Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at CFR, discusses India’s emerging role as a major global power.
Learn more about CFR’s resources for the classroom at CFR Campus.
CASA: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I am Maria Casa, director for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you all for joining us. This call is on the record and audio file and transcript will be available on the CFR.org website within the next few days if you would like to share it with your colleagues or classmates.
We are delighted to have Alyssa Ayres with us today in a discussion on India’s emerging role as a global power. Dr. Ayres is CFR’s senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia. At CFR, her work focuses on India’s role in the world and U.S. relations with South Asia. In 2015, she served as a project director for the CFR-sponsored independent taskforce on U.S. India relations. And from 2014 to 2016, as a project director for an initiative on the new geopolitics of China, India, and Pakistan. Dr. Ayers directs CFR’s U.S. relations with South Asia roundtable series, writes regularly for the CFR blog Asia Unbound, and is a contributor to Forbes.com. Her book about India’s rise on the world stage, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making its Place in the World was published by Oxford University Press in January 2018. Dr. Ayres previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia from 2010 to 2013. Before serving in the Obama administration, she was founding director of the India and South Asia Practice at McLarty Associates, a Washington-based international strategic advisory firm. And before that, Dr. Ayres served in the U.S. Department of State, as special assistant to the undersecretary for political affairs as a CFR international affairs fellow.
Welcome, Alyssa. Thank you very much for being with us today.
AYRES: Hi, Maria. Thanks so much. I’m happy to be able to join. And it looks like we have a lot of colleges and universities dialed in, so I look forward to the questions. What I thought it would do is give a brief description of what my book is about and what it attempts to do, and then I thought I would kind of dive into some of the issues here, including U.S.-Indian relations.
My new book, as Maria mentioned, Our Time Has Come: How India is Making its Place in the World, is designed to provide a general backdrop of India’s ambitions on the world wage, its history of ambitions on the world stage, and how it has gotten to where it is today on the questions of foreign policy, international economic policy, and national security. The very last chapter of my book focuses on recommendations that I have for U.S. policy in working with this rising global power. So the book is designed to be something that a person interested in foreign policy, but perhaps not paying close attention to what has been unfolding with India’s role in the world, provides a kind of introduction to India and Indian foreign policy in a way that I hope fills a market. I think there’s a lot of excellent books out there that cover India’s domestic transformation, its domestic challenges. And this book is really focused on India internationally and what that means for the United States.
So let me kind of dive in a little bit about this. When I often give presentations at universities, I often ask people: What are the first words that come to mind when you think about India? And I think it probably won’t surprise people on the call today to hear that some of the first words that typically come up in these discussions are poverty, population, very often also followed by democracy and diversity. I think these are common key words in the United States that people associate with India. And of course, they also present a certain type of an image, obviously. A kind of poor, populist, very diverse society.
In a sense, I think it’s fair to say that the overall association with India and the United States tends to be one that emphasizes India’s many domestic challenges and vulnerabilities. And it’s certainly true that India remains home to the largest number of the world’s poor, even though economic growth has lifted more than 160 million people out of extreme poverty from the years 2004-05 to 2011-2012. There’s still around 260 million living below the World Bank benchmark for extreme poverty. That’s $1.90 per day. And the World Bank explains the persistence of India as the home of the world’s poor against the progress that it has made in poverty reduction really just as an issue of India’s scale. And here I’d also add that despite China’s tremendous economic growth, there’s still around 30 million people who live in extreme poverty there. I think we have stopped talking about extreme poor in China. It now occupies a very different mental slot in the United States conversation at least, about China and its role in the world.
I think that hasn’t yet been the case for India, because India still faces some very significant challenges. It’s also true that India has a per capita income of around $1,700 a year, which places it in the bottom third globally. India faces a lot of demographic challenges. People who work on the economic issues would be aware that India needs to create about a million jobs per month just to absorb new entrants to the workforce, people who become of workforce age every month. That’s a huge challenge for the country. It is very clear at the moment that jobs are not being created at the scale needed. So finding a way to create greater growth and job generation is an important, important challenge for India in attaining high rates of economic growth and sustaining them over a longer period.
It’s also the case that India needs a lot of investment in its infrastructure. This is a very frequent comment that people make about the state of India’s infrastructure. India’s finance minister has estimated that India needs about $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment over the coming decade. And just to illustrate the type of transformation that’s also happening in India, it has long been a primarily rural country that increasingly is urbanizing. A McKinsey Institute study put it best, that India needs to build the equivalent of a new Chicago every year just to accommodate the urban boom taking place.
And then we have all read, including in some recent stories over recent days, about the types of social challenges and barriers that continue to exist in India—problems with gender bias and violence against women. There have been headlines in recent days about some disturbing rape cases, just to cite some of the newest cases. There actually is a measurable economic effect of gender bias in India that has to do with the declining female workforce participation rate. I’d be happy to talk about that more in detail. That data was a little bit of a surprise because India had been in a phase of economic growth. So why the female workforce participation rate has dropped remains a question that economists are trying to unpack.
And of course, it’s also the case that India has many tensions in the country between religion, between different castes, and also between different regions. The questions of religious strive have not been overcome. These are longstanding issues in the country, and they remain a central dividing line. There are a lot of concerns about India. You see a lot of people expressing concerns now about India and its minority populations, and where the country is headed. I see these considerable domestic challenges are very unlikely to be completely resolved in the near term, even as India is continuing to grow and expand internationally.
So I think what I just outlined for a few minutes here could be fairly called a glass half empty scenario. I also do not believe that that’s the complete picture, because we are also seeing India, due to its scale and its longstanding ambitions internationally, gaining in its global heft. I think it’s oftentimes very hard for us in the United States, particularly for Americans who are not following closely the many different kinds of developments that are taking place in the larger South Asia and Asian region, to see past the very well-known and well-documented domestic challenges that India faces, to appreciate what it is doing on the international stage. Not only what it is doing, but where it stands in comparative terms with other countries as well in its own approach to foreign policy, national security, and international economic policy.
What my book is about is the transformation of India into a much more confident global actor. It’s already beginning, for example, to shape the global agenda on clean energy and climate change. In international trade, New Delhi has been pushing boundaries on worker mobility, particularly on services trade. And they end up setting precedents for how the world conducts global services trade. In defense and national security, we’ve seen India focus—increasingly spurred by China’s more assertive posture across the South Asian region, across the entire Indian Ocean maritime space—we’ve seen India focus on ramping up its own defense capabilities to protect its national interests.
If we also look at the multilateral level, at multilateral organizations, the organizations that the United States works with and through to help manage global events, India has long chafed at the fact that despite being one of the world’s largest countries in population terms, despite its years of—it’s decades of maintaining democracy, in many cases against the odds, the world does not yet see it as a major power. Unlike China or smaller powers, like France and the United Kingdom, India does not have a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. That’s something it has long agitated for.
We are now seeing that Indian leaders, particularly with the growth of the Indian economy and the process of military modernization and enhancement underway in India, India’s political leaders are seeking actively for India’s—let me give you a quote, “India’s due place in global councils,” as former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it. India’s current prime minister, Narendra Modi has begun referring to itself as a leading power. That’s a new term that the country has adopted to talk about the role India should be playing on the world stage. I see this as India’s laying overt claim to a new and more central place in the world.
And actually, the title of my book, Our Time Has Come, is a quote. And that’s a quote from both the current prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, and the immediate previous prime minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh. So, to me, it’s actually quite striking. Despite their many political differences, they’re very different kinds of political leaders from very different leaders, for both of them on the world stage they see India’s ambitions and India’s moment as the time that has come. They see our time has come. That was one of the reasons I chose that as a title, it kind of signals that this is a broadly felt consensus in many ways for India’s ambitions on the world stage.
Let me pivot a little bit and give you some stats and some insight into what India is doing now globally. As with China, the economy has been at the core of India’s global transformation. I think most people are aware of India’s great economic potential. But I’m fairly certain, if you were to walk down the street in the United States and grab somebody and ask them to name the world’s top 10 economies, I think probably few people would have absorbed the fact that the Indian economy—which is now with a GDP of over $2 trillion, that’s the market exchange rate, growing close to $3 trillion—India GDP has surpassed the size of Italy and Canada. Those are both members of the Group of Seven, the G-7, which is a—you know, an exclusive economic grouping of major industrialized economies.
It’s possible this year, based on some estimates, that the Indian economy may overtake the size of the economies of United Kingdom and of France. And if that happens by the end of the calendar year, it would catapult India into being the world’s fifth-largest economy. The International Monetary Fund projects that India’s share of global GDP in purchasing power parity terms will exceed 8 percent by the year 2020. Now, that would place India above where Japan was located in a similar metric in 1995, or where China was in the year 2000. So I provide that for some kind of comparative context.
As India grows, it’s got demographics that offer the prospect of enormous economic growth in the future, because it has such a large working age population. Its working age population will continue to grow until the year 2050. That’s 2-0-5-0. While other countries will be aging. And that, of course, is both an opportunity as well as a challenge, because it does mean that India needs to focus on ways that it can generate the economic growth and dynamism to productively employ all these young people who will want and seek jobs.
Another piece of India’s story on the world’s stage: Why and how the country decides to approach its foreign and security policy choices. One of the things we’re seeing now with India increasingly, translating its economic might into military capabilities. India already counts itself as part of a select club of countries with advanced defense technology. It’s got a civilian nuclear energy program and a nuclear weapons program. It is a space power. India sent a probe to the moon in 2008, has another in the works. In the year 2014 India placed a vehicle in orbit around Mars, that was at a fraction of the cost of NASA’s Mars rover.
India has a declared ambition of primacy in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi has become focused on strengthening its defense ties. It’s using its defense ties more diplomatically. And it’s sort of defense diplomacy. It’s strengthening its ties with countries across the region and building a blue water navy. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, India has a force strength of nearly 1.4 million troops on active duty and nearly 1.2 million reservists. That places the size of India’s military at number three in the world, measured by personnel strength. And the International Institute of Strategic Studies measures the Indian defense budget at sixth largest in the world. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that India became the world’s fifth-largest military spender in 2016, placing it ahead of both France and the United Kingdom.
India has been a top importer of military equipment for the last five years, has accelerated its procurements for U.S. companies to now what has become over—cumulatively, more than $15 billion, as an illustration of the increased convergence of U.S.-India strategic and defense ties. I would note here, of course, India remains a very independent actor. And despite its increasing closeness to the United States on defense and strategic issues, Russia remains a very close partner for India, and a major defense supplier, as are Israel and France. India has diversified its strategic bets with multiple partners.
We have also seen some changes in recent years in the way India is approaching its global diplomacy. India was a founder and a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. And as a result of its leadership in the Non-Aligned Movement, for decades kind of kept a distance from Washington. This is now changing. India and the United States have overcome decades of estrangement and have become close strategic partners. We are also seeing that in many cases where India would have previously preferred to remain silent or abstain from taking sides in certain types of global developments, it is now at times choosing to step up.
I mentioned that India has a new term that it—the government is using to describe its role and ambitions on the world stage, a leading power. When the Indian government introduced this term as a means of describing what it would see to do internationally, in a series of speeches India’s former foreign secretary spoke about India gaining confidence on the world stage, and instead of only reacting to events or being a balancing power, India would increasingly be eager to shape events on the world stage. And I think we’re seeing that.
Let me give you an important example: climate change. I think this is a place where we’ve seen Indian leadership emerge where, at one time, many thought that India was focused narrowly on sort of staving off requests from Western countries for India to cap its carbon emissions at a certain point in the future. In a sense, India moved in less than a decade from being defensive on the question of carbon emissions caps, to taking the lead and helping to set a global climate agenda. By the time the 2015 Paris climate conference took place, instead of India—and India has maintained its position that it was unfair for more developed economies to ask India, a still-developing economy, to make carbon emissions cap commitments while it still had not yet developed to the similar level of prosperity.
That is still India’s position, but it has made domestic commitments to itself. What you saw emerge at the 2015 Paris climate conference was a very different type of a stance. India went to the Paris conference and announced a focus on promoting not only domestically within India, but internationally, a focus on promoting the rapid deployment of solar energy, and an international agenda item of reducing the cost—the financing cost of solar energy technology.
India and France came together to declare the creation of a new multilateral organization, called the International Solar Alliance, that is headquartered in India. This worked perfectly with India’s own domestic ambitions to ramp up its own usage of solar energy. But the creation of a solar alliance gave India an international leadership role in this new space. And actually, the International Solar Alliance just had its first summit-level meeting in March in India, when France’s President Macron visited India there. So you saw a very different type of Indian diplomacy and Indian leadership that, again, worked to shape a global response to an important international issue.
Let me say just a couple more words about security and defense before we open it up to questions. I’m not supposed to talk for too long, but there’s always a lot to say about India. I think you’ve seen a real change, certainly in the United States, in the way the—our defense establishment thinks about India’s growing role on the world stage. U.S. secretaries of defense regularly refer to India as a net provider of regional security. That’s a term people regularly use. I don’t think you would have heard that term 20 years ago. I mentioned India’s maritime ambitions and its goal of primacy in the Indian Ocean as being responsive to China’s more assertive presence in maritime South Asia.
What we have seen is the Indian government take a decision to increase their naval ship requirement. This was a decision taken in 2012, upping their naval ship requirement to 198 from what had been 138 earlier. In 2015, New Delhi reached an agreement with the Seychelles to host its first overseas military base. And that agreement has just run into a glitch due to domestic politics in the Seychelles. But interestingly, just a couple months back India reached a basing agreement with Oman. And during President Macron’s visit to India in March, India and France signed a facilities-sharing agreement.
So you’re seeing a very new and different expeditionary approach to India’s maritime presence and where it wants to situate itself, and the type of security provision India will be able to offer in the region. Another example, in 2015 India took the lead on rescuing nearly 1,000 citizens from 41 countries who were stranded in Yemen when the government of Yemen collapsed there. And that included Americans. This was, you know, India playing a role then of a net provider of regional security, picking up the slack where others were not.
You now see India and Japan in a regular trilateral naval exercise in the Indian Ocean. That places India together with the United States and Japan as powerful democratic Asian partners who favor freedom of navigation and a free and open regional Indian Ocean—Indo-Pacific region. We’ve also seen the consultative gathering known as the Quad, the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, cane together in November 2017 at an assistant secretary level meeting. This grouping hadn’t come together since 2007. So there is a new interest in converging with the democracies of Asia, in upholding the rules of the road—the liberal rules of the road across the Asian region. And India is stepping up to play that important role there.
Now, there’s a lot more that I could say and talk about. I know I’m not supposed to talk too much at the outset and we’re supposed to move to question and answer, but I also would be very happy to talk about global governance and multilateral institutions, which have not sufficiently reformed to provide a place for this rising power. And that’s something I write quite a bit about in my book. And I’d be happy to talk about that further. But let me just sort of end the initial comments here, and I’d be happy to take questions and look forward to our discussion. Thank you.
CASA: Thanks very much for that very thorough overview. And let’s open it up to the students on the call for questions now.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we will open the floor for questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
And our first question comes from New York University Center for Global Affairs.
Q: Hi. My name—(off mic)—a question about India’s non-interventionist policy.
They normally don’t support the way the U.S. has promoted democracy in other countries, because they have more of a stance of sovereignty. So I wanted to know, since they didn’t support the U.S. in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. They did support the U.S.’s role in Afghanistan, because they were essential for fighting off the Pakistani-backed Taliban. So do you see India in the future supporting interventions by other countries if it relates to regional problems that affect India, and maybe even becoming involved themselves? Or do you think—and if they do become involved, do you think that this would help or hinder their role on the global stage?
AYERS: That almost sounds like three questions. (Laughter.) So I’ll try to unpack it in the order received. And if I forget one element you can feel free to remind me. It’s oftentimes hard to answer these questions that have so many parts because it’s just hard to remember the order of the questions.
You know, you raise, I think, a very important point. I think one of the links that was sent out in advance of this call was an excerpt from my book about partnering with India on democracy. And that has been challenging over the years, even though it seems like an obvious area where we could be doing a lot together, precisely because of this issue of very different approaches to what it means to promote democracy and promote human freedoms and human rights around the world. So you’re exactly right, India’s leadership and its prioritization of non-interventionism has meant that it oftentimes doesn’t take public stances on problems in third countries. There is an important exception to that: the countries in India’s neighborhood.
Even in recent years, we’ve seen India standing up for human rights issues in Nepal. In fact, that has led to a deterioration in ties between New Delhi and Katmandu. Instead of congratulating the Nepali national assembly with its completion of a new constitution a couple years ago, the India government was pretty firm about problems in the constitution they felt didn’t permit the voice and protect the interests of the Madhesi population that live on the plains between Nepal and India. And for India, it’s a national security issue. This is a completely open border. And they have an interest in seeing—or, in advising the Nepali government to look after the rights and interests of the Madhesi population there. So that was a case where India stood up quite publicly, not only used diplomatic backchannel conversations but had a very public stance on this issue. And it led to a sort of month-long standoff and issue, trucks not entering Nepal.
Another very obvious case that many know about is Sri Lanka, where in the end of the long-running 30-years civil war in Sri Lanka, which involved the Tamil minority population in the north and, of course, the Buddhist Sinhala majority in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has been very slow to deal with reconciliation and accountability for humanitarian law and human rights violations during the war—during the civil conflict. And India had been pretty vocal about this, including going to the extent of supporting twice two resolutions at the U.N. Human Right Council that called upon the government of Sri Lanka to do much more to address these important issues of reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. And, again, that led to a real deterioration in government-to-government ties between Columbo and New Delhi.
So those examples show that there are cases where India will stand up and be very vocal on domestic issues, as it is doing now in the Maldives. But you don’t often see India say: Egypt has some problems, and we’d like to provide some public advice. (Laughs.) And that certainly I think speaks to the Indian belief that challenges of domestic politics and human rights in countries are, in the Indian view, best addressed through private diplomacy.
You mentioned the case of Afghanistan. India has been very active in Afghanistan as an economic development partner. It’s the fifth-largest bilateral donor. It has long had a relationship with many Afghan political leaders, many of whom have studied in India. India has been an active infrastructure provider. It built the Afghan parliament, built schools, built electrical power plants. India is now working closely with Iran on the Chabahar Port that allows overland access of supplies into Afghanistan, because India can’t go across through the Pakistan route.
So I think you do see India finding its own way to maintain linkages and make its voice heard in the cases and contexts of its choosing. Do I think that India’s willingness to take positions only in certain kinds of contexts will shape India’s role in the world? Well, of course. And that’s up to India. Indian leaders can decide what they think is the best way to advance their own interest and support for democracy, for human freedom in countries around the world, whether they do that through private diplomacy or public diplomacy. What I have focused on in my book on recommendations for U.S. foreign policy is the way that we in the United States can try to bridge what are some differing views on how best to talk about the importance of democracy and promoting it, by doing so within India’s comfort level.
I still think there’s a lot to be gained by working closely with India on elections, where India’s got incredible capabilities—second to none in the world—the scale and across very diverse terrain in all kinds of different contexts. And we could do a lot more with India, for example, in developing training programs that can bring election officers or administrative officials from countries that have interests in gaining greater training by having them learn from Indian officials, from the Indian election commission that has so much experience at such great scale. So that’s just one example of ways I think we could sort of bridge some of the differences in the way we view the appropriate ways to promote democracy and human rights on the world stage.
Q: OK, thank you.
CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Stockton University.
Q: Hello. How you doing today? My name’s Courtney Coffey (sp).
AYERS: Good, thank you.
Q: My name’s Courtney Coffey (sp). I’m basically—I’m curious about—I was wondering if you could talk about the medicine and technology in India, as it’s known as a destination for medical tourism, and also as a country invested in other—and also, as a country, investing in this sector. How much is that benefitting India’s economy and India’s people? And how does it impact their relationship with other countries?
AYERS: Well, thanks for that question. That’s a very good question, and an interesting one. It is definitely a little bit outside of my area of focus. I just don’t have the data or figures on those issues because it’s not something that I have focused on for my work, which generally looks at sort of international institutions, specific economic growth issues, and multilateral coordination. I know anecdotally, of course, it is the case that India’s private sector hospitals are playing a role as destinations for medical care and medical tourism. But I’m afraid I just don’t have the numbers to be able to provide you with a good detailed answer on that question.
CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Michael Nojeim with Prairie View A&M University.
Q: Good morning. My name is Samwell Farala (sp). I’m from Prairie View A&M University.
And I have a question about economic policy. So as India continues to grow and faces differing domestic issues—as far as infrastructure, human rights, and poverty—how do you think global policy will have to change? And how do you think foreign policy of India will have to change in order to accommodate the ever-changing world of foreign policy?
AYERS: Could you be a little bit more specific? I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking me.
Q: So far as international investment, which you talked about a little further at the beginning of the discussion, how do you think that India will have to accommodate its foreign political objectives to be able to either add more international investment or take part in improving its infrastructure and international investment?
AYERS: I see. Well, look, I definitely am part of the camp that believes that India needs to continue its ongoing economic reforms, to continue helping the economy get to those higher rates of economic growth that can create more jobs for its population and grow its economy over a sustained period. I spent a lot of time in my book, in the first part, looking at India’s independent economic history. So, from 1947 independent to 1991, India was essentially a planned economy with a planning commission that created five-year plans for what should happen in the country economically. It placed limits on the ability for companies to grow. So, in a sense, having regulations that prevented the growth of its own domestic enterprises, didn’t allow them to be unleashed on their own. In 1991, India faced a balance of payments crisis. And that led to what most people regard as the beginnings of India’s economic opening and its opening to the world.
What’s really important to note is that that 1991 opening was a crucial moment, and yet it wasn’t a sort of complete opening all at once. So India continues to deal with questions of remaining economic reforms. We’ve seen the current Indian government carry out a series of reforms that has increased foreign direct investment caps in a number of sectors that had had limitations, but oftentimes when foreign direct investment caps get increased, that will be done in an incremental way. So some sectors in India, you know, insurance is a classic example people talk about. For years the allowed foreign direct investment level for the insurance industry in India was capped at 26 percent. The Indian government a few years ago decided to raise that to 49 percent. But you can see when—increasing these caps in incremental ways like this means that there’s still more that people could do.
India recently introduced—it was actually a very complex and difficult political move, and attests to the fact that difficult things can still be done even in really complicated democracies. India’s parliament finally passed a constitutional amendment to create a national goods and services tax, which this is often described as India creating a trade agreement with itself, allowing ease of commerce across the different Indian states. So that should really help advance economic growth and commercial activity within India.
But there are a lot of challenges that remain in India. India’s labor laws inhibit the growth of large companies, for example. And so this is the type of a reform that certainly people looking at the Indian economy think should be something that the government—that lawmakers should move on to advance. Of course, it’s politically sensitive. One of the challenges with India’s labor laws is that if you grow beyond 100 employees, you need government permission in order to have any layoffs, even if a company goes insolvent. So that’s a real challenge. And what has happened instead is that firms just don’t grow very large. So you have a huge number of very, very small micro-enterprises that never grow because of this disincentive.
So those are just a few examples of ways that India could continue economic reform that would encourage more foreign investment at home. India also needs to deal with a non-performing asset crisis in its banking sector. Once that’s totally worked through, that should increase domestic capital expenditure within India that should also contribute to greater growth. You know, there are a lot of things that need to still be worked on in the Indian economy. And so that’s a very important piece for India as it looks to continue increasing prosperity for all of its citizens at home as it looks to continue trying to do the important infrastructure investments that will help link India’s ports better to commerce around the world, that will help India become the much more active commercial presence. It already is an active commercial presence, but it can really ease and facilitate that by easing some of the many barriers to doing business.
For those of you on the call that are focused on international business, I would encourage you to take a look at the annual World Bank ease of doing business index, which ranks countries—it is an index that looks at many different kinds of indicators, like, you know, how many days does it take to register a company, provision of electricity, things like this. And India doesn’t do so well on this ranking. The Indian government has taken that as a kind of ambition to improve its position and therefore increase its attractiveness and appeal to foreign companies to do business in India. But, yeah, I’d encourage all of you to look at this index as a means of seeing where India, and many other countries that are part of the index, stand.
CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from University of New Mexico.
Q: Good morning. This is Michael Bodnum (sp) from University of New Mexico. Thank you for spending some time with us sharing your experiences this morning.
In your talk you discussed or mentioned that India was a nuclear power. So is Pakistan. India and Pakistan have competing nuclear strategies. It’s different from what we’re used to between American and Russian nuclear strategies, which are more symmetric. Can you speak to what your thoughts are on the risk and India’s take on the stability of that relationship—the nuclear relationship, as opposed to conventional relationships?
AYERS: Thank you. And thank you for asking the question from—appropriately, from New Mexico?
You know, it’s not possible, I think, to think about the strategic nuclear challenges in South Asia without also thinking about China’s role. When India tested in 1998, the statement from India’s defense minister at the time referred to the fact that India felt there was an encircling enemy. And that statement referred to China, not to Pakistan. China, of course, is also a country with nuclear weapons, and is a nuclear weapon state under the terms of the NPT. Neither India nor Pakistan are signatories to the NPT, so they fall outside of this framework. But they do both have nuclear weapons.
One of the challenges that has emerged, of course—and you refer to the fact—the nuclear relationship, let’s say, between the United States and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War was one that had a lot of managed consultation. And the India-Pakistan relationship has a much more volatile—volatility to it. Right now there is not a kind of ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan. So that limits the way that the countries can create structures to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. One of the challenges in South Asia, of course, as you mentioned, is a kind of asymmetric approach. India has a no first use policy. Pakistan does not. You’ve also seen, as has been widely documented, Pakistan’s development of battlefield nuclear weapons, which creates yet another risk scenario, and I think a scenario of concern for everybody who watches this region.
The third factor here, and the fact that I think is crucially important, is the fact problem of terrorist groups that have safe havens in Pakistan. One of the reasons there is not presently an ongoing dialogue between India and Pakistan has been the continued problem of terrorist attacks on Indian soil, perpetrated by groups that are traced back to Pakistan. So the Indian government at this point, after the Modi government tried to create an ongoing dialogue and things looked promising for about a year between Prime Minister Modi and the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, but after the Pathankot terrorist attack the Indian government said it’s impossible to conduct an ongoing dialogue while there’s still the use of terrorism from one country against another. So that has placed a real barrier in terms of conversation about managing or preventing the use of nuclear weapons.
The issue of terrorists and potential access to nuclear weapons, that’s certain a danger that many people write about with respect to Pakistan. It is an international concern. So there are a lot of pieces to the story here. This is a region that I think we all do need to be worried about. I am not worried about kind of imminent nuclear weapons use, but I do worry about a problem of a terrorism scenario, a problem of a terrorist attack emanating from Pakistan. And a possible escalation, and what that would me. So to me, I think the most important precipitating factor would be to work closely with Pakistan to help them deal with and tackle these terrorist groups. These groups present a huge problem for Pakistan domestically. These groups present a problem for Afghanistan. They also present a problem for India.
And that’s a whole—we could do a whole different phone conversation—(laughs)—about this crucial, very difficult foreign policy issue. It’s an issue that has, I think, bedeviled all U.S. administrations, including this one, including the Obama administration, including the George W. Bush administration, including the Clinton administration. Finding the right incentive and disincentive structure and ways to help encourage Pakistan to focus on development and prosperity for its own people, as opposed to allowing terrorists to plot and plan from its soil, is a very important regional and global foreign policy challenge. And I’m afraid there’s no good answer yet, at the moment.
CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Pitzer College.
Q: Thank you very much for your presentation.
My question is more perhaps requiring some historical reflection. And that is, India is going to be come, as they have indicated, the largest country in terms of population. Now, if you might recall historically, in Europe, when they were going under those forms of development, they were able to get rid of some of their population, namely the surplus population. Is there a way who India is going to deal with its surplus population? And where are they going to be dispatched to? Is there a possibility that India might acquire some sort of imperial tendency—imperialist tendencies in order to deal with the surrounding countries that are weaker, and in order to get rid of some of its population?
AYERS: Well, I highly doubt that. What do you mean by Europe getting rid of its surplus—I’m afraid I just don’t—I’m unclear on the question.
Q: Oh, OK. Well, remember, the colonization of the Americans, Australia, you know, how Europe was able to get rid of its growing population by going overseas, eh? Now is that possibility available for India? And if it does, what is going to happen in terms of its surrounding countries, countries that are weaker, for example, as to Indian influence? Now, you can see, just to give you an example, what China is doing, like, in Africa. The Chinese are sending a lot of its population outside China, like into Africa. Is that a possibility for India? And what does that portend it terms of India attitude towards, you know, imperialism, in a sense?
AYERS: So I think I see this historically a little bit differently. But let me just try to answer the question as you posed it.
AYERS: I really do not see any indication of the desire to acquire territories abroad or to send people abroad in a neo-imperialist manner. That is just not what I see with India. I see a lot of concern and interest in finding ways to make agriculture more productive. India is self-sufficient in agriculture, of course. The result of the Green Revolution. But there are now some concerns about depleting water tables, climate change, and environmental variability. There are a lot of—there’s a lot of interest in finding the right mix of increased agricultural productivity, finding ways to create new jobs and industries in small towns and peri-urban locations, so you can create a better economic opportunity for people so they don’t necessarily have to move into large, very, very populous cities.
So I do see a lot of focus and interest within India in talking about rural and urban development, in talking about infrastructure and connectivity, in talking about the changing shape of agriculture, in talking about ways to increase India’s manufacturing sector and its contribution to GDP. India’s manufacturing sector is relatively small compared to countries like China or compared to Southeast Asian countries. So I see a lot of focus, and attention, and concentration on these questions. I just simply do not hear any conversation along the lines that you’ve asked.
Q: OK. Thank you.
CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.
OPERATOR: Thank you. And our next question comes from New York University Center for Global Affairs.
Q: Yeah. Hi. My name is Ariya Das.
So, for me, something that you touched upon right before you took questions was that—you said that India is not appropriately represented in multilateral organizations. And you sort of spoke about how India is looking to increase its global governance. So in terms of that, like, could you sort of elaborate on that? What are the prospects for India increasing its presence in multilateral organizations—most specifically the sort of—the U.N. Security Council, as well as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which India has sort of been lobbying for recently. What are the prospects for such representation? And what are the strategies that the current government is sort of doing to sort of push that forward? Thank you.
AYERS: Yes. Thanks for asking that. That’s a great question. And again, this is a type of a question that we could do a whole separate call on. I spent a lot of time in my book looking at this issue, because it is important to how India interacts on the global stage. In many ways, India is on the outside of kind of the core multilateral organizations that the United States and many U.S. allies and long-time partners work with and through to manage global affairs.
Now, you mentioned the Security Council. India has spoken about what they see as, frankly, a problem of global equity, with India not having a seat, given India’s population size, its democracy over the decades, its contributions to U.N. peacekeeping. India is historically the largest contributor of troops to U.N. peacekeeping. And in recent years, it has remained, I think, within the top three troop contributing countries every year. So that’s important. And India, in a sense, feels kind of locked out. You’ve got two European countries that are much smaller that have a permanent seat on the Security Council, and yet India is on the outside.
India has been working for a couple decades on this issue, but much more intensively so for the last 10 years, with a more active strategy begun under the congress-led UPA government previously, and which the Modi government has continued. India is part of a consultative group, referred to as the group of four, the G-4. And India works closely with this G-4 group, all of which are permanent U.N. Security Council seat aspirants. So it’s India. It’s Japan, the number-two contributor to the U.N. budget. It’s Germany, the EU’s largest economy and a country that has been incredibly active in global affairs, particularly taking the lead for Europe in many cases in recent years. Germany doesn’t have a seat. And Brazil, a huge country, a large economy. There is no Latin American representation on the Security Council.
So you have these four that have gotten together and have tried very hard to press their case for Security Council reform. In 2015, India introduced—sorry—2016 India introduced a text for what they hoped would be an ongoing text-based Security Council reform effort within the General Assembly. This has not advanced to a significant stage, unfortunately. And part of the problem here, frankly, is the fact that it’s just really hard to get reform of these older institutions. And U.N. Security Council reform is going to be probably the hardest of any of these institutions that help manage issue on the world stage. And that’s because nobody can agree on how big a reform to Security Council should be, whether new members should have veto powers or not, even if anybody agrees on the size of expansion and the question of veto powers, yes or no, how do you create a slate where all regions of the world feel that there is equity. What do you do about European overrepresentation? There are all these kinds of questions here.
So having said all that, I personally think that the United States should be doing more to help. We had a formal declaration of U.S. foreign policy that President Obama gave when he visited India in November 2010, that the United States supports Indian membership in a reformed and expanded U.N. Security Council. So my personal recommendation is that we in the United States ought to be doing more to help that reform process, because we are a global leader. We are a permanent member of the Security Council. And just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t keep trying—even though it may take a long time.
So that’s kind of the hardest one, but there are many other multilateral organizations that India has a very credible case to become a member of. One of them is APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. And I’ve written about this separately in addition to focusing on it in my book. I think for many reasons, not only for issues of equity in global governance but also for reasons of better embedding India in cohorts of countries that are focused on expanding free and open trade and investment, which is the entire purpose of APEC, we should want to incorporate India as a member of APEC. This year’s summit host for the APEC summit is Papua New Guinea, which is a country that has a $20 billion GDP. It’s great that PNG is a member of APEC. But I really don’t see how this is a representative Asia-Pacific organization working on economic issues if Asia’s third-largest economy, India, remains on the outside, despite a membership request dating back more than 20 years.
So APEC is an organization I think the U.S. should really champion reform and Indian membership in. The United States has not done so, I think, because many people believe that for an organization that does business working by consensus, India—which is traditionally a very tough negotiating partner and always—not always willing to go along. If India feels that its economic interests could be imperiled, it has been willing in the past—certainly in the World Trade Organization context—to break consensus on issues. So that has cast a bit of a shadow over the issue of Indian membership in APEC.
I would make a similar argument about other economic institutions, like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the OECD, membership of which is required for membership in the International Energy Agency. India is not a member of the International Energy Agency, despite being the world’s third-largest energy consumer at this point. That’s just a quick look at some of those organizations. You mentioned the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The United States has been championing Indian membership in the NSG, as well as in three other nonproliferation organizations. That was part of one of the commitments that we as a country made for the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Initiative. India is now a member of the Missile Technology Control regime, of the Wassenaar Arrangement, and of the Australia Group. And that is very significant progress. That’s all different since the nuclear deal in 2008. So that does show that progress can be made, even if it’s slow.
I think we’re going to run out of time. So I won’t say much about alternative multilateral organizations. But for 20 seconds I’ll just note that India, in my view, is not seeking to overturn the liberal world order. It wants the liberal world order to reform to accommodate a voice for India. But it also putting some of its eggs in alternative baskets as reform of these other institutions drags on and on and on for years. So India is also a champion of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It’s the number-two capital contributor. It helped create and is a very active participant in the BRICS, the group that is comprised of Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa. With the BRICS, India has been an important creator of the New Development Bank. It’s a new member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. They’ve got defense and diplomacy meetings going on right now in China.
So just these few examples show how India seeks a larger voice for itself in these more traditional 20th century institutions, but it is also focused on creating new institutions in the world in which it feels it can have a larger voice and help shape the way those institutions shape global events.
CASA: Alyssa, thank you very much for this informative discussion. And thanks to all of you across the country for your questions. This concludes—
AYERS: Thanks to everybody for dialing in. I appreciate it.
CASA: This concludes our winter/spring Academic Conference Call Series. Our next call will take place in September at the start of the fall semester. And we will be sharing the fall lineup earlier in the summer. In the meantime, I encourage you to visit CFRCampus.org, and follow CFR Campus on Twitter at @CFR_Campus for information on new resources and upcoming events. Thank you again for your participation. Good luck on your exams. And have a great summer.