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India-US Relations in the Emerging Global Environment

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India

Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India

Asia Society, New York
September 22, 2003

It is a pleasure to be here with Asia Society again. Five years ago, I addressed you on India-US relations. India was then facing a difficult international environment; and that included our relations with USA. Even then, I described India and USA as natural allies. I would like to return to that theme today, to reflect on the transformation in India-US relations, and on the global environment in which this transformation has taken place.

The end of the Cold War encouraged hopes of a rare era in history, when international relations would no longer be defined by great power rivalries. There may be differences on issues and disagreements on approaches, but conflict and confrontation do not overshadow the relations among great and emerging powers. There are debates on whether the international order will be unipolar or multipolar. There are questions about the balance between national interest and international responsibility; about national sovereignty and international obligations. These debates are inevitable, since we are still in the process of shaping the contours of the post-Cold War era.

Another dominant theme of our times is the interdependence of nations, accentuated by technological changes and economic inter-linkages. Globalization has touched every sphere of our activity.

The end of the Cold War had kindled hopes of an enduring era of security and stability. This has not happened. Instead, new political problems and security challenges have been thrust upon us.

Through all these uncertainties, we still have a unique opportunity today to shape global politics and international relations within a framework of plurality and equality, based on consensus, compassion, coexistence and cooperation. This cooperative world has to be development-oriented, to accommodate the interests of all.

To achieve this goal requires cooperation among democracies of the world to tackle the challenges, which have survived the Cold War, and those, which have arisen more recently.

Continued terrorist attacks around the world remind us that the global war against terrorism, which commenced after the tragedy of 9/11, is far from over. Our long-term strategy to combat it should have four broad elements:

  • One, a concert of democracies acting in cohesion. A threat against one should be seen as a threat against all.
  • Two, Consistency of approach in demanding from all countries, the same high standards in combating terrorism.
  • Three, continuity of resolve, and clarity of purpose. We should not be drawn into the grey zone of conflicting policy objectives, which condone ambiguous positions on terrorism.
  • Four, to win the war against terror, we have to win the war of ideas. We have to expand the constituency of democracy by promoting the ideals of freedom, democracy, rule of law and tolerance, which are our defining strengths.

The post cold war age has also seen a significant proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. Today, the threat of their falling into terrorists’ hands looms large. The existing regimes for non-proliferation rigorously audit the performance of responsible states, but do not touch the proliferators. An honest reappraisal is required.

The structure of international political, security and economic institutions, established nearly sixty years ago, needs to be reviewed from the perspective of today’s realities and future needs. Our international trade negotiations should place the development agenda at the centre of attention. We should not let status quo tendencies sabotage the long-term gains of genuine change.

Iraq and Afghanistan are two immediate test cases of our efforts to build a world order based on cooperation and partnership. In both cases, the way we address these challenges will have far-reaching implications for our common future.

In Iraq, we have to develop an international consensus, which accelerates the political, economic and security transformation in that country. In Afghanistan, we need to complete the work commenced by the Bonn process, and help its government to completely wipe out the remnants of Taliban, to establish full control over the entire country and to progress as scheduled towards national elections.

The future of Iraq and Afghanistan is vital for their citizens, but will equally have far-reaching implications for the region and for the world.

On many of these global challenges, India and USA share similar perspectives. We see our growing partnership with the United States of America as an important element in our efforts for a dynamic and cooperative multipolar world order. India-USA relations have undergone a major transformation in recent years. The strength of this relationship derives from a greater understanding of our basic commonalities. The end of the Cold War has enabled us to enhance our engagement, based also on a convergence of many geopolitical perspectives.

In March 2000, President Clinton and I agreed that India and USA would be partners in peace in the new century, and share a common responsibility for ensuring regional and international security.

In November 2001, President Bush and I affirmed our commitment to transforming our bilateral relationship. We agreed that we should try to give this partnership the inherent strength to survive all future political changes in our democracies.

In India, my government’s commitment to building this relationship enjoys support across the political spectrum. In fact, people often remark that progress is not fast enough! They seek immediate, dramatic results and media-friendly symbols of friendship. I tell them that one lesson I have learnt from four decades on the Opposition benches in Parliament is the virtue of patience! The transformation of our ties takes place after years of doubt and indifference. We have to guide it carefully, with a vision which extends beyond our immediate horizon.

The range and frequency of the India-US dialogue has increased considerably in recent times. It covers global and regional matters, as well as long term and near-term issues. But most significantly, it is the atmosphere of our dialogue that has changed. We now address each other with the confidence and candour of friends. This dialogue, based on respect and equality, is successful precisely because we have recognized that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between us. We work together on areas of agreement, and frankly discuss our differing perceptions, without this affecting our relationship. This reflects the growing maturity of our friendship.

We have, for the first time, entered into substantive defence cooperation. Our Armed Forces have established contact, and there are regular exercises and exchanges of growing complexity. Our common concerns on terrorism, transnational crime and cyber crime have led us to establish ties in these areas as well.

India and USA are jointly exploring frontier areas of science and technology, including medicine, environment-friendly energy and advanced materials. We are working to re-establish ties in civilian space applications and in civilian nuclear safety. Information technology and the new knowledge economy are increasingly defining the story of our bilateral relationship. Our growing partnership in developing technologies of the future should take our bilateral relations to a qualitatively new level.

It is not only at government and official levels that our two countries are deepening and widening linkages. In educational institutions, scientific laboratories, offices and homes, and even in cyber space, Indians and Americans are discovering new identities of interest.

The Indian American community has played – and will continue to play – an important role in bringing us together. Through talent, hard work and enterprise, Indian Americans have risen to become one of the wealthiest minorities in this country. Their achievements – especially in IT, financial services, management and medicine – have contributed to America’s progress. They have also created greater awareness in this country of the opportunities in the India-US partnership.

The Indian economy continues to grow. It has doubled in the last ten years, and we hope to redouble it in less than a decade. We are today the fourth largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. Our external reserves are about US $ 90 billion and are increasing by a billion dollars every two weeks. Our foreign trade is growing at double-digit rates. We are rapidly reducing our external debts. Our inflation rate is low and interest rates are on a declining curve. There is a strong increase in business confidence in recent months. Our reserves of food stock stands at over 30 million tonnes. Starting from scratch a few years ago, Indian software exports have reached US$ 10 billion per annum.

I have no doubt that the fundamentals of a rapidly developing India will strengthen our partnership with the world’s largest economy. Our economic links will strengthen rapidly as India’s economic growth creates new opportunities for investment and joint ventures. On both sides, there is recognition of the strong strategic value of the economic partnership.

Naturally, the vision of a new India-US relationship for the 21st century cannot be realised overnight. We still need to overcome internal resistance, old habits and traditional perspectives on both sides. Mindsets have to be changed in some quarters. We have to address vestiges of our past differences on security and proliferation issues. We must also ensure that the long term perspective of the India-US engagement is not diluted by short term exigencies.

In dealing with these hurdles, our two countries need the wisdom and foresight to recognize the irrefutable logic of the India-US partnership. We have laid the foundations of such a relationship. Our governments will sustain their commitment to it. Political, economic and strategic convergences will generate their own momentum to accelerate the pace of the transformation. An India-US relationship of maturity, substance and strength can have a major impact on the emerging world order in this century.

Thank you.