U.S.-India Relations: Building a Durable Partnership for the 21st Century
Thank you very much, Raja, for that kind and generous introduction. Thanks as well to your colleagues at Carnegie India and my colleagues at the U.S. Embassy for their hard work in putting this event together. And, of course, thank you everyone for being here this afternoon. It is an honor to be with you to deliver my inaugural address as the U.S. Ambassador to India.
I have been fortunate to be deeply involved in U.S. relations with India since 2001 – both in government and in the private sector. Throughout this time – and even before – I have often marveled at India’s ancient history and rich culture. The Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished almost 5,000 years ago, featured the world’s first planned cities. It began a remarkable story of a subcontinent that has produced major religions, classical languages, and countless contributions to the fields of science, art, and literature, among others.
Now, as I embark upon my journey as Ambassador, I would like to begin a conversation with you – my Indian friends – about the impact our relationship can have on the 21st century and beyond. The thoughts I offer will be complete only with your input. So I look forward to your reactions.
A Friend of India
Let me acknowledge at the outset that there are many benefits to being named U.S. Ambassador. In particular, people from all walks of my life – as well as some I have never met – have surfaced to say wonderful things about me. While it may not all be true, it sure feels good!
One compliment that does resonate with me was offered by the President of India when I presented my credentials: he called me “a friend of India.” It is a comment that others have made as well, which I consider a great honor. I have reflected on what it means to be “a friend of India” and why I think it is significant.
When I first began working on policy matters involving India as Under Secretary of Commerce, our two countries faced challenging and complicated issues related to the transfer of sensitive U.S. technology with both military and conventional applications – so called “dual-use items.” India sought increased access to this technology, while the United States wanted to ensure that any transfers would be used solely by the designated recipients for the agreed-upon purposes. This required a sophisticated system of export controls – which India, candidly, did not have at the time.
Our initial exchanges on this subject were quite formal and somewhat strained, due to the wide gulf in our positions. However, we soon developed a series of reciprocal steps to enable us to gain confidence and move forward. And look how far we have come. Now, India is celebrating its membership in two of the four multilateral export control regimes – the Wassenaar Arrangement on dual-use items, which India just joined, and the Missile Technology Control Regime. We also expect in the near future India to join the Australia Group on chemical and biological weapons. And we are working closely with India and our international partners to secure India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. At the same time, the United States has gone from a restrictive policy regarding the export of dual-use items to India to a much more liberal one.
I think it was the way in which U.S. and Indian officials approached this transformation that led some to call me “a friend of India.” Let me briefly describe that approach.
It began – as it always should – with respect. While U.S. and Indian diplomats certainly pursued their respective national interests, we also listened carefully to each other, sought to understand the other’s point of view, and searched for commonalities and mutually beneficial solutions.
We also trusted each other. This involved being open and candid. “Do what you say and say what you do” may be an old cliché, but it is critical to building trust.
Of course, we simply disagreed from time to time. But as friends, we still accepted each other, because we shared a fundamental set of interests. Acceptance enabled us to work through disagreements and move forward without animosity or rancor, and certainly without jeopardizing our relationship.
Another critical attribute of our approach was confidence. Because friends believe in each other’s good intentions, we felt confident in occasionally taking risks – even big risks – that ultimately could help us reach our desired destination.
And, finally, we demonstrated resilience and constancy. We appreciated the big picture and bounced back from disappointments or setbacks that inevitably occurred along the way. We did not allow ourselves to be diminished by lapsing into a tit-for-tat relationship. And, of course, it certainly helped to have a good sense of humor.
These qualities – respect, trust, acceptance, confidence, and resilience and constancy – were critical to the success we achieved. They are also an intrinsic part of our people-to-people relationships, perhaps best exemplified by the large Indian diaspora in the United States that fully engages in American life, yet still maintains close ties to India. Indian entrepreneurs, in particular, have successfully bridged our two cultures and made a significant mark on the American technology landscape, while also benefiting India. Today, approximately 33 percent of all immigrant-founded startups in the United States have Indian founders, a number which far exceeds that of any other group. Surely, the human dimension of interactions between Indians and Americans has contributed to this incredible statistic.
It is my hope that this same spirit and drive, which is also reflected in the bond between President Trump and Prime Minister Modi, will permeate the routine interactions between government officials of our two countries as we seek to fulfill the potential of our strategic partnership.
Our Values and Interests
As members of diverse, dynamic, multi-religious, and pluralistic democracies, Indians and Americans share the fundamental values of individual liberty, hard work and enterprise, open societies, human rights, and the rule of law. These values underpin a friendship bolstered by conviction, rather than merely by expediency. Based on our values, we have common interests in playing by the rules, enjoying freedom of trade and commerce, and resolving disputes peacefully in accordance with international law.
The Indo-Pacific Region
Our shared values and common interests inform our vision for the Indo-Pacific region. This area encompasses the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies and its most populous nations. Its waters contain many of the vital choke points for global trade. Its geography is rich in natural resources. And it is fast becoming the center of gravity of the evolving international system.
As the U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes, India is “a leading power” in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. For India and the United States, the Indo-Pacific is vital to the security and prosperity of our people as well as others. Together, we want to:
- ensure a free and open region, where the rule of law and democratic principles are reflected in a rules-based order;
- promote respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity;
- guarantee freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce, and other lawful uses of the sea;
- ensure that territorial and maritime disputes are resolved peacefully, consistent with international law;
- promote economic connectivity through private sector-led growth, free and fair trade, the use of responsible debt-financing practices, and the transparent development of infrastructure; and
- together, we want to preserve regional stability and security, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and eliminate the scourge of terrorism.
The U.S.-India Strategic Partnership
The U.S.-India strategic partnership is designed to strengthen both countries and to have a beneficial impact on this region. The principles just enumerated are inclusive, and we welcome working with any nation that embraces them.
Over the past 17 years, the United States and India have made enormous strides together. Some of the landmark steps along the way include the expansion of our defense cooperation and combined military exercises, the work of the High Technology Cooperation Group and the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, the historic civil nuclear deal, the nearly six-fold increase in U.S.-India trade, the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative and the designation of India as a Major Defense Partner, and many other initiatives related to commerce, energy, the environment, science, technology, health, and other fields. Significantly, there has been strong, consistent, and sustained support for this partnership from the major parties in each of our countries, across multiple changes of government.
And yet, despite all of this, we still get asked, “Is the United States a reliable partner that will remain fully engaged in the region?” or “What will be the next signature initiative to propel our relationship forward?” While I believe these questions are misplaced, they nonetheless represent anxieties that we must overcome. Only when we stop doubting our mutual commitment to this partnership and stop looking for another initiative to prove its worth, will we really know that things are proceeding well.
In reviewing the past 17 years, I believe we have laid a strong foundation for a strategic partnership that can have a significant, positive impact on the 21st century and beyond. It is now time to build upon this foundation in a flexible but purposive manner. We must move beyond our growing pains and create something that makes sense for both of us over the long term – something that helps shape a stable architecture for the region.
It is now time to make sure that the strategic partnership is a durable partnership. The longstanding commitment of the United States to a free, secure, and open Indo-Pacific has underpinned the stability and remarkable economic rise of this region – to the benefit of all of us. The United States will remain committed to the region – as we are to the rules-based international order – because our future is inextricably linked to it. We welcome India’s leadership with us in this venture – as partners bolstered by conviction and working with like-minded nations on a regional architecture to ensure that the Indo-Pacific – in the words of Secretary of State Tillerson – is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity, rather than one of disorder, conflict, and predatory economic policy.
Let me briefly touch on five pillars that can provide the framework for our durable partnership.
Defense and Counter-Terrorism
One key pillar is our cooperation on defense and counter-terrorism to enhance the long-term security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region. A related and equally important objective is to continue our support to India as a net provider of regional security, capable of responding successfully to threats to peace, especially in the Indian Ocean and its vicinity. We can advance these objectives in several ways, which we expect to discuss this spring in our new 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue and incorporate in a roadmap to drive action on both sides.
One way to increase cooperation is through military exercises. India and the United States already conduct a robust series of bilateral exercises. While these have been increasingly realistic single-service scenarios, it is time to consider a multi-service exercise, perhaps focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This modest expansion of military training would allow both countries to enhance what we learn from each other and increase our comfort, ease, and confidence in working together.
A second key area of cooperation involves military hardware and technology. In little more than a decade, U.S. defense trade with India has expanded from virtually nothing to over 15 billion dollars, and includes sales of some of America’s most advanced military equipment. We want to see this trend continue – because India’s defense needs are vast and because the United States, as a global leader in developing advanced military technology, is committed to enhancing India’s security. A prominent example of this commitment was the Trump Administration’s decision last June to approve the sale of the Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial System, positioning India to be our first non-NATO partner or treaty ally to acquire this advanced platform.
In line with India’s desire to produce more of its equipment in its own country, I want to emphasize that the United States is more than just another supplier. Major U.S. defense companies are already in India producing components for complex defense systems. Moreover, our Defense Technology and Trade Initiative and the U.S. designation of India as a Major Defense Partner are designed to strengthen our defense cooperation, including opportunities for co-development and co-production. We seek to assist India’s efforts to build up its indigenous defense base and capabilities, as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces as major defense partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
A combination of interests underpins the future success of these initiatives – the Indian government interest in technology and engaging in the co-development and co-production of military equipment; the U.S. Government interest in safeguarding information and technology; our mutual interest in increasing the inter-operability of our forces; and the shared interests of our companies in growing and creating jobs in both countries. These interests will never be perfectly aligned, and the burdens cannot fall only on one party or another. Rather, as we did earlier with dual-use technology, all parties need to be creative in finding commonalities and mutually beneficial solutions that will enable them to derive value from the process.
We need to patiently make step-by-step progress on these defense initiatives rather than expect to resolve all issues at once. With that in mind, perhaps in the next year we can announce major agreements enabling cooperation in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms; fighter aircraft production; and the co-development of next generation systems, including a Future Vertical Lift platform or Advanced Technology Ground Combat Vehicles.
A third way to advance defense cooperation is through military exchanges. Our experience shows that these exchanges qualitatively increase familiarity and build trust based on relationships developed and nurtured in the classroom and in other settings. Over time, we should expand officer exchanges at our war colleges and our training facilities, and even at some point post reciprocal military liaison officers at our respective combatant commands.
One last, very important point regarding this pillar is our critical and growing cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism. Each of our countries has suffered horrific terrorist attacks and continues to be targeted. We have a strong mutual interest in eliminating this threat to our societies. President Trump and other U.S. leaders have been clear that we will not tolerate cross-border terrorism or terrorist safe havens anywhere. As part of this effort, last month we launched the first-ever U.S.-India Counterterrorism Designations Dialogue. We need to continue to enhance the sharing of information, designations of terrorists, combating of financial crimes and networks, and disruption and dismantling of terrorist camps and operations – both regionally and globally.
Economic and Commercial Relations
Let me turn to a second pillar in building out our strategic partnership – our economic and commercial relationship. India is in the midst of an economic surge as it integrates more fully into the global economy. In turn, the U.S. trade and investment relationship with India continues to grow. Bilateral trade has gone from approximately 20 billion dollars in 2001 to 115 billion dollars in 2016. Of course, given the size of our respective markets, there is still plenty of room to expand the flow of goods and services in both directions and, in the process, for trade to become more reciprocal.
The United States counts on all of our partners to work with us to ensure fair and balanced trade. We are concerned about persistent trade deficits, including the one we have with India. We welcome steps by India to continue its reform agenda, expand market access, and further enhance the protection of intellectual property. And we want to work with India to expeditiously resolve trade and investment disputes. In our view, fully free and fair trade will support and accelerate Prime Minister Modi’s effort to improve India’s long-term growth rate in a sustained way. In this regard, the Prime Minister’s determination to move India further up on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index is inspiring.
“America First” and “Make in India” are not incompatible. Rather, investing in each other’s markets will be mutually beneficial – it will increase our economic interactions and volume of trade, lead to collaboration on emerging technologies, and create jobs in both countries.
But let me go further and suggest that it is time to put a strategic lens on our economic relationship – just as we have done with our defense relationship. A number of U.S. companies have reported increasing difficulties conducting business in the largest market in the region – China. Accordingly, some companies are downgrading their operations there, while others are looking with great interest at alternative markets.
India can seize the strategic opportunity – through trade and investment – to become an alternative hub for U.S. business in the Indo-Pacific region. Accelerating the economic and regulatory reform process already begun by Prime Minister Modi will help ensure that India is seen as an increasingly efficient, transparent, and well-regulated market. This will further promote growth and development. Continued reforms and trade liberalization will also enable Indian products to more readily become part of the global supply chain, thereby accelerating job creation.
There are many benefits to growing our bilateral economic relationship and making India a regional hub for U.S. business. We saw on display at the recent Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad the critical and positive impact that an enabling environment for innovation has on a nation’s economy. America is a leader in entrepreneurship and innovation, and already has extensive linkages with India in the technology sector. Opening India’s market further to U.S. trade and investment will spur our collaboration on many emerging technologies that will drive and protect our economies, including those related to advanced manufacturing and cyber security.
Greater U.S. trade and investment, combined with a strong environment protecting intellectual property, will lead to increased flows of capital and further sharing of intellectual know-how. Technological transformation needs a constant upgrade, which occurs when countries are involved in unimpeded international economic and data flows.
Increased openness to U.S. goods and services, and an expanded presence of U.S. companies, will also stimulate private sector investment in improved infrastructure and overall connectivity. As an example, U.S. companies have innovative technologies that could support India’s ambitious goal to create 100 smart cities across the country. In addition, a U.S.-India joint venture is already producing locomotives that meet global emissions standards to modernize India’s railways. And civil aviation is another important area where an enhanced partnership will help advance both of our economies.
Increased heft in our economic relationship would necessarily provide a broader and deeper, long-term U.S. commitment to India and the Indo-Pacific region. This would complement our growing defense and counter-terrorism partnership, and moderate any policy differences that might arise along the way.
A final point with regard to this pillar is that a strategic view of our economic relationship could eventually lead to a roadmap for a U.S.-India Free Trade Agreement. To be sure, we are a long way right now from that aspiration, and there are many intermediate steps to be taken. But we should find creative ways to use our Trade Policy Forum and our Commercial Dialogue to enhance understanding, build confidence, and solve problems. As with our experience with high technology exports and the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, a vision of where we want to go could help spur the resolution of many of today’s trade and investment disputes and signal to international companies that India is fully open for business.
Energy and the Environment
A third pillar ripe for enhanced strategic cooperation is energy and the environment. With the projected growth of India’s economy, the increasing size of its population, the rise of its middle class, and the urbanization of its landscape, India’s energy needs for sustainable and inclusive development are going to be substantial for many years to come.
The United States is uniquely positioned to offer India a comprehensive energy partnership. This includes all forms of energy – coal; crude oil; natural gas; and nuclear power; as well as technology related to clean fossil fuels, smart grids, energy storage, and renewable resources. Indeed, last year the United States exported its first major shipment of crude oil to India. The United States can also help provide the supporting services, infrastructure, and technology that are necessary for India’s efforts to further develop domestic sources of energy and enhance energy security.
The U.S.-India Strategic Energy Partnership will convene early this year at the Ministerial level, and we look forward to welcoming Energy Secretary Perry to New Delhi. One highlight is our joint work on power and energy efficiency. As India strives to bring stability to its expanding power grid, U.S. companies offer the technology and expertise to meet the demands on overloaded transmission and distribution systems. In addition, we are collaborating on the types of policies, regulations, and financial investments that will support the development of a sustainable and profitable grid.
Our environmental collaboration extends to the oceans and maritime areas, consistent with Prime Minister Modi’s commitment to the blue economy. This includes scientific exchanges on ocean biodiversity, and mining and marine pollution, all of which should help sustain fisheries and coastal communities for decades to come. Indeed, these efforts could be expanded on a regional basis in order to protect the broader marine environment.
Science, Technology, and Health
A fourth pillar of our partnership is our focus on sustainable and inclusive development with regard to the welfare of our people. This includes critical work in science, technology, and health. Our U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund has supported a range of innovative projects, including those to advance healthcare, improve the environment, and modernize agriculture. And beyond earth and into space, NASA and ISRO scientists frequently collaborate – demonstrating that there truly are no boundaries to our partnership.
Issues related to health, in particular, are an important shared responsibility, not just because of their direct impact on the safety and well-being of our people, but because of their indirect impact on economic productivity and overall social welfare. That is why we are looking at novel ways to manage disease. We jointly developed the first indigenous Indian vaccine for rotavirus, and are now cooperating to develop vaccines to combat tuberculosis, dengue, and other emerging global threats. We are also engaged in the Global Health Security Agenda, which includes acting to combat antimicrobial resistance and strengthen detection, prevention, and response to epidemics. In addition, our health agenda addresses the complex problem of HIV as well as the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.
The final pillar in building out our strategic partnership is regional cooperation to promote stability and welfare. Let me briefly highlight a few areas of collaboration.
One is Afghanistan, where we both have a strong interest in promoting peace, security, and prosperity. Our leaders are committed to supporting Afghanistan’s National Unity Government and helping build that country’s democratic institutions. We are each investing substantial resources on Afghanistan’s reconstruction and future. These efforts not only advance regional development and stability, but help to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.
A second area for coordination is multilateral activities with other like-minded countries in the region, including Japan and Australia. We already conduct the Malabar naval exercise with Japan, and the scope of our trilateral dialogue is steadily expanding. For the first time in ten years, we have held quadrilateral consultations with Australia, discussing our vision for increased prosperity and security in a rules-based Indo-Pacific region. We should continue to nurture multilateral groupings in the years ahead, as we look for opportunities to collaborate with all of our like-minded partners.
In a similar vein, we should enhance our efforts to promote connectivity within South Asia, which is one of the least economically integrated regions in the world. The United States is already looking at how we can leverage our assistance programs in the region to finance national infrastructure projects. We should coordinate with India, other countries, and the multilateral development banks on financing for regional infrastructure projects.
One last area to mention is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Indo-Pacific. An effective response to any disaster requires civil-military coordination that is planned, exercised, and resourced. The United States and India bring different capabilities to this task and can benefit from working together when crises occur.
In sum, we have a very ambitious agenda for the U.S.-India partnership. In today’s turbulent world, one constant is – and always should be – the strength of this partnership. I sincerely believe it is as consequential as any relationship in international affairs – both in the opportunities we have and in our potential impact on the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. While both India and the United States cherish our independence and sovereignty, the true value of our partnership is that it can better enable each of us to positively influence global affairs and achieve our greatest aspirations for the security and prosperity of our people. Of course, for this to happen, we must approach our task as friends – with respect, trust, acceptance, confidence, and resilience and constancy.
President Trump has referred to India as a “true friend.” And Prime Minister Modi has echoed former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s description of our countries as “natural allies.” It is now up to us to give further content and substance to these terms. We must build a partnership that is strong and durable, while also flexible and adaptive. Let us seize the opportunity before us, so that future generations look back on this period as a time when we truly transformed U.S.-India relations.
Thank you very much.