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U.S. President Donald Trump (R) greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Creating an India-US advantage in the Indo-Pacific: Four steps that would boost security cooperation and regional stability

Editor's Note:

The article was first published in the Times of IndiaBrookings India is an independent, non-partisan public policy research organisation based in New Delhi. The views are of the author(s).

The Indo-Pacific region is today the primary locus of global growth and opportunity, but its security and stability are increasingly under duress. China’s rise, while beneficial to international prosperity, has occurred in a manner that continues to generate mistrust and anxiety across the region – and the concerns are only growing. Beijing regularly attempts to consolidate its control of disputed seas, airspace, and land, in the South China Sea and in the Himalayas.

China also continues to flout established international norms of cyber security and non-proliferation, and its international economic policies are likely to leave many countries with unsustainable debt. Meanwhile in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Islamist terrorist organisations continue to destabilise the region and strike international targets, with little end in sight.

India and the US, as the world’s two largest democracies with two of the largest military forces, have a shared interest in ensuring a stable security order in the Indo-Pacific. This shared interest has propelled India-US security ties dramatically forward over the past decade.

Each has something important to offer the other. The US can greatly assist India’s capacity building efforts. India has the potential and willingness to shoulder regional security responsibilities, as evidenced by increased patrols in the Indian Ocean, aid to South Asia, and humanitarian assistance activities. But the India-US strategic partnership is still hobbled by parallel bureaucracies that do not yet move in sync. The US often seeks tangible short-term returns on its investment in India’s capabilities and success, while India wants continued assurances that US support will be neither fickle nor overbearing. A few important steps could help advance security cooperation further.

One, the US could – with Indian inputs – create a Strategic Advantage Initiative. Having designated India a Major Defence Partner, the US could develop an initiative with the explicit objective of enabling India to prevail in contested domains. This government-wide programme would ensure that all US agencies take the appropriate steps to enhance defence cooperation with India and that US commitments become ingrained in policy under future administrations. Among other steps, this could involve refining export licence regulations, offering India access to platforms and equipment that boost its maritime security capabilities, and creating joint mechanisms to identify specific capabilities necessary for various pressing security contingencies.

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Co-authored by Alyssa Ayres, Michael Fuchs and Tom West

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