America's Future Is with India and Israel

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 2, 2017. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

The winds of change are blowing not from Beijing, but from Delhi. Trump should seize the initiative.

Delhi has not walked away from Tehran. Still, once the Iran Deal lifted many sanctions against the regime, Delhi noticeably did not race to ramp up ties. Modi’s visit to Iran last spring was restrained and very carefully orchestrated.

Even before the trip to Israel there were signs that Modi was broadening and rebalancing India’s relationships in the region, stepping-up dialogue with Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as Israel. Previously, the government downplayed engagement with Israeli government. Now, Modi’s team was less inclined to hide the fact that they were picking up the pace of defense cooperation, economic ties and diplomatic talks with the Israelis.

India’s shift dovetails well with the view from Washington toward both South Asia and the Middle East. The Trump administration shows every sign of continuing the momentum toward a closer relationship with India. The recent meeting between Modi and Trump could not have gone better, and there is plenty of room to grow that relationship.

Trump has also clearly signaled that he wants to be a better friend to Israel than the last administration. Leaders of the two countries exuded nothing but positive vibes at the conclusion of Trump’s visit earlier this year. Additionally, it is increasingly clear that the Trump administration’s strategy to limit Iran’s destabilizing influence and crush the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS calls for the United States to align more closely with Israel and the Arab states.

Time for a Trilateral

The growing strategic convergence between Washington and Delhi suggests another initiative that could help advance the administration’s notion of shared responsibility. Few steps signal shifting strategic intentions more than multilateral dialogues. They presage evolving networks of relationships—particularly when the talks span multiple strategic regions. In that respect, a trilateral dialogue among India, the United States and Israel would draw the attention from friends and competitors alike.

U.S. participation in this dialogue would demonstrate that the White House is thinking of the long bridge that spans vital U.S. interests and protection of the commons across the expanse of the Indian Ocean. It would also reassure the other participants Washington sees them as valued global strategic partners—not just regional allies.

Here are five natural issues where high-level consultation among these like-minded nations could prove highly productive.

Getting Serious About Cyber.

Cyber will unquestionably be a cornerstone of the U.S.-India strategic relationship. There are exciting opportunities for both countries. Already a small-cyber power punching above its weight, Israel fits in nicely between the interests and capabilities of the other two countries.

Pondering One Belt One Road.

Hard thinking about the opportunities and challenges posed by China’s initiative ought to be paired with a discussion of what role the United States should play in making its economic presence felt across the expanse of the Indian Ocean. China’s biggest tool these days is the checkbook. What is Washington going to bring to the table, where and why? Learning the perspectives of nations from different parts of the commons linking East and West can help the United States develop the right answers to these questions.

Countering Islamist Threats.

From terrorist attacks to Islamist ideology, the United States, Israel and India have the same problem—stopping terrorist murderers, dangerous ideologues and building common cause with the breath of the Islamic world that rejects the violence and extremism that affects them worst of all. Few topics merit joint discussions and action more.

Seeing the Sea.

Situational awareness in the maritime domain is a priority for all the three countries. These are topics where sharing ideas make sense.

Defending the Free World.

U.S.-Indian defense cooperation is the face of the future. F-16 production in India is one big idea on the table. There are many more. With global supply chains for major defense equipment that might well include suppliers and manufactures across multi-tiers in all three countries, discussing the possibilities together at one table might spark some innovations.

Start at the Start

A trilateral dialogue might profitably address a long list of topics, from energy to artificial intelligence. The five ideas presented above are a logical place to start. All that’s needed is the will to get a high-level dialogue going—a dialogue that can move the United States to the next level of global diplomacy.

James Jay Carafano is a Heritage Foundation vice president and directs the think tank’s research on national security and foreign relations.