Com­ing up Trumps

India Today - - UPFRONT - by Dhruva Jais­hankar The writer is for­eign pol­icy fel­low, Brook­ings In­dia

As Don­ald Trump com­pletes 100 days as US Pres­i­dent, what has it meant for In­dia? The short an­swer is, no­body knows, not even Trump. But in an era of greater un­cer­tainty, it is im­por­tant for In­dia to iden­tify the key vari­ables trig­gered by Trump’s elec­tion. They re­late, essen­tially, to four broad ar­eas: bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, the Asian bal­ance of power, ter­ror­ism and global gov­er­nance.

On bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, when mar­ket ac­cess, in­vest­ment, tech­nol­ogy and the flow of peo­ple are taken to­gether, the US stands out as In­dia’s most im­por­tant part­ner for progress. For Amer­ica, In­dia’s rise presents lu­cra­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties—in in­fra­struc­ture, en­ergy, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and re­tail. The two coun­tries en­joy an in­creas­ingly close pri­vate sec­tor-led re­la­tion­ship that en­com­passes IT, bi­o­log­i­cal sciences, space, en­ergy and de­fence.

This mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial and re­in­forc­ing part­ner­ship is premised on two things. First, the fac­tors that con­sti­tute Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism: democ­racy, lib­eral in­ter­na­tion­al­ism and im­mi­gra­tion. Trump has in­stead pro­jected Amer­ica as a more ‘nor­mal’ power, one un­will­ing to be a model for oth­ers, fo­cus­ing its de­fence struc­tures on closer, more im­me­di­ate chal­lenges and con­ceiv­ing na­tional iden­tity in nar­rower terms. Ad­di­tion­ally, the past three US pres­i­dents were guided by the strate­gic logic, as Ash­ley Tel­lis put it, that “a strong, demo­cratic, (even if per­pet­u­ally) in­de­pen­dent In­dia [is] in Amer­i­can na­tional in­ter­est”. This logic in­formed Bill Clin­ton’s lift­ing of sanc­tions af­ter the 1998 nu­clear tests, George W. Bush’s of­fer of a civil nu­clear agree­ment and Barack Obama’s agree­ing to a Joint Strate­gic Vi­sion with In­dia. While try­ing to con­vince Trump of the mer­its of Amer­i­can open­ness and the value of a strong In­dia, New Delhi must work with other Amer­i­can ac­tors (in­clud­ing states, leg­is­la­tors and the pri­vate sec­tor), while seek­ing al­ter­na­tive part­ners when­ever pos­si­ble.

The US role as a se­cu­rity provider in the Indo-Pa­cific is also cru­cial to pre­serv­ing a re­gional bal­ance of power. Trump has of­fered mixed sig­nals on China, but pos­si­ble out­comes in­clude a more mil­i­tarised ‘pivot to Asia’ or a pol­icy of cal­cu­lated un­pre­dictabil­ity. Al­ter­na­tively, Trump may try to bro­ker a power-shar­ing ar­range­ment with Bei­jing, or not match his bel­liger­ent rhetoric with the req­ui­site sources, or en­gage in a ru­inous trade and cur­rency war. Those out­comes would be much less wel­come to New Delhi. While eval­u­at­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of each broad sce­nario and plan­ning ac­cord­ingly, In­dia must con­tinue its pol­icy of main­tain­ing a favourable bal­ance of power in the Indo-Pa­cific. This means dou­bling down on an ‘Act East’ pol­icy: arm­ing the north along the bor­der, con­nect­ing east into South­east Asia, se­cur­ing the In­dian Ocean to the south, part­ner­ing far­ther afield with like­minded ac­tors, deep­en­ing in­sti­tu­tional links to Asia and con­tin­u­ing to en­gage and co­op­er­ate with Bei­jing, when­ever pos­si­ble, par­tic­u­larly eco­nom­i­cally.

Ter­ror­ism re­mains a third ma­jor con­cern. While talk­ing tough, Trump has fo­cused on se­cur­ing the home­land, de­feat­ing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and coun­ter­ing Iran. In­dia has its own pri­or­i­ties, which place greater stress on cross-bor­der ter­ror­ism em­a­nat­ing from Pak­istan and, re­lat­edly, on sta­bil­is­ing Afghanistan. How­ever, the US ap­petite for counter-in­sur­gency in Afghanistan has de­clined, and sev­eral fac­tors, in­clud­ing a nu­clear weapons pro­gramme, have pre­vented it from ad­dress­ing Pak­istan-based ter­ror­ism. There­fore, while In­dia and the US may find greater agree­ment at the level of first prin­ci­ples when it comes to ter­ror­ism, prac­ti­cal co­op­er­a­tion might be com­pli­cated.

Fi­nally, Trump’s elec­tion will have con­se­quences for global gov­er­nance. To­day, In­dia seeks mem­ber­ship of the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion fo­rum; de­sires a voice and a vote on nu­clear, chem­i­cal, bi­o­log­i­cal and con­ven­tional weapons pro­lif­er­a­tion through mem­ber­ship to the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (which would ce­ment its 2008 waiver that en­ables it to con­duct civil nu­clear com­merce); and seeks a per­ma­nent seat in an ex­panded UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. While the US has sup­ported In­dia’s mem­ber­ship of these fo­rums in the past, it ap­pears a low pri­or­ity for the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion. It will have to be seen whether ‘Amer­ica First’ can ever align with In­dia’s as­pi­ra­tion to be a lead­ing power.

With Trump of­fer­ing mixed sig­nals in the Indo-Pa­cific, In­dia must dou­ble down on its ‘Act East’ pol­icy

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