'Life would be far too easy if we only had to deal with ourselves'

Excerpts from a speech by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to the 2012 and 2013 batches of the IFS at the Foreign Service Institute, New Delhi on December 23.

What is it that we diplomats do? Simply put, we represent our countries' national interests abroad. At a minimum this requires clarity on what those interests are, and knowledge of our own country. Just being born Indian does not make you knowledgeable about India.

It also means understanding our national interest. For now and the immediate future, and possibly for the duration of your careers in the foreign service, our primary task in India will be to transform our country, developing it and modernising it to the point where every Indian has the opportunity to realise his or her full potential. And the goal of our foreign policy will remain to make that possible by creating an enabling external environment, using all the positive external factors while neutralising the negative ones. India's transformation is the one criterion against which policy choices should first be tested, and which should guide our considerations. If we choose peace, it is because our development requires a peaceful environment. But when so required, we should be ready to choose war or to use force too, as we have in the past.

You are fortunate to be entering the IFS when the world is in a state of flux unprecedented in living memory. After a little over two decades of globalisation and an open international economic order from which India benefited considerably, the external environment and international order are now less and less responsive to India's needs. A fundamental reordering of the international system is underway with the rise of China and other emerging countries, the attempt to form the TPP and TIPP, the emergence of the G-20, changes in military technologies and their applications, the creation of new domains of contention in cyberspace, the globalisation of terrorism, and several other fundamental changes. The big question for us is where India positions itself in this change. Do we use the opportunities that these changes throw up, which requires us to change ourselves and to change our traditional ways of doing things and interacting with the world? Or do we revert to autarchy?

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