Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States presents an historic opportunity to further deepen U.S. relations with India.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has the potential to become a key U.S. partner in the decades ahead. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has neglected the relationship and failed to build on the significant accomplishments of the George W. Bush administration in strengthening U.S.-India relations.
There are many reasons that India should play a larger role in America’s grand strategy. India’s vibrant democracy can serve as an example to other countries, both in its region and across the globe. India is strategically located between the Middle East and East Asia in an area through which much of global commerce flows every day. Over time, it will need to shift its historical focus from Pakistan to include other regions as it becomes a global power.
With this in mind, President Obama should focus on three key areas during his meetings with Modi.
India, the world’s largest democracy, has the potential to become a key U.S. partner in the decades ahead.
First, the United States and India should further deepen security cooperation. The Indian military already exercises more with the United States than with any other country, but we should find ways to increase those engagements. We should work to make our navies interoperable to provide stability in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea that will help protect sea lanes for commerce, and deter piracy as well as aggression from rogue states.
We should capitalize on the current forward-looking leadership of our allies in Japan and Australia to reinvigorate the so-called Quad of Australia, Japan, India and the United States and this group should hold regular military exercises as well as consultations on regional challenges. We should also seek to increase our arms sales to India as it looks to replace aging Soviet and Russian equipment. But beyond just trying to sell more military equipment to Delhi, we should also find ways to work collaboratively in the defense sector on emerging technologies such as missile defense and in space.
With its sizable Muslim population, India also has a stake in the global effort to combat radical Islam and promote tolerance.
Second, as India’s economy continues to grow, its interests will increasingly focus on more than its immediate neighborhood. India has long been concerned about ensuring Afghan stability, but its economic success and its security will also depend on events in the Middle East and East Asia. We should encourage greater Indian involvement in these regions.
With its sizable Muslim population, India also has a stake in the global effort to combat radical Islam and promote tolerance. Just in recent weeks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called on India¹s Muslims to form a new branch of al-Qaeda. We must work together so that India’s Muslim community rejects such entreaties, including by supporting efforts to ensure that all of India’s citizens are given an equal opportunity to thrive.
Third, beyond our shared values and strategic interests, our economic ties are also bringing the United States and India closer. The trade relationship between our two countries is already significant with potential to expand further. In my state of Florida, more than $1 billion of merchandise is exported to India annually. India’s growing population represents a consumer base that American companies are increasingly interested in engaging. They have been hindered thus far by Indian laws and regulations that need to be updated. Prioritizing negotiations on a Bilateral Investment Treaty will be important to this effort.
One other factor bound to bring our countries closer together in the years ahead are the millions of Indian-Americans who have proven to be incredibly successful in their new homeland. Modi will meet thousands of these Indian-Americans at an event in New York during his visit. In Florida, we benefit from the contributions to society of more than 150,000 Indian-Americans. Earlier this year, the film awards known as the Bollywood Oscars were even held in Tampa.
Even as we begin this new phase in our struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, Modi’s visit is a reminder of the strategic opportunities the United States faces if we make relationship building with key countries like India a priority. Obama should rise to the occasion and put U.S.-India relations back on a path to closer cooperation truly befitting the potential of our two great democracies.