With the gradual transition from optimistic nonalignment to a more realistic balancing approach in Indian foreign policy, Indo-US relations have reached their pinnacle, particularly after the Houston and Ahmadabad rallies. The reasons for such spectacular rise are many but it is widely believed that the personal relationship of Prime Minister Modi with President Trump, contributed to a large extent.
World War II gave birth to a bipolar world order and the subsequent break up of the USSR resulted in a unipolar world. Globalisation and economic integration further led to today’s multipolar world. In the context of a multipolar world and changing world order, India is justified to adopt a more realistic balanced approach in its foreign policy, aligning with different countries on different issues.
The US election results have indicated Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden’s victory and Republican nominee Donald Trump’s defeat. While some people celebrated the victory of Biden with a hope that he will revive America’s previous position on the world stage, some others celebrated Trump’s defeat with a sigh of relief. At the same time, the results also created apprehension in the minds of many, on how the Indo-US relations will be in future and whether the Indo-US relations will continue as before in the changed scenario.
Undoubtedly, the personal relationship between top leaders of the countries do contribute to improving relations between those countries but they are not the only determinants in improving relations. In order to determine the truth in that apprehension, one has to examine closely its causative factors.
The apprehension is mainly due to two reasons. Trump and Modi developed a very good personal relationship but such a relationship is nonexistent between Modi and Biden so far. No doubt, there is a change in the leadership in the US, but it does not necessarily bring adverse changes in the US policy towards India.
The Democrats are believed to have a soft corner towards Pakistan. In fact, when the US bilateral team under the chairmanship of Joe Biden visited Pakistan in 2009, the then Pakistani president Zardari conferred the honour of “Hilal-e-Pakistan” on Biden. He further said that Biden provided formidable support to democracy in Pakistan and took the US-Pakistan relations to a new level altogether.
Moreover, during electioneering, both Biden and Kamala Harris criticised reported human rights violations in India and on issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. However, there is hardly any truth in such apprehension as the biggest factor in favour of India today is the growing worldwide opposition to China due to numerous territorial disputes with its neighbours and its assertiveness in the region.
Even in the case of Covid-19 pandemic, many countries suspect that China did not play a fair game. Moreover, the US continues to have problems with China in terms of trade wars, theft of industrial secrets, espionage and cyberattacks. Even the Covid virus is reported to have been smuggled from US research labs. In such circumstances, Biden would certainly like to have a reliable friend like India to check the growing influence of China. In foreign diplomacy, there is a saying, “your enemy’s enemy is your friend”.
In his poll campaign, Biden promised that he will reverse Trump-era policies on two major issues – the Iran nuclear deal and Paris agreement on climate change. India will be benefited to some extent on both counts. In the case of Iran nuclear deal, once the economic sanctions on Iran are lifted, India will have access to Iranian oil, which will facilitate its regional connectivity plans.
Similarly, once the US returns to the Paris climate accord, it would help India in its energy transformation as it will boost the proposed International Solar Alliance (ISA). The ISA was jointly proposed by Modi and then French president François Hollande in 2015, with the main objective of popularising the use of solar energy worldwide and help the member countries in facing the challenges arising out of this exercise. The advanced technology of the US will come in handy in such joint efforts.
Another promise made by Biden during electioneering was the review of H1B visa-related issues to bring in comprehensive immigration reforms. Trump’s pronounced policies on HIB visa and his regulatory visa regime affected the Indian immigrants, particularly software companies. Biden has also promised to facilitate people working in the US to bring their families.
Biden has indicated that he wants to invite all democratic nations to a “Summit for Democracy” and discuss issues like defending against rising authoritarianism and fighting corruption. Similarly, he wants to call “global summit of tech companies” to elicit pledges from tech companies that they will ensure their platforms are not empowering surveillance states, facilitating repression in China and elsewhere, spreading hate or spurring people to violence.
Biden further promised to work together with India in confronting international challenges like transnational terrorism, climate change and global health. He asserted that the US and India will stand together against terrorism in all its forms and work together to promote a region of peace and stability where neither China nor any other country threatens its neighbours.
Biden has been a major proponent of a strategy called “counterterrorism plus”. This strategy emphasises fighting terrorist networks operating in foreign countries, by using small groups of US Special Forces and aggressive airstrikes instead of large-scale troop deployments. As a senator, he supported the Indo-US nuclear deal. Biden’s message is loud and clear as far as the cooperation with India on global terrorism and in curbing of trans-border terrorism is concerned.
Biden has also emphasised protection of human rights, rule of law and democratic values. Therefore, Biden can be expected to follow a more balanced policy than arbitrary, more rational than rash and more humane and flexible than rigid.
(The author is an IPS (Retd) and former Chief Security Adviser, United Nations)