Ambassador Rakesh Sood conferred “Commander of the National Order of Merit” [fr]
Ambassador of France Emmanuel Lenain confers French distinction “Commander of the National Order of Merit” on Ambassador Rakesh Sood.
New Delhi, 27 February 2020
On behalf of the President of the French Republic, H.E. Mr Emmanuel Lenain, Ambassador of France to India, today conferred the French distinction, Commandeur de l’Ordre national du Mérite (Commander of the National Order of Merit), on Ambassador Rakesh Sood.
This honour came in recognition of Ambassador Rakesh Sood’s major contribution, throughout his diplomatic career, to the structuring and deepening of the Indo-French bilateral relationship into a distinct strategic partnership.
Hailing Ambassador Sood as an architect of the Indo-French strategic partnership, Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said, “Today we are reaping what you sowed more than twenty years ago, and we can be collectively proud of this harvest. Our strategic partnership is wide-ranging, robust, dynamic, and supported at the highest levels by our leaders. It has evolved over time, enabling India and France to tackle new challenges together.”
Ambassador Rakesh Sood is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and regularly writes and comments in both print and audiovisual media on India’s foreign policy, its economic dimensions, as well as on regional and international security issues.
Ambassador Sood holds post-graduate degrees in Physics, Economics and Defence Studies. He has over 38 years of experience in foreign affairs, economic diplomacy and international security issues.
Before joining the Indian Foreign Service in 1976, Ambassador Sood worked for a couple of years in the private sector. He initially served in the Indian missions at Brussels, Dakar, Geneva and Islamabad in different capacities and, later in his career, as Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington. He set up the Disarmament and International Security Affairs Division in the External Affairs Ministry, which he led for nine years till the end of 2000.
During this period, Ambassador Sood was in charge of multilateral disarmament negotiations, bilateral dialogues with Pakistan, strategic dialogues with other countries including US, France and Israel (especially after the nuclear tests in 1998), non-proliferation related export controls, and dealt with India’s role in the ASEAN Regional Forum, as part of the ‘Look East’ policy.
He then served as India’s first Ambassador - Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva. He also chaired a number of international Working Groups, including those relating to negotiations on landmines and cluster munitions and was a member of UN Secretary General’s Disarmament Advisory Board (2002-03).
Subsequently, he was India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan (2005 - early 2008), to Nepal (2008 - 2011) and to France (2011 - 2013).
In September 2013, Ambassador Sood was appointed Special Envoy of the Prime Minister for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues – a position he held till May 2014.
Ordre national du Mérite (French National Order of Merit) was instituted in 1963 by General Charles de Gaulle. It is awarded for distinguished services rendered in public, civil and military posts, or a private profession.
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Mr Ambassador, Rakesh Sood,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour to host, at the Embassy of France, a man who has worked tirelessly to bring our two countries close to each other.
Your trajectory and your career embody this special relationship, on all the “strategic” matters that France and India foster. This decoration, Commandeur de l’Ordre National du Mérite (Commander of the National Order of Merit), comes in recognition of your remarkable career, which has been nurtured by and consistently served the Indo-French friendship.
Conferring such a prestigious medal is always an event, especially when I am decorating a (former) ambassador. Because I know the responsibilities and demands of this profession, the patient toil that goes into building, step by step, a structured relationship of trust between our two countries. Thanks to you, India and France have embarked on this path together, determinedly and smoothly; you have been present at every decisive moment to initiate and deepen the more sensitive aspects of our partnership.
I am thus looking back on these years of work that have gone behind this medal; a speech will never be enough to sum this up.
(Dear) Rakesh Sood,
I will, nonetheless, at least attempt to do justice to your outstanding career.
Born in 1953, you were educated in New Delhi. You went to Ramjas Higher Secondary School, then to the prestigious St Stephen’s College, where you earned your degrees in Physics, Economics and Defence Studies.
Thereafter, you joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1976 and served in the Indian missions in Brussels, Dakar, Geneva, Islamabad and Washington.
You set up, under the Ministry of External Affairs, the Disarmament and International Security Affairs division – commonly referred to by its acronym, DISA – which you helmed for nine years, till the end of 2000 – a watershed for modern India.
In this office, along with multilateral negotiations on disarmament, you undertook to strengthen bilateral dialogue with Pakistan, and opened dialogues with numerous other partners, France being one of these.
As such, you are an architect of the strategic relations between France and India, one of the first drivers, during President Jacques Chirac’s India visit in January 1998, of what was to be the very first strategic partnership concluded by India. On the morrow of India’s nuclear tests in May 1998, with the then Diplomatic Adviser to the French President, Jean-David Levitte, you reiterated and concretised the trust between our two nations by initiating the strategic dialogue, which is held at a very high level; its latest session, in fact, took place just last week in Paris.
Today we are reaping what you sowed more than twenty years ago, and we can be collectively proud of this harvest. Our strategic partnership is wide-ranging, robust, dynamic, and supported at the highest levels by our leaders. Over time, it has evolved so that India and France could together tackle new challenges.
Apart from fundamental matters, such as combatting terrorism, today, we also share the same vision on the Indo-Pacific and cyberspace. We have structured discussions on these challenges and increasingly ambitious cooperation between our navies and specialised agencies.
Due to the work that you had initiated and you continue to advocate today, the French strategic community regards you as one of its own: should we call you an honorary member of this “fellowship”?
In any case, you have a peer who’s among us today, who can bear witness: our director for Strategic Affairs, Security and Disarmament, Mr David Bertolotti, who, akin to you, has a career whose common thread is strategic issues. We wished this event to be organised on the occasion of his visit to Delhi, the purpose of which is precisely to pursue what you had initiated: our bilateral consultations on disarmament and non-proliferation.
But to come back to the thread of your career…
As you like to be a trailblazer, you were not only the first Director for the MEA’s Division for Disarmament and International Security Affairs, but also India’s first ambassador in Geneva as Permanent Representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament.
In 2005, you were appointed Ambassador of India to Afghanistan, where you served till 2008, then to Nepal from 2008 to 2011, and lastly to France, from 2011 to 2013.
There, you once again met up with Jean-David Levitte, who had become Diplomatic Adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy, to pursue the endeavour launched fifteen years ago.
When you left France, your expertise in disarmament and non-proliferation issues were called on at the highest level in India, and you were appointed as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on these matters.
You then retired from public service – but it was retirement relatively speaking – because you continue to share 40 years of your experience in diplomacy, disarmament and multilateral issues as a Distinguished Fellow at the prominent foreign policy think-tank, Observer Research Foundation, and with your fine vision of international politics through numerous media.
Mr Ambassador, dear Rakesh Sood, I would like to end with your words: “The test for a strategic partnership is not that there must be convergence on all issues; the test is where there are differences. This is where the India-France strategic partnership, nurtured over two decades, demonstrates its resilience”.
Allow me to adopt this observation for myself and thank you.
This bet on India and France, this bet on resilient friendship and trust, you made from the very beginning, and we have collectively taken it up.
For this, France is deeply grateful and I am honoured to confer this distinction on you.
And now, as required by protocol, I will proceed in French:
Cher Rakesh Sood, au nom du Président de la République, nous vous faisons Commandeur de l’Ordre national du Mérite.