Secretary Jaishankar’s words, “The new normal will be uncertainties”.

Ann George is a PhD student in International Relations and Associate Tutor at the University of Leicester. She tweets @AnngeorgeAnn. Image credit: by Prime Minister of Israel/Flickr.

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