Growing U.S./India Defense Cooperation, Remarks of U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma, Defence Services Staff College Wellington

Two men holding book. (Embassy Image)(As Prepared for Delivery)


Thank you for the warm introduction.  I would also like to thank Commandant Lieutenant General SK Gadeock, the Directing Staff, and the students here today.  The Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) is a testament to the deep people-to-people ties between the United States and India.  Over the last 65 years, the United States has sent 87 officers to DSSC.  In fact, the current 71st Serial Course has one U.S. Army and one U.S. Navy officer.  As an Air Force veteran myself, I feel a special connection to institutions like DSSC and their ability to mold thoughtful military leaders, ready to take on the challenges of this century.

We face a formidable set of international challenges, from the freedom of access to shared maritime and air routes, humanitarian crises in an increasingly interconnected world, and the continuing threat from non-state actors and extremist groups.  Moreover, as India rises and becomes more influential, a stable and just international system becomes more important for its prosperity than ever before.  Maintaining and expanding this global order will require our collective efforts and our resolve.  As I have said before, when India and the United States cooperate, we are stronger together.

This idea of “stronger together” is not new to India—one could argue that it was in fact developed in India.  I am sure that many of you are familiar with the stories of the Panchatantra, which some scholars argue influenced Aesop’s Fables.  These amazing stories provide life lessons to young children, but also offer sound advice to sophisticated strategic thinkers.   One story, which I have recounted to my own kids, is “The Winning of Friends” from Book II of the Panchatantra.

This story, as you know, is about a unique group of friends—a deer, turtle, mouse, and crow.  When they are alone, they are vulnerable to all sorts of threats.  However, when they work together, they are able to combine their skills and overcome adversity.  I firmly believe that by working together and harnessing our unique strengths, the United States and India will be able to address many of the challenges that both of our countries and the world face.

U.S./India Defense Cooperation Built on Shared Values 

Our defense cooperation is not based on a limited set of strategic priorities, nor is it directed toward a particular country.  Rather, it is rooted in our shared values.  In 1953 President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Nehru noted that India and the United States are “bound together in strong ties of friendship deriving from…their adherence to the highest principles of free democracy” and the “need to improve the welfare of the individual.”

In our 2015 U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, signed during  President Obama’s recent January visit, we stressed working “together to promote the shared values that have made our countries great.”  And the Declaration of Friendship, also from January, builds upon these long-standing values and specifically references our mutual respect for “an open, just, sustainable, and inclusive rule-based global order.”

Our key strategic planning documents of the past year, in particular, envisage an essential role for U.S./India cooperation at all levels.  Take, for example, this passage in the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy:

In South Asia, we continue to strengthen our strategic and economic partnership with India.  As the world’s largest democracies, we share inherent values and mutual interests that form the cornerstone of our cooperation, particularly in the areas of security, energy, and the environment.  We support India’s role as a regional provider of security and its expanded participation in critical regional institutions.  We see a strategic convergence with India’s Act East policy and our continued implementation of the rebalance to Asia and the Pacific.

This position was also strongly reaffirmed in the Defense Department’s Asia Pacific Maritime Strategy, which was released last Thursday.  India plays a pivotal role in that strategy and I would commend that report to you.  Furthermore, in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower and The National Military Strategy of 2015, we clearly state that our forces are stronger when we operate jointly and together with allies and partners.  More specifically, by working together more closely, we can help safeguard an open international system, improve global responses during humanitarian crises, disrupt transnational terrorist and criminal networks, and tackle new and emerging threats.

Fundamental to our readiness to respond to future crises are our regular engagements including bilateral and joint exercises, International Military Education & Training (IMET), subject matter expert exchanges, and national agreements.  Our success in these endeavors will have profound, positive effects for the entire world and will help ensure our mutual prosperity.  I’m pleased that joint U.S. and Indian defense exercises and training continue to set a very high bar.  We are jointly preparing the military leaders of tomorrow and ensuring their respective units are the best equipped and best trained.  We have moved to a phase in our defense relationship where we discuss and explore jointness of operations and interoperability.  We are building a premier defense partnership for the future.

Defending Our Shared Spaces

In the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, both of our countries affirmed that our belief in regional prosperity depends on ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.  This affirmation is relevant because the world is connected by shared spaces—the skies, space, rivers and oceans, and cyberspace—that enable and promote the free flow of people, goods, services, and ideas.

For example, in today’s dynamic and globally connected world, a deeper understanding of the maritime domain and the readiness to protect critical trade routes has never been more important.  The United States and India have been increasing cooperation in these areas over the past several years.  For example, our Exercise MALABAR 2015 is to be the most complex naval exercise we’ve executed together, with a U.S. Carrier Strike Group, a submarine, and a P-8 exercising together with an Indian destroyer, frigate, oiler, and its own P-8.

Through the Joint Working Group for Aircraft Carrier Technology, we have also forged a path that seeks to cooperatively improve India’s burgeoning aircraft carrier development program and develop its carrier aviation expertise.  This program is one of the success stories borne of our Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, and is also symbolic of how far U.S. – India defense cooperation has advanced as it wasn’t too long ago that the American aircraft carrier was a symbol that divided the U.S. from India.    Today it is a topic of cooperation that has brought us closer together.

Moving further, and in accordance with the 2015 Framework for the U.S.-India Defense Relationship, which calls for increased intelligence exchanges, one can foresee a range of possible cooperation in the area of maritime security.  We have recently had important discussions with the Government of India, for example, on sharing information on so-called “white shipping” – what we each know about the location and movements of non-military, commercial, and fishing vessels at sea.

This represents a step in the right direction to what could grow into an ability to more broadly share elements of national intelligence.  By improving our mutual visibility of legitimate traffic in the sea lanes, we could also improve our ability to discern vessels and routes used by transnational terrorist and criminal organizations, pirates, and human traffickers.  The simple act of sharing white shipping data helps build stronger relationships between our governments, links our navies and coast guards more closely, provides improved safety for our citizens, and enhances the security of our coastlines.

In a similar vein, we are working to enhance cooperation and security of the skies.  We recently did an exchange on air defense where our two Air Forces brought together their experts to share best practices and ideas on defending critical areas like the skies over our national capitals.  It is through training and exercising together that we can practice these and other shared tactics, to hone our skills.  The Indian Air Force participating in RED FLAG this coming April is the perfect environment for this and we welcome their return after a six-year hiatus.

However, it is not just well trained pilots and well-executed tactics and procedures that will ensure the security of the skies.  To both our Air Forces advanced technology is a critical component, which is why under the DTTI we have set up the Jet Engine Technology Joint Working Group, where we will jointly be exploring and sharing the latest technology on jet engines and exploring possible co-production and co-development opportunities together.

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) Cooperation

Our humanitarian assistance and disaster response cooperation is also increasing.   In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Nepal earlier this year, India’s Air Force, Army, and National Disaster Relief Force carried out vital rescue and relief operations, including searching for a U.S. helicopter that crashed while attempting to rescue Nepali citizens.  In Yemen, India organized land and sea evacuations of more than 5,600 civilians that included nationals from the United States.  And just this month the Indian Air Force led the relief efforts in flood-hit Myanmar where it delivered some 60 tons of food and medical supplies. This effort was executed all the while India’s both eastern and northeast regions were facing floods and landslides.  It was also a reassuring sign of our partnership to see the critical role that United States made C-130s and C-17s played in these relief efforts.

As global leaders, the United States and India have a responsibility to help those in dire circumstances when we can — it is the right thing to do.  Moreover, regional instability, refugee crises, or water shortages, for example, are not conducive to the sustainable, interconnected global order to which I referred to earlier.  Building advanced HADR regional and global capabilities is critical to defusing crises, responding to those in need, and helping to maintain order.  It’s also an important soft power tool.

Counter-Terrorism Cooperation

The United States and India have committed to making counter-terrorism cooperation a key component of our bilateral relationship.  In recent years, the United States has led a global coalition to degrade, disrupt and dismantle terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL.  President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have also called for eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and their financing, and stopping their cross-border movement.  Our leaders have also affirmed the need for joint and concerted efforts to disrupt and degrade entities such as LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), D Company and the Haqqani Network, and agreed to continue ongoing efforts through the Homeland Security Dialogue and the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism.

We are also working on efforts to improve cooperation on UN terrorist designations and expand the sharing of information on known or suspected terrorists no matter where they may be located.  Our counter-terrorism cooperation can become a model for the region and potentially for the world, and it is another factor that makes me genuinely optimistic about our future defense and security partnership together.

The Road Ahead

Both of our nations will continue to confront traditional threats in the years ahead, but increasingly we will have to confront the non-traditional as well.  Global warming, rising sea-levels and record drought will put new stressors on governance, could wreak havoc in already weak states, and cause mass migrations within and beyond borders.  Confronting violent extremism and combating the spread of dangerous ideologies will also require us to align our efforts, using a whole of government approach and all of our available tools.    A future global economic crisis, rapid urbanization and even the spread of another Ebola-like disease all can have potentially destabilizing impacts with ramifications to peace and security.

Our two countries are well equipped to combat these non-traditional threats in the years ahead.  Aligned and joined by common values, drawn together over decades of people to people ties, and now brought together by our governments and military establishments, we are in a strong position to help deliver greater peace and prosperity to the world.

But this pursuit will continue to take leadership.  We need your help and continued involvement in supporting this worthy U.S./India partnership.  You have my commitment that we will be joined together in this noble cause.  In closing, perhaps we can add an elephant and an eagle to the group of friends from the Panchatantra.  I’m glad our leaders and our people have opted to work together closely to confront tomorrow’s challenges and seize new opportunities.  We are indeed stronger together.  Thank you and I look forward to your questions.