With India enjoying the status as a Major Defense Partner of the US, it is time the two nations “go big” and launch a “large signature programme” that would bind Indian and American industries and bureaucracies together for years to come, according to former US Ambassador to India Richard Verma. When India was given an elevated and truly unique status in terms of defense trade in 2016, he said the fundamental premise was that India would be treated as the closest friend and ally for purposes of technology transfer. “We need to follow through on any export control reform matters that prevent this vision from becoming a reality, but I would like to see even bigger advancements under this rubric,” he said. In the closing months of the Obama Administration, the US put two big ideas on the table – a future ground combat vehicle and a new advanced vertical lift helicopter, which, he termed, would be “outstanding” projects to pursue.
“Also, a partnership to build India’s next aircraft carrier. Whatever the project is, I think it’s time to go big and I’m confident we can get there,” the former top US diplomat said at the Wilson Center, America’s key non-partisan policy forum. “In the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), I do think it’s time to launch a new, large signature programme that binds our two industries and bureaucracies together for years to come,” added. The DTTI broadly aims to transform the bilateral defense relationship, strengthen India’s defense industrial base and explore new areas of technological collaboration from science and technology cooperation through co-development and co- production.
Verma said that he thinks that it was time to enshrine as a matter of US policy, that it is in our collective security interests, to ensure India has the capabilities it needs to prevail in contested domains – whether that be on land, air or sea. We do this with our friends from Israel, who are guaranteed a “qualitative military edge” he said, adding that it is also time for India to do the same. “This would, of course, require some reciprocal obligations from India – sharing of information, signing of foundational agreements, undertaking greater burden sharing,” Verma said. Quickly clarifying that nothing he was suggesting would be in violation of India’s concerns about sovereignty, he said that “in fact, what I am suggesting would empower India as a lead actor across the Indo-Pacific and help take our security partnership to the next level”.
Advocating comprehensive movement in building economic linkages and trade architecture between the two nations, he said the goal of $500 billion bilateral trade, at the current pace would take nearly a century. “I don’t want to wait that long.” He said India has been out negotiating and renegotiating trade agreements with Japan, Korea, Canada, ASEAN, the EU, and several other nations. “These range from comprehensive trade agreements to bilateral investment treaties. Whatever form it takes, we need to put something back on the table to further merge, link and harmonise our two economies. “The goal should be increased investments, market access, trade, the building of robust innovation ecosystems and most importantly job creation – the component that both our countries need the most,” he said.
Cautioning Washington that they should not forget, India has choices too, Verma said, “We should not presume that we will always be the most favoured or largest trading partner. This is something that we have to work at, and it will require the full array of our government agencies and subject matter experts.” He said that there was a need to fully back US diplomats, development experts and civilians from across the agencies that do such important work abroad.
“The cuts to the State Department and its budget, along with the civilian hiring freeze, are self-inflicted wounds that will harm our ability over the long-term to compete across Asia, including in India,” Verma rued.
The former US Ambassador to India said that the underlying foundations of the relationship remain strong – the bipartisan consensus remains intact and US-India ties have not only have weathered this time of global uncertainty, but also continue to serve as a source of great stability. “New initiatives like the quad, the 2+2 dialogue, and an updated South Asia strategy bode well for the year ahead,” he said.