With the rise of Donald Trump in America, the sun has set on the post-WW II order
It rained a little on the inaugural ceremony of President Donald Trump on January 20. An inauguration like no other, the mood was dark, suffused by angeron-a-leash, but anger nonetheless. The newly anointed leader-of-the-free world’s speech was combative, unsmiling, almost war-painted. His words were a call to arms: making America great again will involve a show of muscle, no speaking softly, and yes, carrying a big stick.
If there was a takeaway from the address for that agglomeration of continents called the rest of the world, it was ‘brace, brace, brace!’ This is going to be a roller-coaster ride, in a world dictated to by an absence of strategy, by the here and now, as Robert Zoellick said recently.
And India! The partnership between India and the US is the legacy of the Bush and Obama years. Will it endure and flourish? Trump’s priorities, as articulated, lie in the elimination of Islamic radicalism, in trade protectionism, in making clear to allies that there are no free rides, in resetting relations with Russia and riling the Chinese. India has not been mentioned—which may be a good thing.
Could it mean it will be a while before India gets the focused attention of the new administration? That may well be the case. The senior appointments to departments that deal with India, including the naming of a new ambassador, will provide the first signals of the approach and emphasis India and the region will receive. Renewed stirrings within the US Congress on restricting visas, which will now be synchronised with the nativist protectionism of a Trump White House, will set off alarms here. The Trump administration’s approach to Pakistan will bear watching. That is India’s wailing wall, designed to set relations on edge.
Then there’s China. Some risk management is advisable. The Trump administration’s Asia policy may be elucidated, if at all, with tweets and gunboats, and sabre-rattling and account-squaring may be the daily menu. There is little reason for India to pledge allegiance to American obstreperousness on this count. Our China policy, the balancing of it, must be the sum of its own algorithms, even as we need America, our security and defence relationship, our cooperation in counter-terrorism and our people-centred cooperation.
With the rise of Trump, the sun sets on the post-World War II order. The horizons ahead are ill-defined. Smartness and agility in policy formulation and operationalisation will be at a premium. Interests, not friendships, are the lodestar. Making America great again puts the entire world on notice.