Secretary of State Rex Tillerson deserves credit for his specifics-heavy pledge to strengthen America's relationship with India.
Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Wednesday, Tillerson said President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are committed to "building an ambitious partnership" and would "dramatically deepen" their cooperation.
Quickly focusing on defense cooperation, Tillerson noted that the U.S. has offered a "menu of defense options for India's consideration, including the Guardian UAV." Tillerson's words follow ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to loosen India-focused military export licenses. Mentioning joint military exercises between the U.S. and Indian navies, Tillerson explicitly called out China for "undermining the rules-based international order." Those words will play well in New Delhi in light of China's ongoing effort to steal Indian border territory.
Building on this theme of security, Tillerson said the U.S. would pursue new actions against terrorist groups specifically targeting India. And the secretary rebuked Pakistan, claiming that counter-terrorism efforts are an "obligation, not choice."
Alongside Trump's escalating action towards Pakistan for its support of terrorists, India has good reason to welcome Tillerson's words. Until now, India has perceived the U.S. as unwilling to confront Pakistani terrorism so as to protect its own counter-terrorism interests in Afghanistan.
Yet Tillerson also outlined why a closer U.S.-Indian alliance would benefit the lives of both nations citizens.
Describing a common "strategic convergence ... we share a vision for the future," Tillerson aspired to a 21st century "rules-based system" supported by "two strong pillars of democracy, the United States and India." And the secretary explained how India's youthful population would flourish under the rules-based system. "The World Bank estimates," he said, "that with barriers removed and streamlined customs procedures, intraregional trade in South Asia would nearly quadruple from the current $28 billion to over $100 billion."
This focus on shared economic interest will be absolutely crucial in persuading India to deepen its U.S. alliance. And it flows with a simple but sustaining American message: "work with the U.S. and you'll become more prosperous and stable. Work with China and you'll become imperial minions to the Politburo throne."
Ultimately, what we saw today was more evidence of the Trump administration's evolving realist foreign policy. Unlike his two predecessors, however, Tillerson is putting real meat on the table for Modi. Where the Obama administration equivocated, Trump and Tillerson seem to recognize the urgency of now; that in order to preserve the global capitalist system and ensure growing Indian-U.S. prosperity and stability, the U.S. must "double down" on the world's most populous democracy.
This was a very constructive address, and one well-timed in coinciding with Chinese President Xi Jinping's aggressive speech to the Communist Congress!
The choice facing New Delhi has never been clearer.