Remarks by Ambassador Richard Verma at the Think Tank Summit

Good morning everybody.  Thank you for the invitation to be here.  It’s a great honor to be with all of you and with so many friends.

Before we begin, I just wanted to take a moment to send our deepest condolences to all those that have been impacted by the terrible tragedy in Nepal and those impacted in India and elsewhere.  I know many of our friends there and in, as I said parts of India, and many American families with relatives in the region have lost loved ones and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all of them during this difficult tragedy.

Just a brief update on some of the things that we’re doing at the embassy.  Right now, our collective efforts and our focus has been to support the government of Nepal and to support our mission in Nepal in the relief in any way that we can.  Secretary Kerry announced yesterday, $10 million in humanitarian funding.  Our embassy has deployed consular and engineering teams to Nepal to participate in the rescue effort.  USAID, the disaster assistance response team and two elite urban search and rescue teams from the United States have been deployed to Nepal just yesterday.  And because of USAID’s ongoing coordination and training programs, these teams will continue to work with local search and rescue teams that have received USAID training.  They’ll do assessments and they will have access to prepositioned emergency commodities.

And so this is at the top of our priorities right now, to support what’s happening there, and I know all of you are thinking of all those impacted and that will continue to be our utmost priority over the coming days and weeks.

I know, though, I’m here to welcome all of you to the Think Tank Summit, so let me make a transition into what you’re doing here.

As I say, it’s great to see so many friends.  My friends from ORF I have known for many years.  We have actually had the pleasure of working together, writing together, being in those difficult situations of editing documents together from 10,000 miles away, sending drafts back and forth to each other but they are some of the best, and I’m glad that we have become such good friends over the years.

I want to thank the University of Pennsylvania as well for your leadership.  And of course Brookings India as well.  It just really is an amazing assemblage of talent.

You should know that we read what you write.  We follow what you produce.  It’s very important to our efforts and it’s not just because I have been in the think tank world in the past.  I will tell you just yesterday I printed out our friend Ashley Tellis’ publication called Making Waves on how the U.S. and India could work together in the aircraft carrier business.
I haven’t read it yet, but it’s an important piece of scholarship and I look forward to reading it.

I have cited before in a speech on climate my friend Michael Wertz from the Center for American Progress, his work on climate, migration and security and the impact that climate change will have on urbanization and the mass migration of people, particularly across northern and northeastern India.
So what you do is really, really important.  I have a few thoughts that I want to share with you about why it’s so important.

But also what you do is so important because we are, I thought what I would do is maybe just talk a little bit about where we are in the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and India because we are fundamentally in a different place.  Different than where we were even six months ago.
Maybe I’ll just take you back a few months, back to September of last year when the Prime Minister visited Washington, DC.  There’s been a lot of focus on the President’s visit here in January which was historic and which was important, but I think to get the full picture of where we are today in April of this year you have to go back to September of last year.
Because what happened is that the two heads of state came together and agreed to try to solve some issues that frankly, we had been stuck on for many years.  So there was a commitment to get down to work and to actually sit across the table and talk to each other.

So when the Prime Minister left Washington, there was then three months of concerted activities in a number of areas.  Let me give you a few examples.

One was in the civil nuclear area and the contact group that was established.  Basically the two leaders said that the teams have to work until we come to a solution.  So for three months, over three cities, teams worked intensively like they had never worked before and I was glad to see that in early January we did come to a solution.  So civil nuclear progress.
In the defense area, we had been talking for years about co-production and co-development.  But our teams, again, that September through January period, finally were able to come up with six specific projects that we are going to co-produce and co-develop right here in India.  Who would have thought that would have been possible only a few years ago?

In trade.  We had a big disagreement with India at the WTO, and we were able to resolve the dispute on food security with our teams working together, mainly through the Trade Policy Forum.  And again, that’s what happens when you have dialogue and consultation.

I could go on through the list, again, clean energy, defense, civil nuclear cooperation.  But what it led to was a historic visit in January by the President because it wasn’t just symbolically important.  It was that we had actually made progress on the key pillars of our relationship.  And that was what was critical.

So the challenge for all of us now is how to keep all of this going.  So right now we are tracking some 77 different lines of effort that came out of the President’s January visit.  We have reenergized or launched 30 new initiatives or 30 different dialogues.

Now I had someone tell me the other day that if we have 70 different initiatives, we have none.  And I don’t believe that.   Think what it reflects is the complexity and depth of our relationship.  We have every element of our government here across the mission interacting with some element of the Indian government on any given day and I think that’s a really good thing and a very positive thing.  But we are not going to let it, the momentum let up.  We are not going to slow down on what’s been accomplished and we are very much looking forward to the next high level dialogue between our two governments later this summer.  And that is where we do need your input, we do need your ideas.

But again, I will tell you in the key areas maybe a little bit about what we’re working on.  Some of the pillars of our relationship now, on defense, we’re looking to sign a new 10-year agreement with the Indians.  I’m happy that the Secretary of Defense will be here in the early part of June.  We are looking to do more in terms of exercises and joint training and interoperability with our Indian counterparts, and hopefully provide more in terms of increasing India’s indigenous ability to make defense products right here in India.

In the clean energy area, I think this will perhaps be potentially the most significant area of cooperation going forward with civil nuclear cooperation underpinning it.  But we have committed to supporting India’s aggressive solar, wind, and biomass targets.  They’re very aggressive.  Financing is a big challenge.  Rolling out the technology is a big challenge.  Connecting those 300 million Indians that don’t have access to electricity is a big challenge.

All of you that work in the environmental space or in the clean energy space, this is where we really could use your best and brightest thinking because the magnitude of the challenge is so great.  But we think this is a huge area for us.

In the bilateral trade and economics, the President set an aggressive goal of going from $100 billion to $500 billion in two-way trade, and we intend to aggressively try to get there.

And when I say two-way trade, I really mean that.  Not only about American companies coming here, but Indian companies going to the United States.

India had 82 companies represented in our recent summit hosted by the Commerce Department in Washington.  They were second only to China in the number of companies that came in.  So there are, I believe the number is over a million jobs that have been created by American companies here in India, and now tens of thousands, more likely hundreds of thousands of jobs in America.  But we can do a lot more and we have to do a lot more through the Bilateral Investment Treaty, restoring investor confidence on both sides.

So again, those of you working in the economic and trade arena, it’s vitally important that we continue to push in this regard.  And frankly, make the case not just to businesses, but make the case to populations across India that increased economic connectivity with the United States is actually a good thing.  I can make that argument very persuasively, but I think it’s always more compelling when there’s facts and analysis and research to back it up, and I know the community can provide that.

Then in so many other areas — in space, in science, in health, in education — there is a range of activities and a range of cooperation that we’re engaged in that I think is very very exciting for our two countries.  And whether it’s the Mars orbiter and the mission that NASA and the Indian Space Agency worked on together, or whether it’s on the Center for Disease Control and the work they’re doing with their Indian counterparts, there is no shortage of activities and collaboration that we can engage on together.  We are limited only by our creativity and our imagination.  And the President and the Prime Minister have strongly encouraged both governments to continue to push and to push very hard.

A final thing I’d say is that we have, about the bilateral relationship, we have reoriented how we cooperate with each other.  So in January we signed on not just to talk about cooperation in South Asia, but we now have a very robust architecture for East Asia as well.

So the notion of working together with India on maritime cooperation, keeping sea lanes open, combating weapons of mass destruction, supporting humanitarian disasters, increasing trade and economic integration across Asia.  The strategic premise of that is that if the U.S. and India are the closet of partners, not just in South Asia but across Asia and globally, the world will be a safer and more prosperous place and that is the power of having the two largest democracies come together.  There is so much good that can come out of it.

Now how does this involve all of you and what does this have to do with the think tank community?  We really do need your best and brightest thinking, and it’s not just for the bilateral relationship but it’s also for where you see India’s role in the world, where you see India in the region, and you have certain advantages that we don’t have.  And I’d just maybe leave you with a few thoughts and make a few recommendations based on kind of now my seat back in government but also my prior experience in the think tank community as well.  Let me just mention four things specifically.

The first, I’d encourage all of you to continue to think creatively, because you are not bound by a government agenda or a particular party platform.  It is the new and fresh ideas that come from this community that will help governments and societies advance.  So don’t be afraid to be creative and be bold.

Two, think for the long term and think over the horizon.  All of you have the ability to anticipate the next big challenge and the next big opportunity.  And you are not bound like most of us in government are to focus on the crisis of the day.  In fact you can help diffuse the crisis of tomorrow through your longer term research, through your analysis, and through your recommendations.

So one, be creative; and two, think about the longer term because people in government don’t have that ability.

Third, drop the labels.  Too often think tanks are known as conservative or liberal or nationalistic or pro-business or pro-village.  I could go on.  And what one finds in most modern public policy solutions is that no one ideology holds the keys for success.  And in fact it is the blending of views and approaches from across the political and ideological spectrums where the most durable solutions lie.

Work with unlikely partners.  Propose cross-cutting solutions.  That’s the scholarship that is most interesting, and that’s often what is most successful.  I will tell you that is what gets my attention.  When I’m looking to read something or I’m looking to print something out, it’s two sides actually come together and think about a cross-cutting solution.  I will tell you, I’m generally skeptical about kind of ideological approaches, whether they’re from governments or from think tanks.  I think the practical and the cross-cutting is so much more lasting and so much more important.
The fourth and final thing I would say is you can and you should drive the policy debate.  And the funding streams.  Don’t simply follow them.

In other words, there will be a tendency to only follow and explore those issues where there is funding or where there is interest by policy-makers, and I totally understand that.  You’ve got to keep the lights on, you’ve got to pay salaries, you’ve got to do scholarship that is supported, and that’s important.  But don’t underestimate your ability to drive the debate and illuminate for others what should be on their minds and what priorities they should be funding.

Make them think about the new and under-appreciated areas of research and scholarship that they should be focused on.  You can really have a big impact if you do that.

So go to your funders, go to your policy-makers, and let them know hey, we think this is a big area, or frankly, we think this is just an area that you should be focused on.  Whether it’s big or small.  And really, if you have a passion for it, if you believe in it, don’t let it go.  Don’t simply go where the dollars are.  Don’t simply chase the headlines, because by the time you put something out it won’t be new, it won’t be fresh, you won’t necessarily add to the debate.

Again, I think getting this group together is so important. I hope you will get together regularly.  Your contributions are really vital to the policy process.

We live in a very dangerous world, a very tumultuous time, but also a time of great promise.  I’m very optimistic not only about the bilateral relationship that we have.  I’m very optimistic about India’s role in the world.  We’ve seen the dramatic leadership role that India can play just in the past few weeks, whether it’s in Yemen, or in Nepal.  We are excited and proud to have such a great partner.  I’m excited to be here at this time of rapid developments between our two countries and to have a relationship on the ascent.

And again, we’re just thrilled that all of you can be part of our process and part of our debate and our dialogue, and I look forward to reading what you put out and I look forward to coming to your events and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the coming weeks and months and years.

Thank you very much for the invitation to be here.  I appreciate it.