My interest in International Relations and more specifically in India’s foreign policy and security concerns was triggered almost simultaneously on joining ICRIER for my maiden full-time employment in 1982. ICRIER’s founder Dr K B Lall, an ICS officer of great repute and an outstanding mentor for young minds., had an abiding interest in India’s external relations. He is perhaps the only person to have served as India’s ambassador to the same capital on different occasion. Dr Lall was not India’s ambassador to the European Union on two different occasions but also India’s representative to the UN agencies based in Geneva. Dr. Lall took me under his wings for the five years that I worked at ICRIER during my first stint. Those five years were the years of my most intensive learning about various aspects of Indian foreign policy and domestic concerns and the interaction between the two.
I started working on India’s bilateral relations with Europe under Dr Lall’s guidance and with support from the Fredrich Neuman Stiftung, which during the early eighties was represented by that more enigmatic and friendly Urs Schoetli. The outcome was my first publication on India’s foreign policy co-authored with Winand Callewaert of Katholic University, Leuven, Belgium. This was titled ‘Indo-European Relations’. My interaction with European academics and policy makers has continued over the decades but unfortunately not intensified as it should have. Perhaps the onus is on both sides as neither has given sufficient importance to the other.
I re-engaged with India’s foreign relations after a hiatus of nearly two decades on returning from Manila and joining the CII with its vast international commercial networks. However, my first major research project in India’s foreign policy took shape after taking over as Director and Chief Executive of ICRIER in 2006 and in collaboration with Ambassador Santosh Kumar, India’s former ambassador to South Korea and South Africa. The project, ambitious in its scope and coverage, was handsomely financed and supported by the Ministry of External Affairs, led at that time by Shiv Shankar Menon with his intellectual perspective of India’s foreign policy. The project spawned twenty six independent papers on all aspects of India’s foreign policy and security concerns by eminent experts. These were synthesized in a volume co-authored by me and Santosh Kumar, published by Business Standard Books and titled ‘In The National Interest- Strategic Foreign Policy for India’. The twenty six individual papers were brought out in a compendium by ICRIER subsequently.
Admiral Raja Menon and I collaborated to produce what is perhaps the only Net Assessment of the determinants of India’s global security concerns with the objective of elucidating a grand strategy for India. This was brought together in the co-authored volume titled ‘The Long View from Delhi- India’s Grand Strategy’ published by Academic Press, Delhi. The volume received significant attention from security experts both in India and abroad. Its overall assessment of India’s opportunities and threats in the global arena have stood the test of time. It is time that the exercise is repeated as the world gets more uncertain and fragmented resulting in the emergence of new drivers and determinants of India’s security.
The Government appointed me as a member of the National Security Advisory Board surely on the recommendation of Ambassador M K Rasgotra, who chaired the Board with great élan and insight. These two years were period of great learning about India’s security priorities and also about some of the handicaps that constrain the conduct of our foreign policy. The experience afforded me insights that would have of course been otherwise impossible. These insights were later reflected in my contribution to the preparation of ‘Non-Alignment 2.0’ which was a major collaborative effort of a large team that included not only academics but industry and security experts as well. Although the volume did not have the expected impact, it represents to me the best example of collective intellectual undertaking, which unfortunately is conspicuous by its absence in our country.
Nonalignment 2.0 was written over 14 months of deliberations by Sunil Khilnani, Rajiv Kumar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Prakash Menon, Nandan Nilekani, Srinath Raghavan, Shyam Saran and Siddharth Varadarajan.
As India attempts to become a leading global power and have a permanent place on the high table of global governance, its political leadership has to consciously seek inputs from a whole range of experts both within and outside the government. Pahle India Foundation, with its focus on serving India’s national interest, is well placed to make a real contribution to the design and conduct of India’s foreign policy.