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VIEWPOINT: Why India is Crucial to USA in Asia-Pacific

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By Leon E. Panetta *

NEW DELHI - America is at a turning point. After a decade of war, we are developing a new defence strategy – a central feature of which is a "rebalancing" toward the Asia-Pacific region. In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia.

Defence cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and the world, with one of the most capable militaries. India also shares with the United States a strong commitment to a set of principles that help maintain international security and prosperity.

We share a commitment to open and free commerce; to open access by all to our shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and to resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force, in accordance with international law. We share a commitment to abide by international standards and norms – a "rules of the road," if you will, which promote international peace and stability.

One of the ways we will advance these principles is to help develop the capabilities of countries who share these values. India is one of those countries.

Our two nations face many of the same security challenges – from violent extremism and terrorism to piracy on the high seas and from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to regional instability. Handling these challenges requires a forward-looking vision for our defence partnership, and a plan for advancing it month-by­month and year-by­year.

We have built a strong foundation, and we will enhance this partnership over time in the spirit of equality, common interest, and mutual respect.

In particular, I believe our relationship can and should become more strategic, more practical, and more collaborative.

Our defense cooperation is strategic in that we consult and share Views on all major regional and international security developments. Our defence policy exchanges are now regular, candid, and invaluable.

Our partnership is practical because we take concrete steps through military exercises and exchanges to improve our ability to operate together and with other nations to meet a range of challenges.

And our defence relationship is growing ever more collaborative as we seek to do more advanced research and development, share new technologies, and enter into joint production of defence articles.

Strong Strategic Relationship

I want to share my views on the progress we have made in each of these areas and outline additional steps I think we should take in the coming years.

We have built a strong strategic relationship. In my own experience, including during my visits here as Director of the CIA, my Indian counterparts always offer clear strategic analysis and recommendations. We are transparent and honest in our discussions, something that has come to define the strength of our relationship.

During my two days here, we discussed the new defence strategy that is guiding the United States military's rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. We discussed the value of the ASEAN "regional architecture" in promoting international norms and in guaranteeing freedom of navigation.

We discussed Afghanistan, where we have embarked on a transition to Afghan responsibility for security, governance, and economic affairs. India has supported this process through its own significant investments in Afghan reconstruction and has signed a 1ong­term partnership agreement with Afghanistan.

We are making significant progress with transition. The United States now has an enduring partnership agreement with Afghanistan. I urged India's leaders to continue with additional support to Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction, and help for Afghanistan's security forces.

We also discussed lndia's immediate neighbourhood. In particular, I welcomed the initial steps India and Pakistan have taken to normalize trade relations, a process that we believe is key to resolving their differences and to helping Pakistan turn around its economy and counter extremism within its borders. Pakistan is a complicated relationship for both of our countries but one that we must Work to improve.

Finally, we exchanged views about other key issues like piracy and terrorism, tensions in the South China Sea, our concerns about lran and North Korea's destabilizing activities, and new challenges like cyber intrusions and cyber warfare.

Military Exercises

At a practical level, our defence partnership is coming of age. Expanded military exercises, defense sales, and intelligence sharing are key examples of the relationship’s maturation. Last year alone We held more than 50 cooperative defense events.

Some of the most significant include our military exercises, which enhance our ability to prepare for real-World challenges. The annual "MALABAR" naval exercise has grown from a "passing exercise" for our ships into a full-scale engagement across all functional areas of naval warfare. In March, U.S. Army soldiers joined their counterparts in India to rehearse scenarios involving United Nations Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief in a post-conflict setting. U.S. soldiers even had the chance to participate in a Holi celebration, which I gather is a very colourful experience.

One month later, the SHATRUJEET exercise took place at Camp Pendleton in California, with amphibious operations and other exercises between U.S. Marines and Indian soldiers.

These engagements and exercises provide opportunities for our militaries to learn from each other. This will sharpen our skills the next time we are called upon to interdict a WMD shipment, break up a terrorist plot, or respond to a future tsunami.

Arms Sales

We have also increased our defence sales relationship – from virtually nothing early in the last decade to sales worth over $8 billion today. Our sales are growing rapidly. For example, India and the U.S. have agreed to sales of maritime surveillance and transport aircraft. India will soon have the second largest fleet of in the world, expanding the reach and strength of India’s forces and their ability to rapidly deploy.

Your C-1301 transport aircraft and P8-I maritime surveillance aircraft purchases are also historic. In fact, India and the United States will be the only countries operating the P8-I aircraft.

In providing such capabilities to the Indian armed forces, we also enabled new training and exchange opportunities between our militaries. For example, our sales of transport aircraft included U.S. Air Force training of Indian pilots, loadmasters and maintenance staff.

Technology Sharing

Finally, in terms of building collaboration, we have some early successes and are poised to embark on technology sharing, co-production and other initiatives that will be a great value to each of our nations. Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and India's Tata Group are already jointly manufacturing spare parts for transport aircraft in Hyderabad. This project benefits each of our nations by creating jobs in India and America and strengthening our defence industries.

Our shared goal should be to solidify progress and deepen defence engagement and cooperation in all of these areas. So now let me turn to the future.

Piracy And Terrorism

At a strategic level, we have worked together to counter piracy and terrorism, and now we should join forces to tackle new and ever more complex threats. We can do more to drive the creation of a rules-based order that protects our common interests in new areas like cyber security and space. We need to develop "rules of the road" in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by states and non-state actors alike.

Regional Security

In terms of regional security, our vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean region supported by growing Indian capabilities. America will do its part through the rotational presence of Marines in Australia, Littoral Combat Ships rotating through Singapore, and other U.S. military deployments in the region.

The United States supports Southeast Asian multilateral forums such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, or "ADMM Plus." These mechanisms will prevent and manage regional tensions. As I have told my Indian colleagues over the past two days, lndia’s voice and involvement in these international forums will be critical.

China and Pakistan

As the United States and India deepen our defence partnership with each other, both of us will also seek to strengthen our relations with China. We recognize that China has a critical role to play advancing security and prosperity in this region. The United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous and a successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs - and respects and enforces the international norms that have governed this region for six decades.

And again with regard to Pakistan, India and the United States will need to continue to engage Pakistan, overcoming our respective – and often deep – differences with Pakistan to make all of South Asia peaceful and prosperous.

*Leon E. Panetta is the U.S. Defence Secretary. This is an abridged version of the text of his key speech at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on June 6 in New Delhi during his first visit to India as Secretary of Defence. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 06, 2012]

IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: U.S. Defence Secretary Panetta | Credit: DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett

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