Raisina Readout

Dr Kate O’Shaughnessy

In February 2024 India hosted the ninth Raisina Dialogue, the country’s flagship annual foreign policy and strategic affairs conference, convened by the Observer Research Foundation and India’s External Affairs Ministry. 
Since its inception in 2016, the Raisina Dialogue has grown to become one of the world’s most significant foreign policy conferences. A track 1.5 dialogue – bringing together political leaders and government officials (track 1) and non-government representatives from business, civil society, and academia (track 2) – it now attracts over 3000 attendees, who gather in Delhi each year to discuss some of the world’s most pressing challenges. 
With so many people in the room, countries use the dialogue to broadcast their points of view and objectives. Flanked by armies of officials, ministers discussed everything from the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, to strategic competition in the Arctic, to the need for UN Security Council Reform. Amidst all of that, there were three major takeaways. 

First, India now has serious convening power. The 2024 speaker line up included Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and a host of foreign, defence and other ministers from across the globe: Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Vietnam), Africa (South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana), South Asia and the Western Indian Ocean (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Mauritius), Europe (Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Greece, the Netherlands), and more. The presence of Nordic states stood out – as they themselves build their own Indo-Pacific strategies, they see India as a vital partner and platform for stepping up their engagement. 
That convening capability is needed – there’s few other global players that can bring so many diverse leaders to the table in the way that India can, positioning itself as both a major power and a voice for the Global South. 

Second, all the countries in attendance were worried about critical and emerging technologies – about the destabilising potential of Artificial Intelligence, mis- and dis-information and cyber warfare, and the challenges of developing renewable energy technologies at a global scale.  

China was not present but loomed large in all of these conversations. Speakers worried about China’s role as the dominant processor of critical minerals and manufacturer of renewable energy technologies (ministers from Lithuania to Ghana referred to their aspirations to process lithium and other battery minerals). And Australia’s former Foreign Minister Marise Payne along with Dutch Defence Minister Kasja Ollongren asked the audience to consider the possibility that global cyber warfare was already underway, with China as a leading perpetrator, along with Russia, Iran, and North Korea.  

Third, the international community’s ability to navigate these challenges together is under strain, because of increasing disagreement about what an international system of rules should look like (the ‘rules-based order’ – covering everything from trade to warfare to territorial integrity). 

At one end of the spectrum, European states argued that the rules were flawed, but with reform could still work – states and regions like Africa and India should have permanent representation on the UN Security Council for example. At the other end, Tanzania’s Foreign Minister stated flatly that African countries did not trust the international system, thought it had double standards, and African countries would increasingly look to work outside the system, with partners of its choosing (a nod to the growing partnership – especially on security – that African countries are striking with Russia). 

Threaded through many of these discussions was the idea of India as a global broker: as an interpreter between north and south, as a problem solver and alternative supplier (India for example now makes quarter of the world’s iPhones), and as a reformer and champion of the developing world (Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi told the audience that India provides development assistance “for free, out of the compassion of our hearts, with no strings attached.”). 

Some of those messages landed, some were clumsy, and some were a stretch – it’s unlikely small island states present in the room bought Minister Lekhi’s line that aid is free, feeling acutely as they are the pressures of great power competition. Some of India’s positions – like its partnership with Russia – worry partners in the west, especially the Nordic states.  

But in the context of global conflicts and enormous polarization, it’s clear the world does need neutral-ish ground where hard discussions can be held. India – and the Raisina Dialogue – offers that neutral ground and is likely to continue to do so in coming years.


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