BIMSTEC Think Tanks Meeting on Regional Security, at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi, 13-14 November 2018
Opening Remarks by Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Sh Pankaj Saran, Dy National Security Advisor, Distigusied Delegates, Members of the Diplomtic Corps, Members of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Vivekananda International Foundation, I welcome you all to the first meeting of BIMSTEC Countries’ Think Tanks on regional security. We hope that following this meeting, this forum will emerge develop as a platform for robust dialoge on security issues facing the BIMSTEC countries. Such a dialogue would generate ideas from the strategic community and can provide inputs to the policy-making community of BIMSTEC countries.

I thank the National Security Council Secretariat and the Deputy National-Security Adviser Mr Pankaj Saran for extending support for this meeting of think tanks. My special thanks to the BIMSTEC Secretariat for their help in organising the meeting. I would also like to extend a hearty welcome to the distinguished delegations from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Thailand to this meeting. Thank you for being here today with us despite the short notice. I welcome the members of the Embassies of the BIMSTEC countries to the Conference. My thanks to the CII for organising a dinner to welcome the participants.

Excellencies and Friends,

The fourth Summit of BIMSTEC leaders held in Kathmandu earlier this year set a goal for building a “Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”. The summit also noted that “that geographical contiguity, abundant natural and human resources, rich historical linkages and cultural heritage” provide great potential for cooperation and to address the core challenges of security and development in the region.

It is a matter of satisfaction that the Bay of Bengal region is being seen as a common space for cooperation. In not-too-distant a past, the region was a holistic region marked by intense two-way connectivity, commerce, cultural exchanges and people to people contacts. The natural phenomena of the Bay also ensured that the people of the region shared their destinies. Millions of people crossed the Bay in search of livelihoods. The cultural contacts among the people were strong and hold up to this day.

Unfortunately, during the second half of the 20th century, the region got fragmented and isolated on account of a number of geopolitical considerations. South Asia and South East Asia went their separate ways. There were no political institutions which could forge a common identity for the people of the region. The Bay of Bengal is a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia. It has an identity of its own. The concept of BIMSTEC is a recognition of that fact. It is up to the member countries to ensure that the integrity of the Bay of Bengal region is restored once again.

Author Sunil Amrith in his perceptive 2013 book, Crossing the Bay of Bengal, notes that Bay was once “a region at the heart of global history. It was forgotten in the second half of the twentieth century, carved up by the boundaries of nation-states, its shared past divided into the separate compartments of national boundaries. The rise and decline of the Bay as a connected region is a story almost completely untold. It is a story of one of the largest movements of people in modern history, and of environmental change on an enormous scale. It is also a story with important consequences today – perhaps even a key to understanding Asia’s future”.

BIMSTEC is an attempt to conceptualise the Bay of Bengal as an integral region. This will happen if BIMSTEC can be strengthened and energised. The fourth BIMSTEC Summit identified a number of steps to strengthen the organisation. The leaders recognised that BIMSTEC countries face common security challenges and that they should work together to meet these challenges. Without a peaceful and secure environment economic cooperation within them countries will not materialise.

BIMSTEC countries face a large number of traditional and non-traditional security challenges including that of terrorism, radicalism, violent extremism, maritime security, cybersecurity, natural disasters, climate change, food energy, and water security and economic security. The need for developing a roadmap of cooperation amongst countries to deal with the challenges is urgent and obvious.

The idea of a dialogue amongst the strategic community of BIMSTEC countries was mooted at the first meeting of the National-Security Advisers and Security Officials held in New Delhi in March 2017. The idea was further endorsed in the second meeting of the NSAs and security chiefs in Dhaka in March 2018.

The first meeting of the NSAs was a landmark event. An agreed statement was issued at the end of the meeting. NSAs identified the need for close cooperation amongst security institutions of BIMSTEC countries to mitigate and deal with the common security risks and challenges. I quote from the joint statement of the meeting:

“The Meeting noted that BIMSTEC Member States face common security challenges and underlined the necessity of addressing traditional and non-traditional security challenges to harness economic prosperity and human security in the region. The Meeting underscored the importance of recognizing the Bay of Bengal as common security space and agreed to work out collective strategies for common responses.”

The Meeting decided to establish a Track 1.5 BIMSTEC Security Dialogue Forum to promote and encourage security dialogue among BIMSTEC strategic community.

At the end of this dialogue, we hope to come up with some recommendations for policymakers. Therein lies the importance of this meeting. We also hope that we will be able to make this platform a stage for meaningful discussions on security challenges.

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