Trump and Modi friends?
OPINION
OPINION

COLD WAR AT INDIA’S DOORSTEPS

Trump and Modi friends?

Glowing mention in an official document personally announced by the president of the world’s most powerful nation can be tempting to engage in self-importance. Sections of Indian analysts and media appear to have gone overboard on US President Donald Trump’s references to India in the National Security Strategy (NSS). But there is need for caution for many reasons. Skepticism about NSS does arise the way Trump conducts his foreign policy. This is essentially American viewpoint which is being contested by some in America itself. Many think Trump has ignored essential issues, climate change for one, in this vision statement. Many in the West, not to talk of those criticized in the document, think it is best ignored for a variety of reasons but mainly, because their worldview does not resonate with Trump’s. America’s past record in comprehending issues and acting upon them has not been too reassuring. It keeps changing its friends and foes – it’s risky being either completely. And finally, producing the document is a legal requirement in the US since 1986. Abiding by it is not. The NSS underscores the ‘America First’ principle means in terms of Washington’s foreign policy and delineates friends, foes and ‘frenemies’. It refuses to acknowledge America’s declining power in the international arena. The way Trump all but caved in to China when he met Xi Jinping and has, amidst loud humming and hawing accepted the latter’s inability/unwillingness to restrain North Korea does not match with the strong words the NSS has used.   Undoubtedly, the document has several positives for New Delhi. Given the current ‘nationalist’ mood generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government (that has come in for a special, positive mention), the Indians are thrilled on two counts: that India has been recognised as an emerging global power, and that the role of India’s two adversaries, China and Pakistan, has been criticized in explicit terms. Trump administration states that it will ‘deepen’ its strategic partnership and ‘support’ India’s leadership role in maintaining security in the Indo-Pacific. It sees India as “a balancing power” in the region. New Delhi has responded with ‘appreciation’ but remains cautious, which is good. India is a priority area for the US which deserves support for “its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.” The US views India as a very reliable partner in Afghanistan. The unstated part is that it sees India doing the ‘soft’ job of helping Kabul’s economic development, while the US does the ‘hard’ job of fighting. Only, some of the ‘hard’ part should not be expected of India. Good words that throw a clutch of opportunities at India but with many ‘ifs’. They also demand whether India has the stomach to play global politics and bear the resultant losses in men and material, if, when and where required. Besides ability and intent, the equally big demand from India is on its willingness to join what is clearly a new phase of the Cold War – did it really end with the last century? In the intervening two decades, India has moved cautiously, from what was a bi-polar world to a multi-polar one, from non-alignment to multi-alignment and nurturing relations with powers big and small, as it took economic strides. All along, it has been working to preserve its strategic autonomy, mindful of the pitfalls that invite it if it joins any particular alliance. This is a well-nigh difficult demand. But strategy and diplomacy cannot remain static. India cannot be unmindful of its geographic proximity and geopolitical adversity to China and the emerging China-Pakistan alliance. China, the fast-emerging superpower has spread its money-muscled tentacles all around in Asia and India is particularly surrounded by China whose quest to reach the Indian Ocean has now been fulfilled thanks to Pakistan. China has spread its economic embrace across Indian Ocean region that is bound to get tighter with its Border and Roads Initiative (BRI). India has chosen not to join it, but all around it, smaller neighbours are walking into the Chinese-laid debt trap. Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are borrowing more than they can repay in decades to come. Even the little Maldives feels comfortable in signing a trade pact with China, even stoking anti-India sentiments. What has been the “Indian orbit” is seriously intruded by China. The NSS needs to be viewed in this context, but not with Trump’s America as the savior. India cannot be like Pakistan that has gone into the Chinese embrace with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for one, to get even with India and secondly, to push away a recalcitrant America that is making constant demands to “do more” against terrorism, something Islamabad is unwilling to do to guard its own perceived national interests. This is Asia’s biggest switch-over that India can scarcely ignore.    The US’ limitations in coercing a nation into doing its bid are starkly visible in the way Pakistan’s inability/unwillingness to take on the outfits that target the Americans in Afghanistan. This is despite American threats and reminders of Pakistan’s latter’s ‘obligations’. The short point is that if America cannot effectively coerce Pakistan, a nation that is in political turmoil and whose economy requires a bail-out to survive, then how can it be of any help in India’s fight against terrorism? Among the foes of the Trump administration are Russia and Iran. India has good relations with them. With Russia it remains ‘special’ when it comes to defence hardware. With Iran, the ancient ties survived years of Western sanctions and besides oil, the new factor is Chabahar port, the India-Iran-Afghanistan project. It can help the US, but only if it were to shed its blind hostility to Iran, partly compelled by its anxiety to balance the Saudis and Israelis. India has just exercised its strategic choice by voting at the United Nations against the US on recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is despite its burgeoning ties with the US and Israel, now a major military ware supplier. It’s a plus point in Modi-led diplomacy.  Just like its ties with Russia and Iran, India cannot and should not permanently jeopardize its ties with China and Pakistan despite serious problems and hostility. India, no doubt, had the 73-day Doklam standoff with China accompanied by extraordinary Chinese belligerence. The NSS observes that China built its power through compromise of sovereignty of other nations. But do these ‘other’ nations feel that way? The US cannot be the arbiter of other nations’ sovereignty, nor decide on their being “less free” and “less democratic.” This is return of the Cold War at doorsteps. The bottom line for India, now and later, is to cautiously and deftly navigate its boat of diplomacy through turbulent waters, keeping its own interests in mind – and without getting swept off by words of praise. The “global power” status has to be earned, not conferred by any country, grouping or alliance.  //

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of