November 11, 2012
The Pivot to Asia and Obama’s Second Term
By William S. Cohen
President Barack Obama's re-election on Tuesday means that America will likely accelerate its military and diplomatic pivot toward Asia. As the president continues America's drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, his administration will focus increased attention and resources on the Indo-Pacific. That is good news for the region, good news for India, and good news for America.
In the next four years, America's top strategic goal will be to remain a source of stability in the Indo-Pacific. This region is home to most of the world's nuclear powers, half of the world's population and more than half the global economy. The US recognises that the prosperity of the world - and America's economic recovery - depends on ensuring that the Indo-Pacific is a place where commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded, and where all nations can find growing markets eager for each others' goods and services.
This requires maintaining good relations with China. Despite criticising China during the presidential debates, the president also recognises that China's economic dynamism brings enormous benefits to America and the world, and he will continue to encourage China's peaceful rise. The objective is not to contain China, but to create a secure and prosperous Asia.
Obama will also emphasise that the US is pivoting toward Asia, not China. There are some two billion people in the region outside of China's borders - including more than 1.2 billion in India - and the US needs to focus its attention on them as well.
President Obama's re-election gives him an historic opportunity to expand and deepen relations with India. US foreign direct investment in India increased by nearly 30 percent during Obama's first four years in office, while Indian investment in the US grew by over 40 percent during the same period. We need to grow trade and investment even further in the next four years - and India's recent decision to open its retail, insurance, and aviation sectors is a positive step to make that possible.
When it comes to defence, the Indo-US military-to-military engagement has increased steadily over the past decade and now includes a robust series of dialogues, exercises, defence trade, and personnel exchanges. In the next four years, we should anticipate greater collaborative research, development and co-production of military capabilities - so that we can maintain peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Collaboration and joint innovation in cybersecurity is the next step. In an age when hackers can attack computer networks in Hyderabad by penetrating those located in Houston, the US's ability to protect our information networks is critical to India's economic and homeland security - just as India's ability to fend off cyber attacks is critical to America's security.
Support in the United States for America's friendship and expanding cooperation with India is deep and bipartisan. If anything, there is concern that enthusiasm for expanding US-India ties is waning, not in Washington, but in Delhi. Americans well understand India's desire to preserve its "strategic autonomy".
America is not seeking to draw India into an entangling alliance; our goal, rather, is to expand "peace, commerce, and honest friendship" between the nations. Moreover, the bipolar world of the Cold War is no more. The US and China are not existential enemies the way that the US and the Soviet Union once were. Instead of missiles pointed at each others' capitals, the US and China enjoy strong ties of trade, investment, and commerce. India is not being asked to choose between Washington and Beijing. To the contrary, it is in the interests of all that Delhi maintains strong relations with both countries.
The challenges the US and India face are many and real - from fighting piracy and terrorism, to ensuring a stable Pakistan, reducing tensions in the South China Sea, addressing energy security and climate change. These are challenges that cannot be ignored, and that must be addressed together. If India is ready to expand our cooperation and collaboration on these and other matters, they will have a willing partner in Washington during President Obama's second term.
William S Cohen was the US secretary of defense between 1997-2001 and is currently chairman and CEO, The Cohen Group.