September 18, 2019
I would like to thank Samir Saran from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Jeff Smith from the Heritage Foundation for taking the initiative to set up this dialogue “India on the Hill”.
2.Implicit in the subject of today’s panel – “India-US and the New Security Paradigm” is recognition of the fact that the existing treaty organizations and institutions such as the UN Security Council that took shape to uphold the post WW-II status quo have been unable to adapt to and encapsulate the geopolitical dynamics that we face today.
3.This space has been taken, to some extent by plurilateral and regional dialogue mechanisms but also, by a network of emerging and traditional robust bilateral partnerships.
4.The India-US strategic partnership is one of those key bilateral relationships that has the potential to be a defining one for this century, in all aspects. This realization has been on both sides, at the highest political levels, since the turn of this century. In his address to the Asia Society in New York, in September 2000, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had described India and the US as “natural allies” and added that the India-US partnership was necessitated by our “common interests” but was “important, above all, for Asia”. Prime Minister, in his address to a Joint Session of the US Congress in June 2016 had stated that “our relationship has overcome the hesitations of history”.
5.It is important to note how far we have come in a short span of a decade since the Civil Nuclear Agreement. We have signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA). Several other agreements are at different stages of discussion. The two countries now conduct more bilateral exercises with each other than they do with any other country. Bilateral exercises held annually include Malabar (naval exercise that also includes Japan), Cope-India (Air Force), Yudh Abhyas (Army) and Vajra Prahar (Special Forces). India also participates in the annual RIMPAC exercises as well as in Red Flag exercises which are US-led multinational exercises. Furthermore, Indian defense procurements from the US have seen tremendous growth.
6.There is also a sustained high frequency of exchanges and dialogue at the highest political levels. Just in the past three months since being re-elected with an absolute majority in May 2019, Prime Minister has met with President Donald Trump twice – in Osaka on the margins of the G20 Summit and again in Biarritz, on the margins of the G7. They will meet again soon – on 22nd September the US President is joining the Prime Minister is addressing a huge Indian diaspora event in Houston and they will also meet on the margins of the UNGA in New York.
7.We have also instituted the 2+2 Dialogue – a joint meeting between the Foreign and Defense Ministers of the two countries. The two countries also engage through Trilateral Summit level meetings between India, US and Japan as well as Quadrilateral DG-level meetings between India, US, Japan and Australia. It is worth mentioning that we also have a bilateral maritime security dialogue and several other defense cooperation dialogue mechanisms.
8.A key area that has seen close bilateral cooperation is counter-terrorism. We have a Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism (JWGCT) and a Designations Dialogue. This cooperation also spills over into multilateral fora. The listing of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leader Masood Azhar by the UN Security Council in May 2019, in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack, is one such instance.
9.Beyond the bilateral relationship with the United States, it is important to note that the thrust of Indian foreign policy has been focused, in large part, towards its neighbourhood, encapsulated in the “Neighbourhood First” policy, an “Act East” policy and increased engagement with the Indo-Pacific littoral states with a clear emphasis on the central role of ASEAN. The Prime Minister, in his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue on 1 June 2018 had listed six essential elements: (1) a free, open, inclusive Indo-Pacific; (2) centrality of ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific; (3) a common rules-based order that upholds sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations; (4) equal access to common spaces, freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce; (5) rules-based, open, balanced and stable trade environment; (6) connectivity and inclusivity. In a speech in 2015, the Prime Minister had encapsulated our goal in ‘SAGAR’ – Security and Growth for All in the Region. We aim for a region built upon five key principles: Respect (for all, as well as international laws); Dialogue to resolve differences, and to use existing fora, as relevant, including ASEAN-led fora like EAS, and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA); Cooperation as the means to establish Peace and Prosperity for all.
10.In our neighbourhood, where we have found regional efforts hamstrung by one actor, we have explored sub-regional approaches such as BBIN (Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal) to build connectivity through road, rail, inland navigation, shipping, power transmission and so on. Under the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC), we have initiatives like the MGC Quick Impact Projects (QIP) with Cambodia, Vietnam, and Lao PDR. In Myanmar, we are implementing several community development projects bilaterally under the Rakhine State Development Programme (RSDP). Again, connectivity is a major focus area of our cooperation. We are working towards an early completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its extension to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. We are also working to finalize the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement to facilitate seamless movement of goods and passengers across borders. We work closely with many of our maritime neighbours – Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. We participate in regional arrangements like ReCAAP and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) mechanism for maritime safety. Our record in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief testifies to our capability and willingness to be a net security provider in the region. Two recent instances were our HADR support to Mozambique in April 2019 in the aftermath of cyclone IDAI where the Indian Navy was among the first responders providing rescue, medical care and relief to around 3500 people in the city of Beira. INS Magar handed over 250 tons of rice and 500 kgs if epidemic medicines. In October 2018, India launched Operation Samudra Maitri to provide assistance to earthquake and tsunami affected areas in the Central Sulawesi Province Indonesia. Two IAF Aircrafts, C-130J and C-17, carried medical personnel and relief material. Three Indian Naval Ships – INS Tir, INS Sujatha and INS Shardul – were mobilized to carry out humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).
11.The outward orientation towards the maritime neighbours is reflected in domestic efforts to build coastal infrastructure and connectivity. The SAGARMALA project aims for integrated development of ports and their hinterland through the capabilities of the private sector. We are building high-speed rail corridors with partners like Japan to better connect the hinterland with the outlets.
12.We are not looking for zero-sum solutions to meet the challenges of connectivity, as we recognize that no one country can meet all infrastructure and developmental needs of the entire region. We seek an inclusive, big-tent approach to bring all partners onto a common platform. We seek a cooperation-based approach, recognizing that like the seas we share, there is a need for shared responses to shared challenges. A stronger India-US strategic partnership will contribute towards the realization of this vision.