WASHINGTON, March 4, 2016 —
Strengthening conversations, advancing relationships, and ambitiously realizing a joint strategic vision were a few of the goals the leader of U.S. Pacific Command shared with an international audience at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi this week.
Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference, held March 1 to 3, was billed as India’s flagship geopolitics and geo-economics conference.
The event drew high-level government, industry, media and academic delegates from throughout the region and around the world -- including many from the Pacom area of responsibility, which covers territory stretching from the western United States to India’s western border and from Antarctica to the North Pole.
Progress Can’t Come Fast Enough
Harris said that, in his opinion, since President Barack Obama and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year outlined a joint strategic vision, the two nations can pool their capabilities to build the region’s security and strengthen dialogues.
“Together, we can ensure free and open sea lanes of communication that are critical for global trade and prosperity,” he said. “This is a pillar of the international and inclusive rules-based global order and a principle upon which we cannot waver.”
India has a vast historical and cultural influence extending from Southeast Asia to Mongolia and from Indonesia to the Central Asian steppes, Harris said. That influence also extends to the United States, he added, which is home to about three and a half million Americans of Indian descent.
India is important to America and to Pacom, Harris said, which is why he said he chooses to use the term “Indo-Asia-Pacific” instead of the more common “Asia-Pacific.”
“The Indian and Pacific oceans are the economic lifeblood that links India, Australia, Asia, Oceania and the United States together,” he said.
Diplomatic and security partnership “are what America’s rebalance is all about,” he said, strengthening “the economic connective tissue” that nations in the region need to maintain stability.
India, U.S. Forge ‘Defining Partnership’
Harris said for the United States, expanding cooperation with India “will not only be the defining partnership for the rebalance, it will arguably be the defining partnership for America in the 21st century.”
India’s leadership in the region is increasing, the admiral said, and “We are ready for you. We need you. Let’s be ambitious together.”
Harris said he is “clear-eyed and perhaps a bit moonstruck” by the opportunities for strategic partnership with India, and equally clear-eyed about the region’s threats: “Significant security challenges that no one country is capable of solving alone.”
By 2050, “It’s expected that seven out of every 10 people who walk this planet will live in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” he said. While the challenges of ensuring food, energy, housing and human freedom concerns for that many people, Harris noted, “will test the global community in the coming years, they are not insurmountable.”
India is already moving ahead to build regional cooperation, the admiral said. Last year, India hosted Japan and Australia for its first high-level trilateral dialogue; Harris said maritime security, including freedom-of-navigation patrols, was a key topic at that dialogue.
The United States would welcome the chance to join that dialogue and make it quadrilateral, Harris said. “We are all united in supporting the international rules-based order that has kept peace [in the region],” he said.
India is establishing a strategic partnership with Japan as well as with the United States, the admiral said, and substantive meetings have taken place among the nations’ respective political and defense leaders.
“In my opinion, all of us should be rushing to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship, while helping India position itself as a global power and security partner of choice in this region,” Harris said.
U.S.-India Cooperation ‘Frankly Stunning’
He said “another promising outcome” of increased U.S.-India cooperation is a slate of joint military exercises set for this year.
“This is the kind of progress that is frankly stunning,” Harris said. “We went from rarely talking to each other only a few years ago, to not only talking together but doing together. Skepticism, suspicion and doubt on both sides have been replaced by cooperation, dialogue and trust.”
High-level cooperation is ongoing between senior civilian defense officials in both countries, he said, and senior U.S. military commanders also interact with Indian counterparts.
“In fact, nearly a dozen flag and general officers for the Pacific region have visited India in just the past two months,” the admiral said. “At every level, this relationship flourishes and is strengthened by senior leadership visits, increased port visits and exercises.”
India will participate this summer as one of nearly 30 nations taking part in the world’s largest maritime exercise, the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercise, Harris said, and in Red Flag 16 -- what the admiral called “an advanced aerial combat exercise” -- hosted by the U.S. Air Force in Alaska.
Freedom of Navigation ‘Fundamental’
“Exercising together will lead to operating together,” he said. “By being ambitious, India, Japan, Australia and the United States -- and so many other like-minded nations -- can aspire to operate anywhere on the high seas and the air space above them.”
Those freedoms, to navigate and operate in the air and space domains, “are not privileges of rich and powerful countries,” he said. “They’re fundamental rights of all nations.”
Harris said while some countries “seek to bully” smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, he praised “India’s example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean.”
India stands “like a beacon on a hill, building a future through the power of ideas, and not on castles of sand that threaten the rules-based architecture that has served all of us so well,” the admiral said.
“That’s why it’s critical for India’s powerful voice to be added to the chorus of like-minded nations in this increasingly complicated and interconnected world,” Harris said.
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @dodnewskparrish)