Panetta Says US-India Relations Must Deepen, Grow for Peace

US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony in Delhi, India, June 6, 2012

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NEW DELHI – The US-India relationship must deepen and grow to truly provide security for the Asia-Pacific region and the world, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses here on Wednesday.

Panetta met with Indian leaders to explore ways to expand the defense and security relationship between the two natural allies. His speech at the institute, the oldest Indian defense think tank, was to inform opinion-makers of the background behind the new strategic guidance and why it is important to both countries.

The secretary is building on President Barack Obama’s statement that the relationship between the United States and India “will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

The United States is at a turning point, Panetta said, and it is now rebalancing its military forces in the critical Asia-Pacific region. Earlier in Singapore, the secretary announced that 60 percent of the US naval fleet would be based in the Asia-Pacific. “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,” Panetta said in prepared remarks.

Defense cooperation with India is a linchpin in this strategy, he said. India is one of the largest and most dynamic countries in the region and the world, with one of the most capable militaries. The Indian military has more than 1.3 million members on active service and another 1 million in reserve. In addition, the countries share a set of values.

“We share a commitment to open and free commerce; to open access by all to our shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and to resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force, in accordance with international law,” Panetta said.

The two nations also share a commitment to abide by international standards and norms — “rules of the road” — that promote international peace and stability, the secretary said.

The two countries also face many of the same threats. Panetta listed the challenges coming 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,” he said.

The two militaries have built a strong foundation; US and Indian troops from all services routinely exercise together. And Indian forces participate in United Nations missions.

But more should be done. “In particular, I believe our relationship can and should become more strategic, more practical, and more collaborative,” Panetta said.

The US-Indian defense cooperation is strategic in that the two nations consult and share views on all major regional and international security developments. “Our defense policy exchanges are now regular, candid and invaluable,” he said.

The military exercises and exchanges now underway show the relationship is practical and “our defense relationship is growing ever more collaborative as we seek to do more advanced research and development, share new technologies and enter into joint production of defense articles,” the secretary said.

At a strategic level, the United States and India have worked to counter piracy and terrorism. Panetta wants to expand that cooperation. “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,” he said. “We need to develop ‘rules of the road’ in these domains to help confront dangerous activities by states and non-state actors alike.”

Within the region, the US vision is a peaceful Indian Ocean supported by growing Indian military capabilities. “America will do its part through the rotational presence of Marines in Australia, littoral combat ships rotating through Singapore and other U.S. military deployments in the region,” he said.

China is obviously a factor in the region, and Panetta said both India and the United States must do all they can to strengthen relations with China. “We recognize that China has a critical role to play advancing security and prosperity in this region,” he said. “The United States welcomes the rise of a strong, prosperous and a successful China that plays a greater role in global affairs — and respects and enforces the international norms that have governed this region for six decades.”

Pakistan is another regional player that must be kept in mind. The Indians have fought three major wars with Pakistan since 1947. “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,” the secretary said.

On a practical aspect, Panetta wants US-Indian military exercises to become more regular and more complex.

India and the United States may not always agree on every aspect of their relationship, Panetta said. But the two nations share so much in common that they are natural partners.

“Our two nations may not agree on the solution to every challenge facing us, and we both face the challenge of political gridlock at home that sometimes prohibits advancing our broader strategic objectives,” he said.

“But I am sure that we will continue to draw closer together because we share the same values, the same challenges and threats, and the same vision of a just, stable and peaceful regional order,” Panetta concluded.

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