The U.S. and India: Partners in the 21st Century

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The following was adapted from recent remarks in New Delhi.

My former boss, U.S. President Bill Clinton, got it right 12 years ago here in New Delhi when he said, “India and America are natural allies, two nations conceived in liberty, each finding strength in its diversity, each seeing in the other a reflection of its own aspiration for a more humane and a more just world.” Thanks to the efforts of past presidents, both Republican and Democrat, our two nations, I believe, have finally and irreversibly started a new chapter of our history.

When I returned to government in 2009 to serve as director of the CIA, I found a transformed U.S.-India relationship. We had acted together to get past our differences and re-establish better cooperation. It required that we get beyond our outdated notions about one another. And today, thanks to President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, along with Indian leaders from across the country’s political spectrum, our two nations now engage actively and effectively as partners on a whole host of bilateral, regional and global issues.

Today we have growing economic, social and diplomatic ties that benefit both of our nations. But for this relationship to truly provide security for this region and for the world, we need to deepen our defense and security cooperation.

America is at a turning point. After a decade of war, we are developing a new defense strategy for the 21st century, and a central feature of that strategy is rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia. Defense cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.

India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the world with one of the most capable militaries. India also shares with the United States a strong commitment to a set of principles that help maintain international security and prosperity. We share a commitment to open and free commerce. We share a commitment to open access by all to our shared domains of sea, air, space and cyberspace. We share a commitment to resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force and in accordance with international law. We share a commitment to abide by international standards and international norms — rules of the road, if you will — which promote international stability and peace for the world.

Our two nations face many of the same security challenges: from violent extremism and terrorism to piracy on the high seas, and from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to regional instability. Handling these challenges requires a forward-looking vision for our defense partnership and a plan for advancing it month by month and year by year. We have built a strong foundation, and we will enhance this partnership over time in the spirit of equality, common interest and mutual respect.

In particular, I believe our relationship is, can and should become more strategic, more practical and more collaborative. Our defense cooperation is strategic, in that we consult and share views on all major regional and international security developments. Our defense policy exchanges are now regular, candid and invaluable. Our partnership is practical because we take concrete steps, through military exercises and exchanges, to improve our ability to operate together and with other nations to meet a range of challenges. And our defense relationship is growing ever more collaborative as we seek to do more advanced research and more advanced development, share new technologies and enter into the joint production of defense articles.

With regards to strategic cooperation, we’ve built a strong strategic relationship. My Indian counterparts always offer clear strategic analysis and recommendations. We are transparent. We are honest in our discussions, something that has come to define the strength of our relationship.

What is it we can do to improve a practical defense partnership? At a very practical level, our defense partnership is coming of age. Expanded military exercises, defense sales and intelligence sharing are key examples of the relationship’s maturation. Last year alone we held more than 50 cooperative defense events. Some of the most significant include our military exercises, which enhance our ability to prepare for real-world challenges.

We’ve also increased our defense sales relationship from virtually nothing early in the last decade to sales worth well over $8 billion today. Our sales are rapidly growing.

In terms of building collaboration, we have some early successes and are poised to embark on technology sharing, co-production and other initiatives that will be a great value to each of our nations. Our shared goal should be to solidify progress and deepen defense engagement and cooperation in all of these areas.

So now let me turn to the future. At a strategic level, we have worked together to counter piracy and terrorism, and now we should join forces to tackle new and even more complex threats. We can do more to drive the creation of a rules-based order that protects our common interests in new areas like cybersecurity and space. We need to develop rules of the road in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by state and nonstate actors alike.

In terms of regional security, our vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean region supported by growing Indian capabilities. America will do its part through doing things like rotating the presence of Marines in Australia. We will have littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore. And we will have other deployments in the region. But the fundamental challenge here is to develop India’s capabilities so that it can respond to security challenges in this region.

To improve our practical cooperation, the United States’ and India’s participation in military exercises, which are already strong, should continue to be more regular and complex. And we must move beyond a focus on individual arms sales to regular cooperation that increases the quantity and the quality of our defense trade.

I want to stress that the United States is firmly committed to providing the best defense technology possible to India. We are both leaders in technology development, and we can do incredible work together. Indeed, I think a close partnership with America will be key to meeting India’s own stated aims of a modern and effective defense force.

The Obama administration is hard at work on export control reforms, in cooperation with our Congress, in order to improve our ability to deliver the best technologies even more quickly. Meanwhile, we look to India to modernize its own regulations in areas like defense procurement and nuclear liability legislation.

But to realize the full potential of defense trade relations, we need to cut through the bureaucratic red tape on both sides. For that reason, I’ve asked my deputy secretary, Ashton Carter, to lead an effort at the Pentagon to engage with Indian leaders on a new initiative to streamline our bureaucratic processes and make our defense trade simpler, more responsive and more effective.

I know this is not going to be easy. But that’s the nature of the democratic systems that we share. Your leaders understand the challenges I face, and we understand the obstacles you face. But we both need to persevere to support our defense needs and our strategic interests. Over the long term, I am certain that we will transition our defense trade beyond the buyer-seller relationship to a substantial co-production and eventually high-technology joint research and development.

 

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta previously served as CIA director and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.