Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Hype Trumps Hope

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- India-US relation in changing circumstances.

Context

US president’s visit comes when a mutually beneficial framework of bilateral relationship stands disrupted.

Significance previous U.S. President’s visits

  • The Clinton visit:  The Clinton visit occurred against the backdrop of a new assessment within the American strategic community of India’s potential role in the post-Cold War era and against the backdrop of the rise of China.
    • Recognition of India’s nuclear power: He implicitly recognising India’s nuclear power status.
    • Kashmir issue: He suggested that the line of control (LoC) between India and Pakistan should be viewed as the international border so as to bury the “Kashmir issue” forever and-
    • Visas for Indians: increasing entry visas for Indians that has since contributed to the emergence of a sizeable community of Indian Americans.
    • As a counter to China: It was suggested that the rise of democratic India would be in the interests of the US and so the latter ought to be supportive of the former.
  • The Bush visit:
    • Political context: The rise of China and of radical Islam and jihadi terrorism provided the geopolitical context.
    • Economic context: The growth of an increasingly open Indian economy provided the economic context.
    • Cooperation in civil nuclear energy: Influenced by this new thinking, President George Bush took the next steps in strategic partnership and led the initiative to promote cooperation in the field of civil nuclear energy that also explicitly recognised India as a nuclear weapons power.
    • As heads of state, Clinton and Bush altered US-India bilateral relations in a fundamental way.
  • The Obama visit:
    • P2P relation: His second visit was more a recognition of the growing importance of people-to-people (P2P) relations and
    • Defence sales to India: The visit also aimed at promoting defence sales to India.
    • During the nuclear deal negotiations, US Congresspersons would often suggest that it was a “123 for 126” deal — that is, they would vote in favour of the 123 agreement in Congress in the hope that India would buy 126 fighter jets from the US.
    • That hope remains as yet unfulfilled, with the French getting the Rafale deal and no decision taken on the purchase of US fighter jets.

America First policy of Trump

  • The credit for laying the foundation for a new and supportive post-Cold War relationship between the US and India goes singularly to President Bush.
  • Disruption with the arrival of Trump: The mutually beneficial framework that Bush helped create to promote the bilateral relationship has been rudely disrupted by the arrival of Donald Trump in Washington DC.
    • End of GSP: Trump’s “America First” policy offers no space for offering India “special and differential” treatment on any front, least of all trade.
    • Status of the Indian economy from the US perspective: With per capita annual national income of US $60,000, Trump’s America has no qualms declaring India, with a per capita annual average national income of US $2,000 a “developed economy” not deserving of any leniency in trade policy.
    • Clubbing together with China: To club China, a $15-trillion economy, with a $3-trillion India on the trade front is not just stupid but an affront to Indian sensibilities.

What are the hopes and what could be the outcomes of the visit?

  • No bi-partisan support to India’s rise: It has to be recognised that neither Democratic liberals nor Republican conservatives are any longer willing to be supportive of the Bush-Rice paradigm that views India’s rise in benign and mutually beneficial terms.
    • Inward-orientation in both the countries: Today the relationship seems caught in the pincers between the inward-orientation of rightwing nationalists in both nations.
    • No hope of change: There is no reason as yet to believe that this unfortunate state of affairs will be altered by the Trump visit next week.
  • Stand on Pakistan or Kashmir: Trump has also moved away from the Clinton-Bush framework on India-Pakistan relations and moved closer to approach of wanting to insert the US into the equation on Kashmir.
    • Appeasement of Pakistan: Trump’s motives are no different from those that initially drove Obama-namely, to appease Pakistan in the hope of securing a peaceful exit from Afghanistan.
    • Expect differences to persist: At best, India can hope to limit the damage Trump may do to strategic stability in the region.
  • Visa and investment: There will be much talk about US investments in India and increased visas for Indians going to the US.
    • Corporate interests: Both are driven largely by US corporate interests.
    • Given the direction of the Modi government’s trade policy, one cannot expect any dramatic concessions being made.
    • Defence purchases: The best India can do for the US is to buy more defence equipment and ease up on some trade restrictions.
    • Defence sales to India are an essentially commercial activity and much of it can go on even in the absence of strategic convergence and shared geopolitical perspectives.
  • Brain-drain and need to focus on education: Much is made of Indian Americans heading US multinationals and the Great Indian Diaspora in the US.
    • Outmigration of talent: The continued neglect of education in India is increasing the outmigration of talent, offering the US a reservoir of talent.
    • Drain on national resources: While the Indian elite celebrates this out-migration, the fact is that it is a drain on national resources.

Conclusion

In sum,  with the supportive Bush-Rice doctrine defining the post-Cold War US-India partnership virtually abandoned, and the new Trump doctrine treating India as a “developed” economy, demanding parity on trade, bilateral relations have become uncertain and testy. To hide the lack of substance in the relationship the Trump visit will focus on the hype and Prime Minister Modi has perfected the art of diplomacy as mass entertainment.

 

 

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