India should tread carefully in dealing with Donald Trump

There was continuity and predictability about the directions US policies would take, even after periodic changes of government in Washington.

Published: 30th June 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th June 2019 07:34 AM   |  A+A-

The US is the world’s richest, most affluent, innovative and powerful country. Shedding its pre-World War II isolation, it has emerged as a power with unparalleled economic, political and military influence, globally. There was continuity and predictability about the directions US policies would take, even after periodic changes of government in Washington. While the US had distinct fondness for military dictators in the years of the Cold War, it has attempted to promote democratic values in the post-Cold War years, except perhaps in oil-rich Gulf Monarchies.

This interest in liberal democratic values, economic liberalisation and multilateral economic assistance for developing countries, has been an important facet of US policies for the past three decades. This has been reinforced by military alliances. Considerations of democracy are, however, set aside, when US national security interests so require, in oil rich countries and in Pakistan. Most of these values have, however, been discarded or diluted, with the election of Donald Trump as US President. 

President Trump has little or no interest in promoting democratic values or personal freedoms. In his lexicon, focusing on economic liberalisation, democratic values, religious tolerance, abhorrence of racism and religious bigotry, has little place in the conduct of American foreign and security policies. Washington’s NATO allies in Europe are now facing American demands for greater financial and military contributions. This, at a time when the US has imposed heavy duties on European exports of steel and aluminium. Trump has also renounced the International Agreement signed on Iran’s Nuclear Programme, which was negotiated jointly by the EU, Russia, China and the US. Worse still, he has thrown the 2015 Paris Climate Change Treaty, virtually into the wastepaper basket. 

Trump’s unpredictability and his whimsical and mercurial temperament are going to inevitably affect relations with India. He acts unilaterally, with scant regard for the World Trade Organisation. After slapping trade sanctions on neighbouring Canada and Mexico, Trump has focused attention of imposing high duties on Chinese products. His actions could lead to a “trade war” between the world’s most powerful economies.  

Trump’s decisions to enhance duties on imports from India have evidently emerged from his aversion to India’s duties on American Harley Davidson motorbikes. But, the most serious challenge that India faces arises from American sanctions on its imports of Russian military equipment. The US and India cannot be strategic partners in the Indo-Pacific, if the US undermines India’s security by imposing sanctions on its arms purchases from Russia. Moreover, American sanctions on Chinese electronic equipment produced by Huawei, will affect decision-making on 5G communications services in India. The success of the Modi-Trump meeting in Osaka will be determined by the progress in resolving these issues.

Washington and Delhi have a shared interest in establishing a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific Region, in the face of growing Chinese assertiveness. But, India-US cooperation will be adversely affected, if US policies undermine India’s national interests.

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