U.S., India Maintain Good Military-to-Military Relations

DELHI, India, June 5, 2012 — Mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and India have got­ten so good there is lit­er­al­ly noth­ing lead­ers can­not talk about, includ­ing an increased Indi­an role in Afghanistan, U.S. defense offi­cials said here today.

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Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta will meet with Indi­an Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh and Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor, today, and Indi­an Defense Min­is­ter A.K. Antho­ny tomor­row. Panet­ta will also deliv­er a speech at the Insti­tute for Defense Stud­ies and Analy­sis tomor­row.

Offi­cials speak­ing on back­ground said Panet­ta would empha­size three themes dur­ing his vis­it. The first — rebal­anc­ing U.S. mil­i­tary pow­er to the Asia-Pacif­ic — con­tin­ues a mes­sage his trip to Sin­ga­pore, Viet­nam and now India is designed to high­light.

India was the only coun­try men­tioned by name in the new strate­gic guid­ance first pro­mul­gat­ed in Jan­u­ary. Panetta’s meet­ings with Indi­an lead­ers and his speech are designed to pro­vide options and encour­age dis­cus­sion, a senior defense offi­cial said. The speech specif­i­cal­ly will point to how crit­i­cal India is to pro­mot­ing peace and sta­bil­i­ty in the region.

The Unit­ed States and India share many of the same val­ues and those val­ues are rep­re­sent­ed by key prin­ci­ples, offi­cials said. These prin­ci­ples are the rule of law, adher­ence to inter­na­tion­al norms and stan­dards, free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, the right for coun­tries to pur­sue their eco­nom­ic inter­ests unfet­tered and the peace­ful res­o­lu­tion of dis­putes.

“It’s only nat­ur­al as India plays a more active role in the broad­er Asia-Pacif­ic region, that we would part­ner with India,” the senior defense offi­cial said.

The sec­ond theme of the engage­ment lies in India’s crit­i­cal loca­tion as the cross­roads between East and West Asia. “Not only do we val­ue India’s part­ner­ship in pro­mot­ing sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty in East Asia, but also the peace and sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan and South Asia more gen­er­al­ly,” the offi­cial said.

In the past decade, India has not played a large role in Afghanistan, but it has steadi­ly increased eco­nom­ic invest­ments in the coun­try. The offi­cial said the Unit­ed States wel­comes India play­ing a more active polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic role in Afghanistan. “We wel­come India’s con­tri­bu­tions to train­ing the Afghan nation­al army and Afghan nation­al police,” he said.

The offi­cial said there is always the chance that the his­toric dis­trust between India and Pak­istan could spill over if India helps Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, but “this is not pre­des­tined, this does not have to be the case,” he said. “India and Pak­istan share an inter­est — the same inter­est we have — of peace and sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan.”

All nations of the region and inter­na­tion­al allies of Afghanistan need to work togeth­er to “har­mo­nize” approach­es to Afghanistan, the senior defense offi­cial said.

The third theme Panet­ta will stress is the bilat­er­al defense rela­tion­ship between India and the Unit­ed States. Over the past 10 years the defense rela­tion­ship between India and the Unit­ed States has steadi­ly improved. U.S. and Indi­an ser­vice mem­bers now reg­u­lar­ly exer­cise togeth­er and there is a robust exchange pro­gram between the two mil­i­taries. And U.S.-India mil­i­tary exer­cis­es have increased in scope and com­plex­i­ty over the years.

In 2011, the U.S. mil­i­tary con­duct­ed more than 50 sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary activ­i­ties with India, and Panet­ta would like to see these exer­cis­es become larg­er and more chal­leng­ing to both mil­i­taries.

India is a val­ued cus­tomer as well. In the past 11 years, India has bought around $8.5 bil­lion worth of defense equip­ment from the Unit­ed States. “India has a large mil­i­tary and each of its ser­vices is mod­ern­iz­ing,” the offi­cial said.

The bot­tom line of Panetta’s vis­it to India is that it allows him to con­sult with Indi­an offi­cials on a full-range of sub­jects. “There is noth­ing that we can’t dis­cuss with India,” the offi­cial said. “We look for­ward to har­mo­niz­ing our approach­es with India and oth­er coun­tries in the region.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)