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Is There a Future for the U.S.-India Partnership?


Remarks
William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Brookings Institution
Washington, DC
September 27, 2011

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Date: 09/27/2011 Description: Deputy Secretary of State William Burns; Strobe Talbott, Brookings Institution; Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupama Rao; Secretary General Rajiv Kumar, FICCI. Photo courtesy of Sam Kittner/kittner.com - State Dept Image

Thank you, Strobe, for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be back at Brookings for this important conference. And I’m especially delighted to be here with India’s new Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao, an extraordinary diplomat and a wonderful friend. As Foreign Secretary, Ambassador Rao helped shape every advance we made in U.S.-Indian relations in recent years, and both India and the United States are lucky to have her here.

It is also a genuine pleasure, and a genuine honor, to be introduced by Strobe Talbott, who set the standard both for Deputy Secretaries of State and for U.S.-Indian diplomacy over a decade ago. Strobe’s vision helped put U.S.-India relations on their current productive path, culminating in President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in 2000, the first trip to India by a sitting President in 22 years. Ten years later, it took President Obama only 22 months to become the first President to visit India in his first term.

During that visit, President Obama offered the clearest possible answer to the question posed by this conference -- he made emphatically clear that the U.S.-India partnership has a future, a very bright and consequential future. During that visit, the President told India’s parliament, “the United States not only supports India as a rising power; we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality.” Just as a strong India is in America’s interest, a strong America is in India’s interest, and a strong U.S-India partnership benefits not only our two countries, but the entire world.

And yet, a strong U.S.-India partnership is neither automatic nor self-implementing. We each carry baggage of different kinds, and we each have our own world views, our own domestic preoccupations, and our own sense of our interests. Problems and disagreements will inevitably arise. But no one should mistake the inevitable differences between two close, opinionated friends for loss of momentum -- or worse, the lack of a future. Our track record is clear and our commitment is firm. President Obama’s resoundingly successful visit last year made history with our endorsement of a permanent Indian seat on a reformed UN Security Council and our clear expression of support for India’s future membership in the major non-proliferation regimes. These are momentous steps.

So there is, it seems obvious to me, a bright future for the U.S.-India strategic partnership. That future will bear no resemblance to the distant past of mutual estrangement, but it is also unlikely to always resemble the recent past -- when it seemed every 18 months brought new breakthroughs like the civil-nuclear deal, or support for permanent UNSC membership, or export controls reform. Our challenge today is to broaden and deepen our bilateral, regional, and global cooperation. Given India’s emergence as a global power and the breadth of our common challenges, no single issue and no single breakthrough can or should define our partnership. What matters is its overall health, its steady progress, and the long-term investment required to sustain both.

Let me talk briefly about three especially important dimensions of our growing partnership: boosting our mutual prosperity; deepening cooperation in India’s immediate neighborhood and east across Asia and the Pacific; and efforts to solve global problems together.

I. Meeting the Economic Needs of Our People

Our bilateral economic relationship is anchored in the realization that our long-term interests are essentially congruent and mutually reinforcing. Each of us has a large stake in the others’ success. The tangible economic benefits of our relations -- for businesses big and small, for people in the middle class and those rising towards it, are irrefutable. The old narrative of outsourcing and zero-sum competition has given way to the reality of balanced, mutually-beneficial, and rapidly growing commerce between our nations. From USAID programs to eradicate polio and promote maternal and child health to cutting-edge cooperation in clean energy technology, agriculture, science and space, we are committed to being a partner in helping build a new India.

The modernization of India and the lifting up of hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty necessarily remains the focus of the Indian government. This extraordinary -- and so far extraordinarily successful -- effort requires India to sustain its high rate of economic growth, open markets for its goods and services, and attract the investment needed to realize its vision of inclusive development. There is no more important partner for India in this endeavor than the United States. Over the past decade, our bilateral trade has doubled and then almost doubled again. Our total direct investment in India rose tenfold, from $2.4 billion in 2000 to $27.1 billion in 2010.

The economic needs of the American people are central to our own diplomacy around the world, as we work to find new markets for American products and exports. The United States therefore has an enormous stake in India’s economic rise. India has grown on average seven-and-a-half percent each year for the past decade, and American companies want to compete in India’s growing markets and take advantage of investment opportunities -- not least the $1 trillion India expects to invest in building infrastructure by 2017. India is now the Export-Import Bank’s second largest portfolio, after Mexico.

Together, we are drawing the best from both of our societies to make better products that compete and win in the global economy. Tata Steel has a plant in Ohio; Boeing uses engineers in Bangalore to design 787s whose parts are manufactured across America. India’s direct investment in the United States has grown by an average of 33 percent each year since 2005 and, in the decade between 2000 and 2010, increased from a negligible $96 million to over $3.3 billion, with Indian companies now employing tens of thousands of Americans.

Completing our civil nuclear partnership is central to both our nations’ long-term prosperity and India’s future energy security. For international and Indian firms to participate in India’s civil nuclear sector, India needs a nuclear liability regime consistent with international standards. To this end, we welcome India’s commitment to ratify the Convention on Supplemental Compensation later this year, and we encourage India to engage with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that India’s liability regime fully conforms with the international requirements under the Convention.

The next step in the pursuit of mutual prosperity is a U.S.-India bilateral investment treaty, which would enhance transparency, boost innovation, and create jobs. Technical negotiations are about to get underway, and we must continue to make progress. Just as the United States will be integral to India’s sustained economic growth and its efforts to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, India’s emergence will be integral to long-term U.S. economic prosperity.

II. India’s Rise as an Asian Power

We are counting on India’s rise not just as an economic partner but as a global power -- one that engages everywhere from Latin America to the Middle East to East Asia. India’s leadership in promoting a more stable South Asia -- its multibillion dollar assistance commitment to Afghanistan, its determination to re-engage and normalize trade with Pakistan, and its joint projects to boost infrastructure and capacity in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives -- offer the hope of a more peaceful future for the region and the world. Ambassador Rao’s personal efforts as Foreign Secretary to revive dialogue between India and Pakistan and consider mutually-beneficial steps in trade and other areas are particularly commendable.

For U.S. and Indian policymakers, a successful transition in Afghanistan is a shared imperative and an area of increasing cooperation. As the United States draws down our forces and transfers responsibility for security to the Afghan people, we are ever mindful of Afghanistan’s recent history and the terrible cost of neglect. None of us can afford to make that mistake again. We are making headway in negotiating a new Strategic Partnership Agreement with the Afghans to extend beyond 2014. As Secretary Clinton emphatically noted in Chennai with regard to our long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s stability, “we will be there.”

Success in Afghanistan depends on ensuring that others are there, too. That certainly includes India. With coalition forces drawing down, Afghanistan will need extensive private investment and economic linkages with its neighbors. And yet today, the countries of South and Central Asia trade less with each other than nearly any region in the world. Goods are shipped thousands of miles out of the way simply to avoid hostile territory.

Even with no direct access to India’s rising middle class market, Afghanistan already sends one-quarter of its exports to India. Imagine what will be possible when transit and trade agreements extend outward to India and Central Asia, and Afghan traders are able to shift goods directly to the markets of Mysore and Mumbai, and Indian innovation and capital can play the same role lifting Afghan prosperity that it has at home. The “New Silk Road,” as we envision it, is not a single path -- it is a vision of economic, transit, infrastructure and human links between South and Central Asia. India can be its economic engine.

Just as the United States and India have a mutual stake in supporting a stable and more integrated South Asia, we must also work together as the strategic center of gravity for world affairs shifts toward the Asia-Pacific region, where India has a vital role to play. It is precisely for this reason that the U.S. and India decided to launch a strategic dialogue on the Asia-Pacific in 2010. Since then, this mechanism has emerged as a model for the type of engagement and dialogue that we need to identify new areas of cooperation and to pursue complementary strategies.

We are keenly aware that “talk is talk,” and that action is key. That is why we are transforming our engagement with India on the Asia-Pacific from dialogue to real action and concrete outcomes in areas such as maritime and port security, counter-piracy, disaster preparedness and humanitarian relief.

India is already a powerful economic and cultural presence in the East -- from the temples of Bali to the dynamic expatriate communities who connect India with the export-driven economies of Southeast Asia. India has built a vast network of bilateral economic cooperation agreements and security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific with traditional American allies like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and with our other partners, like Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. We are launching a new U.S.-India-Japan trilateral consultation on regional issues. India’s outreach is growing, moving toward a comprehensive vision for the East Asia region -- a “Look East” policy that is becoming an “Act East” policy.

We also hope that India will join us in working to strengthen Asia’s many regional institutions. Prime Minister Singh’s appearance alongside President Obama at the East Asia Summit in November will help that grouping become the premier forum for our leaders to discuss political and security issues in Asia. Secretary Clinton has underscored our commitment to work closely with India as we deepen our engagement with ASEAN. As Ambassador Rao once commented to me, Southeast Asia begins in Northeast India. India already trades nearly as much in goods with the ASEAN region as it does with the United States. An architecture of free trade and investment that connects India to all of Southeast and East Asia will have a profound impact on global trade and economic growth.

Finally, the 21st century Asia-Pacific we seek is one in which India, the United States and China all enjoy good relations. Whatever our differences, we know that, as this century advances, fewer and fewer global problems will be solvable without constructive cooperation amongst our three great countries. To paraphrase India’s National Security Advisor, I have no doubt that Asia and the world are big enough for the three of us -- if we want them to be. We will all benefit from enhanced collaboration in the years ahead.

III. India and Global Challenges

Across the world, I believe that India and America -- two leaderships and two peoples with so many converging interests, shared values and common concerns -- can help shape a more secure, stable, democratic and just global system. India can make a decisive contribution to building what Secretary Clinton has called “the global architecture of cooperation” to solve problems that no one country can solve on its own.

That’s why President Obama said that the United States looks forward, in the years ahead, to a reformed United Nations Security Council, with India as a permanent member. It is why we are working together through the G-20 to rebalance the global economy in what has become the world’s leading forum for international economic cooperation. It is why we have worked together in Copenhagen and Cancun and will work together in Durban to combat changes to our climate that threaten the Himalayan plateaus and the American heartland alike. It is why we are helping India spread its agricultural expertise to other developing nations. It is why we have dramatically deepened our cooperation on counter-terrorism and homeland security. And it is why President Obama and Prime Minister Singh have each committed their country to the long-term vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Across the board, we hope India recognizes that with increased power comes increased responsibility -- including the recognition, in the spirit of Gandhi, that an assault on human rights and freedom in one place is an assault on human rights and freedom everywhere. Recent weeks have seen encouraging signs from Burma, including a new embrace of the language of reform. Then-Foreign Secretary Rao’s meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi earlier this year was an important step, and we hope that the Indian government will use its close ties in Burma to encourage concrete action on political and economic reform and national reconciliation.

We also hope we can look together at the profound changes sweeping across the Middle East, and see our common stake in successful transitions in a part of the world that matters enormously to both of us. The singular feature of the revolutions that make up the new Arab Awakening is that they are driven from within, animated by a thirst for dignity and participation in societies which for far too long have produced far too little of either. That is also the great enduring strength of those revolutions, and it is the ultimate repudiation of the al-Qaida narrative that change can only come through violent extremism.

While all of us should be careful not to obscure the home-grown strength of the Arab Spring, none of us can afford to neglect its historic sweep or fail to address the brutalities of regimes bent on denying their citizens their dignity and their universal rights. The simple truth is that there is no going back to the way things were. There is only a path forward -- a hard and difficult path, filled with troubles and backsliding and detours -- but a path forward nonetheless.

India has a great deal to offer people and societies starting down that path. We applaud India’s offer to send election experts to Egypt, and hope India can expand its support for the new Libya, and stand with the Syrian people as they peacefully demand their universal rights. While no country should seek to impose its own political system on others, India remains a stirring example of a successful, multi-party democracy that offers hope to societies wracked by political turmoil and sectarian or tribal divides. We hope India will recognize the value of helping others match that achievement.

If we want a truly global strategic partnership, America and India must seek out opportunities to act as partners at the UN and other international fora. The collective action we have endorsed together through the G-20, the Nuclear Security Summit and the Global Counterterrorism Forum we launched last week in New York are excellent examples of our capacity to work constructively together to solve the problems no one nation can solve alone. The United States and India have no fundamental conflicts of interest, so there is no reason why we should not strive to be closer partners in the UN system and beyond. That will take time, and we will have our share of frictions along the way, but it is in both our interests to try.

Conclusion

For our part, accepting India as a global power means learning to agree to disagree sometimes. It means recognizing that profound mutual interests and shared values do not add up to unanimity of opinion. And, with cooperation moving forward on so many issues, a few differences need not cause us to lose momentum or ask whether there is a future for our partnership.

The greatest risk is not disagreement -- it is inattention. It is the possibility, through domestic political distractions or failure of imagination or simple complacency, that America and India might leave the full potential of our partnership unmet.

The truth is that we have crossed a threshold in our relations where -- for both of us, for the first time -- our success at home and abroad depends on our cooperation. America’s vision of a secure, stable, prosperous 21st century world has at its heart a strong partnership with a rising India. The question is not whether we have a future, or whether we will have a strategic partnership. The question is whether we are doing as much as we can to ensure that we realize its full promise. Few questions will matter more -- for both of us -- in the new century unfolding before us.



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