India In The Spotlight At The World Affairs Council

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About The Author

Brian Santhumayor who is a native of  Nanthoor, Mangalore has a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and MBA in Marketing and works in Boston as an Account Manager for an Enterprise Software Company. He volunteers by fundraising for numerous non-profit associations including The Boston Junior Chamber of Commerce, American India Foundation, Burlington Public Library and many others. He has won numerous awards and commendation for his charitable efforts. He is also a member of World Boston that is part of World Affairs Council of America. Brian’s interest are in the area of World Affairs and Foreign Policy. He can be reached at

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the World Affairs Council of America National Conference in Washington DC. The WAC is the largest International Affairs Non-Profit in the United States and has 484,000 participants and 28 affiliated organizations. It reaches over 20 million people each year through its 2,500 events, radio, TV, and school programs.

The theme of the conference was about tackling the world’s toughest issues and what challenges the administration faces. As an Indo-American, my interest was kindled by the talk of an historic transformation-taking place in the world with the emergence of India and China as upcoming economic powers and, issues related to Immigration, AIDS, Outsourcing etc. Given the formidable challenges for U.S. foreign policy over the next four years, it was an eye opener to hear from an outstanding group of foreign policy leaders, practitioners and intellectuals. These included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Lee Hamilton, Ambassador Robert Gallucci, EU Ambassador John Bruton, Pulitzer Prize Winner Laurie Garrett, Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria, Senator Chuck Hagel and a number of Foreign and US Ambassadors.

The WAC hosted a dinner for former Secretary of State Colin Powell who received a standing ovation. The Conference kicked off with a speech by Senator Chuck Hagel that was telecasted live by C-SPAN. He presented a dozen of the most difficult issues that America will face in the coming decade. He said that America’s relationship with Russia, India and China would shape international politics, commerce and security in the coming decades. In his view, these are powerful states undergoing dramatic and historic changes and our bilateral relations with Russia, China and India would require a complex balance of security and commercial interests, as well as support for reform and human rights.

A very diligent Brent Scowcroft who was former National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush and mentor to Condoleeza Rice spoke of the danger of weapons of mass destruction. He noted that it is messy analytically and unwise politically to lump together WMD- nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as though they represent a single, undifferentiated threat. A point of concern was Brazil, which has the world’s fourth largest uranium reserves and has expressed a desire to expand its enrichment capabilities to sell the material for energy use to other countries. This could trigger neighbors such as Argentina to follow suit posing a grave danger. India refuses to sign the NPT due to discrimination between nuclear haves and have-nots. So NPT is a complex issue and the chairman of this year’s conference is a Brazilian, which makes it more complicated!

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

The global AIDS crisis staggers our imagination and this was evident as Pulitzer Prize Winner Laurie Garrett described the threat in terms of spontaneous natural dangers, in particular the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In order to meet this threat head on, she argued the need for us to organize in new ways for transnational governance, which would require leadership and financial resources.  She cited a report by the National Intelligence Council to the CIA that the 2nd Wave of AIDS would hit countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, China, Russia and India. A chilling statistic is that prevalence rate of AIDS in India would increase from its 2002 level of 1.4% to 4% by 2010! Of the 14,000 persons infected each day, 85% live in the developing world. Although Africa accounts for 10% of the world?s population, Africans comprise 70% of all HIV/AIDS cases globally further cementing the argument that race plays an important factor in AIDS prevalence. She made the case for the education and empowerment of women as a central strategy for combating HIV/AIDS.

At the luncheon with Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Jehangir Karmat, he affirmed that Pakistan and India’s bilateral relations have attained new heights in the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11. He talked about commonality of perceptions and interests on a broad-range of issues. In addition to close cooperation in the global war on terror, he emphasized that bilateral relationship was growing in almost every field. The ambassador in response to several questions posed by the women in the audience talked about the appointment of over 43,000 women at various positions of political representation in Pakistan. At district level their representation is as high as 33%. Similarly, women have a sizable presence in the Federal and Provincial legislatures.

Former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner spoke about the burning issue of Immigration, which is the DNA of all social policy issues. The common consensus is that the US immigration system is broken and burdened both by policy and implementation changes. Fourteen percent of the US labor force is foreign-born. Immigrants have contributed more than 50% of the nations civilian labor force growth in the 1990’s. The commissioner spoke about the US undergoing major changing demographics shifts. There is a substantial increase in foreign-born population that grew by 57.4% in the 1990’s to 31.1 Million. According to Census Bureau, the foreign-born comprised nearly 11.1% of the total US Population in 2000 compared to 7.9% just ten years earlier. The bureau figures also estimate that the number of Latinos and Asians in the US will triple by 2050 with Latinos becoming 24.4% of the population and Asians growing to 8%. To my question about the fiscal 2005 H-1B visa cap, which was reached on Oct. 1 the first day of the fiscal year, she emphasized that the policy was dictated by numerous factors including the economy.

The highlight of the event was the Distinguished International Journalist Award presented to leading political journalist Fareed Zakaria who hails from India. Fareed Zakaria was named by Esquire as one of the 21 most important people of the 21st Century. He pointed out that though the US envisioned globalization, the one that is emerging has not turned out to be quite what the US imagined. It is not being remade in our image but has retained its own image by adapting to the new realities of economic integration by restructuring and realigning itself. It is preserving traditional values of language and culture and creating hybrid models for governance. A case in point was that India and not the US produces the highest number of movies annually.  Shah Rukh Khan can stake his claim to be the most popular actor in the world going by the sheer number of people he can draw into a cinema (a Billion people) as compared to Tom Cruise. Also, the US needs to maintain and protect its technology edge. In a study of how good 15-year-olds are in math, the USA ranked 24 out of 29 countries. That’s behind the Czech Republic and New Zealand!

As the conference drew to a close, I felt a major sense of pride to see India being portrayed in a very positive light. What once used to be a rarity was now a common sight for me at the conference to see a number of people walk up to me and appreciatively engage in a dialogue about India’s status as a technology superpower and emergence as a future economic powerhouse. A testimony to this is the theme of the next year’s conference “New Emerging Powers.”

Author: Brian Santhumayor

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