US defence secretary pick for expanded ties with India

Ashton Carter
Ashton Carter

By Arun Kumar 

 Noting that India and US have built a strong strategic partnership over the last decade, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defence secretary has said he would prioritise the steady growth of their relationship.

Ashton Carter, 60, a former Pentagon No. 2 who launched the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) with India, told a Senate panel Wednesday that he would lean-forward to expand DTTI with additional co-production and co-development activities.

Carter, who is expected to win swift Senate confirmation, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the past decade has been transformative in the US-India relationship.

“We are seeing greater convergence in our interests and concerns than ever before, particularly between our rebalance to Asia and India’s ‘Act East,’” he said.

“Strengthening the US-India defence relationship was a priority for me as Deputy Secretary of Defence and, if confirmed, I will continue to prioritise the steady growth of this relationship,” he told the panel in his written testimony.

Defence plays a vital role in US-India relations, which includes a robust series of military exchanges and exercises, a strong track record on defence trade, and increasingly close consultations on regional security issues, Carter said.

During his recent India trip, he noted Obama announced four pathfinder projects under DTTI, a working group on aircraft carrier cooperation, and the possibility of cooperating on jet engine technology.

The Department of Defence also remains committed to technological cooperation with India through the DTTI, he said vowing to build upon the progress achieved under it.

“This includes pursuing additional opportunities for co-production/co-development projects, developing the defence trade relationship into increasingly sophisticated areas, and encouraging broader defence S&T engagement with India,” Carter said.

Carter said he will also “continue to find ways to strengthen our military-to-military relationship by expanding the scope and complexity of our exercises, and ensure the consistency of our engagement.”

Carter said he would “prioritise exchanges at all levels of our military, and encourage frequent high-level visits.”

He would also “continue to look for ways to expand upon our maritime security relationship and identify specific areas for increased cooperation, including in the Asia-Pacific.”

On US Strategic relationship with Pakistan, Carter said “counterterrorism cooperation remains a critical shared strategic interest” as “Pakistan still faces a real and potent threat from several militant groups within its borders.”

But it was also important that the US “continues to engage with Pakistan in areas where our strategic interests diverge,” he said.

Among areas of divergence, he cited “the direction of Pakistan’s nuclear programme and its tolerance of terrorist organizations like the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e Taiba,” responsible for the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack.

“In addition to threatening US forces in Afghanistan, these groups threaten regional security, endanger the prospects of a political settlement in Afghanistan, and undermine Pakistan’s own stability,” he said.

Carter noted that Pakistan has pledged to target all militant groups operating within its borders, including the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e Taiba.

“If confirmed, I will ensure that the Department holds Pakistan to this pledge, and works against actors who are exploiting Pakistani territory to destabilise the region,” he said.

Carter said he would also “seek to facilitate cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and encourage communication between Pakistan and India, as these relationships will continue to be vital to stability in the region.”

Asked about his assessment of the relationship between India and China, Carter said US, India, and China all have an important role in ensuring the peace and stability of the region and a rules-based order.