Thursday, January 27, 2022

Indo-US Relations Get Positive Grading

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Robert Blackwill, a former US Ambassador to India, has graded President Donald Trump ‘B Plus’ in his assessment of the American President’s policy especially towards India. The timing of the assessment is significant. President Donald Trump is now campaigning for a second term in office and so is the incumbent Indian government.  The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) led by Blackwill, in its special report said, Trump’s foreign policy is better than they seem. It added President Trump “deserves credit for promoting strategic ties with India in a sustained manner”.

Unlike the US, a non-biased assessment by Indian academics on India’s foreign policy in general and her achievements in carrying forward strategic partnership with the United States will most likely fetch India an A Grade.

In Ambassador Blackwill’s opinion, President Trump should be given credit for further strengthening Washington’s strategic ties with India that has been in an upward swing from the beginning of the 21st century. Offering India state-of-the-art military equipment and technology, making India a key partner in the new Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States, upgrading India’s status in the US strategy towards South Asia and treating India at par with NATO members and Asian allies in arms transfer matters, and scaling up the bilateral military exercises across services are highly positive developments. In Blackwill’s view, these would better serve American national interests.

However, Blackwill gave little credit to India for sustaining the strategic partnership with the United States; despite the Trump Administration’s unhelpful approach towards India in areas of climate change, tariff policy, H1B visa issue, GSP system in bilateral trade.

Successive US Presidents and Indian Prime Ministers have struggled their way through ups and downs to craft a strategic partnership paradigm that would bring India and the US onto the same page in the areas of maintaining global peace, order and stability. It has been a long march since the days of dichotomy in Indo-US bilateral interactions in the midst of US strategy of alliance formation and Indian policy of non-alignment.

The trade, investment and climate policy of the Trump Administration have negatively affected India; yet, India has demonstrated its tremendous resilience keeping in mind the big picture and the significance of Indo-US strategic relations.

While India has shown utmost restraint and sophistication in handling the economic differences and has not allowed any issue to come on the way of bilateral strategic partnership with the United States; American interlocutors must impress upon the Trump presidency the need for developing a win-win paradigm to sustain and improve positive economic cooperation as a means of further strengthening strategic cooperation.

The economic policy towards other countries has hidden strategic goals that seem beyond the comprehension of the current American administration. President Trump cares more for domestic business interests even at the cost of strategic interests. The strategic community in the United States is certainly aware of it and it is demonstrated by two National Security Advisors resigning from office in the first term of Mr. Donald Trump.

Several of America’s allies and strategic partners around the world are finding it hard to deal with the Trump presidency and India is no exception. Even then, the Indian Prime Minister must be given full marks for navigating through difficult diplomatic waters in the wake of the Trump White House withdrawing from Paris Climate Agreement, Iran nuclear deal, and adopting extra-territorial sanctions policy related to both Iran and Russia.

If only President Trump would have refrained from certain policy initiatives that have adversely affected Washington’s relations with long-standing friends and allies, there is little doubt that he would have scored better grades in his foreign policy.

In contrast, unbiased views in India would perhaps give almost full marks to India for her deft handling of national security policy and relations with the rest of the world.

Script: Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra, Pro VC  & Chairman, American Studies Centre, JNU

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