India is the "biggest strategic opportunity" for the US and the two countries should demonstrate "mutual flexibility" as well as the ambition to reach a new level of cooperation, a former top Pentagon official has said.
"I would say the biggest strategic opportunity is India," Kelly Magsamen, the former US principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and pacific security affairs told members of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on Asia Pacific region.
"The US and India increasingly share a common strategic outlook on the Asia Pacific, especially a mutual concern over Chinese military modernisation and adventurism, but the question here is, can we reach a new level of cooperation to place limits on Chinese ambition?
"I believe it is possible, but only if the United States and India together persist in overcoming the suspicions of the past and build stronger habits of actual cooperation. And this is going to require the US and Indian systems, which are not naturally compatible, to demonstrate mutual flexibility as well as ambition," Magsamen said.
The strategic logic behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'Act East' policy is highly compatible with that of the US rebalance.
"But more importantly, we share common values as the world's two largest democracies and as well as a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. In many ways, we are natural partners," she said.
Last year, then defense secretary Ashton Carter designated India a "Major Defence Partner" of the US, a status unique to India that allows the two countries to cooperate more closely in defense, trade, and technology sharing.
"I was pleased to see National Security Adviser LTG HR McMaster recently reaffirm the US-India Strategic Partnership and specifically our defense cooperation with India. It is essential that we sustain the momentum," Magsamen said.
For that to happen, leaderships have to drive it from the top lest both bureaucracies smother the chance of progress.
"I found that we often stand in our own way. But India also has to demonstrate that it is prepared to let go of its old fears. The US does not seek an actual alliance, nor should we, but we do seek a meaningful partnership that benefits us too," she said.
"Our strategic partnership will reach its value limits in the defense realm if we cannot build practical habits of cooperation. For example, we need to operate and exercise more together and with others, facilitate more exchanges of our military personnel, and regularize our defense dialogues at every level," Magsamen added.