Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses: "The U.S. and India: Partners in the 21st Century"

By:  Leon Panetta
Date: June 6, 2012
Location: New Delhi, India

Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador, Dr. Gupta. Thank you for inviting me to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, and thank you for your leadership of this distinguished organization. It's a special honor for me to have this opportunity on my first visit to India as Secretary of Defense to be able to address the issues in the defense arena that involve both the United States and India.

This trip has taken me from the Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore to Cam Ranh Bay and Hanoi in Vietnam. It's appropriate that as I've had the opportunity to define our new defense strategy for the 21st century that I am now here with a very key partner in India, particularly in this important region.

Over the past two days I have held some very excellent meetings with Prime Minister Singh, with Defense Minister Antony, with National Security Adviser Menon. And I want to thank them all for welcoming me back to this country. I've had the opportunity to visit here a number of times in my prior capacity as Director of the CIA and now have the opportunity to visit as Secretary of Defense.

I also want to take this moment to thank Ambassador Chandra for his role in helping to convene and moderate today's discussion. And I also want to thank him for his contributions. He's made a number of very important contributions in helping to advance United States-India relationship during his career in public service. And I had the opportunity to see that personally during the time I was in the White House.

His first year in Washington as India's ambassador overlapped with the end of my tenure as President Clinton's chief of staff in the 1990s. It was a time when the legacy of Cold War and the suspicions that developed during that period still loomed large. And though the United States and India shared many values and many common interests, our bilateral relationship suffered from many of those suspicions.

My former boss, President Bill Clinton, I think got it right at the time twelve years ago here in New Delhi when he said, and I quote, "India and America are natural allies, two nations conceived in liberty, each finding strength in its diversity, each seeing in the other a reflection of its own aspiration for a more humane and a more just world," unquote. Thanks to the efforts of past presidents, both Republican and Democrat, our two nations, I believe, have finally and irreversibly started a new chapter of our history.

When I returned to government in 2009 to serve as Director of the CIA, I found a transformed United States-India relationship. We had acted together to get past our differences and re-establish better cooperation. It required that we get beyond our outdated notions about one another. And today, thanks to President Obama and Prime Minister Singh, along with Indian leaders from across the country's political spectrum, our two nations now engage actively and effectively as partners on a whole host of bilateral, regional and global issues.

President Obama has said that the United States and India will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, and I believe that to be true. Today we have growing economic, social, diplomatic ties that benefit both of our nations. But for this relationship to truly provide security for this region and for the world, we need to deepen our defense and security cooperation and this is why I have come to India.

America is at a turning point. After a decade of war, we are developing a new defense strategy for the 21st century, a central feature of that strategy is 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. Defense cooperation, defense cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy.

India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and, for that matter, in 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. We share a commitment to open access by all to our shared domains of sea, air, space and cyberspace. We share a commitment to resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force and in accordance with international law. We share a commitment to abide by international standards and international norms -- rules of the road, if you will -- which promote international stability and peace for the world. One of the ways we will advance these principles is to help develop the capabilities of countries who share these values, and India certainly 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 defense partnership and a plan for advancing it month by month and year by year. 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 is, 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 defense 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 defense relationship is growing ever more collaborative as we seek to do more -- more advanced research, more advanced development, share new technologies and enter into the joint production of defense articles.

Let me share my view on the progress we have made in each of these areas and outline additional steps that I believe we can take in the coming months and years. First of all, with regards to strategic cooperation, we've built a strong strategic relationship. That is the nature of the relationship between the United States and India. 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. We are honest in our discussions, something that has come to define the strength of our relationship.

During my two days here we discussed the new defense strategy that is guiding the United States military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. We also talked about 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, for governance and for economic affairs.

India has supported this process through its own significant investments in Afghan reconstruction and has signed a long-term partnership agreement with Afghanistan. We are making significant progress towards a successful transition. The United States now has an enduring partnership agreement with Afghanistan, and we are committed to the long term in assuring that Afghanistan is a stable nation in this region of the world.

I urge India's leaders to continue with additional support to Afghanistan through trade and investment, reconstruction and help for Afghan security forces. We both realize how important it is to ultimately have a stable Afghanistan if we are to have peace and prosperity in this region.

We also discussed India's immediate neighborhood. In particular, I welcomed the initial steps that India and Pakistan have taken to normalize trade relations. This is 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, complicated for both of our countries, but it is one that we must continue to work to improve.

And finally, we exchanged views about other key issues, like piracy and terrorism, tensions in the South China Sea, our concerns about Iran, about North Korea's destabilizing activities, and new challenges like cyber-intrusions and cyberwarfare.

Second, what is it we can do to improve a practical defense partnership? At a very practical level, our defense partnership is coming of age. Expanded military exercises, defense sales, 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, in which, I gather, all experienced a colorful occasion. One month later the SHATRUJEET exercise took place at Camp Pendleton in California, my home state, with amphibious operations and other exercises between U.S. Marines and Indian soldiers.

These engagements, these 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 weapons of mass destruction shipment or break up a terrorist plot or respond to a future tsunami.

We've also increased our defense sales relationship from virtually nothing early in the last decade to sales worth well over $8 billion today. Our sales are rapidly growing.

For example, India and the US have agreed to sales of maritime surveillance and transport aircraft. India will soon have the largest -- the second-largest fleet of C-17s in the world, expanding the reach and strength of India's forces and their ability to rapidly deploy. Your C-130J transport aircraft and P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft purchases are also historic. In fact, India and the United States will be the only countries operating the P-8I aircraft.

In providing such world-class 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.

The third area is defense collaboration.

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, 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 defense industries. Our shared goal should be to solidify progress and deepen defense engagement and cooperation in all of these areas.

So now let me turn to the future. At a strategic level, we have worked together to counter piracy, to counter terrorism, and now we should join forces to tackle new and even 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 cybersecurity and space. We need to develop rules of the road in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by state and nonstate actors alike.

In terms of regional security, our vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean region supported by growing Indian capabilities. America will do its part through doing things like rotating the presence of Marines in Australia. We will have littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore. And we will have other deployments in the region. But the fundamental challenge here is to develop India's capabilities so that it can respond to security challenges in this region.

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

As the United States and India deepen our defense 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 and prosperous and successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs and respects and enforces the international norms and international rules 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.

And to improve our practical cooperation, I do believe that the United States' and India's participation in military exercises, which are already strong, should continue to be more regular and complex. And we must move beyond a focus on individual arms sales to regular cooperation that increases the quantity and the quality of our defense trade.

I want to stress that the United States is firmly committed to providing the best defense technology possible to India. We are both leaders in technology development, and we can do incredible work together. Indeed, I think a close partnership with America will be key to meeting India's own stated names -- aims of a modern and effective defense force.

The Obama administration is hard at work on export control reforms, in cooperation with our Congress, in order to improve our ability to deliver the best technologies even more quickly. Meanwhile, we look to India to modernize its own regulations in areas like defense procurement and nuclear liability legislation.

But to realize the full potential of defense trade relations, we need to cut through the bureaucratic red tape on both sides. For that reason, I've asked my deputy secretary, Ash Carter, to lead an effort at the Pentagon to engage with Indian leaders on a new initiative to streamline our bureaucratic processes and make our defense trade more simple, more responsive and more effective.

Believe me, I know this is not going to be easy. This is hard. But that's the nature of the democratic systems that we share. Your leaders understand the challenges I face, and we understand the obstacles you face. But we both need to persevere to support our defense needs and our strategic interests. Over the long term, I am certain that we will transition our defense trade beyond the buyer-seller relationship to a substantial co-production and eventually high-technology joint research and development.

During my visit to Asia this week, I have sought to bring closure to some of the past chapters of the United States involvement in this region. The government of Vietnam opened three new areas to search for our missing in action from the Vietnam War.

And here in India, I'm pleased to announce that the Indian government will allow a team to return to India to continue the search for U.S. service members that were lost during World War II. This is a humanitarian gesture by a government with whom we share so many values. The ability to return these heroes and the remains of these heroes to their loved ones is something that America deeply, deeply appreciates.

America's involvement in Asia has an important past, but it has an even more important future. India is at the crossroads of Asia. It is at the crossroads of a new global economy, and it is at the crossroads of regional security. We, the United States, will stand with India at those crossroads.

I began my trip across the Asia-Pacific region eight days ago. Along the way, I have laid out how the United States military plans to rebalance towards this region. As I come to the end of my trip, I'm struck by the opportunities for closer cooperation, the strong support throughout this region for the rebalance, and the hope that this cooperation can help forge an even brighter future for this region and for the world.

The United States and India have built a strong foundation for defense cooperation in this new century. My country is committed to an even greater role in the Asia-Pacific, extending all the way to the Indian Ocean, and our attention and resources will advance partnerships throughout the region, including in particular a partnership with India.

Our two nations may not agree on the solution to every challenge that faces us. And we both face the challenge of political gridlock at home that sometimes prohibits advancing our broader strategic objectives. But I am sure that we will continue to draw closer -- closer together because we do share the same values, because the same challenges and threats confront both of our countries, and we share the same vision of a just and stable and peaceful regional order.

Our people, our businesses, our militaries and our governments will all be partners in this effort to serve the dream that guides both of our great democracies, the dream of building a better and more prosperous future for our children. Together as partners, we will help one another realize this great dream of the 21st century. Thank you.