How To Make The President's Visit To India More Than A Public Display Of Affection
Thanks to the vision and foresight of Democrats and Republicans in the United States and of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Parties in India, hors d'oeuvres have been served and we have finally been invited to dinner.
When President Obama travels to India next week to be the chief guest at the country's Republic Day celebrations, he'll be the first American president to receive the honor. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation in itself is groundbreaking, because even though the India-U.S. relationship has transformed over the past decade, the legacy of mistrust established during the Cold War and into the early 1990s made it difficult for many Indian politicians to publicly affirm the depth of the partnership.
In some ways, Modi's invite is akin to being invited to meeting your significant other's parents for dinner after several years of courtship. And more importantly for India's role in the world, the invitation is a sign that India's foreign policy is taking a new path, one that doesn't rely on the non-alignment trajectory of the past, but highlights India's vision for the future.
The visit presents an opportunity for the United States to match India's public embrace with some fresh ideas of our own. Trade, defense, and climate and energy will be high on the agenda, as it should be for the two leaders. But I also believe the United States and India must find ways to undo some of the mistrust that remains in order to take this partnership to the next level.
In 1994, when we established the Congressional India Caucus I don't think anyone could have imagined the transformation that has occurred in the U.S.-India relationship. This evolution will be front and center on Monday, when President Obama and Prime Minister Modi will watch the display of Indian military hardware parade down Delhi's Rajpath Boulevard. Though historically the majority of India's arms were supplied by Russia, Washington surpassed Moscow as India's top arms supplier in 2013, with $1.9 billion in sales to New Delhi.
Since 2005, when the U.S. and India signed a 10-year defense framework agreement – and I hope the agreement's renewal is announced during the visit -- there has been steady progress in the defense relationship. Our governments now engage in regular defense dialogues; India does more military exercises with the United States than with any other country; and by some estimates, India will need to procure upwards of $100 billion in military hardware over the next decade, providing many opportunities for job-creating exports from the U.S.
But in order to advance the partnership, we must move beyond the supplier-purchaser dynamic and support India's desire to establish an indigenous defense capability through the proposed Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). The DTTI, which focuses on the co-production and co-development of defense technologies, represents a significant shift in U.S. thinking about technology transfers to India. It is my hope that the President's trip can result in an announcement of our first co-production initiative. This will not be easy, but increasing cooperation and interdependence between our militaries will result in a U.S.-India relationship of greater consequence.
And as we look to India to play a larger role globally, we must engage with New Delhi on a variety of regional issues. In Asia, with India's engagement eastward and the U.S. role as a Pacific power, I believe our national security interests naturally align. The U.S. and India should join with the other democracies of the region, including Japan and Australia, and restart the quadrilateral process.
Additionally, an India that is well-integrated into the economic architecture of the Asia Pacific region is good for the United States and the region. We should seek a formal role for India in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. This will not only strengthen APEC by bringing in one of the most dynamic economies in the region, but it would help the Indians become a positive contributor to and a guarantor of APEC's high standards on trade and investment.
Beyond its near neighborhood, we should expand cooperation with India in other parts of the world, including in the Americas, whether it is creating a trilateral dialogue between the United States, India and some of our Pacific Alliance partners, or working with the Organization of American States (where India is an observer state) to ensure that a senior level Indian official is invited to events surrounding the Summit of the Americas which will be held in Panama this April.
When it comes to building trust, it's time the U.S. address the longstanding issue of our aid to Pakistan, who India believes continues to support terrorist groups that attack India. Though India should not have a veto over American foreign assistance programs, I do believe the U.S. can do more to address India's legitimate concern over Pakistan-based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LET) that continue to operate with virtual impunity.
The transformation that is occurring in the U.S.-India relationship has been years in the making. All is not perfect. We will continue to have challenges and find areas where our interests diverge. But thanks to the vision and foresight of Democrats and Republicans in the United States and of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Parties in India, hors d'oeuvres have been served and we have finally been invited to dinner.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives