WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 — India is an increasingly important partner to the United States, and the relationship between the nations is maturing, a top Defense Department policy official said today.
Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told members of the Asia Society that the cooperation and collaboration between the United States and India grows out of shared values and shared interests.
Defense cooperation between the nations served as a catalyst for the increasingly close relationship, and Defense Department officials are working to expand military-to-military ties, she said.
India has become an important economic, political and security partner, and that partnership spans a range of interests, Flournoy told the group.
“Some critics in Washington and New Delhi have suggested the Obama administration is not as committed to U.S.-India relations as its predecessors were,” she said. “Other critics assert that this administration sees India solely through the lens of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still others think that the absence of high-profile, headline-grabbing deals and accomplishments over the last 18 months suggests that we don’t view this relationship as important.”
The critics are wrong, she said.
“The U.S.-India relationship is not built on, and cannot be sustained on, grand gestures or brief moments of crisis,” the undersecretary said. “This bond is grounded in common democratic values and converging interests that make India and U.S. natural partners. The U.S. and India have an overarching shared interest in promoting global stability and security.”
The two nations are maritime countries that depend on free passage of the seas, and India and the United States work together to ensure maritime security, Flournoy said. Both countries also have an abiding interest in countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other dangerous high technologies, she added.
Both nations also are committed to promoting global stability and security, Flournoy said. India is a good partner in peacekeeping efforts around the globe and within Asia, she noted, and both nations are committed to the long-term stability and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
“We know as the U.S. mission in Afghanistan evolves, we must continue to provide robust support for Afghan stability, governance and development,” Flournoy said. “India is playing a positive role in Afghanistan’s economic and social development and we know that help will continue.”
U.S.-Indian defense relations have evolved from solely military-to-military links into a more comprehensive fabric, Flournoy said, in a relationship that encompasses dialogues, exercises, defense sales and practical cooperation.
At the apex of the U.S.-India defense relationship is the Defense Policy Group, which Flournoy will co-chair in the fall. The group allows both countries to plan further engagements, air concerns and exchange views on strategic issues.
“We also have dialogues that discuss our defense trade, service-to-service cooperation [and] technical cooperation, and a group dedicated to developing and ensuring procedures for keeping our technologies secure,” she said. “The growth and comprehensiveness of this relationship is nothing short of remarkable. My Indian counterparts now tell me that their defense and security relations with the United States are as close as they are with any nation.”
Now the two countries must sustain and expand upon the gains made to date, Flournoy said.
“Cementing a fully formed bilateral relationship requires more than formal visits and high-level dialogues – it’s about day-in-day-out cooperation at all levels,” she told the group. “Such interactions may not make as many headlines, but routine contacts are in many ways the most important bilateral business we conduct.”
Defense equipment sales are another growth area for the partnership. “I am and will continue to be a strong advocate of U.S. solutions for India’s defense needs,” Flournoy said. “U.S. companies are eager to work with India as the Indian military continues to modernize.”
Two American companies are among the leading competitors for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian air force, Flournoy said. “We are also looking at future sales of the C‑17 aircraft as another example of near term defense sales,” she added.
Flournoy stressed that the Defense Department does not view these sales as mere commercial transactions. “We understand that India is making a strategic as well as an economic choice when it makes defense acquisitions,” she explained. “Obviously, the commercial benefits of defense sales to the U.S. economy can’t be denied, but from a [Defense Department] perspective, these sales are even more important in building a strategic partnership that will allow both our countries to cooperate more effectively to protect our mutual security interests in the future.
“Whether the scenario involves humanitarian assistance, counterterrorism cooperation or maritime security activities,” she continued, “having common equipment will allow more seamless cooperation.”
India is seeking to build its own indigenous defense industry, and is looking for the best technologies to use in its defense sector, Flournoy said. The United States is committed to providing India with top-of-the-line technology, and has backed up its commitment by approving the overwhelming majority of licenses requested last year, she added.
Flournoy pointed out that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has made export control reform a key priority, citing the streamlining and modernizing of the U.S. export control system as a national security priority that affects the nation’s ability to build and sustain key partnerships.
India and the United States will explore ways to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction through maritime cooperation, dialogue, and identifying new technologies to combat this threat, Flournoy said.
“We will continue to build on our experience working together on disaster assistance and humanitarian relief, and develop procedures to facilitate more seamless cooperation in future contingencies,” the undersecretary said. “We will look at ways in which, together, we can better secure the global commons by expanding our already robust cooperation in air, space, cyberspace and maritime initiatives.”
The United States also is interested in India’s emergence as a regional power, Flournoy said. “The Obama administration is committed to strengthening regional partnerships, to build an international system capable of addressing the challenges that have no respect for borders,” she said. “In Asia, this means it no longer makes sense to discuss this increasingly interconnected region in terms of East Asian security, or South Asian security.”
India’s relationship with China is vitally important to the health of the region and the globe, the undersecretary told the group.
“A safer, more secure India that is closer to the United States should not be seen a threat to China, and vice versa,” she said. “Indeed, all three countries play an important role in regional stability. The United States recognizes and welcomes the growing cooperation between India and China on security affairs in recent years. And both India and the United States seek a closer relationship with China, while encouraging Beijing to be more transparent about its military capabilities and intentions.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)