Modi-Trump alliance is must for stability in Indo-Pacific region
Prof M D Nalapat
For more than two generations, forecasts have universally predicted that China, the US and India will soon be the top three economies on the globe. Despite its demographic decline, the Russian Federation will most likely be able to leverage its territorial resources sufficiently to emerge as the fourth power, with Brazil eventually elbowing out Japan for the subsequent fifth slot as a consequence of its developing and largely unutilised potential. As for Russia, despite the romantic (indeed, fanatic) visions of essentially racist elements in St Petersburg and Moscow who continue to regard those of European descent as being superior in qualities to others, including those from Asia, the Russian Federation is a Eurasian country that is neither European nor Asian but a fusion of both. The US, meanwhile, is a quadricontinental power that has elements from each continent (Europe, Asia, South America, Africa) merged within its cultural DNA.
Only Brazil is wholly outside Asia among the emerging global Big Six, while the European Union is visibly dissolving as a consequence of a growing lack of congruence and compatibility between the national goals of its major components. Greece, Bulgaria and Italy, for example, do not share the visceral fear of Russia of Poland, France and Germany.
The present trans-Atlantic effort to retain Moscow as Enemy Number One is based not on realities but on the increasingly more expensive hence desperate struggle by Paris and Berlin to retain the present primacy of the Atlantic Alliance over the emerging Indo-Pacific alliance backstopped by the US and India by far, the world’s two most conseqeuntial democracies. President Trump’s “crime” is that, as a business person, he has embraced the reality of the Indo-Pacific century rather than clinging on to a moribund Atlanticist strategy the way the bureaucracies in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin wish him to do. Despite efforts from the more conventional minds in his entourage to make the 45th President of the United States return to the post-1945 Atlanticist strategy that is still the gospel of the East Coast establishment, President Trump can be expected to battle his way towards fashioning a set of policies for the US that reflect 21st century realities rather than 19th century verities carried forward with some modifications into the next century. Hence, it is inevitable that President Trump would understand the centrality of India in any future geopolitical strategy of Washington, and therefore the importance of arriving at a comprehensive understanding with Prime Minister Modi on how the two countries can concert in order to meet the threats as well as take advantage of the opportunities presented by the 21st century.
Both will need to go beyond their bureaucracies if they are to succeed in a US-India strategic rapprochement that matches in importance the 1970s coming together of Beijing and Washington as a consequence of the understanding reached between President Nixon and Chairman Mao at their 1972 meeting. George W Bush, Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama understood the centrality of a US-India partnership in the evolving architecture of the present century, but failed to actualise it as a consequence of legalistic pettifogging and procedural foot-dragging by both establishments. In the case of India, there are those who believe that a country that remains a $ 2 trillion economy after seven decades of freedom as a consequence of policy failures and errors has the muscle needed to ensure that its strategic objectives are met by itself. They have therefore prevented,for example in 2003 by refusing a US request to send 18,000 troops to safeguard the Kurdish zone in Iraq, a request that (if complied with) would have made Delhi a significant player in a region vital to its economic and security interests. Of course, Washington too has to share the blame for the present severe under-utilisation of potential India-US synergy. During 1993-94, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao sought an alliance with the US but was turned away by President Bill Clinton, who remained tethered to the (then) Pakistan-centric US military and intelligence services.
That led to the growth of jehadi groups worldwide, including the units that attacked the US in 9/11. This same Atlanticist-Orientalist establishment in Washington made President Bush in 2001 reject Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s offer of fullscope assistance to clean out South Asia of terrorist elements. Instead of India, the Bush administration opted in favour of another embrace by the Pentagon and the CIA of GHQ Rawalpindi, a policy which directly led to the growth of ultra-Wahabbi terror and violence subsequently. Both Bill Clinton and George W Bush have much to answer for at a time when cities across Europe are experiencing terror strikes, even as both (one openly and the other secretly) are trying to create trouble for President Trump so that the failed policies of the past may get continued into the future rather than get replaced with an Indo-Pacific centred strategy in place of an Atlanticist-Orientalist construct that has, for example, led to the present chaos in Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Thus far, weapon dealers based in Dubai and London who are worried about the prospect of greater competition for their wares from US manufacturers have succeeded in ensuring that Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) has yet to be operationalised, while BECA and CISMOA (the other two Defense Foundation Agreements with the US) have not even been signed. It is nonsense to say that such a signing would compromise sovereignity, but this is the argument being used, of course to joy in Islamabad and in Beijing, which are unhappy at the prospect of a closer military-to-military alliance between Washington and Delhi. As for Moscow, hopefully President Trump will be able to shake off those who seek to keep going the fiction that Russia is the primary challenger to US primacy in an age when within years, China will be the world’s biggest economy. A Delhi-Moscow-Washington understanding against ultra-Wahabbi terror would be a formidable force multiplier in the global campaign to free the world of this virus, and Prime Minister Modi can be expected to support President Trump”s bid to work closely with Moscow against threats common to both sides. In the war now being waged by the ultra-Wahabbis through offshoots such as ISIS, India is a principal target, together with the US and Israel. The security establishment in India needs to migrate from a Pakistan-centred approach into working out lines of action reflecting the need to deal with threats that are emerging in regions far from Pakistan,such as within West Asia. In such a context, a coming together of Washington and Delhi would enable both sides to pool information and jointly work out tactics designed to degrade and destroy terror forces.
A focus area for both the US and India has to be the Indian Ocean Rim (or the Indian Ocean Zone). As the primary power in the zone, India needs to establish its primacy in the IOR, and this is possible only in partnership with the US. In such a context,the decision of Delhi to refuse to allow Canberra to participate in the Malabar Naval Exercise was wrong. Hopefully, this mistake will get rectified soon in the form of other joint exercises involving Australia, India, the US, Japan and perhaps later Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam. Our bureaucracy seems still wedded to the Nehruvian tradition of “not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, and this tendency will need the determination and wisdom of Prime Minister Modi to overcome. Among the measures which could get discussed between Trump and Modi are the basing of a super-powerful array of US-India sensors in the southernmost part of India that would ensure real time information on movements and activities on and in the Indian Ocean. A similar array is functioning in Jindalee, Australia, and is proving useful to Canberra and its allies in keeping track of potential threats.
Along with defence cooperation, there needs to be a collaboration in technology. Indian technology companies need to be allowed to give value to US entities rather than being blocked. Overall, the 21st century partnership that should to get worked out between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump needs to “walk on two legs” : economics and security. Both deserve attention and both should be strong. The world will watch as the leaders of two giant democracies meet in the White House on June 26. What they need is to allow their ambitions to race far ahead of the caution and traditionalism of their bureaucracies, so that the Modi-Trump meeting of June 2017 emerges as momentous in history as the Nixon-Mao meeting of February 1972. The Indo-Pacific Century mandates a breakthrough on the same scale in India-US relations as having taken place in the past between the US and China.
(The writer is Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian)