Trump´s India visit- global strategic partner for the USA or strategic balancing for Indian sovereignty?

Trump´s India visit- global strategic partner for the USA or strategic balancing for Indian sovereignty?

Reassessing Trump visit after the euphoria

Author: Vinod Saighal 


It is not the intention in this paper to repeat the take-away from the recent visit of the US President, Mr. Donald Trump. These have been covered extensively in the electronic and print media. What is being discussed below are some of the more important aspects that require deeper analysis.

The first of these relates to the changing definition of strategic autonomy. For several years defence analysts had been talking of India’s unique position of strategic autonomy among the three big powers, namely, the US, China and Russia. During the visit Mr. Trump envisioned a regional leadership role for India not confined to South Asia but extending beyond. After the defence deals that were signed and the promised technology transfer as well as component manufacture in India the US President spoke of India being a ‘comprehensive global strategic partner’. While India for all intents and purposes is seen to be allied strongly to the US the reverse proposition is equally true. India had started siding with the US long before once it realised that accommodation with China on terms acceptable to India did not seem likely. On their side the Chinese whose attitude towards India was becoming increasingly belligerent remained distrustful of India, the one-to-one meetings between the two leaders in Wuhan and Chennai notwithstanding. The die is now cast, there is no more hedging with China. They can read the writing on the wall.

Where does India go from here? Having unmistakably cast its lot with the US it should shed all inhibitions and get on with it. The leadership should whole-heartedly embrace the quad. No further procrastination. It should take the leadership role and get moving. Meetings with quad leaders should be held yearly and among the militaries and foreign ministers half-yearly. Triggers that will be required for measured response against specific actions by China should be decided upon and made known to all concerned in East Asia and ASEAN. Quad and all other alignments in the region are purely defensive measures. To go further these are measures to “restrain” and not to contain China as such. The term was first introduced at a Talk delivered at the University of Philippines, Asian Centre on June 18, 2013 on CAN INDIA PROVIDE BALANCED MULTIPOLARITY IN SOUTHEAST AND EAST ASIA.

To return to strategic autonomy India retains it in full measure outside the region with regard to Russia and the rest of the world. It has fiercely defended its autonomy in dealing with Russia for defence purchases and all other matters of mutual interest. It is hardly likely to change. Russia realises India’s need to protect its interests in South Asia and to the East; it not being a player in the region nor having geographic contiguity with it. When the Indian Prime Minister meets the Russian President in the months ahead it is reasonably certain that ties between the two countries will be further strengthened.

Raising the question of Pakistan at bilateral meetings and insistence to condemn it is becoming counter-productive. It has not led to any change in behaviour. The FATF is the appropriate forum to take it up. Making it the most important concern for joint statements – often at the reluctance of the visiting heads – merely leads to yawns in the neighbours and weariness around the world. India is now too big and strong to go pleading with all comers to condemn Pakistan. 

The other aspect related to the Trump visit is the charge levelled at the Prime Minister by several opposition leaders that Mr. Modi has compromised India by putting ‘all eggs in the Trump basket’. On the face of it the concern is well-founded seeing that Trump may or may not be elected for a second term. In which case whoever comes to power could hold it against the Prime Minister and India for rank partisanship. However, the opposition should know by now that when required Mr. Modi is not averse to taking well-considered calculated risks in the interest of the country as he sees it. He is not unaware of the adverse consequences for him and the country should the risk go wrong. Balakot is a case in point. Had things gone wrong Mr. Modi might not have been re-elected, at least with an overwhelming majority.

To summarise the geostrategic situation in the Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific is such that no matter who wins the November 2020 election in the US the defence community in the US realises that the importance of India in the region is more to the interest of the former – even an ineluctable strategic necessity – than the latter. Similarly, from now to November even were the trade agreement not materialise enough is likely to be achieved in the remaining months to enhance cooperation substantially in several domains.

GR comment:

We have just read the assessment of the ISES about Trump´s India visit. To be honest, we don´t see that the visit changed the strategic balancing of India in a significant way. That Trump declares India as a global strategic partner might be nice, but does he know what that means or isn´t this just a superlative he normally uses in his speeches without really meaning. Even such distinguished and sophisticated US presidents like George Bush senior wanted a strategic partnership with Germany and special relations like with GB  in order to create a new world order, Nothing like that materialized in the aftermath. Therefore loud declarations don´t automatically mean that they become reality. What other facts is the author quoting? First that Modi meets with Trump after the Wuhan meeting with Xi. And then what? Modi will also meet Xi again and this is just part of the strategic balancing as General Asthana described in our interview. Then the author quotes the arms treaty. But he doesn´t mention that its value was just 3 billion US dollar$. Compare this with other arms export treaties of the USA with other countries, hereby outstanding Saudiarabia with a value of 350 billion US$ and then compare it with India. Well, if it is not the number and quantity, then it could be the quality of weapon deliveries. But the author doesn´t even mention what arms the USA will sell to India that could have been such a qualitative game changer. Thirdly the author quotes the Quad dialogue. But the dialogue existed before and the author doesn´t show what is the new level of intensification of Quad ties and their meaning. Do more Quad meetings at higher diplomatic level transfer into a military game-changer or even the formation of an Asian NATO. And about the trade relations and the economic aspects of the meetings the article has not very much to offer. Well, Global Review doesn´t believe that the Trump-Modi meeting really was a game-changer. The Indians become more self-consciousness, but their new assertiveness is within the framework of strategic balancing between the USA and China.

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