U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following remarks on the U.S.-India strategic partnership at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. Senator McCain visited India this past July.
“I was very pleased when Carnegie invited me back to this important institution to speak about India, the United States, and our strategic partnership. The last time I had that opportunity was nearly four years ago, on the eve of President Obama’s trip to India. Much has happened in that time – some good, some not so good – and I believe we have reached a key inflection point in this vital relationship.
“The election of Prime Minister Modi has transformational potential – for India and our partnership. Indians are hungry for bold change, and they gave a once-in-a-generation mandate to a leader who is eager to deliver it. This change will likely extend to India’s foreign policy, including its relationship with the United States.
“I met Prime Minister Modi in July, and my impression is that he sees a strategic partnership with America as integral to his domestic goal of revitalizing India, economically and geopolitically – and that India’s revitalization can, in turn, help to re-invigorate our partnership. The Prime Minister and I agreed that this goal is much needed, because recently, our partnership has not lived up to its potential.
“Too often, our relationship has felt like a laundry list of initiatives, some quite worthy, that amounts to no more than the sum of its parts. Too often, we have been overly driven by domestic politics and overly focused on extracting concessions from one another, rather than investing in one another’s success and defining priorities that can bring clarity and common purpose to our actions. In short, our strategic relationship has unfortunately devolved recently into a transactional one.
“My sense is that Prime Minister Modi wants India to do its part to change this – and that he wants India and the United States to lift our sights once again, to think bigger and do bigger things together. I fully agree. And I see the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States this month as an opportunity to re-new our partnership and regain a proper strategic focus. That is what I would like to speak about today.
“To re-energize our strategic partnership, we first need to recall why we embarked on this endeavor in the first place. It was not for run-of-the-mill reasons. We always had grander ambitions: We affirmed that India and the United States, two democratic great powers, can and should lead the 21st century in sustaining a liberal, rules-based international order, supported by a favorable balance of power.
“This world order – which the United States has played an exceptional role in building, defending, and strengthening since World War II – has contributed to the greatest ever expansion of free societies, free markets, free trade, free commons, and global security. The benefits of this international order for India and the United States are difficult to overstate. At the same time, the global distribution of power is shifting substantially, and we recognize that, while U.S. leadership remains indispensable, we increasingly need willing and capable partners that share our interests and values to serve as fellow shareholders in the maintenance of a rules-based international order. This will, of course, include traditional U.S. allies, but more than ever, we look to a democratic great power like India.
“This is because India and the United States share not only strategic interests, but also values – the values of individual liberty, democracy, critical thinking, social mobility, and entrepreneurialism. These shared values are ultimately what give us confidence that India’s continued rise as a democratic great power will be peaceful, and that it can advance critical U.S. national interests. That is why, contrary to the old dictates of realpolitik, we seek not to curb the rise of India, but to catalyze it.
“In this way, the progress of our partnership has always been more about national interests than the personalities involved, and it has enjoyed consistent bipartisan support in both countries. Our strategic partnership began with closer cooperation between a Democratic Administration in Washington and a BJP-led government in New Delhi. It deepened dramatically during the last decade under a Republican Administration and a Congress-led government. It reached historic heights with the conclusion of our civil nuclear agreement – thanks to the bold leadership of President Bush and Prime Minister Singh. And now it has a historic opportunity for renewal and growth under a Democratic President and a BJP Prime Minister.
“It is worth recalling this original sense of purpose in our partnership, because I fear we have lost much it in recent years. And there is blame on both sides.
“Here in Washington, there is a sense that too often the relationship has not met our admittedly high expectations. From trade disputes to setbacks in our civil nuclear agreement, there have been impediments and disappointments – all of which were compounded by the past several years of economic slowdown and political gridlock in Delhi. This is why many of us see Prime Minister Modi’s election as such an opportunity. Though challenges of bureaucracy, capacity, and at times ideology will persist, this is a chance for India to rebuild its confidence and grow more ambitious and strategic in its relationship with the United States.
“However, this depends on India’s confidence that a partnership with America is worth investing in. And my sense is that some in India are starting to have doubts.
“Many Indians I have met are concerned that the United States seems distracted and unreliable, especially in its relations with India. They are concerned that President Obama’s declared ‘pivot to Asia’ seems to be more rhetoric than reality, in large part due to devastating cuts to U.S. defense capabilities under sequestration. They are concerned that U.S. disengagement from the Middle East has created a vacuum that extremism and terrorism are filling. They are concerned by perceptions of U.S. weakness in the face of Russian aggression and Chinese provocation. And most of all, they are concerned by President Obama’s plan to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2017, which Indians believe will foster disorder and direct threats to India.
“Obviously, I am sympathetic to these concerns, which are shared by many other U.S. partners. But I recount this not to score partisan points, but because we must recognize that policies and actions such as these are imposing costs on India, and potentially reducing the value of a partnership with America in Indian eyes.
“Indeed, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran suggested as much recently: ‘[T]he post Second World War international order,’ he said, ‘created and dominated by the U.S. and its Western allies, [is] being steadily and relentlessly dismantled.’ He concluded that the value of the U.S. role in Asia has ‘diminished.’ That is a serious charge from a longstanding proponent of our partnership and the head of India’s National Security Council Advisory Board.
“The question, then, is: What do we do about this? How can we rebuild the strategic focus of our partnership? I would like to offer two broad suggestions.
“First, India and the United States need to think more ambitiously about how we can invest in each other and improve our capacity to work together. As I have said before, the United States wants Prime Minister Modi to succeed because we want India to succeed. For our part, when India thinks of its partners in the world, we want it to think of the United States first. That means positioning our country as the preferred provider of the key inputs that can help to propel India’s rise.
“The United States should be India’s preferred partner on energy. America is now unlocking transformational new supplies of oil and natural gas, and India’s demand for both is rising. It is in the U.S. interest for democratic partners like India to gain greater access to our energy, which can help them reduce their dependence on unstable or problematic energy suppliers. This will be difficult, and may require legislative changes, but the economic and strategic benefits would be immense.
“We should also be India’s preferred partner for economic growth – spanning education, human capital and infrastructure development, and especially trade and investment. Our government cannot direct these private activities, as others can, but U.S. companies and capital are always looking for opportunities, and they will go where they find transparent governance, effective institutions, rule of law, and a favorable regulatory environment. In this way, Prime Minister Modi’s domestic reform agenda can help to attract greater U.S. trade and investment. And these U.S. ventures can, in turn, reinforce the Prime Minister’s domestic reform agenda.
“Our governments are currently negotiating a Bilateral Investment Treaty, which is worthwhile. But why not aim instead for a Free Trade Agreement? India and the United States have, or are negotiating, FTAs with every other major global trading partner, so we are on course to discriminate only against one another. How does that make sense? Our goal should be to produce a roadmap for concluding an FTA and to start negotiating it. We could then work toward India’s integration into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, once it is finalized. Would this also be extremely hard? Of course. But the same was said of our civil nuclear agreement, and we did it.
“We should be India’s preferred partner on defense issues as well. Our militaries must work more closely to sustain a favorable balance of power in key parts of the world. This means building new habits of strategic consultation and cooperation. It means developing a common operating picture and conducting joint exercises in all domains to build real military power on both sides. It means America being willing to transfer technology to India that can make its defense acquisitions more effective, and India being able to protect these capabilities as U.S. law requires.
“It also means arms sales, but more than that, it should mean joint development and production of leading-edge military systems. Anti-tank missiles, as envisioned in the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative, would be a good start. But when the Prime Minister and President meet this month, I hope they lay out more ambitious joint ventures, like shipbuilding and maritime capabilities, even aircraft carriers.
“In these ways, we can support India’s rise as a fast-growing, innovative economy, a flourishing society, a modern military, and a more influential global actor—all of which can benefit us. What should follow, then, is an ambitious strategic agenda to shore up a rules-based international order that supports our common security and prosperity. This will require us to prioritize three areas of the world.
“First, South Asia, which Prime Minister Modi has clearly made a top priority. He seems to recognize, correctly, that India’s global ambitions can be hindered if fires keep breaking out close to home. This is another reason why a secure South Asia is in our interest, and why India and the United States must work together to achieve it. Most immediately, we should increase our counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing. But ultimately, enduring security in South Asia depends on civilian-led democracy and an open regional trading order. These values create an alignment of interests among peoples across the region. Strengthening these supporters of a rules-based international order is the best way to weaken our opponents, especially violent extremists and their persistent sponsors in Pakistan.
“Another strategic priority should be the Middle East, where threats to our security, our interests, and our values have never been greater. Indeed, Al-Qaeda’s recent establishment of an affiliate in India is perhaps the clearest reminder of the vital stake that our nations have in a stable Middle East. This growing threat seems to be sparking an evolution of thinking in New Delhi, which can and should be the basis of expanded cooperation—diplomatic, economic, and military. Imagine the signal India would send if it joined the emerging international coalition to confront ISIS.
“Beyond material things, India has something even more unique and valuable to offer the Middle East. The region has rarely been more divided and polarized, with people told they must choose either anarchy or tyranny, murderous fanatics or secular strongmen, ethnic and sectarian chauvinists or death at their hands. These are false choices that will only lead the Middle East deeper into ruin, and the living embodiment that there is a better way – a democratic, pluralistic, moderate way – is India. Is India’s democracy perfect? Or course not. Neither is ours. And that is the point: We strive for these values even as we fall short of them at times, and when we do, our values help us correct ourselves. Promoting these values in the Middle East is a natural role for India, and it makes India a natural partner for us.
“A final strategic priority is East Asia and the Pacific, where the key challenge to a liberal, rules-based international order comes more from strong states and growing geopolitical rivalries than weak states and non-state actors, as in the Middle East.
“The idea that Asia’s future will be determined by the rise of any one country is wrong. Across this vast region, more people live under democracy than any other form of government. And more states, democratic or otherwise, increasingly see the value of a rules-based international order and the need to play a greater role in sustaining it. For this reason, we see increasing strategic cooperation of every kind in the Asia-Pacific region between the United States and its treaty allies, especially Japan and Australia, but also between these countries and emerging powers such as Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and of course, India. Indeed, the growing partnership between India and Japan is perhaps most encouraging.
“India and the United States must play a leading role, both together and with other like-minded states, to strengthen a rules-based international order and a favorable balance of power in Asia. None of this means that India or the United States seeks to antagonize or exclude China. In fact, the India-U.S. strategic partnership, in all its forms – diplomatic, economic, military, and on behalf of our values – is critical to encouraging China to rise peacefully in the present order, rather than trying to change the status quo unilaterally and coercively. More provocative to China than any of this is the perception that India and America are weak and divided.
“Whether it is steps our countries can take to enhance our influence, or to project our influence together, the meeting this month between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama is, and must be, an opportunity for true strategic dialogue – not a scripted exchange of talking points, but an open discussion of the big questions. What kind of world do we want to live in? What are our true priorities amid a large bilateral agenda? And most importantly, why does this partnership still matter?
“Now, as always, there will be skeptics on both sides. There will be Americans who tell their President that this whole strategic partnership is overhyped, that India will never really get its act together, and that it cannot be trusted to cooperate with us in a meaningful way. I’m sure there will also be Indians who tell their Prime Minister that drawing closer to the United States is a net liability, that America is in decline, and that it is increasingly unable and unwilling to exert resolute global leadership.
“We need to refute these skeptics, because it would be disastrous for both countries if we fail to reach our full potential as strategic partners. For India, it would mean squandering perhaps the greatest external factor that can facilitate and accelerate its comprehensive rise to power. And for the United States, it would mean missing an irreplaceable opportunity to shape the emergence of a global power that could lead the liberal international order together with us long into the 21st century. In other words, the stakes are high, and each country has to do its part if we are to succeed.
“The President and Prime Minister must know that our relationship will continue to face short-term frustrations, and setbacks, and disappointments. But ultimately, this strategic partnership is about India and the United States placing a long-term bet on one another – a bet that each of us should be confident can offer a big return.
“Americans should have confidence in India. It will soon become the world’s most populous nation. It has a young, increasingly skilled workforce. It is one of the world’s largest economies. It is a nuclear power that possesses the world’s second largest military, which is growing more capable and technologically sophisticated. And India is a democracy, which does not mean its economic and social challenges are less daunting, but it does mean India is more flexible, more responsive, and ultimately better able to address those challenges than its undemocratic peers.
“Indians should also have confidence in America. Our economy remains the most dynamic driver of global growth. Our society remains virtually limitless in its capacity for reinvention, innovation, and assimilating new talent. Our institutions of higher education remain the envy of the world. Our military remains the most capable, combat-proven on earth. And we now have vast new supplies of energy.
“And for those who still have doubts, just recall Winston Churchill, who may not be viewed fondly in India, but who got this country right when he said, ‘You can always rely on Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.’
“Ultimately, India and the United States should have confidence in one another, and in the promise of their strategic partnership, because of our common capacity for renewal, which derives from our shared democratic values. It is this shared virtue that enables us to ask ourselves hard questions, to change when change is needed, to imagine how tomorrow can be better than today, to take risks and make it so. As long as our nations stay true to these values, there is no dispute we cannot resolve, no challenge we cannot overcome, and nothing we cannot accomplish together.”