An Indispensable U.S. Partnership With the World’s Largest Democracy

Posted by William J. Burns
May 28, 2010
Under Secretary William J. Burns With Indian Foreign Secretary Nirumpama Rao

About the Author: William J. Burns serves as Under Secretary for Political Affairs.

I was saddened to learn of today's train crash in West Bengal that claimed at least 70 lives and wounded more than 200 and extend my deep condolences to the families of the victims. India has been in my thoughts lately, following my recent return from New Delhi, where I held encouraging talks on May 24 with senior officials from the Indian government to prepare for next week's official launch of the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue.

Everywhere, I saw signs of India's dynamism. India's trillion dollar economy is churning out mass rapid transit systems, high tech office parks, and expressways at a pace unimagined only a few years ago. Delhi's airport is about to open one of the largest and most modern terminals in the world, to match the longest (and newest) runway in Asia. The newest part of greater Delhi, including the high tech boom town of Gurgaon, finds Indian and American firms designing, marketing, and supporting the latest innovations in the world of technology and services.

The rise of India is important and positive for American interests. I can't think of a global challenge today that doesn't require Indian cooperation -- climate change, counterterrorism, international economic stability, nuclear nonproliferation, economic growth and the list goes on. I had good discussions on all these issues while in Delhi. Not only do our countries share the same democratic values, but our leaders also share the same vision in shaping the 21st century. It wasn't a coincidence that President Obama invited Prime Minister Singh for the first State visit of his presidency last November, and the President will further advance our bilateral cooperation when he visits India later this year.

My discussions with National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao were rooted in our strong support for India's rise as a more consequential actor on the international stage. Indeed, the level and candor of our exchange on security developments in Asia, Africa and the Middle East reminded me a lot of conversations with some of our closest allies. Meanwhile, the planeload of "Blue Beret" Indian peacekeepers I saw waiting to embark at the airport when we arrived reminded me of India's growing military reach and its role as a provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.

At the working level, we've been identifying ways to expand the full range of our bilateral activities -- from defense and counterterrorism cooperation to export controls, the civil nuclear agreement, and collaboration in agriculture, health, education, and more. Foreign Secretary Rao hosted a lunch with other Indian Joint Secretaries in which we discussed regional and multilateral issues, to include our strong support for India's development efforts in Afghanistan and our plans to coordinate even more closely on United Nations issues.

During my meeting with Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan, we talked about the opportunities for technological cooperation leading up to and beyond the Strategic Dialogue, and the unique partnership between our countries in using technology for development. We're both excited about the extent and caliber of U.S.-India S&T collaboration, which spans the tiniest microbes to the vastness of outer space. I also had some interesting conversations with Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the dynamic Deputy Chairman of India's Planning Commission, on our cooperation in clean energy, weather forecasting, export controls and food security, and the high expectations for next month's meeting of the U.S.-India CEO's forum.

I'm confident that the knowledge societies of the United States and India, linked together, can be a force for major technological breakthroughs in the 21st century, improving the lives of Indians, Americans, and the global community in the process. I look forward to continuing these conversations with my Indian counterparts when they come to Washington, DC next week for the Strategic Dialogue, which will provide an important institutionalized mechanism for identifying and advancing our shared bilateral priorities and ensuring that what we do as governments keeps pace with the rapid growth of ties between our peoples, our companies, our NGOs and universities.



New Mexico, USA
May 29, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Under Secretary Burns,

Safe travels and best wishes for a productive trip.

I know our position is that Kashmir is a dispute among two of our friends we consider up to them to solve bilaterally, while being willing to help out if we can lend perspective.

So I hope you'll carry a simple thought along, and see what folks think about declaring Kashmir to be a "co-national park" someday and putting the soverign ownership issue to bed.

Share and share alike is the only way to resolve it I think.

Ashim C.
May 31, 2010

Ashim C. in India writes:

President Obama is going to attend the dinner in honour of Mr. Krisna India's foreign minister. Small gestures like Obama attending Krisna dinner hardly mean anything for India. Obama adminstration has scaled down it's relationship with India. It almost seems that if it had a choice, it would have dumped India. It may have it's compulsions created by it's overly committed interventions all round the world and India not supporting some of them.

One's sense is that US needs to revisit and reformulate the fundamental principles of it's foreign policy and listen to voice of conscience and leave behind it's policies of playing one country against other.

In South Asia and Asia Pacific region, that implies taking a principled stand on territorial and resource related issues which impede growth of peace and prosperity. That would not only go down well with Americans but also fit well it's numero uno status. This requires that US realises that it is not so big as to get other big countries to toe it's line. US has to understand important sensitivities of a country like India for sustainable business for which opportunities are endless. Only 250 million Indian middle class make India an engine of growth. Imagine a situation where, remaining 95 million or so also are economically empowered ... how much demand pull they would create goods and for all kinds of goods and services. India on it's part should truly open up it's market for US invstment in entire infrastructure and manufacturing sector, industrialised agriculture, food processing sector with attractive profit repatriation policy with on condition that 30% or so of the profit should be r-invested in India. Indian people shall be happy with fast growth with foreign and Indian capital without inflation and with foreign capital if Indian business fails to mobilise enough capital.

Basically, Indians are intrested in their economic and social empowerment through business in India per se and don't necssarily believe in business by Indians under an industrial policy that protects Indian industrialists, who have thrived on protection and patronage of state and not through competition.

R. H.
May 31, 2010

Hariharan in India writes:

As an Indian I was happy to see the positive tone in Under Secretary Burns blog on US-India relationship. We are quite familiar for sometime with such thoughts from American policy makers.

But I find it disappointing much of this remains only in thought and not in actions. I suppose one has to be philosophical about this as we are sharing a world of realpolitik and facing the tectonics of U.S. military entanglements in South Asia where thoughts are put in cold storage in the quest for quick results.

Suresh V.
June 1, 2010

Suresh R.V. in India writes:

It is true that India and the US have many dreams and policies in common, but the US attention to the common approaches gets diverted when conflicting other demands become more urgent for the US.This needs to be addressed.

New Mexico, USA
June 2, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Just watched your talk and discussion @ CFR and I thought it was a fair round-up of the various aspects and issues associated with the relationship and where we both want to go with it.

"Where do we go from here?" you pretty well covered in general terms.

Now I don't know that you may wish to satisfy the public curiosity on this one, but it's a logical follow-up.

"What's it look like when we get there from here?"

(noting that the kids in the back seat are pestering the driver..."Are we there yet?")

We build these partnerships to take on the challenges mankind faces to meet our collective responsibility to future generations, so what's lacking in the public discourse today is the great "what if?"

(and I know how fond of hypotheticals you State Dept. officials generally are on a consistant basis...chuckle)

I mean this is not a hypothetical reality we've created for ourselves here, simply as a matter of perspective. So what is it that we wish to create and can we reach out and touch change in real-time?

What happens when India and Pakistan are more concerned with who between them can plant the most trees in a single day in a rematch competition for the Guiness book of records, rather than the perception of whether we favor one or the other in our bilateral relations with either of them?

Now there's a state of trust I'd like to see reached.

What happens when no one in India or Pakistan no longer lives on two dollars per day (US)? But thrives on a living wage instead?

What does it look like when the distractions to human progress posed by terrorists and dictators are a thing of the past?

This Mr. Ambassador are the kind of questions Humanity thirsts for the answers to.

I don't need to tell you that we better get some soon.

From all parties concerned.

I offer this to you because being in the trenches and concerned on a daily basis of the nuts and bolts of putting agreements together, and the timeline involved in getting there from here, you know the time it may take isn't exactly compatible with the nature of instant gratification where that concerns the human condition, or the condition of the global commons.

Part of that is what it is, the other is mostly what we make of it.

So it really doesn't matter whether anyone ever creates a "co-national park" and solves the Kashmir issue that way, so long as everyone agrees that it is in everyone's selfish national interest to treat the entire planet and all the species on it as if we all lived in one.

Such a discussion with Humanity would make the President's speech at Prague seem like introductory remarks.

I tend to think if he got 6 hours of uninterupted media coverage he could lay out that vision in a comprehensive way that would tie up some loose ends and bring clarity of direction to the public understanding.

A public round table with world leaders like he did with Congress on health care?

Now that would serve to move mountains I think.

It's one thing for governments to understand, it's another for peoples to come to understanding.


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