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Speech: The United Kingdom and India – Together in an uncertain world

Introduction - First World War

My thanks firstly to the Vivekananda International Foundation and General Vij for organising this impressive event.

Arriving here in India, on the centenary of the First World War, is a poignant moment for me.

In the Autumn of 1914, exactly one hundred years ago, my grandfather Captain Harold Spink sailed to Mesopotamia from Mumbai.

His fellow soldiers principally made up of the Indian Army formed the nucleus of Indian Expeditionary Force D and were among the first Allied troops to land in the Middle East.

Theirs was just one story of courage shared between our two nations.

And whether Indian or British those who signed up were fighting because they believed in certain essential values.

So today is my opportunity to pay tribute to both my grandfather and all those of both nations who sacrificed their lives.

This morning I had the privilege of laying a wreath at India Gate to remember those gallant Indians who fell in World War 1.

Later on I have the great pleasure of attending a reception with your Defence Minister, Mr Jaitley, hosted by our High Commissioner to honour India’s valiant contribution in support of the war effort

And I will present the Indian government, armed forces and people with some commemorative tokens of our appreciation.

These include digitised war diaries from the glorious India Corps who fought with such distinction in France and Flanders and individual memorials that recall the six Victoria Crosses awarded to Indian soldier in that war.

And behind each of these activities lies a single purpose: to show we must never forget the enormous service rendered by India’s heroes.

More than a million Indians fought in every theatre of the conflict from Aden to Asia, from Palestine to Persia, the Gulf of Oman to Gallipoli.

And their courage is all the more remarkable for being entirely voluntary. Not a single Indian was conscripted. And that includes nurses and the labour corps who provided vital support behind the lines in range of enemy guns.

In recalling the heroic deeds of these great individuals, we also recall the shared historical tapestry of our two countries.

Shared present

But India and the UK don’t just have a shared military past. One of the reasons I accepted the invitation to speak here today was to be clear that we have a shared military present too.

  • Our industries are working together on the latest high-tech equipment - such as the Air-to-Air ASRAAM missiles

  • Our scientists are making breakthroughs that may one day improve our response to chemical and biological attacks

  • Our troops are working together in UN peacekeeping operations across the globe.

  • And our military experts are meeting on numerous occasions from high-level visits to annual staff talks from staff college courses to joint exercises across all three domains.

Even as we speak, 25 members of the Indian College of Defence Management are in the UK as part of a five day visit to our Ministry of Defence, Joint Forces’ Command and our Defence Equipment and Support organisation, to help us learn from each other. And I know that they are making a very positive impression.

And the reason we work so well together in the British and Indian militaries is that we share a set of common values.

At the heart of these is a shared belief in democracy and as a British politician proud of our democratic heritage I look with admiration and envy at India the largest democracy in the world a nation with more states and more languages than the EU truly a wonder of the modern world.

And that world is very different from the one of the 20th century.

Today we are seeing a rebalancing of power, resources and strength away from Europe, as states like India rise and rise.

We are seeing successful development on an unprecedented scale, as global growth lifts billions of people out of poverty.

We are seeing democracy and the market – the right to buy, the right to trade, the right to earn – prove themselves over totalitarianism and state control as the route to prosperity and success.

Values under threat

Yet as we look to the future we see our world becoming more uncertain and unpredictable.

We see more states that are failing or at risk of failing.

And conversely more threats that cross or ignore borders, that are beyond previously accepted jurisdictions or sovereignties.

  • the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological technologies, much of them dangerous in the wrong hands
  • the spread of viral pandemics like Ebola
  • the strain on global resources
  • the emergence of non-state actors who propagate global terror, like ISIL

We know we can’t afford to ignore such threats.

Why? Because they threaten our national security.

Because they create the regional instability, that puts our prosperity at risk.

And because they challenge the resources of the international community to tackle them.

And both Britain and India have had painful experience of these threats on our own streets.

From the outrage of 7/7 in London in 2005 to the appalling Mumbai atrocities in 2008.

The global scourge of terrorism threatens our own cities and peoples.

They must be faced together, as they were faced in Afghanistan.

We could not have helped tackle the Taleban insurgency without the strongest of international military alliances.

We could not have built a military partnership without first having had a broad diplomatic coalition.

And we could not have made the progress we have made in building a stronger Afghanistan without India’s contribution over the past decade helping rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure supporting the election process, which has seen the first democratic transition in the country’s history and, through Indian investment playing a major role establishing a sustainable economy in that country.


So, working together isn’t an option - it is a necessity.

But it also presents us with a real opportunity.

The new government here in India has rightly placed a high priority on partnerships.

It showed its new, generous and comprehensive approach by inviting all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation leaders to attend Prime Minister Modi’s inauguration. His first bilateral visits outside India have been to Bhutan and Nepal and I know that Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj has also visited Afghanistan, Bangladesh and other near neighbours.

But I know India is also looking to pursue partnerships with the key global players who can help it transform as well as ourselves the US, China and Japan.

As you look to the future, I hope that India will continue to count the UK amongst its pivotal friendships – there are, after all, many good reasons for doing so. Let me lay three reasons before you this afternoon.

Shared regional interest

Firstly, because we both believe in securing stability across this region.

The menace of ISIL threatens not just the people of Syria, not just Iraq and the wider region but the citizens of all our countries, wherever they are as we have seen from the barbaric murder of British hostages and we have seen threats against all those who oppose its brutal advance.

And partnerships are paramount in tackling this threat.

We have been at the forefront of efforts – with our allies and partners in the region and beyond – not just to target the terrorists militarily, but to prevent radicalisation and cut off the flow of foreign fighters and their supplies of finance. By way of illustration of the importance which we attach to this work, these themes dominated a long discussion I held yesterday with Crown Prince Mohammad in Abu Dhabi.

India too, I suggest this afternoon, has a strong interest in tackling ISIL and radicalisation, and the UK is ready to work closely with India to that end.

Turning to the situation closer to your borders, a few days ago, British troops ended our combat operations in Afghanistan.

But while our troops are leaving, the UK is not leaning.

Our commitment to that country is an enduring one

We will continue throughout 2015/16 to help build a strong Afghan National Army by supporting the training of Afghan troops.

We will help build a strong Afghan economy through substantial development assistance over the coming years.

And we will help build strong Afghan institutions through political, diplomatic and technical assistance.

Furthering peace

The second principle underpinning India’s and the UK’s pivotal friendship is our shared commitment to promoting peace and maintaining the rules-based system of international law.

In the last year or so we have seen a return to what we hoped was dead and buried: war in Europe, the continent for which World War 1 was supposed to end all wars. Russia’s action in Ukraine threaten stability in Europe and beyond. And also threaten to create a dangerous precedent.

Sovereignty, territorial integrity, respect for the rule of law, and the right of the peoples of every state to determine democratically its own future – these are the principles to which India and the UK both attach the highest importance. We should all support Ukraine’s right to secure borders and to determine its own future.

And In recent years, too, we have seen the increasing dangers of international piracy on the high-seas and the threats to the narrow choke points on which our trade relies. Again, we welcome India’s continuing help in assuring stability and maintaining our global peace.

Spreading prosperity

The third reason is our shared interest in increasing prosperity – in our own countries, of course, but also in the regions which matter most to us.

I recognise the emphasis which the Modi Government is placing on boosting economic growth. As you will know, our own Government has dragged the UK back from the depths of recession, and the austerity which this forced upon us, to become one of the World’s leading economies.

With this common outlook, spreading prosperity is something on which India and the UK can, and should, work on together.

And just looking at my own field of defence, there is considerable scope for doing so.

You are the largest importer of defence equipment in the world

We are among the top investors in defence globally.

You are interested in the issue of defence reform, transformation and efficiency.

That is a process we’ve just been through ourselves.

It wasn’t easy. We took painful decisions over our defence budget.

But doing so has enabled us to balance our books, but still maintain the largest defence budget in Europe and the second largest in NATO behind the US, and set out a balanced £160bn Equipment Plan over 10 years:

  • that is now seeing latest generation hardware coming through in all three domains. To give just one example, we recently floated up the Navy’s flagship Queen Elizabeth carrier.

  • that will be the largest, most powerful ship ever built in the UK and soon to be joined by a second operational carrier – now being assembled in Scotland. So we are trying to catch up with your own Navy.

We in the UK would be only too happy to share our experiences the good, the bad, and the ugly with you both at the civil service and military levels.

Finally, just as you are looking for investors in Indian markets and for places to invest we are your natural economic bed-fellows.

UK/India trade last year grew from £11bn in 2009 to over £16bn in 2013.

We are the largest G20 investor in India.

Since 2000, British companies have invested $20.7bn in India and, last year, more than Japan and the US combined.

And Indian companies invest more in the UK than they do in the rest of the European Union put together.

India force for good

Where do these shared values leave India and the UK as your new Government sets out its ambitions and plans for the coming 5 years?

As I hope we always make clear, the UK believes India is a force for good in the world.

Just by being itself – by being the world’s largest democracy – India promotes the values that help make the world a better place.

India’s very stability improves the prospects for greater stability in this potentially turbulent region.

India’s growing prosperity is spreading outwards, helping to enrich its neighbours as well as its own people.

India’s good relations with almost all the countries of the world helps promote understanding between countries who are sometimes on opposing sides in international affairs.

And India’s huge contribution to UN peacekeeping – over 8000 troops – is playing a vital role around the world in preventing conflict, building lasting peace, and tackling humanitarian crises.

That’s why the United Kingdom supports India’s bid to be a Permanent Member of the Security Council, and why we support a greater role for India in world affairs more broadly.

Not just because we are a friend of India, though we are proud to be one.

But because the more India is active on the world stage, the better it will be for the whole world.

Building the next phase of our partnership

Why should India partner the UK in particular? What’s in it for India?

As your new government considers how best to tackle the many challenges it faces, I hope they will always keep one thing very much in mind. As has been the case since my grandfather’s time here, our countries’ shared values that make India and the UK natural partners. That’s why we’ll do all that we can to help Prime Minister Modi and his government achieve their objectives.

I know that, on economic matters, your Prime Minister believes that the initials FDI should stand not only for Foreign Direct Investment, but also for “First Develop India”. I believe that this principle can also be applied to issues in the defence arena.

And I think that the UK is ideally placed to contribute significantly.

For instance, we continue to use its influence as permanent member of the Security Council, and as a leading NATO member, to good effect.

Recently, at the NATO summit held in Wales, we helped ensure the agreement of all NATO members to deploy the sort of agile and effective rapid reaction forces we saw in Afghanistan.

We’ve also demonstrated our willingness to engage further across the region through the opening of new Defence Sections in our Embassies in Thailand, Burma and Vietnam.

And, like India, the UK is increasingly working with our other security partners across the world, such as Japan and Australia.

Significantly, the UK has one of the largest diplomatic footprints in the world.

And where is our biggest diplomatic footprint? I’m delighted to say that it’s here in India.

Our global influence is underpinned by our military power. We are one of the few countries that can deploy a self-sustaining properly equipped brigade-sized force anywhere around the globe and sustain equip it indefinitely. And our defence reforms will make sure our Armed Forces will be even more mobile and even better equipped

And we are one of the few countries who prefer to practice what we preach – ever ready to rapidly deploy military assets, as part of a cross-government response into the region, when called to assist.

The most recent example of this was sending a ship, helicopters and 750 personnel, within 10 days of being asked, to Sierra Leone to help combat Ebola.

Whether by assisting humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the wake of Typhoon Hyan in the Philippines or by sending our submarines to the South East Australian coast to assist in the search for missing Malaysian Airliner (MH370). The key point is - whatever Britain offers India, we are better for having India beside us.


To draw these thoughts to a conclusion, we want to see our friendship go from strength to strength.

A century ago, our two countries stood together to make the world a better place.

That partnership is just as strong today.

And there has never been a better time for us to work together.

We are both countries that have recently discovered a spring in our steps.

We are both countries on the up.

We are both countries confident of our standing on the world stage and able to exert real influence whether by supporting Afghanistan through the money we put into development whether by pooling our intelligence and our military insight to crack down hard on the terrorists or whether by continuing to support capacity building and providing vital humanitarian assistance to countries around the world.

Ours is a partnership worth its weight in gold.

And if we keep working together to further these twin aims of peace and prosperity we will send out the strongest possible message.

To all those whose interest lies only in the destruction of the things we hold dear that our two nations are ready to fight for our values and the security of our countries and safety of our peoples just as we did in 1914.

I started by mentioning my grandfather. We salute his generation today. Bu the future we are shaping together is for our children. That future, for India and for Britain, is bright. Let us be determined to deliver it together.

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