Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Ukraine conflict won’t make the US abandon Indo-Pacific strategy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- US's commitment to the Indo-Pacific

Context

When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February, it was widely asked in Delhi if the new challenges of European security would result in a dilution of the US’s strategic commitment to the Indo-Pacific.

The Challenge of balancing China and Russia

  • There are two parts of Biden’s answer to the Europe-Asia or Russia-China question.
  • 1] Engagement with allies: When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine at the end of February, it was widely asked in Delhi if the new challenges of European security would result in a dilution of the US’s strategic commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
  • Biden came to power with a determination to make the Indo-Pacific the highest priority of his foreign policy.
  • He is not going to abandon that objective in dealing with the unexpected crisis in Europe.
  • The assumption that China was the principal challenge and Russia was less of a threat led Biden to meet Putin in June 2021 to offer prospects for a reasonable relationship with Russia in order to devote US energies to the China question.
  • But Putin’s calculations led him towards a deeper strategic partnership with China
  • But America’s assessment of the Russian and Chinese threats has not changed since the war began in Ukraine.
  • The idea that China will gain from the Russian war in Ukraine has also proven to be false.
  • Expectations that Russia’s triumph in Ukraine will be followed by a successful Chinese invasion of Taiwan have begun to dissipate.
  • Meanwhile, China is reeling under self-inflicted problems, most notably Xi Jinping’s zero Covid strategy and his crackdown on the large internet companies.
  • The costly foreign policy of China: Beijing’s prospects look a lot less rosy than before as the Chinese economy slows down and XI’s foreign policy turns out to be quite costly for China.
  • The muscular approach of China: In Asia, China’s muscular approach to disputes with its neighbours has helped strengthen the US alliances, create new forums like the AUKUS, elevate old ones like the Quad to a higher level, and consolidate the strategic conception of the Indo-Pacific.
  • 2] Coordination with allies and partners: Biden’s lemma to the theorem on a two-front strategy is a simple one — that Washington will address the simultaneous challenge in Europe and Asia not by acting alone but in coordination with allies and partners. 
  • The idea was rooted in the recognition that alliances and partnerships are America’s greatest strength and most important advantage over Russia and China.

Engagement with Asia

  • ASEAN: This week’s summit level engagement with the ASEAN comes after sustained high-level US outreach to the region since the Biden Administration took charge.
  • In northeast Asia, the election of Yoon Suk-yeol as the president of South Korea has tilted the scales slightly towards the US in the continuing battle for influence between Beijing and Washington.
  • The US is also actively trying to reduce the differences between its two treaty allies in the region — South Korea and Japan.
  • Asia’s new coalitions are a response to Xi Jinping’s unilateralism and his quest for regional hegemony.
  • India’s enthusiasm for the Quad can be directly correlated to Xi’s military coercion on the disputed frontiers with India.

Implications for India

  • The two parts of Biden’s answer to the Europe-Asia or Russia-China question have worked well for India.
  • Tolerance toward India-Russia engagement: For one, the US’s emphasis on the long-term challenge from China has meant that Washington is willing to tolerate India’s engagement with Russia.
  • Time for the diversification of defence ties: This gives India time to diversify its defence ties that have been heavily dependent on Russia.
  • The US emphasis on partnerships rather than unilateralism in dealing with the China challenge means India’s agency in the region can only grow.
  • The Quad allows Delhi to carve out a larger role for itself in Asia and the Indo-Pacific in collaboration with the US and its allies.

Conclusion

Contrary to the initial assumptions that America is on the retreat and the West is in disarray, it is Moscow and Beijing that are on the defensive as the war in Ukraine completes three months.

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