The Indo-US relationship has evolved over time from being receptive during Independence movement to being cold and hostile during cold war when India sided with Soviet Union and America allied with Pakistan in its global fight against Communism. The effects of Cold War and specially 1971 war standoff between the Soviets and Americans in Indo-Pak conflict reverberated on the Indian Foreign policy outlook for decades. It was only the opening up of economy in 1991 and dismantling of the Soviet Union that India broke the shackles and embraced the western countries particularly United States of America. From Natural Allies in Vajpayee Era to Strategic Partnership under Manmohan Singh era to Strategic Defense Partner in current Modi Era. India has indeed traveled a long distance in foreign policy relationship with United States. With the coming on Donald Trump as US President and his policies of America First, India must take stock of things and re-calibrate as things unfold with time in the Capitol Hill and White House in Washington DC.
Indo-US Relationship has been on the upswing since 9/11 happened and more so after India signed the Nuclear Deal with President Bush in 2008-09, a water shed moment in relationship between two largest democracies across the world. The initial break happened when two countries signed the Indo-US Strategic Partnership in 2005 which was subsequently renewed for another 10 years under the Modi Administration in India with the additional clause of DTTI standing part of it. The DTTI Agreement meant India finally agreed to follow up on Defence Technology Sharing and Production agreement with US on critical conventional technologies/ weapon systems. It was further followed up with India signing on the dotted line in LEMOA (Logistics Sharing agreement) with US that would allow Indian & US forces to share each other logistics in critical times of Natural Disasters, Rescue Missions and other such exigencies. The agreement was agreed upon in April 2016 and was subsequently signed later in the year before the Obama presidency bowed out in January 2017. In the intervening period, the US Congress passed the India specific amendment (Section 1262) of NDAA 2017 Act with bi-partisan support on 8th December 2016 which enlisted as India as a major defense partner, enabling transfer of critical conventional technologies in defence sector under DTTI agreement. The legislative mandate of US Congress of India specific amendment was further affirmed by President Obama’s executive Order through US Bureau of Industry and Commerce dt 19th January 2017 exempting India from export controls over sensitive technologies except Nuclear, Missile and any WMDs. Thereby Indo-US relationship entered a new era enjoying a Bi-Partisan consensus when it comes to strategic affairs in Asia Pacific specifically defence related issues.
However with the coming of a Donald Trump Presidency, element of uncertainty has crept in the Indo-US Relationship despite the strong support to the Trump Campaign by Indian diaspora and NRI’s in America during Election 2016. Donald Trump’s foreign policy outlook at home and abroad of America First in many sectors run contrary to India’s core interests from Economics to Trade to Jobs to Intellectual Property to defence or strategic affairs in Asia Pacific region. Trump’s message of America First of taking jobs back home from abroad could severely impact various Make in India projects in defence sector or the services sector. Already Lockheed Martin which was offering to shift its defence assembly of F-16 fighter jets to India has shifted its factory in US to Louisiana in order to placate Trump Administration Make in America pledge. Similarly Trump has been proposing Border Tax on US corporates outsourcing manufacturing and services to foreigners and luring them with Tax breaks in case they shift the base back to America with Hire in America pledge. In consonance with Donald Trump’s America First pledge, US Administration has cracked down H1B Visa Caps ordering a review of H1B Visa Rules for skilled work force lion share of which are shared by Indian Tech giants and the Chinese skilled work force. The cap on H1B Visa has invited sharp reactions of Commerce Ministry in India with Finance Minister ArunJaitley raising the issue of Growing protectionism in US Economy that could impact trade and economic ties with India. Infosys one of the leading Indian Tech giants in US has already announced of hiring 10,000 Americans for its skilled jobs to comply Trump Administration’s policies.
Apart of defense and outsourcing issues, another big stumbling block in the Indo-US ties is of Intellectual Property Rights, where India and US have been at logger heads over Intellectual Property Rights regime specially in generics and pharmaceuticals sector with respect to compulsory licensing and ever greening of patents. The US Pharma lobby desirous of monopolistic claims and profits over Pharmaceuticals patents has been consistently targeting Indian IPR regime which aims to protect Indian pharmaceuticals giants on generics. Recently, US Trade Representative in its special report 301 of 2017 has retained India on “most challenging major economies” on enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights. The reports which raises concerns on Copyright Piracy, Counterfeiting and other enforcement issues which has been dismissed by Indian Ministry of Commerce who has maintained that India’s IPR Laws are TRIPS compliant. The tussle and negotiations however continue between India & US with respect to IPR and other dispute resolution clauses in BIT (Bi-Lateral Investment Treaties) on which US Administration and Indian Government have discussing the same through a Bi-Lateral working group. Along with Trade, IPR and other issues; India and US have also been at logger heads over Make in India projects with US Corporations and lobbies blocking India’s quest for domestic Solar Manufacturing industry before WTO which has ruled against India of the subsidies for domestic procurement in its Solar Mission policies. Trump’s Make in America in sync with American aim on monopolistic profits has been an impediment in Indo-US ties hurting PM Modi’s Make in India initiatives like the National Solar Mission and ISA (International Solar Alliance).
Donald Trump’s America First foreign policy is also likely to significantly impact India’s own strategic doctrine in the Asia Pacific region. The US Foreign Policy under Donald Trump has pivoted from being a rule based International Order like South China Sea to simply serving its own interest in America First. While India has been actively engaging with countries in East and South East Asia through its Act East policy; the Trump Administration policy of America First has changed the dynamics in the region. With the rescinding of TPP mega trade deal in Asia Pacific and seeking money for THAAD protection in South Korea, Donald Trump has unnerved the Asian allies as to dependability of United States in the region. Countries like Japan are already contemplating TPP type deal in the region without US and with Trump Presidency at helm even the viability of an Asian Quadrilateral like US-India-Japan-Australian in region is under question mark. Donald Trump has also exhibited the qualities of Businessman deal making attitude whereby he is willing to cut deals even with Arch rivals like China over North Korea in an apparent trade off on Trade and Currency manipulation. The policy of rewarding China for containing North Korea also has serious implications for India as it brings into question Trump’s seriousness about India as a rising giant in the region and makes his dealings with Pakistan under more scanner. The Pivot to Asia blue print of President Obama seems to be heading nowhere with Trump Administration rescinding Trade Deals and cutting opportunistic deals in the region for short term peace of long term nuisance.
Donald Trump’s volte face on China with respect to Trade, Currency Manipulation and going slow on rule based order in South China Sea, should trigger a reconfiguration in the Indian establishment about its Foreign Policy in Indo-Pacific region specially the relationship with United States. What confounds India’s problems further is the Donald Trump just recently released more than 700 Mn$ of military aid to Pakistan which had been shrinking over the years due to Pakistan’s inaction on Terrorist groups. The American interest in the Central Asian region and extended Gulf Region dictate its police vis-à-vis Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. US is willing to share the Afghan bounty with China in hope of it cajoling Afghan Taliban to table while using Pakistan as a conduit state to Afghanistan and maintain a balance with India. Recent bombings in Afghanistan by US Military clearly reflects its objectives are pretty clearly defined and that India should formulate its own policies without depending much on the American assistance. India as a consequence should strengthen its defence relationship with Russia while expanding the scope of it, seek better ties with Iran resisting American pressure and revive NSTC to connect Eurasia to South East Asia rivaling CPEC/OBOR. Apart from this push, India must revive and review Trade agreements with ASEA, Japan, Australia and seek greater cooperation with them. India must also use diplomatic and covert means to exert pressure on Pakistan such as withdrawing the MNF status, downscaling its diplomatic mission and start the process for renegotiating Indus Water Treaty while augmenting water storage capacities.
A multi prong approach would have to be followed by India from Defence manufacturing, modernization to Trade and Economics if it is to leverage its position as one of the largest economies of the world. The War against Terror emanating from the neighborhood into Jammu & Kashmir or the Trade Surplus with China are two tools that needs to be dealt on effectively. Any further delay or apathy on these two fronts could seriously imperil India’s aim to be one of the leaders of the world and foisting its own world order and sphere of influence across the region. While America would continue a play a critical role in Indian foreign policy and more so in economic policies, it would be imperative of the Indian establishment to follow the doctrine of India First earmarking its interest while cutting force with Donald Trump’s America First. There would be sectors and issues on which India & US could differ and conversely areas in which they could co-operate; yet Indian security and foreign policy establishment must now frame up its Foreign Policy Vision Document for decades ahead capturing the trends and planning for the same accordingly. The time has come not only to build India as a super power but to build it as an empire on a mission mode that combines the warrior spirit of Shivaji with Diplomatic Art and Skill of Kautilya in Arthashastra.