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'India-US relationship is going to be generational'

November 22, 2012 13:26 IST

Admiral Walter F Doran (retd) of the United States Navy, whose association with India goes back 34 years reminisces his time and the friendships he built during his days at the Indian Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu.

Erstwhile commander in chief of the United States Pacific fleet, Admiral Walter F Doran (retd), whose association with India goes back 34 years to his attendance at the Indian Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu, says it is imperative that Americans understand that "the US-India relationship is going to be a generational issue."

Doran, who participated in the rollout of the seminal report published by the Wadhwani

Chair in the US-India Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, acknowledged, "As Americans, that's kind of a difficult pill for us to swallow."

'We tend to want to move very quickly, our businesses report to the Wall Street every quarter -- our publicly-trade businesses -- we have an election every four years, we tend to want to see immediate results and return on invested capital," he said. "These are the terms within which we look at things."

But Doran warned, "This will not develop that way. This is going to be a generational issue but it is worth a generation of work."

"India, quite frankly for the United States, from a very selfish point of view, is too important, and will continue to be too important to either be ignored or put on the back-burner or be allowed to succumb to this feeling of fatigue to a certain degree that has come over the discussions right now," he argued.

Doran said it was important "that we remember how far we've come and not forget the progress that we've made."

He lauded the CSIS report, US-India Military Engagement: Steady as They Go, and said, "The idea of re-igniting the US-India relationship is set perfectly and the military-to-military relationships are a perfect place to start to re-ignite that relationship."

Doran reiterated that the military-to-military relationship was the ideal place to start "because there is a natural -- particularly in the maritime sphere understanding between these two bodies."

"There are of course difficulties on both sides that will have to be overcome," he acknowledged, and noted that despite the progress that has been made, "there is still an incredible amount of baggage on both sides that will have to be addressed."

Earlier, Doran provided a fascinating and nostalgic insight into his attendance over three decades ago at the Indian Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu and the friendships he built up with fellow students, including Arun Prakash who went on to become an admiral and chief of India's naval staff, while he took over as commander of the US Pacific Fleet and their working in concert when the horrific tsunami struck the Indian Ocean in December 2004.

He hoped that "my relationships can reflect the importance of the informal relationships than can be developed between military officers at a very young age that then can be matured over the length of a career and on occasion will have great significance when these officers come into positions of important commands or major commands."

"Also, in my case, it never ceases to amaze me the curious manner in which my relationship with India focused and also shaped the rest of my 38-year navy career," he added.

Doran said, "I am sure that nobody in the bureau of naval personnel, when they put my family on that plane to India, did that with the expectation that I would be the Pacific fleet commander some 30 years later. But it did work out that way and I was continuously drawn back to India throughout my career."

"When my family and I arrived in the Wellington cantonment…we found ourselves surrounded and amidst a group of really remarkable young military officers," he said, and recalled, "Amongst my colleagues were Arun Prakash, Sureesh Mehta, both of whom went on to become chiefs of naval staff, Bobby Bharathan, who went on to become the vice chief of navy staff for Arun and served as the attaché for the Indian Navy here in Washington," in 1993.

Doran said, "The close, familiar bond was established between ourselves and our families after we left," after their stints at the college in Wellington.

"These relationships were built upon real friendship and real trust. These relations were valued and they were triggered personally throughout the years that they took on a greater significance when I assumed the position as the Pacific fleet commander."

Doran said, "These were all very important relationships between men who had known each other at that point for about 30 years. That set the stage for the tsunami which hit Southeast Asia in December of 2004."

He spoke of how the US deployed a carrier strike group led by the USS Abraham Lincoln, an expeditionary strike group led by the USS Bonhomme Richard, as well the hospital ship USNS Mercy.

Doran recalled how "we were all very aware as this developed that there was no command apparatus that we were working under and that there would not be a command apparatus. This truly was a coalition of willing maritime reacting to this."

He said he had called Prakash in Delhi "and I explained to him who we were moving, what forces we were moving into the Indian Ocean and in rough terms where we were going to go…and that I didn't want anybody in India to be concerned about this force that was now moving into the waters closer to India. I didn't want anybody to overreact and I also did not want us stepping on each other."

"I also wondered if we could have an informal regime where we could provide the best amount of relief with the resources we had to the people who sorely needed them."

Doran said, "It's what came out of that was a degree of cooperation between our navies primarily and between our militaries. Also that happened immediately and continued on through the time of the crisis period."

He argued that "I would offer to you that if our two governments had decided to sit down and do this, it would have been difficult and it would have taken a much longer period of time to work out the protocols, the tactics, techniques and procedures and how we were going to get ourselves around this."

"To a large degree," Doran noted, "this was done because of the trust that was built up between Admiral Prakash and myself and the fact that we had known each other for over 30 years and that we could talk to each other, and in this case, it worked."

He added, "It was a wonderful example of what can come out of these relationships." 

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC