INDIA 2004: A MOST UNCOMMON MOMENT
Concluding Remarks at a Symposium on
Uncommon Opportunities: A Road for Employment, Food, and Global Security
New Delhi, India, November 20-22, 2004
You have asked me, possibly because I am the oldest participant, to offer some remarks at the conclusion of this remarkable symposium. My age is, in a way, relevant: I have been actively involved, sometime during a long life, in each of the fields we have been discussing these last three days.
As a U.S. public executive, I was once active in the diplomacy of arms control and disarmament. I have several times been responsible for helping programs of economic and social development, in societies as different as Italy and China. When it comes to food, I’ll cheerfully concede that I have been more an appreciative consumer than an ardent producer – though my first job in a long life of public service was in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I was working then – in the late 1930s -- to help our poorest farmers get the benefits promised them by President Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Peace and Security
I will start, as our conference did, with the security issues brilliantly explored for us by Air Commodore Jasjit Singh. He rightly questioned the premises of the “war on terror.” I will be less polite than he was.
That very phrase is an oxymoron. Terrorism is not a doctrine, like President Harry Truman’s declaration that the U.S would protect Greece and Turkey from Soviet takeover. It’s not a purpose, like the postwar recovery of Western Europe assisted by the four-year Marshall Plan, a great drama in which I was lucky to play a part. It’s not even a deadly disease like AIDS or a chronic condition like poverty, on which metaphorical wars have been declared.
No, terrorism is a tool – “a tool, not an actor,” as one diplomat puts it. It’s a tool often used in history. Terrorism is usually violent action, often aimed at a few of the innocent in order to terrify some much larger population. The violence has traditionally been directed, by the weaker and less organized, against the stronger and more “established.” It has often been aimed by people who got there first, against other people who came later to muscle the early-arrivers aside: colonial subjects against imperial powers, people of color against dominant whites.
Terror has also, and often, been used as an instrument of governance. But history is mostly written by the winners, so the “downs” are more often called “terrorists” or worse, the “ups” skipping lightly over their own use of terror tactics as tools for governing. Either way, terrorism will doubtless be a feature of world history during the rest of this century and beyond.
A terrorist conspiracy that could launch so major an attack on the United States as occurred on September 11, 2001, was bound to provoke a warlike response. The attackers weren’t a state, but they were hosted and shielded by a (failing) state. Declaring “war” on Afghanistan, supplanting the Taliban, and trying to prevent the country from serving as a sanctuary for an organized nonstate called al Qaeda, were necessary – though obviously not sufficient – reactions to the 9/11 attack.
But a war against terrorism? That’s a promise to destroy anyone anywhere who tires of opposing established power by eloquent words and nonviolent deeds, and decides instead to use the tool called terror to advocate change. A war on terrorism has no end-game; it’s a permanent engagement against an always available tool.
So a war on terrorism can never be definitively “won.” The slaughter of innocents in high-minded desperation will always be an option for persuasive and imaginative leaders. But the practice of terrorism provokes its own backlash, so the terrorists don’t win either.
Terrorism by its nature won’t be eradicated or abolished. But a broad cooperative international effort, robust and resolute, using all the capabilities of modern human and electronic intelligence, can contain it, isolate it, fragment it, reduce it to criminal behavior that can be internationally policed.
Moreover, the swamp of poverty, unemployment, and desperation in which terrorism thrives can be drained by getting much more serious about economic and social development. This is the point Jasjit Singh drove home so forcefully in his paper for this conference, in his emphasis on a constructive response to the revolution of rising expectations. The tensions in this pervasive revolution can be exacerbated by terrorist acts, or reduced by opportunities for full employment – as the Government of India has recognized by proposing a doctrine of guaranteed employment.
“Jobs or jihad” -- that seems to be the choice. And this led us to our second day discussion of “job-led growth.”
Meanwhile, the issue of nuclear disarmament was put to this conference both by Jasjit Singh and by Admiral Ramdas, who proposed that India “convene a meeting of all nuclear weapon capable states . . . without any fixed agenda other than to agree to discuss all aspects of the nuclear question.” “Nothing substantial,” in his judgment, has come out of six decades of talk about nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament. His idea was to “evolve a new workable nuclear management regime” to think hard about “nuclear disasters, nuclear accidents and other such unforeseen events so as to mobilize resources for meeting such contingencies.”
I would be even more ambitious for such an Indian initiative. The very size of explosions made possible by splitting the atom – which couldn’t be split, my secondary-school physics teacher assured me in the 1930s – makes them a militarily unusable weapon, except for deterring their use by another. If the nuclear weapons states, including the United States, could agree to forswear such weaponry, the way would be open for some practical “next steps” such as those I proposed about the time the International Commission on Peace and Food was writing its excellent report.
For example: If the agreed goal were true nuclear disarmament, two preliminary actions in the United Nations Security Council – (1) to mandate an international agency to destroy more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons and (2) to declare any nuclear use a punishable act against civilization – would move the world much faster toward nuclear common sense.
We were privileged to listen to Prime Minister Manmoham Singh’s opening address at the Indira Gandhi Conference which started just before ours this week. I found it refreshingly full of economic common sense. He stressed a “policy framework which rewards entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity,” and the need to “ignite a new revolution of creativity and enterprise in the rural areas.” He made clear that building “a knowledge-based economy” was both a loftier and a more difficult aim “than just creating information technology capabilities.” India, he said, is “already the world’s largest multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-linguistic democracy” – and may in a decade be the world’s most populous nation.
The Prime Minister also called for politics to “rediscover its role as a purposeful instrument for the management of social change and not merely a ticket for power. India 2015,” he concluded, “will be a nation of capable and empowered men and women, well-fed and gainfully employed, modern and rational and actively engaged with the world.”
The following day, our own conference was graced with an equally uplifting opening address by the President of India, Dr. A.P.D. Abdul Kalam, who made good use of highly professional PowerPoint displays on a large screen. He regards 2004 as a most uncommon moment in India’s history: “all at a time, an ascending economic trajectory, continuously rising foreign exchange reserve, global recognition of technological competence, energy of 540 million youth, umbilical connectivities of 20 million people of Indian origin in various parts of the planet, and the interest shown by many developed countries to invest in our engineers and scientists . . . .”
He spoke of the Second Green Revolution as having “the farmers in focus, farming technology as the friend, food processing and marketing as partners and the consumers as angels to be satisfied.” He predicted national growth rates of “7 to 8 percent,” an increase in grain production “to around 400 million tonnes” on less land with less water, with due attention to “ecological balance” – all this “to be achieved through information access to all stakeholders and not with central controls or restriction of movement of agricultural products.” He put special emphasis on “connectivity” -- physical, electronic, and “knowledge connectivity through education.”
Toward the end of his address the President also spoke of rising expectations as central to the future of developing countries. He quoted a management expert: “The real source of market promise is not the wealthy few in the developing world, or even the emerging middle-income consumers. It is the billions of aspiring poor who are joining the market economy for the first time.”
After the President’s address, and still thinking about the Prime Minister’s the day before, I opened my notebook and wrote a note to myself: “There surely is no other country in the world, large or small, that is so blessed as to be led by a forward-looking economist and a humanistic scientist. Opening conference sessions, of which I have experienced more than my share, are likely to be boringly conventional. But I have just heard, from the two leaders of the new India, two lucid evocations of an exciting yet realistic future.”
The notion of “jobs-led growth” was already central to the 1994 Report of the International Commission on Peace and Food. That theme is only reinforced by the way India, and the world it is increasingly a part of, has mutated during the past decade.
A centerpiece of the International Commission’s Report was “the assertion that employment must be recognized as a fundamental human right, the economic equivalent of the right to vote. . . .[A]ccess to gainful employment constitutes the economic franchise that lends legitimacy and functionality to a market economy.”
In their hard-hitting and clearly written Preface to the Second Edition of “Uncommon Opportunities,” the ICPF Report, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and Garry Jacobs note that the Indian Government has “proclaimed their recognition of this right and their commitment to enforce it through an act of parliament.” Our many-sponsored meeting this weekend was designed “to review the technological and policy instruments now available to fulfil the human quest for ‘education, health, food, water, and work for all and forever’.”
The vision was ambitious because the task is huge. Without neglecting India’s more highly organized manufacturing and service sectors, our discussion focused especially on agriculture and its spinoffs in processing and other agribusiness, on skill development, and on energy. To uplift the “unorganized,” “informal” sector which is most of India’s economy, crucial roles were recognized for self-help groups, the spread of microfinance systems, and dispersed leadership. Such a framework requires, as the President had said, “information access to all stakeholders.” In such a system “planning” is not done by a few planners far from the farms and villages. Planning is improvisation by the many on a shared vision – a vision which is shared because the many have been widely consulted about it by the few who announce it.
In the “informal sector,” women often play a key role. Receiving most of the microloans, they learn to become entrepreneurs. Where there are obstacles to the recognition and entitlement of women, these will need to be removed. Education and vocational training were repeatedly stressed, these past two days, by participants who saw clearly that the highest value-added investment will always be in people – not only in their constantly changing skills but in knowledge and understanding of the context of their work and their motivation and enterprise to adapt to continuous technological change.
“From this perspective,” the authors of the new Preface wrote, “the single most important agent of human development is not the institutions of government or those of private enterprise. It is the educational system that imparts to future generations the accumulated knowledge, skill, and capacity acquired in the past. The quality of that education will determine the quality of the human beings who build our future world.” As a sometime educator, I thoroughly agree. But I would put a growing emphasis on the need for lifelong learning in a world where technological change keeps changing the rules and enhancing the opportunities.
India’s Exciting Future
Let me speak now as an American who has had too few occasions to visit your vast and wonderful country, and is grateful for these few illuminating days with you. I want to testify how exciting it is to be a witness and in some small way a participant as India glides down the runway at a moment that some development economists call “take-off.”
The puzzles and challenges ahead of you are all too obvious. There is your sheer size – a billion people and counting, more than 600,000 villages and dozens of fast-growing cities. Even an observer from the United States of America, which we consider a large country, is stunned by the scale of your democracy, its problems and its prospects. How will you get everybody in on the act and still get some action?
Then there are your hierarchical traditions, some from long ago and some inherited from your recent colonial past, which will need to be adapted to the “horizontal,” consensual, processes that the information revolution seems to require. There is still clearly what in our politics would be called a “gender gap,” an issue about the status of women -- even though some women in India have achieved higher political office than has yet been possible for women in the United States.
India has cultural and religious dissonances that inevitably render it awkward to make this vast country “safe for diversity.” You share with us Americans all the political complexities that are inherent in a federal system of government, compounded in your case by tribal, ethnic, and religious divisions that make elusive the “unity in diversity” for which both India and the United States are intermittently striving. A “polycentric” world we both foresee; but we both have to find also in our domestic politics the balance that makes diversity compatible with unity.
And yet . . . the positive signs are also there, for even a short-time visitor to see. The scale of India’s challenges is enormous, but India’s very size compels global attention, guarantees global impact, requires that India play a role on the world’s stage, not just as a “regional power.” India’s status as the world’s largest multi-everything democracy will require you to think globally even if, like most of us, most of your actions have to be local.
It leaps to the eye that your current political leaders are impressively equal to the challenges they so clearly perceive and so eloquently describe. My observation of your substantive leadership is naturally limited, but I know Dr. Swaminathan well enough to guess that any government which takes him seriously is serious in tackling the huge and crucial task of building a knowledge-based economy that includes the farmers and villages as well as the higher-tech towns and cities.
The essence of leadership is a compelling vision, so the need is for visionary leaders that take people into their confidence and help them become aware and take advantage of their entitlements and opportunities. The rapid growth of “civil society” in India is great good news; if development is to be achieved (as the President told us) “through information access to all stakeholders,” a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is essential to mediate between the vision projected by the government and the myriad make-it-happen actions that have to be carried out by people who understand the vision but can also make it work in local contexts they better understand.
So the elements of success are patently present. Information and communication technology can be, and should be, pervasive -- and its applications need to change constantly as the restless ICT environment keeps changing. There is in India, I am assured but I also observe, “no dearth of talent, brains, imagination, and vigor.” It’s an excellent augury for dynamic yet inclusive development.
The inspiration is here, too. I have seen it in the way Dr. Swaminathan works, and talks about working. “Consultation” is a word frequently on his lips. So are “inclusion,” “equity,” and “connectivity.” In his mind, as revealed in his actions, everything really is related to everything else. The notion of a “total systems approach,” so far from most people’s way of thinking, seems natural to his genetic makeup.
If inspirational leadership with these attributes is in India’s horoscope, I can only say, with enthusiasm, “Congratulations, India!”
NOTE: On November 22, 2004, at the conclusion of the New Delhi symposium on “Uncommon Opportunities,” I was asked to make a summary comment. Afterwards I was asked to “reconstruct what I had said ex tempore, as a written text. This writing, in the first week of December, goes somewhat beyond what I said at the time.
Harlan Cleveland, an American political scientist and public executive, is Chairman of the International Center on Peace and Development (USA). Its mission is to follow up on, and further develop, concepts put forward in Uncommon Opportunities: An Agenda for Peace and Equitable Development, the Report of the International Commission on Peace and Food.
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