America and India must forge a strong democratic partnership

America and India must forge a strong democratic partnership
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The world is changing. China is ascending as a superpower looking to upend existing rules. European unity is under threat. Russia is playing a more destabilizing role abroad than it has since the Cold War. Unrest in the Middle East is tearing the region apart. At the same time, new technology and other economic dynamics are fueling income inequality and job losses, making it more and more difficult to spur widely shared and sustainable growth.

While global dynamics are changing rapidly, at least one trend has remained constant in recent years: the upward trajectory of the U.S.-India relationship. Amidst geopolitical and economic uncertainty, the United States and India can be indispensable democratic partners and pillars of peace, prosperity, and democracy.

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The potential for the U.S.-India relationship cannot be overstated: They are the world’s two largest democracies, two of the world’s largest economies, and two of the world’s strongest militaries. The decisions the United States and India make will have far-reaching repercussions when it comes to global security, prosperity, and sustainable development. As new challenges strain the international system, it will be even more important for like-minded partners to cooperate to advanced shared interests. By working together, the United States and India can exponentially increase their ability to build a better world.

Over the past year, we co-chaired a Center for American Progress task force on U.S.-India relations to unearth opportunities to further strengthen the relationship, looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities our two countries will have in this century. For too long, the relationship has underperformed, but those days appear to be over thanks to the effort over successive administrations in Delhi and Washington.

This task force was a bilateral effort composed of 20 experts from the United States and India, covering diverse fields such as foreign policy, energy, business, and government accountability. Through the research and conversations conducted by the group, we were able to craft paths forward that we believe could help this critical relationship achieve its full potential.

Our task force explored five areas for accelerated cooperation between the two countries: creating jobs and economic opportunities, building a clean energy future from the bottom up, creating a joint security advantage in Asia, strengthening democratic institutions at home and around the world, and fostering ties between their peoples. Despite our different histories and geographies, our shared future together encompasses so many of the same concerns, dreams and aspirations by our citizens. We are, in fact, natural allies, as so many leaders have pointed out in years past, and our recommendations seek to ensure that remains the case well into the future.

For example, vibrant democracies like ours require that all people are economically empowered, and therefore, the United States and India need to build an economic relationship that creates jobs and opportunities for the people of both nations. Progress should be defined less by how many dollars are invested, and more by how successful the relationship is at spurring equitable growth in both countries. Moreover, in recent years, the United States and India have been leaders in the field of clean energy, and it’s imperative for that to continue to help combat climate change, while increasing technical assistance, innovation, and capital investment in the building blocks of energy access.

Our security partnership has emerged as one of the defining areas of our cooperation, and it could not come at a more important time, with longstanding and emerging threats to the democratic order arising across the Indo-Pacific. India, now a “major defense partner” of the United States, is well positioned to be a lead military power, not just in the Indian Ocean region, but beyond. The United States should do even more to ensure India develops and maintains a strategic advantage in order to deter new threats and to help protect the values that both our nations hold dear.

Fundamentally, the U.S.-India relationship is built on our countries’ shared democratic values and our deep people to people ties. It is in these two areas that we must continue to learn lessons from each other to strengthen our democratic institutions and deepen the ties between our populations. That means tackling issues related to the internet, free speech, government transparency, and more. We can and should continue to serve as role models for burgeoning democracies around the world. We must continue to nurture the personal connections that bind us by encouraging educational, cultural, and professional exchanges and cooperation, which will spark untold areas of bilateral cooperation in the future.

It is more important now than ever before for the United States and India to invest in their alliance as indispensable democratic partners. We are heartened by the ability of both countries — through multiple administrations of both political parties in each country — to continue advancing the relationship, and believe that this can, and must, continue. If this bilateral relationship grows in the right ways, not only will the people of both countries benefit, but so will people around the world.

Nirupama Rao was the Indian ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2013. Richard Verma was the U.S. ambassador to India from 2015 to 2017. They are co-chairs of a new Center for American Progress task force on U.S.-India relations.