John McCain: The promise of U.S.-India ties

Story highlights

  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Barack Obama on Tuesday
  • John McCain: U.S. needs to treat India the same as it does its close partners and allies

John McCain, a Republican, is the senior senator from Arizona. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)This week's visit to Washington by Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, a visit that includes an address to a joint session of Congress and meetings with senior congressional leaders, underscores just how important our relationship with India has become -- and how critical it is that we set the foundation correctly for the years to come.

It is remarkable how much bipartisan support the U.S.-India relationship enjoys on Capitol Hill, an upsurge of interest and respect that is normally reserved only for close partners and allies. In all my years in Congress, I recall only a select few countries that rose so quickly to such an exalted esteem.
To be sure, the U.S.-India relationship is broad-based, relying on hundreds of officials and business leaders in both countries, and affecting the lives of millions of people who are reaping the benefits of a close and open partnership. For all of its foreign policy shortcomings, the Obama administration has done an admirable job of nurturing this relationship and seizing the opportunities that India is providing. As just one example, India is now one of the fastest growing sources of foreign investment in the United States, with Indian companies investing in American entrepreneurship, creating jobs and leading in corporate social responsibility.
    John McCain
    At the same time, as I have watched the partnership develop over the past several years, it is remarkable how much progress we have made on defense and security issues. From joint exercises to joint technology development, and from defense sales to defense strategy, our security interactions and cooperation are increasingly becoming the backbone of our global strategic partnership.
    A quarter-century ago, this would have been hard to imagine. As our two countries emerged from opposite sides of the Cold War, suspicion was high and distrust even higher. Back then, we could not agree on trading mangos or Coke, let alone trading fighter jets and attack helicopters. Prospects at that time for our defense relationship were bleak to the point of nonexistent -- so much so that we could not even contemplate activities like co-production and coordinated patrols. But in the intervening years, the world changed, and with it, so did our two countries. Remarkably, both sides are now keenly working to make such activities a reality.
    Given our history, the current defense relationship is indeed a significant achievement. But what encourages me the most is not the road we have traveled, but rather the path that lies ahead. Over the next 25 years, if we are able to overcome our mutual timidity and our respective historical hang-ups, I cannot imagine anything that could derail our defense relationship and prevent it from becoming ever closer.
    As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am confronted every day with the security concerns and threats to our own nation's safety, as well as threats to the rest of the world. And in a time when threats seem to be only increasing and chaos increasingly fomented, I see in India a country that can and should fight with us to maintain global security. In the coming years, I see an India that provides critical stability in a rapidly changing Indian Ocean region. I see an India that maintains regional balance against expansionist adversaries in the Pacific. And I see an India that is a stronger, more capable ally in the struggle against global terrorism and piracy. And this is just the beginning. If we can come together as defense partners, our countries can be immensely positive forces for increased global peace and security.
    Getting there, however, will not be easy. To achieve all this, the United States will need to begin treating India the same as it does its close partners and allies. Asking India to increasingly take on global responsibilities, yet not providing the associated benefits, is not a sustainable strategy. Whether it is streamlining the approval process for defense exports, jointly developing military technology or coordinating defense activities, the United States needs to make a clear, unambiguous commitment to our joint future in defense.
    India must begin acting like a close partner and ally. Despite the growing closeness, it is no secret that frustration continues to exist in many areas, both defense and nondefense. Whether these frustrations are justified or not, they represent a hindrance to progress. The United States expects a lot of its partners and allies, including joint patrolling, significant contributions to armed conflicts, and a strict adherence to human rights, among other things. The sooner India can showcase these commitments, and wipe away the lingering frustrations, the further it will move toward achieving the global power status it seeks.
    When it comes to the defense relationship, I believe there is no limit to our potential, and I will be working hard to ensure these principles are carried into the next administration and the next Congress. At the same time, I am also keenly aware that there are many critics on both sides. But these naysayers often focus on transactional minutiae and miss the strategic implications in the service of tactical wrangling. While these issues are important and deserve their place in our honest and open bilateral dialogue, at times like this, it is critical that we remain focused on the strategic objectives that we all share, objectives that include bringing natural partners together in the name of global defense and security.
      Moving forward will require hard choices and determined leadership. But if any two countries were up to this challenge, it would be two of the most stable democracies in the world -- two countries that have already overcome much historical baggage to arrive at this moment together.