Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh delivered the inaugural address at the 13th Indo-Pacific Armies Chiefs’ Conference (IPACC) in New Delhi on September 26, 2023, where he underscored the significance of collective wisdom and concerted efforts to address the multifaceted challenges of the Indo-Pacific Region. The conference, attended by Chief of Defence Staff General Anil Chauhan, Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Pande, and delegates from 35 countries, provided a platform for discussions on regional security and contemporary issues.
The Indo-Pacific: From Maritime to Geo-Strategic Construct
Shri Rajnath Singh began by acknowledging that the Indo-Pacific has evolved from being merely a maritime construct to becoming a comprehensive geo-strategic construct. This transition has introduced a web of intricate security challenges, including boundary disputes and piracy. To elucidate his vision, the Raksha Mantri referred to a theoretical model by American author and speaker Mr. Stephen R. Covey, consisting of two circles: the ‘Circle of Concern’ and the ‘Circle of Influence.’
- Circle of Concern: This encompasses everything that individuals care about, including elements within and beyond their control. It involves external factors and issues such as global events, economic conditions, opinions of others, and various aspects of life.
- Circle of Influence: This comprises elements over which individuals have direct control or can exert influence. It encompasses attitudes, behaviors, decisions, relationships, and actions.
Applying this model to international relations, Shri Rajnath Singh pointed out that instances may occur when the ‘circles of concern’ of different nations overlap. An example of this is international maritime trade routes traversing high seas beyond Exclusive Economic Zones. This overlap can lead to conflicts between nations or cooperative agreements that mutually define rules of engagement. This concept underscores the importance of strategic thinking and prioritization in international affairs.
Collaboration and Diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific
Shri Rajnath Singh stressed that global issues involve multiple stakeholders, and no single country can address these challenges in isolation. Engaging with the broader international community through diplomacy, international organizations, and treaties is crucial to tackling common concerns within the overlapping ‘Circles of Concern.’ He cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1982, as an example of an international agreement that addresses issues arising from overlapping concerns of different nations in the maritime domain.
Simultaneously, the Raksha Mantri emphasized the need for states to identify and expand their ‘Circle of Influence’ to promote national interests on the global stage. This may involve building partnerships, participating in regional organizations, and strategically employing diplomatic, economic, or military tools.
Expanding ‘Circles of Influence’ for Collaborative Security
Rajnath Singh viewed the IPACC, Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS), and Senior Enlisted Leaders Forum (SELF) as significant forums for land forces in the region. These events foster common perspectives and build partnerships in the spirit of collaborative security.
The Raksha Mantri reiterated India’s commitment to a free, open, inclusive, and rules-based Indo-Pacific Region. He highlighted India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach and ‘Act East Policy,’ emphasizing Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision of engagement based on the five ‘S’s: Sammaan (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Co-operation), Shanti (Peace), and Samridhi (Prosperity).
Shri Rajnath Singh acknowledged India’s efforts to establish robust military partnerships with friendly countries, reflecting its commitment to safeguarding national interests and addressing global challenges. On the issue of climate change, he highlighted the Indian Armed Forces’ role as first responders in disaster situations and contributors to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
Prioritizing Climate Resilience and Eco-Friendly Infrastructure
The Raksha Mantri called for discussions on enhancing interoperability during Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. He emphasized that climate change and extreme weather events have become major challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, impacting small island nations significantly. Addressing climate change-related concerns and promoting climate-resilient and eco-friendly infrastructure is vital.
Working Towards Consensus and Collaboration
While acknowledging the challenges of arriving at a consensus plan of action in a large grouping, Shri Rajnath Singh pointed to the recent G-20 summit as an example of successful international collaboration. The consensus on developmental and geopolitical issues reached at the summit demonstrated the power of determination and empathy in addressing global challenges.
The Indian Army and the United States Army co-hosted the 13th IPACC, 47th IPAMS, and 9th SELF in New Delhi from September 25th to 27th, 2023. The central theme of the forum, ‘Together for Peace: Sustaining Peace and Stability in the Indo-Pacific Region,’ provided a platform for Army Chiefs and senior-level leaders from land forces in the Indo-Pacific region to exchange ideas and views on security and contemporary challenges. The conference’s core objective is to promote peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific through mutual understanding, dialogue, and cooperation among littoral partners.