India's Rise and the Promise of U.S.-Indian Partnership

William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Council on Foreign Relations
Washington, DC
June 1, 2010

Thank you for that kind introduction. I truly am honored to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations, an institution for which I have great respect, and to share the stage with David Ignatius, a man for whom I have great admiration.


The issue that I've been asked to address today -- India's rise and the promise of U.S.-Indian partnership -- is one of those rarest of Washington species, a genuinely bipartisan policy priority. I have been fortunate to play a small role in building our relationship with India through the past two U.S. Administrations, and just returned from my third visit to Delhi over the past year. I watched with pride in the fall of 2008 as our two countries completed a civil nuclear agreement that helped transform our relationship, and I look forward to the new Strategic Dialogue that Secretary Clinton will launch with Minister Krishna two days from now -- the first high-level Dialogue of its kind between our two countries.


Like President Clinton and President Bush before him, President Obama has laid strong and consistent emphasis on the enormous stake that the United States has in India's emergence as a global power. When he invited Prime Minister Singh to the White House last year for the first State Visit of the new Administration, the President called the U.S.-Indian relationship "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century." And in the new National Security Strategy released last week, the President underscored that expanding our partnership with India will remain one of his highest priorities.


The simple truth is that India's strength and progress on the world stage is deeply in the strategic interest of the United States. Soon to be the world's most populous country and already the world's largest democracy, India is now the world's second fastest growing economy and a central player in the G-20. India plays an increasingly significant role in Asia, and on a wide range of global challenges.


Growing ties between our societies, our economies and our governments have helped sustain and accelerate India's rise. The nearly three million Indian-Americans in this country provide a powerful connection between us, as do the more than 100,000 Indian students studying in U.S. universities. Bilateral trade has more than tripled in the last decade, creating jobs and opportunities for both of us. Cooperation in counter-terrorism and defense modernization is at unprecedented levels.


Never has there been a moment when India and America mattered more to one another. And never has there been a moment when partnership between India and America mattered more to the rest of the globe. As two of the world's leading democracies, we can help build a new global commons -- an international system in which other democracies can flourish, human dignity is advanced, poverty is reduced, trade is expanded, our environment is preserved, violent extremists are marginalized, the spread of weapons of mass destruction is curbed, and new frontiers in science and technology are explored. That is the moment, and the promise, that lies before us.


The further truth, however, is that progress in U.S.-Indian partnership is not automatic. It requires continued hard work and vision on both sides. It requires patience and creativity. And it requires honesty in dealing head-on with concerns and doubts that arise on both sides.


We can't afford to gloss over such questions, or pretend that they don't exist. Some in India do worry today that the United States seeks to "re-hyphenate" relations with India … that we see India mainly through the prism of preoccupations in Afghanistan and Pakistan … that we won't push Pakistan hard enough on terrorists who kill and threaten Indians … that we will hurry toward the exit in Afghanistan and leave India holding the strategic pieces. Some in India worry that the new Administration is tempted by visions of a "G-2" world … that we've "downgraded" India because we see Asia exclusively through the lens of an emerging China, with India's role secondary.


Some Americans, for their part, worry that it is India which "self-hyphenates" … that India sometimes has a hard time realizing how far its influence and its interests have taken it beyond its immediate neighborhood … that India doesn't always see as clearly as others do how vital its own role in Asia is becoming. Some Americans worry that India is ambivalent about its own rise in the world, still torn between its G-77 and G-20 identities. And some Americans wonder if India has the drive to overcome obstacles to its own ambitious development efforts, to cut through the "license raj", and speed up reform and attract more investment in more areas.


Let me speak plainly to those concerns. This Administration has been, and will remain, deeply committed to supporting India's rise and to building the strongest possible partnership between us. A third of the U.S. Cabinet has visited India in the first sixteen months of the new Administration, and President Obama intends to visit later this year. We have followed through energetically on our commitment to fulfilling the civil nuclear accord, completing a complicated reprocessing agreement nearly six months ahead of schedule. The Strategic Dialogue that Secretary Clinton and Minister Krishna convene later this week will bring together Cabinet-level representatives on both sides to consider new initiatives in areas like education, energy, counter-terrorism, and agriculture, and launching new dialogues on regional issues, from East Asia to the Middle East and Africa.


Of course we seek a healthy relationship with China, as India itself seeks. But we do not see relations in Asia as a zero-sum game. Instead, we attach great significance to India's expanding role in East Asia, and welcome our partnership across the region.


Of course the United States attaches considerable importance to relations with Pakistan, but those relations do not come at the expense of India. We refuse to accept the notion that somehow we can have strong relations with only one country in South Asia at a time.


Of course the United States is committed to progress in Afghanistan. But we also highly value India's role in building economic and social opportunities in Afghanistan, and see India's continued involvement there as a key part of that country's future success, not part of its present problems.


And of course we have an interest in better relations between India and Pakistan. But we will not inject ourselves into issues that divide the two governments unless India and Pakistan ask for our help, and we will continue to urge Pakistan to take decisive action against the violent extremists who threaten its own interests as much as they do the security of India and America.


To put it simply, the only "hyphen" that we will pursue with respect to our relationship is the one that links the United States and India.


How We Got Here: Three Transformations


Realizing the full potential of our partnership in the years ahead will require some important choices from both America and India. Partnership means more than just having shared values and common interests. It also means developing complementary policies and habits of cooperation. Before we look at the choices ahead of us, it's useful to take a step back and recall how far we've come in recent decades, through three profound and inter-connected transformations.


The first is the post-Cold War transformation of the international system. The global architecture to which we have long been accustomed, centered on trans-Atlantic structures, is under renovation; we need to adjust to the realities of 2010, not 1945 or 1989. New powers are emerging, especially in Asia. Globalization and sweeping domestic reforms have helped unleash extraordinary growth in China and India. More people have been lifted out of poverty in those two rising countries than at any other time in human history. Mutual dependence has grown as global financial connections have spread. Power is more diffuse and challenges are more intertwined. The United States not only recognizes these new realities, especially in Asia, it seeks to build even stronger partnerships with emerging powers such as India, to adapt international architecture to support the roles their influence warrants, and to share responsibility for the common challenges of the 21st century.


A second transformation is India's own dramatic economic and political evolution, which has both driven and benefitted from the wider changes in the international system. Twenty years ago, India was deep in economic crisis and not well integrated into the global economy. Thanks to the far-sighted reforms led by then-Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, India liberated its markets, embraced technology, and set off rapid economic growth, averaging 8% annually. India's urban middle class is booming, and it is a leading global player in information technology and telecommunications. India has earned a place at important global tables, like the G-20. With more than a billion people living in a vibrant democracy, demonstrating every day the power of unity in diversity, of tolerance, and of openness, India offers a model for others.


But huge challenges remain, as Indians know far better than any American. One third of the world's poor still live in India, many in rural areas, many without electricity and many untouched by the economic progress so evident elsewhere. More than half a billion people in India still live on less than $2 a day. Education is under developed, despite massive advances in literacy. As Prime Minister Singh has so eloquently argued, India's great national task in the decades ahead is domestic -- to turn the historic economic gains of the last twenty years into inclusive growth that lifts millions more out of poverty, that revitalizes rural India, and that creates a future of possibility for more and more Indians.


And that leads me to a third transformation, the remaking of the U.S.-Indian relationship over the last decade. Nowhere was that shift more vivid than at the completion of the civil nuclear agreement between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in 2008. Beyond its potential contributions to jobs, growth and energy cooperation, it brought important new Indian commitments to global non-proliferation goals. At a deeper level, the civil nuclear accord cut through much of the misapprehension of decades past. Ultimately, it was about trust -- trust in India's future … trust in India's rising role and capacity to take on the responsibilities that come with it … trust in American intentions and capacity for genuine partnership … and trust in the conviction that Indians and Americans have far more to gain by working together than we do by working apart.


The Road Ahead: Three Historic Opportunities for Partnership


So where do we go from here? How do two leaderships and two peoples with so many shared values and common concerns help shape a more secure, stable, democratic, and just international system, within which India can complete its historic task of modernization, and within which the United States can revitalize our economy and our society? How do we work together in Asia, whose rise and dynamism will have such a large impact on everything else that we do? How can America contribute to India's inclusive growth, and how do we widen the arc of our cooperation in the years ahead?


Let me start with Asia, then move outward to the wider global setting, and finally offer a few thoughts on how America can contribute in the next phase of India's modernization.


I. Partnership in Asia


India's reemergence as an Asian power is becoming an increasingly important feature of the world's most dynamic region. Rapid economic growth has driven the expansion of India's strategic horizons, as it seeks to secure the resources and markets needed to fuel its continued prosperity. It is natural for India to "look East," where its soft power -- long visible everywhere from the temples of Angkor Wat to the food courts of Singapore to the crowds flocking to see the best of Bollywood -- is increasingly complemented by its economic power. The huge Indian consumer market exerts a particularly powerful attraction for the export-driven economies of Southeast Asia, and resulted in the conclusion of an ASEAN-India free trade agreement.


Widening economic interests have reinforced India's readiness to share responsibility for securing the global commons in Asia, for safeguarding the sea and air routes on which much of the global economy depends. Secretary Gates has welcomed India's increasing role as a "net security provider in the Indian Ocean and beyond." Nowhere was India's leadership in this area more evident than in its response to the 2004 tsunami. Even while dealing with its own tragic losses, India and its navy contributed rapidly and impressively to disaster relief efforts.


It is very much in the American interest for India to build on this role in the years ahead. And it is no coincidence that other large Asia-Pacific democracies -- Japan, Australia, and South Korea -- are also engaging more closely with New Delhi and cooperating more systematically on security issues.


The United States supports broadened Indian participation in the institutional architecture of the Asia-Pacific region. India's voice as a successful democracy is important in a region where courageous leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi struggle in the non-violent footsteps of Gandhi. We share with India an interest in regional stability and a geopolitical balance which maximizes opportunities for economic and human advancement, while minimizing the risks of conflict and mistrust.


Central to that positive vision is a healthy relationship between India and China. As Indian National Security Advisor Shankar Menon noted wisely, "our experience suggests that there is space in Asia and the world for both India and China to grow and develop, and for us to do so in a way that is mutually-reinforcing, if we both wish it." That approach echoes President Obama, who has maintained that spheres of cooperation, not competing spheres of influence, are a source of strength for Asia.


As India looks East, its role in its immediate neighborhood obviously remains crucial. We have complementary interests on the Subcontinent, and the United States supports India's leadership in encouraging the emergence of a stable democratic government in Bangladesh… easing tensions in Nepal… and promoting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Neither of us intends to outsource South Asia policy to the other, but more often than not our policy prescriptions converge.


The United States welcomes recent steps by India and Pakistan towards constructive dialogue, including the planned meeting in Islamabad in July between Minister Krishna and Minister Qureshi. The President has welcomed Prime Minister Singh’s willingness to take political risks in order to lessen tensions with Pakistan and has promised that the United States will continue to support those efforts. None of us, least of all Indians and Pakistanis, can afford a resurgence of tensions between two nuclear-armed states. And none of us, least of all Indians and Pakistanis, can afford to see groups with global terrorist ambitions like Lashkar-e-Taiba continue unchecked. As Secretary Clinton has emphasized to the Pakistani leadership, "we have no time to waste in going after that common enemy as hard and as fast as we can."


It is similarly vital that we make common cause in supporting a stable future for Afghanistan. During President Karzai's recent visit to Washington, President Obama reinforced the long-term American commitment to an Afghanistan that can defend itself and provide for its own people, and that cannot again become a platform for violent extremists. That is a hugely complicated task, and one that will not come to an end in July 2011. It will require strong contributions from many countries -- including India, whose important development assistance to Afghanistan already totals over $1.3 billion.


II. Partnership for Global Security and Prosperity


India's leadership, and the potential for U.S.-Indian partnership, extends well beyond Asia. India's role in promoting global security is growing. India is today one of the largest troop contributors to UN peacekeeping operations, building on a rich tradition of Indian military contributions, including in World War II. The Indian navy is a leading player in counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, and it is a striking fact that the U.S. military now holds more bilateral military exercises every year with India than any other nation.


Expanded U.S.-Indian defense cooperation, unimaginable not so long ago, is a valuable means of supporting our shared interest in India's broadened international security role. Our stake in India's defense modernization is real and increasing, and defense trade has taken off since our 2005 framework agreement. Two American companies are among the leading competitors today for a $10 billion sale of 126 advanced fighter aircraft to the Indian Air Force, currently the world's biggest defense tender. Timely completion of several key foundational agreements, such as a basic logistics supply accord, will open the door to greater bilateral cooperation.


Building on the success of the civil nuclear agreement, India is contributing constructively to global nonproliferation and nuclear security efforts. India has made clear its opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran, and voted again at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting last November to hold Iran accountable for its failure to live up to international obligations. At the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in April of this year, President Obama praised India's leadership in launching a regional nuclear security training center.


India and the United States have both suffered devastating terrorist attacks, with the scars of 9/11 and 26/11 still fresh in both our societies. Since the horrific assault on Mumbai in November 2008, U.S.-Indian cooperation in counter-terrorism has deepened rapidly, in the interests of both our countries. Partnership on cyber security is another area ripe for development.


Our Strategic Dialogue this week elevates India to the rank of our most important global partners, allowing us to discuss and coordinate policies of global import, including on the future shape of the international economic system and on what we can do together to promote human development in other parts of the world. Prime Minister Singh is one of President Obama's most valued partners in the G20, and the United States strongly supported the recent expansion of India's World Bank voting share. Secretary Geithner traveled to New Delhi in April explicitly to consult on global stimulus plans, another clear indication of India's economic prominence.


In addition to the regular dialogue we have begun on East Asia, we look forward to quiet, systematic exchanges on other regional issues, such as the Middle East and Africa, where we can benefit from each other's perspectives, and each look for ways to contribute to peace and security. India's expanding global role will naturally make it an important part of any future consideration of reform of the UN Security Council.


We've found greater common ground on climate change, and the Copenhagen Accord could not have happened without leadership at the highest levels from India. India is also a strategic partner in the new global Feed the Future initiative, and together we can help promote agricultural progress and food security in the developing world. We can also complement one another's efforts to promote better health conditions in the poorest countries in the world, such as through India's new effort to provide affordable medicine in Africa.


III. Partnership for India's Inclusive Growth


India's widening role and contributions in Asia and around the world obviously hinge on its ambitious modernization plans at home. As Prime Minister Singh has stressed, "India's primary challenge is one of economic development." The United States has both a profound interest in India's success, and the capacity to contribute to that growth in ways that benefit us both. While the United States is already one of the largest foreign investors in India, much more is possible. A McKinsey and Company report suggests that 80% of the India of 2030 is yet to be built. India has announced over $1 trillion worth of new projects to build highways, airports, electrical power stations and other desperately-needed infrastructure -- creating major potential opportunities for American firms that can drive job creation and innovation in both our countries. More rapid Indian consideration of reforms, including the easing of caps on investment in critical sectors, would also help -- as Indian officials themselves have argued. So would more rapid movement by both of us toward a bilateral investment treaty. The private-sector has been a trailblazer in bringing our free-market democracies together, and a reinvigorated U.S.-India CEO Forum, due to meet again in three weeks, can offer a very useful non-governmental perspective.

Rapidly deepening commercial ties between our two countries are concentrated in the knowledge-driven high end of our economies -- and are critical to the global competitiveness of both U.S. and Indian companies. We can, and we should, transform our export control relationship, befitting the 21st century U.S.-Indian strategic partnership. That will open the door to historic new cooperation in space, and a number of other areas for high tech cooperation.


In addition to expansion of trade and investment, U.S.-Indian partnerships in agriculture and clean energy could propel a second Green Revolution, chromatically linking two disparate but vital initiatives. In the agriculture segment of our Strategic Dialogue, we are already exploring innovative new technologies and techniques, cooperative advances in weather forecasting, and the practical value of streamlining farm to market integration. Equally useful is our ongoing exploration of other forms of "green" cooperation, especially given the environmental impact of India's rapidly urbanizing population and rising energy consumption. Next year India will be the largest single-country recipient of U.S. climate funding, because India's success in charting a new energy future is deeply in America's interests. New energy technologies can help India supplement coal with hydro, wind, solar, nuclear and other clean, renewable power sources. Urgent innovation in these areas can fuel India's continued high growth rates while sparing the world billions of tons of potential carbon emissions by 2030.


Implementation of our civil nuclear agreement can be particularly valuable in this regard. U.S. companies are prepared to support the expansion of India's civilian nuclear infrastructure, with two reactor park sites already identified. As Prime Minister Singh argued publicly last week, it is deeply in India's self-interest for its Parliament to enact liability legislation consistent with international standards, so that it can attract the best foreign investors at the most competitive rates, and build the role and capacity of its own companies.


India's development of its greatest resource -- its immensely talented people -- is another focus of U.S.-Indian partnership. We are already working together to expand cooperation in health, where USAID continues to help our Indian partners eradicate polio and attack HIV-AIDs, and provide nutrition to the 70,000 Indian babies born every day. Meanwhile, Indian doctors and researchers contribute every day to medical advances in many fields, benefitting both of us, as well as the rest of the world.


With half of its population under the age of 25, India's workforce will expand significantly over coming decades. But this youth bulge could quickly become a liability if only 10 million out of 220 million secondary school students go on to post-secondary education, as currently projected.


American universities can help fill that gap if the Indian Parliament passes new legislation that would open doors to foreign universities setting up campuses in India. The Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative offers new funding to increase linkages between American and Indian universities. Our governments have also doubled funding for the Fulbright-Nehru Scholarship program. As Kapil Sibal, India's dynamic Minister of Human Resource Development, will discuss at the Council later today, cooperation in education is an extremely valuable ingredient in U.S.-Indian strategic partnership.


A Final Note


While the potential of our bilateral relationship is limitless, I want to assure you that my remarks this afternoon are not. So let me conclude simply by re-emphasizing the central, transformational fact about our relations in the years ahead: India and the United States have reached the stage where our individual success at home and abroad depends on our cooperation. That is what is different about our relationship today. That is the promise unlocked by the civil nuclear agreement, and all the advances of recent years. That is the "big idea" that can animate our partnership for decades to come. And that is the challenge before us, symbolized by the inauguration of the first-ever Strategic Dialogue: how to widen the arc of our cooperation, how to build systematic habits of collaboration, how to turn the transformational accomplishment of the civil nuclear accord into partnership across a much broader front.


I have no illusions that this will be neat or easy. It will take a lot of time, and a lot of effort. Differences will occur, and doubts will linger. But at this extraordinary moment, we have leaderships who understand and respect one another, broad public and bipartisan support, a growing record of trust on which to build, and remarkable scope for partnership in Asia, in promoting global security and prosperity, and in India's historic modernization. If we get this moment right, Indians and Americans can have an enormously positive influence on each other's future, and on the course of the new century unfolding before us.