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Indo-US relations are not about what America expects from India, but what India expects from America: Former Foreign Secretary

30 Apr 2022

Press release on Kanwal Sibal session

India’s independent mindset in foreign policy reflects its geographic, demographic and economic size and its vision of its role in the international affairs, and India is too big to be an appendage to anybody, according to Ambassador Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary. “India’s relations with America should be based not on what America expects from us, rather on what we expect from America,” he says.

Ambassador Sibal spoke about the impact of the war in Ukraine on the prospects of a multi-polar world and India’s foreign policy position and options amid a resurgence of unipolarity in geopolitics at All India Management Association’s 56th LeaderSpeak session. The session was moderated by Mr Nikhil Sawhney, Vice President AIMA & Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Triveni Turbine Limited, and it was anchored by Ms Rekha Sethi, Director General, AIMA.

Former foreign secretary emphasized that to be a pole in a multi-polar world, India must have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. “It is our due given our size, demography, economic strength and military power,” he said, adding that China stands in the way of India getting its due.

Speaking on the implications of the war in Ukraine on the global order and India’s response, Ambassador Sibal said that unilateralism has come back strongly, the western unilateralism. He pointed to America weaponization of the global financial system against Russia as a terrifying prospect for other countries and predicted adoption of alternative reserve and trade currencies and payment systems. He also pointed to Europe's confiscation of property of Russian businessmen, banning of Russia and Russians from sports, and banning of Russian media as violations of rule of law and due process.

Ambassador Sibal said that India is being put under pressure to change its position on Russia with all kinds of arguments - democracy, morality, rule-based order, human rights - but India is withstanding the pressure successfully. “We will pursue what is in our national interest,” he said, adding that if India were to condemn Russia, it will destroy its relationship with Russia whereas for the west it will merely be a feather in their cap. However, he argued that polemics must be avoided, as the US is most critical to India’s future economic growth.

He favoured India’s Foreign Minister’s approach of a ‘rebalancing’ in the world order, as it gives a lot of flexibility in comparison to the talk of moving to a multi-polar world, which is seen as opposing America’s power. Also, he agreed with the FM’s position that before there can be a multi-polar world, there must be a multi-polar Asia, a position that challenges China’s call for a multi-polar world with it being the Asian hegemon.

Ambassador Sibal argued that no country or block qualifies to be a genuine pole other than the US. He pointed out that the attempts to form non-western blocks, such as BRICS and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), have not lived up to the initial promise. Individual emerging powers identified as future poles in the world still do not qualify, he said. China is closest to being a pole because of its supply chain power, Belt & Road programme, and expanding navy, but it lacks the kind of overseas bases as the US has. Russia has tried to be a Eurasian pole but it lacks economic power. India, which has also been identified as a pole, has little influence even in its neighbourhood, which has been encroached upon by China.

EU may have the economic size to match the US, but its lack of foreign policy independence does not qualify it to be a pole either, said Ambassador Sibal. He pointed out that while the old European powers tried to have independent foreign policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has used new Europe, consisting of Poland and Baltic states, to force a consensus in the EU for its stand against Russia.

However, while there is no real geopolitical multipolarity in the world, there is economic multipolarity, according to Ambassador Sibal. He pointed out that G7 was expanded to G20 after the western financial crisis because G7 could no longer manage the global financial system or economy. Now, he said, China’s GDP growth and any slowdown in it affect the global economy. Also, there is global consensus on India’s economic rise and, unlike China’s rise, India’s rise is not seen by the west as a threat. “Economically, India is recognized as a pole in the world,” he said.

Mr Sawhney said that the war in Ukraine is a watershed moment in geopolitics and India must hedge its bets on either side coming out as winner or on a stalemate.

The discussion was also livestreamed on AIMA’s social media channels and more than 500 people joined the session.

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