Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University
On 20th of January 2021, Joseph Biden entered the Oval Office in the White House and assumed the office of the US President. During his campaign as well as after becoming the president-elect, Biden had made it amply clear that the strategic partnership with India would continue and would be strengthened further.
His choice of people to lead the State Department, the Defense Department, the Intelligence Department and nomination of a Special Coordinator for the Indo—Pacific was a clear signal that Washington’s approach towards India in both diplomatic and security affairs will be positive, cooperative and development-oriented.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns and Special Coordinator Kurt Campbell are people who have dealt with India earlier and familiar with Indian affairs. All of them have indicated through their statements either during their confirmation hearings or through their writings and media interviews that the US-India relations will be key to protect, promote and preserve peace, stability and growth in the Indo-Pacific region.
The first foreign policy speech by President Biden himself in the State Department has now made it amply clear that the United States will return to the table for leading multilateral forums and negotiations as a leader of world affairs. On the very first day in office, he restored American membership in the World Health Organization. By issuing an Executive Order, he has also made the US return to the Paris Climate Deal.
He has vowed to cooperate with Russia where feasible and adopt a tough approach when necessary. While promptly extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, he has also promised to prevent Russian Cyber attacks and interferences in domestic politics of the United States.
President Biden has also signalled that he would, like his predecessor, not follow a soft policy towards China even as the latter has become an expansionist, aggressive and over-ambitious under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Biden has described China as a “serious competitor” and has shown determination to confront Chinese rivalry.
More importantly, he has gone against Donald Trump sponsored agreement between the US and the Taliban at Doha and has shown keenness to reopen negotiations on a peace deal by involving the Afghan Government. Similarly, he has taken a strong stand to stop the US funding to war efforts in Yemen against the Houthis.
India has considerable opportunities and some challenges ahead in its policy towards the United States during the next four years of Biden Administration.
The opportunities are the following:
Biden has decided to carry forward the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US where India has a constructive and cooperative role to play in managing Chinese expansionism and aggrandizement.
India has invested a considerable amount of time, energy and resources in Afghanistan. Biden’s decision not to abruptly end US military presence in that country is in India’s interest. Biden’s policy will not allow a complete Taliban takeover of the country.
Given the economic challenges confronting the US and India and, in fact, the global economy, India can push for an early resolution of trade and investment differences and promote economic and technological cooperation.
However, there are critical challenges ahead as well and what is required is proactive diplomacy. First of all, there is the issue of Indian purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia that can face US sanctions. India needs to convince the US that these missiles are only for defensive purposes, that these are not going to be used against American interests and that the US, in any case, is also a large supplier of military equipment to India. And thus a clean waiver should be given to this deal between India and Russia.
Secondly, the Biden Administration’s handling of the issue of Iran nuclear deal will raise many complications that may affect India’s quest for energy resources.
Last but not the least, Pakistan will yet again be at work to raise the Kashmir issue and only a deft diplomatic engagement can control the political fallout. Nonetheless, the bipartisan support to Indo-US strategic relations in the US as well as in India will surely enhance the scope and depth of the relationship.