US-India ties: Need to preserve our shared spaces

  • Richard Verma, None
  • Updated: Aug 15, 2015 01:25 IST
The US and India are both maritime powers. Our navies engage in regular joint exercises. We can do more, such as increasing our intelligence exchanges and collaborating on piracy, counter-terrorism, the illegal drug trade and human trafficking, writes Richard Verma. (Reuters Photo)

Today, India has much to celebrate as it reflects on the last 68 years since Independence, and much to look forward to in the years to come. We recently commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Civil Nuclear Initiative, a milestone that unleashed the potential of the US-India relationship. At that time, partnering on defence production, space and other forms of high technology was almost unthinkable. Today those issues are part of the foundation of the enduring partnership we are building as we seek to make our citizens and the world more free, secure, and prosperous. US-India ties become more necessary by the day as the shared values that we hold dear face profound challenges, whether it IS from emboldened terrorist organisations, attempts to discredit the principles of democratic governance or aggressive tactics in the seas and skies.

Challenges to access to shared spaces — through the seas, the skies, and space — compromise the ability of nations to provide their citizens with rising living standards and stability. However, the US-India relationship, and our commitment to defending and preserving these spaces can help promote global peace and prosperity for the long-term. As leading powers, our work to ensure the integrity of these shared spaces should drive our strategic cooperation for decades.

Our seas are more relevant now than ever before. Ninety per cent of trade worldwide is conducted via the oceans. Our food and fuel depend on the safe passage of cargo through our shared sea lanes, yet the safety and security of these sea lanes face threats ranging from terrorists and organised criminals. We must confront these threats and be vigilant against the use of intimidation or force to assert unfounded territorial or maritime claims. Natural disasters also affect the stability of the maritime domain, particularly as we face greater climate uncertainty.

The US and India can take a leading role to address the risks facing maritime zones. In fact, under our Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific announced in January, our leaders affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the Indo Pacific. We are both maritime powers. Our navies engage in regular trainings and joint exercises as partners. We can do more, such as increasing our intelligence exchanges and collaborating even further on issues of common concern such as piracy, counter-terrorism, the illegal drug trade, and human trafficking. We are well into the planning stages for the Malabar joint US-India naval exercise, which will include Japanese participation, and we have established a new aircraft carrier working group to support India’s efforts to construct an indigenous carrier. India has also proven itself to be a leader in responding to natural disasters, with crisis response capabilities stretching from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea. The US would be proud to increase its support of India’s regional disaster response capability through increased coordination, exercises, and information sharing to achieve a more secure maritime domain.

Freedom of navigation also applies to the skies. Skies that are safe for flight demand that nations respect overflight freedoms, and protecting such freedoms requires airpower. The US is working with India to pursue opportunities for the co-production and co-development of next generation engines to power Indian aircraft. We can do more in this area by expanding our bilateral defence cooperation. I see no reason why we cannot build fighter aircraft together, right here in India.

The potential for our collaboration stretches into the stratosphere. The world has truly become reliant on space, and the scale of space cooperation between our countries has grown rapidly — including our collaboration on the Chandrayaan Mission and India’s hugely successful Mars Orbiter Mission. We have only scratched the surface of what we can accomplish. We welcome additional path-breaking work between Nasa and Isro to explore deep space, someday enabling us to study the furthest reaches of our galaxy. Partnering on space-based climate research will also become increasingly important as the effects of climate change continue to impact our planet.

The world increasingly depends on satellites for communications, navigation, and national security. We cannot allow our space-based assets to be threatened by entities that pursue disruptive counter-space capabilities. As space-based activity increases, there needs to be greater global consensus on how to monitor space, so as to protect our resources and promote scientific exploration. This will require US and Indian leadership. The first Space Security Dialogue took place this year during which we discussed transparency measures as well as how to enhance shared awareness of the space environment. More can be done in this field.

Of course, it is in all of our best interests to protect these shared spaces responsibly. This means setting clear parameters for commercial fishing activities to avoid severely depleted stocks, continuing to partner together to battle dangerous pollutants and emissions in our skies, and keeping Earth’s orbit clear of debris.

With India and the US working on these problems and opportunities together, we can have a dramatic impact on global peace and prosperity. This is the path for unlocking the full potential of the US-India strategic partnership. On this Independence Day, let us celebrate all that India has achieved as well as reflect on what we can do together to be a force for greater good.

Richard Verma is US ambassador to India. The views expressed are personal.

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