India and the US will never be allies in the military sense, but they can rightly be called strategic partners given their cooperation in nuclear energy, defence and space, says ambassador Ronen Sen.
The India-US civil nuclear initiative "is the most outstanding symbol of the new relationship between the two countries as well as of India's new standing in the world", he said in Washington on Monday.
There are few issues on which there is complete agreement between the US, Russia, European and other countries, Sen said at the annual luncheon meeting of the board of directors and the council of the Woodrow Wilson International Centre.
"Civil nuclear cooperation with India is one such issue."
Noting that "cooperation in areas like that of nuclear energy, defence and space can only be based on mutual confidence and trust and a shared long-term strategic vision," Sen said: "I believe that India and the US can rightly be called strategic partners".
As democracies, the two countries have had, and will continue to have, differences on some issues, but "we can reconcile our ideals and interests and do not have to sacrifice principles at the altar of expediency".
"We will never be allies, in the traditional military sense," the envoy said. However, the two nations cherish the same values of democracy, rule of law and respect for diversity. They were the initiators and largest contributors to the UN Democracy Fund.
"India is adjacent to the world's largest concentration of terrorists, and the India-US Working Group on counter-terrorism was active long before 9/11," he said.
"India is also adjacent to the world's largest origins and destinations of proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems."
Noting the worst-case national security nightmare for both countries is nuclear terrorism, Sen said defence cooperation with the US is becoming an important facet of their relationship.
The visit of Defence Secretary Robert Gates to India later this month will become the third visit of a US defence secretary to India in as many years.
Joint exercises between the two countries' armed forces are increasing in scale and sophistication. They envisage not just defence procurements from the US, but co-production, transfer of technologies and even joint R&D, Sen said.
The Defence Policy Group, which met last month in Washington and its five working groups, is facilitating this process.
Noting that India is not only the world's largest democracy, but one of the world's fastest growing economies, Sen said: "It is only a question of when India will regain its position as one of the three largest economies in the world."
"Whether it is meeting the need for infrastructure or addressing energy deficiency, or modernisation of the manufacturing sector, the opportunities for partnership with India are huge," he said, noting bilateral trade with the US has grown from about $13.5 billion in 2001 to around $40 billion in 2007.
Though the balance of merchandise trade is in India's favour, US exports to India are growing much faster than India's exports to the US. From January to November last year, US exports to India grew by about 75.6 per cent, compared to India's exports to the US, which grew by 10.6 per cent.
It is a similar story in investments. Cumulative FDI from the US to India from 1991 to June 2007 was about $6.2 billion. For the calendar year 2007, Indian investments were around $6 billion.
"We got off to a good start this year. Last week, Tata acquired General Chemical Industrial Products for around $1 billion. The same company hopes to make new investments in the automobile sector," Sen said.
Trade, investments, job creation and so forth are increasingly becoming a two-way street, he added.
"This is as it should be. These healthy trends will strengthen long-term stakes in the partnership between our two countries."
The relationship between the two countries also has another special dimension of people-to-people contacts provided by the vibrant Indian American community, the envoy noted.
The highly educated, innovative, entrepreneurial, and increasingly politically active 2.5 million strong community "is emerging as a major factor for stronger bilateral ties", he said.
There are more Indian students in the US than in any other country. India is the biggest consumer of US educational services.
"There is vast potential of bilateral cooperation in education and health, fields in which our government has enhanced budgetary allocations by 400 per cent and 300 per cent respectively. The positive fallout from such cooperation will be huge."
"Thus, in whatever context one views the relationship, I see a bright future for a global partnership between India and the United States," the ambassador said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )