What India wants from the next US President

What India wants from the next US President
What India wants from the next US President

In a world where Americans seem split on the advantages of globalisation and liberal trade, we look beyond the wish-list politics of the past to see what a new American regime could mean for India. What would India want from the next president of the United States In years and elections gone by, that question would have been answered with a wish list of bilateral agreements and country-specific demands. In 2016, in these troubled and confused times for the global polity and economy, the answer is wider: the new president should renew and show commitment to the international system and to America's leadership of it. That international system, whether the liberal trading order or the battle against terrorism in the Middle East or the maritime security architecture of the Indo-Pacific oceanic space, is under strain. It faces challenges for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to a diminishing of American interest and shoulder responsibilities that have been superpower's burden for preceding decades. As a beneficiary of the multilateral order underpinned by this American leadership - especially after it began to open its economy in 1991, became a founder-member of the World Trade Organisation in 1994, and started to modernise its foreign policy after the Pokhran nuclear tests of 1998 - India has come to depend on the certitudes of an American presence. Today, these certitudes look less and less apparent. The public mood in the US and the themes leading up to voting day indicate an America that is wary of international engagement, at least more than it has been at any point in living memory. Poll-based studies by the Pew Research Center, the Washington DC based tracker of public opinion, suggest a bitterly divided America that will inevitably temper the internationalist and interventionist impulses of any president, provided the new president has these impulses in the first place. For example, Americans are split on the advantages of globalisation and liberal trade. As Pew Center reports say, while 49 per cent of Americans consider globalisation negatively, as taking away jobs, 44 per cent see it positively, as creating opportunities. Sixty-one per cent of Republican voters think free trade agreements are bad. In contrast, 58 per cent of Democrat voters think such agreements are good. The souring of trade has also meant the de-prioritising of Asia. In 2011, 47 per cent of Americans felt Asia was more important and 37 per cent felt Europe was more important. Today, 52 per cent plump for Europe and only 32 per cent for Asia. For today's America, Asia is suddenly one ocean too far. Coming as this does in the aftermath of American disengagement with the Middle East, it adds to the divergent priorities of India and America even while, paradoxically, the bilateral relationship is growing only stronger. The lack of enthusiasm for trade pacts and the weakening of political support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) indicate a key element of President Barack Obama's Pivot to Asia is under attack at home. Even though India is not a participant in TPP - not yet at any rate - it is a stakeholder in the Pivot to Asia initiative, where it sees the US as a maritime partner and hopes to complement the US role as the leading net security provider. In the Asia to India's west - the troubled expanse the US knows as the Middle East - American withdrawal from Iraq and increasingly Afghanistan is being looked upon with some concern in New Delhi. Terrorism from Pakistan and the radicalised arc that begins to India's immediate west and continues to the gates of Europe threatens India. Oil from the Gulf region may no longer matter to the US, following the shale gas revolution, but India is the major economy most dependent on Gulf crude. As such, an American president who can overcome the rhetoric of the campaign and the wariness of America's people and balance domestic compulsions with international responsibilities would be India's primary hope. When it comes to bilateral issues, India finds itself in a sweet spot in Washington DC in that there is bipartisan (Democrat-Republican) consensus for a deeper relationship and it is not seen as a problem country or a trouble maker. Indeed, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi India has re-emerged as a growing economy and a tempting location for American investment, a dependable security partner, a trustworthy buyer of US military technology and hardware, and a country willing to take responsibility when it comes to global governance, such as at the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015. About the only differences are on trade policy, and, relatedly, India's entry to forums such as APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), though its salience may have declined following the setback to TPP. President Obama and Secretary of Defence Ash Carter have taken the India-US defence and military relationship to an unprecedented high, with the Modi government signing a key logistics agreement with the US. Will the successor administration be as open-minded about the defence bond with India There is no reason to be unenthusiastic but so much depends on individual officials and their personal legacies and histories. As such, more than the identity of the president, the identity of who he or she chooses to manage the South Asia account will concern India.

Ashok Malik, Senior Columnist

No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
No stories found.
India Global Business
www.indiaglobalbusiness.com