ABU DHABI: The US is moving towards greater realism both about itself and the world and has shown a greater caution in power projection and an effort to correct its over-extension since 2008, external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said while underlining the major trends that have influenced the evolution of the Indian Ocean in recent years.
Speaking at the inaugural session of the 5th Indian Ocean Conference that began here on Saturday, Jaishankar highlighted the changing American strategic posture and the uniqueness of the US polity and its ability to reinvent itself.
“Since 2008, we have witnessed a greater caution in US power projection and an effort to correct its over-extension. It may have taken different forms and be articulated in very different ways. But there is a larger consistency over three Administrations that they themselves may not readily recognise,” he said.
“It is expressed in footprint and posture, terms of engagement, extent of involvement and nature of initiatives. Overall, the United States is moving towards greater realism both about itself and the world,” he said.
Jaishankar said America was adjusting to multipolarity and rebalancing and re-examining the balance between its domestic revival and commitments abroad.
“This makes it a more active partner beyond orthodox constructs. Given how strong its influence is on the Indian Ocean, this cannot but have implications. We must also bear in mind the uniqueness of the US polity and its ability to reinvent itself,” said Jaishankar, who was earlier India’s Ambassador to Washington.
The theme of the Indian Ocean Conference 2021 organised by the India Foundation is “Indian Ocean: Ecology, Economy, Epidemic”. There will be around 200 delegates and over 50 speakers from 30 countries.
In his address, Jaishankar noted that the two developments that have significantly heightened uncertainties in the Indian Ocean countries are the American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on a region that is particularly vulnerable to health and economic stresses.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left both the immediate and extended region grappling with serious concerns about terrorism, radicalism, instability, narco-trafficking and governance practices, he said.
“Given proximity and sociology, we are all affected one way or the other,” Jaishankar said.
He also said the impact of the pandemic has not just been a once-in-a-century shock to the international system. It has also thoroughly exposed all its fault-lines and shortcomings.
In economic terms, the dangers of over-centralised globalisation are starkly apparent. The answer lies in both more reliable and resilient supply-chains as well as in greater trust and transparency. In political terms, the absence of vaccine equity and the reluctance to cooperatively address a challenge of such magnitude spoke for itself, he said.
“International organisations failed the world, whether in terms of establishing the origins of the problem or in leading the response to it,” Jaishankar said.
“What we have seen instead are specific countries stepping forward in different ways to mitigate the crisis, some individually, others in partnership,” he said.
Jaishankar said India has done its fair share. It has been expressed in the supply of medicines, vaccines, and oxygen. Or in a willingness to take care of expatriate population in times of difficulty.
He also highlighted the need to expeditiously normalise travel through certification recognition so that livelihoods are restored as soon as possible. India, he said, has worked out solutions with about a 100 nations on the issue of travel certificates.
He noted that like the rest of the world, nations of the Indian Ocean are also grappling with the same global concerns.
“Worries about terrorism have got stronger in the light of recent developments in the Af-Pak region. The international community has voiced those sentiments in UN Security Council Resolution 2593 by demanding assurances that Afghan soil will not be used for terrorism, by pressing for inclusive governance and seeking safeguards on treatment of minorities, women and children,” Jaishankar said on the now Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
He also touched upon the emergence of the Quad grouping consisting of the US, India, Australia and Japan.
“The Quad is a good example at one extremity of the Indian Ocean,” he said. Within the space of a year, it has developed a robust agenda covering maritime security, cyber security, climate action, vaccine collaboration, critical and emerging technologies, higher education, resilient supply chains, disinformation, multilateral organisations, semi-conductors, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as infrastructure development, he said.
Another promising endeavour is the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative that is being undertaken in the framework of the East Asia Summit at the initiative of India.
“It is a good illustration of the practical challenges that we, the nations of the Indian Ocean, face in terms of nurturing, securing and utilising the maritime domain. The era when others could be relied upon to take care of the global commons is now over. We all have to step forward to contribute as a collective responsibility,” he said.