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Ambassador Arun K Singh's Address at 20th Wharton India Economic Forum on "Evolving India-U.S. Relations" on March 26, 2016

A few years ago, President Obama characterized the India-U.S. relationship as a 'defining partnership of the 21st Century'. Prime Minister Modi has termed our partnership as a 'natural alliance'. Our strategic convergence and the global importance of this convergence are captured in our diplomatic moniker: a Global Strategic Partnership.

Our partnership did not always appear so destined. Indeed, just three decades ago, such an alignment of interests between the two countries – located in two entirely different parts of the world, with little commercial or cultural interaction and divided by the politics of the Cold War --- was simply unthinkable. This makes the transformation of the India-U.S. relations in the last three decades so fascinating.

Relations between nations obviously evolve on the basis of common characteristics, common values and common interests.  I would, therefore, identify first those fundamental attributes between our nations that have made it worthy of mutual investment. Then, I will trace the trajectory of the effort over several decades to underline the importance of nurturing this continuously and with sensitivity. Finally, I will recount to you a few products of this partnership to show the promises it holds for the future of the world, and not only for our two countries.

India and the U.S. are often referred to as the world's largest and oldest democracies respectively. What further distinguishes our two democracies is our unique position as multi-cultural and pluralistic societies.  U.S. has been described as a melting pot of diverse races and ethnicities.  India in its thousands of years of civilization has thrived by fully embracing diversity.  

Another common attribute of India and the U.S. is our strong adherence and commitment to strategic autonomy. We are both proud nations. The U.S. as a young nation had sought to avoid ‘entangling alliances’, resisting the temptation to take the easy way of aligning with the strong power of the day. Even today the tradition in US of taking decisions in its own interest is widely emphasized.  For India, similarly, the choice of ‘non-alignment’ during the Cold War was not easy, but necessary to preserve the autonomy of our decision-making.   Post cold-war, we have consciously sought to deepen our relations with all the major poles in the world, to enhance the space for the strategic autonomy of our decision making.

A third common feature between the Indian and American democracies is the energy of our peoples. Both our countries cherish enterprise and our 1.5 billion peoples are always eager to create new ideas and generate new wealth. The U.S. has maintained its competitive and creative edge for successive generations. India is still at early stages, but is now the world’s fastest growing economy, and recognized the world over for cost effect R&D, and new dynamism in innovation and start-ups.


The history of the first five decades of our relationship could well be described as one of uneasy intersection between the U.S. pursuit of its global security interests, using a network of alliances, and India striving to consolidate its hard won independence by putting premium on political sovereignty and rapid economic development. Free enterprise and trade was deeply embedded in American thinking whereas India, in the initial years, relied heavily on state-led development and self-sufficiency.  The early years of our relationship were marked by important economic assistance from the US to India. In 1951, the U.S. Congress passed legislation at President Truman's request that began food aid that continued for the next two decades.  The Eisenhower era saw the start of our civil nuclear cooperation, and some understanding of India's industrialization ambitions. In the Kennedy period, aid levels grew and there was collaboration in key infrastructure projects in irrigation, energy, fertilizer and skills development, not least the now-famous IIT at Kanpur. President Johnson personally took interest in India’s Green Revolution, as he saw in that another facet of his Great Society initiative.

Yet, these measures of U.S. support for India’s needs and development were not fully matched by an appreciation and sympathy for India’s security concerns, except to some extent during the India-China war in 1962. Differences became apparent early in Truman administration, and Cold War geopolitical considerations at the State Department became even more pronounced under John Foster Dulles. President Johnson held up shipments of foodgrain to India to express displeasure for our position on the Vietnam War. The Nixon Administration put competition with the USSR above support for democracy and did not anticipate the longer term negative impact of sending a U.S aircraft carrier, described by many as a message to India, for her support for liberation of Bangladesh. The Carter period witnessed the twin challenges of nuclear differences and the Afghan war. While engagement improved under Reagan and then Bush, structural limitations imposed by the Cold War prevented more serious policy outcomes.

In India, American democracy was always much admired among the public. Our founding fathers drew from the US experience while framing our constitution, but adapting it to our circumstance.

In the last two decades, the world has changed through profound political, economic, social, demographic or technological transformation --- thus slowly but surely bringing our immediate interests also more in alignment and in line with our long-term commitment to shared values.

This has been made possible also by the onset of globalization, Asia’s resurgence and the emergence of international terrorism as a major global challenge.

One manifestation of higher rates of economic growth in post-liberalization India is the substantial expansion of the middle class, which not only drew more American companies to India but created the basis for a serious services industry that made possible significant service trade between our two countries. The growth of the Indian American community has also had an impact in the 1990s. The U.S. is seen as the land of opportunity, helping forge a favourable public opinion in India for the U.S. The three million strong Indian-American community has also emerged as a potent force within the U.S. --- economically, culturally, politically and socially, by dint of their enterprise, sense of discipline, intellectual attainment and professional achievements --- helping shape a positive perception of India in this country. It is a result of all these factors that while three U.S. Presidents visited India in the first 50 years of India’s existence as an independent nation, in the last 15 years, all the three U.S. Presidents have paid four visits to India. President Obama has been the first U.S. President to visit India twice in his tenure, and the first to visit on our National Day, the Republic Day.

The Kargil conflict of 1999 had provided an opportunity for the Clinton Administration to begin a course correction. The civil nuclear deal under President Bush, requiring the passage of laws to remove impediments not just for civil nuclear cooperation but indirectly for defence, space and high technology, saw a new beginning. The Obama Administration has consolidated those shifts and embraced India as a global player and a like-minded nation, whether to safeguard maritime security or to address climate change or to promote global health. Mutual perceptions adjusted too, of India as a responsible power and of the US as one resident in Asia Pacific.

Since his election in May 2014, Prime Minister Modi has visited the U.S. twice and is going to be back here next week for the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C.

The first-ever vision statement of our countries was issued in September 2014, during Prime Minister's visit.   A Delhi Declaration, adopted during President Obama’s visit further elevated our strategic partnership. A Joint Strategic Vision unveiled at that time reflected their common goals for the dynamic Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, building on the congruence of India's "Act East" policy and the U.S. 're-balance' to Asia.

Defence is also an area where the impact of a robust India-U.S. partnership has been obvious. In 2015, our countries upgraded and renewed the 10-year Defence Cooperation Framework. When our Defence Minister came here last December, he became the first serving Defence Minister of India to visit the headquarters of the U.S. PACOM, as well as the first Defence Minister to land on a U.S. aircraft carrier. We have started the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative to foster collaboration in transformative defence technology, co-production and co-development. India has contracted nearly US$14 billion worth of defence items from the U.S. in the past few years. Armed Forces of India and the U.S. conduct now more exercises with each other than they do with any other country bilaterally.

Our security agencies are working together to fight transnational crimes, from physical to the digital. Our officials are sharing best practices to make our cities safe and secure, tapping knowledge and resources to prevent counterfeiting, to ensure security of supply chains. Our cooperation in counter-terrorism, intelligence-sharing and homeland security has made great strides in the last decade, arising from our common resolve against terrorism. 

In the promising field of nuclear energy cooperation, we continue to make steady progress.

U.S. has emerged as India’s largest trading partner in goods and services, with a total trade volume of US$120 billion - rising five-fold in 15 years, and our leaders have set their target on increasing the trade volume by five times in the years ahead. American investment in India has jumped from less than US$ 8 billion in 2004 to US$ 28 billion today. In fact U.S. investors’ direct investment in Indian equities has arisen 71.4% from US$ 7 billion in September 2013 to US$ 12 billion in December 2015.  India is also emerging as one of the fast growing sources of FDI into the U.S.   Over 500 American companies are active in India today, as are 200 Indian companies here. A survey last year of 100 Indian companies operating in this country has shown that they have created more than 90000 jobs and made tangible investment of over US$15 billion here, with plans to do much more.

We have a strong energy partnership covering oil and gas, renewable energy, coal, energy efficiency and nuclear energy. Each of these have seen several practical outcomes. The India-U.S. PACE programme --- Partnership to Advance Clean Energy ---- has created avenues for joint research and deployment of clean energy resources, such as solar, advanced biofuels, shale gas, and smart grids.  Joint Centres on Clean Energy Research and Development have brought best institutions in the two countries together.

The meeting of minds between the leaders of India and the U.S. was critical to the successful conclusion of the Paris Conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December last year, helping us find a way to address challenges of climate change without ignoring the legitimate concern about energy access and developmental aspirations of large groups of people.

Our engagement in the economic and financial sectors has attained much more heft. To raise investment by institutional investors and corporate entities, we have established an India-U.S. Investment Initiative, as well as an Infrastructure Collaboration Platform. The U.S. industry will be the lead partner in developing three smart cities in Ajmer, Vishakhapatnam and Allahabad. USAID will serve as a knowledge partner to support the Indian Prime Minister's 500 Cities National Urban Development Mission and Clean India Campaign.

Today, Indian and American scientists are engaged in jointly funded research, from atoms to space, combining India’s talent with American infrastructure, and transforming lives of millions around the world. Collaboration in monsoon forecasting has brought tangible benefits to Indian farmers. In space sector, India’s Mars and Moon Missions have benefitted from collaboration with the U.S. A third gravitational wave observatory will be established in India, which will be the first such observatory outside the U.S., reflecting our partnership in frontier science.

A Regional Global Disease Detection Centre has been set up in Delhi based on U.S. experience and with U.S. partnership. The U.S. support to surveillance of diseases in India was instrumental in making India polio-free; now our collaboration is intended to accelerate control of measles and rubella. We have successfully collaborated for a locally produced vaccine against rotavirus, which will save the lives of an estimated 80,000 children each year in India alone. We have begun cooperation in setting up world-class cancer research and diagnostics facility in India.

More than a million of our citizens are travelling in both directions every year. Indian students in U.S. universities like this one contribute over US$ 4.5 billion through tuition fees, and more to the local economy, in addition to enriching intellectual and social life in campuses. U.S. institutions will partner India for the creation of a new IIT.  India has offered to host up to 1,000 academics each year to teach in centrally-recognized Indian Universities.   

There is universal recognition in both our countries of the necessity to make the India-U.S. Global Strategic Partnership truly global in outlook, strategic in content and transformative for India's development. The U.S. on its part was quick to offer to partner with India in realizing the goals that our current Government set for India's transformation, and as a result, the narrative in our relations has begun to reflect newfound energy and optimism. The challenges that we are taking up together --- development and deployment of clean energy through joint research, climate resilience partnership, conservation of biodiversity, high energy physics, synthetic aperture radar, fight against Ebola and development of affordable vaccine, agricultural productivity, and disaster preparedness --- are global in scale.

As India unveils ambitious and transformative economic programmes at home --- be it infrastructure, smart cities, Make in India, Digital India and renewable energy --- the potential for doing business with India and to work for India's rise as an economic powerhouse has looked appealing for the U.S.. We see the U.S. as an indispensible partner in achieving these goals, which are intrinsic to our national vision.By investing in India's rise, the U.S. has pledged its friendship to a country where 800 million youth under the age of 35 years are impatient for change and eager to achieve it.

Going forward, it is certain that India and the U.S. will look at each other with greater degree of understanding than in the past. Public opinion in each country about the other, particularly among the youth, has shifted clearly in a favorable direction. However, we need to remain alive to the challenges of managing an expanding relationship without sufficient past history of deep engagement.

Problems and differences will inevitably arise from time to time.  They will need to be addressed and managed keeping in mind mutual interests and a longer term framework.