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Eagle Eye

Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor at the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, JNU
Testing the Trump-Modi Partnership
India-US: Convergences and Divergences
100 Days in Office: The Trump Administration
Forecast 2017: India-US Strategic Partnership
Paradigm Shift or Business As Usual: Trump’s China Policy
American Turbulence: Global Ramifications
Trump's Nuclear Policy: Global Implications
Critical Challenges to the Indo-US Strategic Partnership
India and the US: Inching Towards an Informal Alliance
Need the World Worry over Trump's Foreign Policy?
US: “Losing Respect” Abroad
Implications of Modi’s US Visit
Forecast 2016: Difficult Days Ahead for Washington
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism’s Sake?
Changing Global Balance of Power: Obama’s Response
Obama Administration: Re-engaging India
US in South Asia: Declining Influence
US Foreign Policy: Rehashing Old Stances
US’ Frantic Effort to Make the Rebalancing Strategy Work
US, Ukraine and the End of Unipolarity
US-China Cold Confrontation: New Paradigm of Asian Security
US in Asia: A 'Non-Alignment' Strategy?
Indo-US Strategic Partnership Post Khobragade: The Long Shadow
#5346, 25 August 2017
Testing the Trump-Modi Partnership
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU

The Doklam standoff between India and China is a serious test case for the maturing India-US strategic partnership, which has endured leadership changes in recent years in New Delhi and Washington.

China has recently emerged as a nuisance for the US, its allies, and partners in the Asia Pacific region and beyond. The Chinese position, not just statements, on the North Korean missile threats, along with its role in Latin America, activities in the South China Sea, and  trade practices pose a big challenge to US President Donald Trump’s administration. China using its financial power to make smaller South Asian countries fall into debt-traps, and its grabbing of territories or maritime assets claimed by relatively smaller countries, such as Bhutan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines, are issues that need to be examined more closely by the Trump administration, and require multilateral solutions.   

While Trump abandoned his predecessor’s economic and strategic rebalancing policies towards the Asia Pacific for political reasons, growing Chinese misbehaviour and ambitions detrimental to regional peace and stability may compel a rethink on his part.

Chinese media and commentators clamouring for war against Indian troops in the disputed Doklam region, and even Chinese government spokespersons making offensive statements repeatedly are wake-up calls. Indian troops at Doklam and the Modi government in New Delhi have shown remarkable restraint. However given the China's island-grabbing activities in the South China Sea and frequent incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), simply exercising restraint and calling for the peaceful resolution of differences through dialogue are highly inadequate.

As Beijing has recurrently reminded India about the outcome of the 1962 war, India should go beyond responding that war cannot be repeated. Drawing optimism from defeating Chinese soldiers during a 1967 incident is also not sufficient. While taking all precautions to protect India’s security and preserve Bhutan’s interests, New Delhi must strategise with Washington against possible bravado from Beijing.

In 1962, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru emphasised 'non-alignment' more than seeking timely help from the US; and only when the situation became worse did Nehru write to the then US President John F Kennedy for direct intervention. Likewise, there are many in India who harp on about 'strategic autonomy' as a mantra and wrongly consider strategic coordination with the US as a loss of that autonomy.

It is worth emphasising that the US sought help from numerous countries, including Iran and Oman, before taking military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan post-9/11.

Following the joint statements announced during Modi’s meetings with former US President Barack Obama and, more recently, Trump, one expects that the India-US strategic partnership would be invoked before it is too late. Japan’s apparent declaration of support for India on the Doklam issue augurs well for Indian national interest. Similar support may soon come from Australia and Vietnam as well.

What is needed is the Trump administration’s unequivocal support to the Indian position on this issue. On political, ethical or moral grounds, it would not be arduous for Washington to back the Indian position.

First, China says Indian troops are in Chinese territory. It is actually a disputed region and not Chinese territory. Are there no Chinese troops in disputed regions within Pakistan, such as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK)? Are there are no Chinese troops in disputed islands in South China Sea?

Second, it is also a question of the security of smaller countries. China has been threatening its smaller neighbours; in this case, Bhutan.

Third, Indian security would come under tremendous pressure if China succeeds in occupying Doklam. Thus the issue is not just moral, it is also of national security concern.

It is a common understanding that India needs to protect its own interests rather than depend on external forces to do so. Having said that, dependence must be distinguished from cooperation.

India and the US should be on the same page to prevent Chinese territory-grabbing exercises. The current situation is a test case to judge the relevance, scope and benefits of the India-US strategic partnership. The recent conversation between Modi and Trump on working together for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific is a good beginning, but concrete and timely steps are imperative.

If the Chinese succeed in territorial aggrandisement, the so-called Asian century will finally amount to nothing but the rise of China's malevolent hegemony. The Indo-US strategic partnership is crucial to maintain a liberal, cooperative, prosperous and peaceful order in the Indo-Pacific. It would energise Japan, Vietnam, Australia, South Korea and ASEAN to join such efforts.     

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#5305, 21 June 2017
India-US: Convergences and Divergences
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

Narendra Modi's landslide victory in the 2014 general election raised many eyebrows in relevant circles about the future of India’s relations with the US. The United Progressive Alliance-II (UPA-II) government had already witnessed a bottom low in its relationship with the US in the wake of a dysfunctional economic policy, rampant corruption allegations, and a diplomatic row sparked by the arrest of an Indian diplomat by the New York police.

Many were watching the Modi wave during the election campaign and some foreign leaders, including those from Europe, had already begun to engage with Modi as the prospective prime minister. Washington, however, was still very cold towards him. The Barack Obama administration in the US was not in a hurry to politically engage a man whom they had denied a visa consecutively for nine years. 

Modi-Obama: Expanding the India-US Strategic Partnership
The scenario changed completely when Modi emerged as a leader who would rule India for at least the next five years. Several foreign policy analysts wondered whether Prime Minister Modi would be interested in seriously engaging the US. However, he has clearly demonstrated that he thinks out-of-the-box, takes bold steps, and springs surprises when he promptly accepted President Obama's invitation to visit the US during their congratulatory conversations. 

Modi’s first visit to the US as India's prime minister was a grand success. In one stroke he was able to undo the damage caused to the relationship and restore the momentum of an India-US strategic partnership. His address to a huge gathering of Indian Americans in New York, penning an article in the Wall Street Journal to woo corporate US, one-on-one conversations with a host of CEOs, the summit meeting with President Obama, and the release of a joint statement titled “Chalein Saath Saath” (Let's Walk Together) had a magical effect on the bilateral relationship. All stalled dialogues, including ones related to energy, defence, trade and investment, were resumed.

The two governments set an ambitious goal to elevate bilateral trade to the level of US$ 500 billion, even as defence trade spectacularly picked up and India was able to purchase high-tech weaponry Military exercises expanded both in number and sophistication. The two countries displayed their resolve to take defence and security ties to newer heights by seeking joint research, co-development and co-production of defence items in India.  

Prime Minister Modi and President Obama met several times at various international forums, and the chemistry between the two leaders was laudable. This was certain to push the momentum of the cooperative relationship. 

The two countries have openly displayed their determination to combat international terrorism, particularly groups like the Islamic State (IS) and the Pakistan-backed terrorist outfits. More significantly, the two countries discussed China’s muscle-flexing - while this might have surely annoyed the Chinese government, it spoke volumes about the new assertiveness in India’s foreign policy. And although India and the US are not interested in forging an alliance against China or in taking measures that would appear to be for the containment of China, they are no longer reticent in speaking against developments that would adversely affect the freedom of navigation and provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be credited for yet another diplomatic innovation in India-US relations - President Obama was invited to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebration in January 2015. Never before had an Indian prime minister extended an invite a US president to this function, although visitors from Pakistan and even China have had the opportunity in past. Even though this was a symbolic gesture, its significance cannot be underestimated in the field of diplomacy. 

One of the key developments during the Modi-Obama summit in January 2015 was the release of a Delhi Declaration of Friendship and a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, elevating the geographical space of the India-US strategic partnership. Such comprehensive defence and security cooperation and the expansion of the geographical areas for potential bilateral cooperation were the Modi government's achievements. 

Modi-Trump: Challenges and Prospects
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president has brought new challenges to the Modi government. The Indian American community in the US played an important role during the 2016 presidential election campaign. Candidate Trump was rarely critical of India as compared to his critical remarks on China and Pakistan and a host of other countries. Once Trump won the election, the Modi government showed no complacency in seeking to build bridges with the new occupant of the White House. 

India's National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Dr S Jaishankar promptly touched base with their counterparts and other relevant officials to keep the strategic partnership, trade and investment ties on track. Several of the the Trump administration’s policies – including his economic policy, guided by the “America First” principle, social policy to restrict immigration, transactional strategic approach towards allies and partners, initiatives to raise visa fees for foreign workers, reduction/elimination of tax incentives to companies hiring foreign workers, and the decision to walk away from the Paris Climate Accord - pose enormous challenges to the Modi government. 

Despite the hurdles that these developments will bring to the bilateral relationship, the fundamentals of the India-US strategic partnership are sound and durable. Both Trump and Modi consider terrorism the principal threat to their national security as well as to global peace and stability. Moreover, China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS) and its attempt to build a new colonial empire through the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative have alerted India and the US that this will have to be dealt with it through a coordinated approach without resorting to unmanageable conflict. Significantly, the bipartisan consensus in the US is in favour of strengthening the strategic partnership with India and the national political consensus in India also favours strong ties with the US. Thus there may be periodic turbulence between India and the US on certain issues, but the new paradigm of their bilateral relations in the post-Cold War and terrorism-ridden scenario is not going to face any existential threat.

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#5283, 15 May 2017
100 Days in Office: The Trump Administration
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

More than a hundred days have passed since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office as the forty-fifth president of the US. US domestic politics and Washington’s engagement with the rest of the world since then have entered an unprecedented period of uncertainty and there is no surety that  this era of uncertainty is going to end any time soon.

Donald Trump has done several things that none of his predecessors either attempted or succeeded in doing. He draws only a dollar a month as his presidential salary. At the same time, he doggedly refuses to reveal his income tax returns. He has stopped former senior US officials from serving as lobbyists on behalf of foreign governments, which was a big blow to several countries that periodically used US officials to promote their respective national interests in the corridors of power in Washington. President Trump also signed a few executive orders aimed at protecting the job market for US citizens and making it costlier for US companies to hire foreign workers. The unemployment rate in the US has witnessed a record reduction in the first few months of the Trump administration.

The other side of the domestic scenario is equally striking. Trump is yet to gain the confidence of a large number of Republican legislators, but has managed a legislative victory in the US House of Representatives in his attempt to repeal the Obamacare health insurance policy. While he did not have his way in getting the appropriate budget allocation for the proposed wall across the US-Mexico border, he managed a substantial allocation to enhance US' defence preparedness. He could not stop Congressional oversight over his campaign team members' alleged connection with Russian intelligence, but displayed his mettle in firing the director of the powerful Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He has waged a prolonged war with the US media by criticising and snubbing it, and has even prevented their entry into White House events. On social media, however, he continues to have a large fan following.

In the arena of world affairs, Trump, the presidential hopeful, unnerved several foreign leaders and alliance partners. He declared NATO obsolete, asked Japan and South Korea to have their own nuclear arsenals to defend themselves, declared China a currency manipulator, and Pakistan, an unreliable ally. He promised to build a wall to stop immigrants them from entering the US. He vowed to completely defeat the Islamic State (IS).

Many analysts argued that candidate Trump would be different from President Trump, and that he would behave like his predecessors by taking a 180 degree turn and abandoning his campaign rhetoric on US foreign policy. Many expected the Trump administration to build a cooperative relationship with Russia, US' erstwhile Cold War adversary, and seriously combat emerging challenges from China.

However, Trump, as president, appears to exhibit a smart foreign policy strategy mixed with ambiguity and surprise moves. He no longer considered NATO obsolete but insists that NATO partners must pay more towards defence burden-sharing. He has promised to continue to extend US' nuclear umbrella to Japan and South Korea, but has also demanded more money in exchange for the security guarantee. He has stopped calling China a currency manipulator, after having offended it through his telephonic conversation with the Taiwanese president. He continues to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has also dealt him a political blow by raining down missiles on Syria on the basis of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the pro-Russia Syrian regime. He has sought to ban Muslim immigration from seven countries in an unintended projection of his image as anti-Muslim, but has also sent his vice-president to visit the largest mosque in Southeast Asia.

He has not walked away from the Iran nuclear deal, but is going to make Saudi Arabia his maiden foreign visit to balance Washington’s engagement in the Middle East. In other words, the Trump administration is going to be an administration with a difference. India will have to learn to deal with this administration with caution and innovative diplomacy because uncertainty will be the name of the game. Navigating this political environment will require deft diplomatic skill. The bipartisan consensus in the US for a stronger strategic partnership with India notwithstanding, playing ball with Trump is going to be hard.

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#5246, 20 March 2017
Forecast 2017: India-US Strategic Partnership
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

The nature, intensity and direction of the US' relations with friends, foes, partners and the marginalised countries entered a period of unprecedented uncertainty with Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 US presidential election.

That Trump’s foreign policy approach would be drastically different from that of his predecessors’ was amply clear from the days of the election campaign. Trump fought the election on a platform that raised questions about the relevance of long-standing alliances; portrayed possibility of redefining the country’s adversaries; and held mere hopes of continuity of policy as far as Washington’s emerging strategic partnerships with some countries are concerned. 

India fits in the last category of nations. Since the post- World War II era, US-India relations have always been marked by highs and lows, and convergences and divergences. The Cold War calculations - and not the merits of bilateral relations - shaped the US' policy towards India during the approximately four decades of the Cold War era. However, the end of the Cold War too witnessed ups and downs in the relationship. 

It was only in the early years of the 20th Century, with the then US President Bill Clinton's visit to India that a new paradigm of US-India relations began to emerge. Months after Clinton’s India visit, the Democratic Party lost the 2000 presidential election and George W. Bush of the Republican Party became the US' president. For a brief while, it appeared that the new paradigm of US-India ties would die in its inception.

However, such apprehensions were misplaced and short-lived. Eight years of the Bush White House witnessed a carefully nurtured US relationship with India that cemented a strategic partnership with the conclusion of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Defence and security cooperation between the two countries too tremendously improved with bilateral military exercises, trade in sophisticated arms and ammunitions, and defense technology transfer from the US to India.

The Obama Administration picked up the thread where his predecessor had left and the Indo-US strategic partnership witnessed vertical growth and horizontal expansion. There were several hiccups in the process but those were deftly handled and the strategic relationship did not get derailed.

Significantly, there was no indication at all during the 2016 election campaign that the outcome of the election would in any way negatively affect US-India ties. After all, bipartisan consensus on sustaining and improving Washington’s relationship with India has existed in the US for years. 

While Trump was by and large an outsider to the beltway foreign policy consensus and was not a mainstream Republican Party leader, even his statements and remarks displayed no sign that a Trump Administration would alter the US' policy towards India in any significant way. In fact, candidate Trump had aired many views against Pakistan, China and many other countries, but not against India.

Soon after Trump’s victory, the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrated activism to engage with the new US Administration. India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval landed in Washington to connect with the Trump transition team. While Prime Minister Modi and President Trump exchanged views over a phone call, news leaked that they invited each other to visit their respective countries. More recently, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Washington to exchange notes with various branches of the US government with a view to further strengthen the India-US bilateral. Despite all these efforts, there are critical issues that may adversely shake the India-US strategic partnership, unless handled dexterously and in a timely manner. 

First, the economic nationalism of the Trump White House should not come on the way of Prime Minister Modi's “Make in India” initiative. Second, the Trump Administration's job creation and retention measures should not excessively hit the Indian workforce employed by American and Indian IT companies. Third, the Trump Administration’s Afghanistan policy should not clash with India’s core interests in that country. Fourth, the Trump Administration should keep the Kashmir issue outside his political bargaining with Pakistan. Fifth, the Trump Administration’s disproportionate confrontation or measured cooperation with China should not outshine or overshadow Washington’s policy towards this region. Last but not least, Trump’s immigration policy should in no way hamper the interests of the Indian-American community. A series of attacks on the Indian-Americans in the US threatens to weaken the very constituency that has become a social bridge linking peoples of both the countries. 

It must be noted that the above menu of issues is for both the US Administration and Indian policymakers to work on to manage the difficult political and bureaucratic transition in Washington and ensure that the India-US strategic relationship does not get negatively impacted.

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#5202, 12 December 2016
Paradigm Shift or Business As Usual: Trump’s China Policy
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

Candidate Trump’s positions on China during the long election campaign and President-elect Trump’s tweets and phone calls have generated the impression of a coming paradigm shift in Washington’s approach to China under the Trump administration.

Whether trade, investment or security issues, Trump has yet to say something substantially positive about China since the campaign days. He promised to raise the tariffs on imports from China to an extent that could threaten a trade war, inducing many US analysts to warn about the negative impact of a trade war with China.

When President-elect Trump had a telephonic conversation with the President of Taiwan, China issued a modest reprimand, but others saw in it a paradigm shift in US policy. The reason is simple. No US President-elect or President has had a telephonic conversation with a Taiwanese President since the 1979 US agreement with China to view Taiwan as part of China in acceptance of the "one China” policy.

China retains the right to annex Taiwan by force, while accepting the US view that Taiwan’s final annexation with the mainland should be peaceful. The US, on the other hand, seeks to ensure peace by underwriting Taiwan’s defense preparedness through the supply of 'defensive' weapons. China usually fumes when Washington supplies sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan or a Taiwanese leader visits the US under some pretext or the other.

What explains Beijing’s modest response to Trump’s phone conversation with the Taiwanese President? First of all, the general perception in China during the US presidential election was that Trump would be a pragmatic leader and businessmen who would safeguard the deep Sino-US economic cooperation and not allow issues such as human rights to muddy the relationship. Chinese analysts also felt that the Trump administration would not uphold its traditional alliances in the Asia-Pacific, thus reducing strategic pressure on China. Secondly, when the Trump team contended that the President-elect merely responded to a congratulatory call from Taipei rather than took the initiative himself, the blame suddenly shifted to the Taiwanese President. China promptly admonished and warned Taiwan’s pro-democracy political forces.

Many others, however, quickly pointed out that the telephone conversation was premeditated and part of a political strategy to send signals, and was in no way a coincidence. China’s suspicion deepened when Trump tweeted that China did not consult the US before devaluing its currency and caused losses to US businesses. He also complained against China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and its construction of military facilities.

The Chinese perception has to an extent changed again, and Trump is suspected of believing that US-China relations are zero-sum and that the greater loss has been to the US in recent decades. He will thus act tough on the rising superpower to make “America great again.” Trump’s rhetoric to make “America great again” is interpreted as his conviction that US' global influence had declined while China’s had increased, and thus there is a need for course correction.

China would have carefully monitored Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s New York visit and meeting with the President-elect. Earlier, Beijing appeared more relaxed with Trump’s remarks that Japan and South Korea should fend for themselves or pay more for their protection by the US military. Washington’s differences with the allies would bring strategic benefits to Beijing. But Trump has apparently assured Tokyo, Seoul and many other allies of substantive continuity in US policy towards allies.

While the details of Trump’s Asia-Pacific policy are not known yet, both the strategic competitors and allies of the US appear to be in a state of anxiety about the Trump administration. China expects the 'business-as-usual' approach, since it has very high stakes in its trade and investment ties with the US and its economy is passing through a difficult transition. Japan, South Korea, Australia and other strategic allies do not desire any turbulence in their alliance relationship with the US.

It is likely that Trump will try to promote economic ties with China without conceding to China’s spreading foothold in strategic areas. Simultaneously, he will try to extract more defence burden-sharing from US' strategic allies. This way, he will try to strengthen US' military and economic presence in the region. The 'pivot to Asia', 'Asian rebalancing', Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may become things of the past. Trump’s engagement with the region will thus neither be a paradigm shift nor will it be business as usual.  

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#5183, 16 November 2016
American Turbulence: Global Ramifications
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

By electing Donald Trump as the forty-fifth president of the US, the American people created history for the second time in less than a decade. The first was election of an African American as the president. What has surprised millions of poll observers and analysts is defeat of a seasoned politician by a political outsider with no administrative or political experience.

The campaign during the 2016 presidential race was negative, bitter and vitriolic to a degree unprecedented in American history. More significantly, the post-election reaction to Trump’s victory too is an unparalleled development. Thousands of students in various college campuses across the US and thousands of people in diverse American cities took to the streets venting their anger and frustration over the election outcome. Several political leaders around the globe also expressed their discomfort and displeasure over the election outcome in the US.

While all these areextraordinary developments, the next four years of the Trump Administration will be crucial for international security and stability. The Trump Administration’s approach to world affairs is uncertain and beyond credible projection, given how Trump is a political outsider and his equation with the Republican Party leadership is fractured.

This is particularly pertinent in view of the Republican Party’s emergence as the majority party in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. Unless Trump is able to establish dependableand cooperative ties with his party leaders, he will remain largely dysfunctional when it comes to putting forward his policy initiatives, towards domestic or foreign policy.

What Trump promised during his campaign, if implemented, would bring about a paradigm shift in American domestic politics and foreign policy; but even a fraction of it cannot be implemented without his ability to carry Congressional leaders with him.

There is widespread concern about the state of things to appear once Trump assumes office. During the campaign, he repeatedly attacked the American system as “rigged.”Will he now try tofix the system? During his victory speech, he made a tall promise to double the US’ GDP? It is not a feasible proposition.However, he is a businessman and will try to apply his business acumen and create an economic miracle.

Trump was largely responsible for the political polarisation in last eighteen months of the election season. Once he won the election, he called for national unity. He hinted that he would not drastically alter the country’s foreign policy. Will the American people and world leaders believe him and cooperate with his policies? Massive demonstrations against him in schools, colleges and cities across the US and international reaction to his electoral victory tell a different story.

Trump called for a wall across the US-Mexican border during the election campaign. Will he be able to build his promised wall to keep Mexican immigrants at bay? More significantly, will he be able to make Mexico pay for it? If the Trump Administration succeeds in crafting a new immigration policy, the deportation of millions of undocumented workers will take place.This would create enormous uncertainties within the US and would affect Washington’s hemispheric relationships.

Donald Trump has questioned NATO’s relevance and has demanded defence burden sharing by NATO members. Will the economic downturn in Europe encourage NATO members to increase their defense budgets? Trans-Atlantic ties will be in for some trouble. He also asked Japan and South Korea to make their own nuclear weapons for defence. Will Tokyo and Seoul have trust in Trump’s Asia Pacific strategy?

Trump’s views on Muslim immigrants and Islamist extremism will also be on test in the coming years. He promised to use his “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State in West Asia. Can he make the US win a war in that region in the backdrop of the Afghan quagmire? Will he able to gain the support and confidence of the Muslim countries in fighting terror? 

Thus, the US ties with Europe, Latin America, West Asia, and the Asia Pacific are in for changes and not necessarily for better. Trump will certainly try to make America great again, but the cost of it for other nations is insofar unknown. However, Trump’s America is unlikely to disturb the apple cart of the Indo-US relationship. The strategic partnership between the two countries is mature enough to sustain short-term turbulence. Trade and investment cooperation, and defence and security ties between New Delhi and Washington are likely to experience an upward trajectory. 

What the Indian foreign policy establishment needs to be aware of are the challenges that may come as the after-effect of the Trump Administration’s ties with other countries and its impact.

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#5166, 4 November 2016
Trump's Nuclear Policy: Global Implications
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

The US is experiencing one of the most turbulent, contentious and vitriolic political campaigns in the race to the White House in its entire history. Negativities have engulfed the US so much that the entire world has been affected.

While several countries are raising diverse questions, the weightiest concern within the US and in the rest of the world is the future of the global nuclear order. What would be the effect on that order if Donald Trump becomes the next US President? The US is the first country to make a nuclear weapon, the first and only country to have used the bomb during the Second World War, the pioneer in efforts to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, and, above all, the most powerful nuclear-capable country in the world. The pervasive disquiet related to his views and policies on nuclear weapons thus are unpretentious.

President Barack Obama has backed the idea of a nuclear weapons free world, at least in principle. Will Trump endorse the idea of a world rid of nuclear weapons? The Republican presidencies historically have shown less faith in non-proliferation policies and have tilted towards strengthening the country’s preparedness to handle any nuclear offensive. Will Trump do the same or spend more time and energy in nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia? China has always conveniently kept itself aloof from US and Russian efforts for nuclear arms control. More recently, it has been spending billions of dollars to expand and bolster its nuclear arsenal. In the perceived march of China towards super power status, will Trump take steps to rope in China for arms control negotiations?

How will a probable Trump presidency handle the Iranian nuclear question? His campaign has repeatedly condemned the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. He has called it a deal that has financially benefitted Iran, that has made room for Iran to walk out of the deal after fifteen years and make the bomb, and that this has made Israel more vulnerable. Will Trump nullify the agreement? Will he renegotiate the nuclear deal with Tehran? Will Iran agree to join hands? If not, will Trump resort to military means to end Iran’s nuclear programme? How will a Trump administration handle North Korean intransigence on the nuclear proliferation issue? North Korea has repeatedly defied the US, members of the Six Party Talks that negotiated several times with Pyongyang for a Korean Peninsula nuclear free zone, and has intermittently conducted nuclear and missile tests in order to thumb its nose at the international community.

Much more significant will be a Trump presidency’s policy towards Japan and South Korea. Will he adopt as policy what he campaigned during the election year and compel Tokyo and Seoul to fend for themselves in the defence and security fields in the face of a rising China that has been flexing its military muscles, and a North Korea that has been brandishing its nuclear and missile capabilities at the drop of a hat?

All these questions have preoccupied strategic analysts around the world, including those of the US. The fundamental development that is truly bothersome is the doubt expressed by a large number of people who have served as very high officials during the previous Republican administrations about the trustworthiness of Donald Trump as the Commander-in-Chief with the ultimate authority to take decisions on the use of nuclear weapons. In fact, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic hopeful for the presidency, has expressed her apprehension about the start of a nuclear war under a Trump presidency.

One can dismiss her concern as a mere campaign stratagem to belittle the intelligence of her competitor, but the overall views of Donald Trump during the campaign do raise serious questions about global nuclear stability under his administration. Of particular relevance is Trump’s idea to alter the decades-long time-tested US role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

If NATO disintegrates under the US demand for more burden-sharing and some of the powerful NATO members choose to espouse independent defence postures and abandon the collective security model, new nuclear weapons powers are likely to mushroom. Coupled with Trump’s call for Japan and South Korea to developing their own nuclear arsenals, if Germany and Italy follow the same, the global nuclear order will simply collapse. The NPT will be buried in the sand. Export control regimes may disappear. There may be nuclear winter without a nuclear war! Terror groups may find an easier path to acquire nuclear weapons/materials.

Such an analysis may be termed as doomsday scenarios that may not actually happen. But when the security of the world is in question, no scenario can be discounted. One would, of course, take refuge in the obvious argument that the US system will prevent the president from unleashing his ideas without checks and balances. And, of course, the Indo-US nuclear agreement will most likely remain unaffected under a Trump presidency.

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#5150, 10 October 2016
Critical Challenges to the Indo-US Strategic Partnership
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

The strategic partnership between India and the US has slowly and steadily been moving in an upwardly trajectory through periodic turbulences. However, as the world's balance of power has entered a serious phase of transition, New Delhi and Washington need to sort out certain key issues to keep the partnership on track.

The most critical challenge comes from lack of adequate support from China and Russia to Indian and American efforts to combat terrorism. All forms of terrorist organisations in south and south west Asia have survived more than fifteen years of the war against terror led by the US and supported by India.

It is an open secret that Pakistan’s treacherous double game is the main culprit that sustains and emboldens these terrorist groups. Islamabad took money, material and military equipment from the US and passed it on to those groups whose targets were Americans and Indians! 

In the initial years of the war against terror, Washington did put pressure on Pakistan to refrain from anti-India terror activities. Pakistan was also under pressure to move troops to its border along Afghanistan, thus bringing down the volume of its anti-India activities along the Line of Control (LoC).

However, Pakistan altered its strategy - particularly since 2007 - and its support to the Haqqani militias in Afghanistan and anti-India groups most active in Kashmir resumed. The US decision to draw down its troop presence in Afghanistan, rise of the Islamic State (IS) and the shifting of US' attention to the IS has enabled Pakistan to reactivate its involvement by backing all kinds of terror groups it nurtures in Kashmir.

While the US openly backed India in the recent spate of terror attacks in Kashmir, condemned the Uri attack and appeared supportive of the Indian Army’s surgical strike against terror bases across the LoC, Washington is not prepared to come down hard on Pakistan. China, on the other hand, consistently extends its protection to all kinds of criminal and terrorist activities indulged in by the Pakistani establishment.

US policy-makers and strategic analysts repeatedly make the point that Pakistan’s stability is important and Pakistan’s help in fighting terror is indispensable. The time has come to contest both these points. First of all, disorder in the Pakistani state and society is purely an internal development. The Pakistani establishment has given priority to nurturing terror groups and interfering in the neighbourhood over promoting economic development by creating an enabling environment. The result is the Frankenstein syndrome. External help in keeping Pakistan stable has considerable limitations unless its government changes course.

The idea that Pakistan is indispensable to fight terrorism needs serious rethinking by US strategists. Pakistan is a nuclear weapons power that gives birth to, incubates, and uses terror groups. It uses terror groups as a political tool to extract US' assistance and to foment trouble in India. Indo-US cooperation in combating terrorism clearly needs refinement and upgrading.
While India expects more from the US to tackle Pakistan-backed terrorist activities, the latter perhaps expects more from India in handling China. The US finds it difficult to restrain Chinese expansionist policies in the Asia Pacific. The Indo-US joint statements on developments in the South China Sea and the Indo Pacific region are welcome developments. But clearly, there is no well defined project.

It is a fact that China is a bigger economic partner of the US and Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally. Compared to these, the Indo-US strategic partnership is a new and ongoing project. But the recent developments show that China, a nuclear weapons power, fully protects Pakistan - another nuclear weapons-armed Islamic country - in the latter’s persistent use of terror as an instrument of state policy. What can be done about it?

Added to this is Russian political activism that is partly against US policies and partly aimed at creating space for its involvement in regional politics and economics. Russia and China have begun to collaborate in an undertaking to impede US policies in the Asian and Eurasian region. One of the fallouts of this undertaking is Russian military exercises with Pakistan. There are many in India who point at the Indian government’s failure to prevent this. But the reality is that India could not have prevented it since this is part of a larger game against perceived 'American hegemony'.

The India-US strategic partnership is shaping up in the midst of a relative decline in the US' ability to preserve the global order, and Russo-Chinese collaboration to expedite that American decline. Pakistan thus has benefitted a great deal by getting US' financial support, Chinese strategic support and Russian political support. The resilience of the Taliban in Afghanistan, IS in West Asia and shifting informal alliances bolster Pakistan and pose a great challenge to Indian national security. How India and the US redefine, reshape and concretise their strategic partnership is the real test. 

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#5125, 12 September 2016
India and the US: Inching Towards an Informal Alliance
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to India, along with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, to participate in the second Strategic and Commercial Dialogue with their Indian counterparts, and Indian Defence Minister Parrikar’s visit to Washington to meet with US Secretary of Defence to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation have made it appear as if India and the US are inching towards shaping an informal alliance relationship.

Alliance was taboo terminology in India’s approach towards the world during the four decades of the Cold War era. The politically correct phrase was non-alignment. India never felt comfortable with alliance politics indulged in by the US and the former Soviet Union. Successive governments in New Delhi promoted non-alignment as a credible foreign policy strategy and backed the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) consisting of the vast majorities of developing countries. Indian ideologues became defensive when critics described India’s closer defence and security ties with the former Soviet Union as antithetical to its profession of non-alignment policy.

The Indian government did not formally abandon NAM even after the end of the Cold War, although non-alignment slowly disappeared from the lexicon of Indian foreign policy and international relations. As and when Indian policy-makers came to terms with the new realities of the post-Cold War era marked by a sole superpower world order, the new mantra chanted by Indian strategic analysts came to be “strategic autonomy.”

As India was accused by critics of compromising its non-alignment by maintaining closer defence ties with the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, it faced similar reproach of compromising its “strategic autonomy” when India began to forge a strategic partnership with the US in the post-Cold War era.

However, the demands of the time, politico-security developments in  the post-Soviet world order, rise of non-state actors as effective challengers of state sovereignty, nuclear capability of state sponsors of terrorism, meltdown of the Middle Eastern political order, end of the era of peaceful rise of China, among others, have required a new kind of strategic collaboration between India and the US.

The new strategic partnership project between India and the US that began since President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000 has gone through its varying pace and intensity from time to time, but after about fifteen years of its evolution, one may safely contend that there is no going back. The civil nuclear technology cooperation agreement, growing trade in arms and other military hardware, regular military exercises, new initiatives for co-production and co-development of defence items as part of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) have cemented the strategic partnership between the two countries.

However, 'strategic partnership' is not a well-defined term and many commentators have actually come to joke about it. India has strategic partnerships with many countries, including China. What then is the brand of the Indo-US strategic partnership? Detailed examination will, of course, show the qualitatively different brand of India’s strategic partnership with the US than that with China.

The notable distinctiveness of the Indo-US strategic partnership consists of defence trade, technology transfer, military-to-military cooperation and most recently, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). This is one of the four fundamental agreements that have been under negotiation between the two countries. That it took so long to ink this agreement need not surprise anyone, since both the US and India are vibrant democracies and all stakeholders are allowed to participate in decision-making on critical issues. Now that LEMOA has been concluded, other agreements will be taken up for discussion.

Significantly, the discourse in India on Indo-US defence and security cooperation has matured to an extent where hardly any one raised serious opposition to LEMOA. As is in the US, a broad consensus seems to have been developing in India for robust defence and strategic ties with the US.

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#5096, 8 August 2016
Need the World Worry over Trump's Foreign Policy?
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

Never before did the American foreign policy draw so much limelight during an election year in the US as it has now. Likewise, the global anxiety over the outcome of a presidential election in the US has become more palpable today than ever in the past. Similarly, rarely have allied and rival countries of the US expressed their disquiet and angst over the foreign policy statements of an American presidential nominee as it is being witnessed during the 2016 election campaign. Yet, another new history in the ongoing US presidential election campaign is the vigorous opposition to their nominee’s positions on foreign policy issues by senior officials of his own party.

All these because of unconventional foreign policy views by Republican nominee Donald Trump that have unsettled both allies and enemies of the US to varying degrees. Trump’s prickly tongue has invited bitter invectives against him as well. Incumbent US President Barack Obama declared Trump “unfit” to serve as the Commander-in Chief of the US army. Incumbent US Vice President Joe Biden  said, “threats are too great, and times are too uncertain” to elect Trump as the next US President, since he “has no clue about what makes America great”, even though he vows to make America “great again.” Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta have accused Trump of making “disgraceful statements that betray” the “long standing values and national interests” of the US.

When Trump questioned the usefulness of the nuclear weapons by asking, “if we have them, why can’t we use them,” his “mental stability” came under suspicion. Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate Bill Weld said “He’s a showman…a pied piper…a music man” and more seriously “the noun that comes to my mind is a “screw loose.”

Significantly, the Republican Party’s senior officials and leaders too are miffed with Trump’s foreign policy statements. More particularly, a group of former cabinet officers, senior officials and career military officials, in an open letter in the Washington Post challenged Trump’s position on Europe, NATO and Russia, saying “We find Trump’s comments to be reckless, dangerous and extremely unwise” that go against “core, bipartisan principle found in every U.S. administration….” This is where both the Democrats as well as the Republicans seem to be united against Trump.

So are some American allies. For instance, French President Francois Hollande reportedly thinks that Donald Trump’s comments are “vomit-inducing.” America’s trade partners are apprehensive about Trump’s opposition to free trade. American allies are concerned about his position that unless they pay adequately for it, they should fend for themselves in defence and security matters. The US’ neighbours appear concerned about his ideas to build walls to prevent illegal movement of people.

There is little doubt that shallow remarks and use of obnoxious language have earned Trump several enemies within his country and abroad. But will Trump, if he wins the election, build a wall along the Mexican border? Will he disband NATO? Will he ask Japan and South Korea to make nuclear weapons to defend themselves? Will he endorse the spread of Russian influence? Will he flex muscles against China? Will he walk away from trade deals his predecessors have concluded? Will he wage a unilateral war against the Islamic State?

The answer is perhaps in the negative. It is important to separate rhetoric from reality to assess the US’ role under a possible Trump administration. In the heat of the campaign, all the candidates make promises, issue statements and indulge in strong criticisms, and once a nominee wins the election and assumes office, the whole world suddenly looks strikingly different. In this complex dynamics of domestic politics and intricate web of international relations, a single American president simply cannot do what he desires or dreams or promises. This will be more applicable to Trump than to his rival, Hillary Clinton, since the former is completely raw on foreign policy/national security issues and later is a proven diplomat.

However, Trump and his campaigns have already begun to change course. He has begun to find faults with the foreign policy weaknesses of the Obama Administration, build his own vision of a world order where the US would have restored its prestige, power and economic weight in the globe. He harps on making “America great again” in the backdrop of declining US influence in the world order; he wants to make common cause with Russia and give an option to China to productively cooperate or risk having its own separate path; manage the huge trade deficit and restore the manufacturing primacy to keep jobs at home; confront radical Islam and stabilise regional orders than export the Western version of democracy; concentrate on domestic developments and not on nation-building abroad. All these ideas are expected to win votes and not please allies or displease rivals abroad.

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#5081, 13 July 2016
US: “Losing Respect” Abroad
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Professor, School of International Studies, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

The qualified deterioration of the US’ global influence has been debated for long, but the US leadership seems worried that the country is fast losing respect in the world as well. Of course, when some Americans keep repeating that the US possesses the most powerful military in the world, it does not create respect, but fear. Respect is inspired by one’s economic performance, political ideals and cooperative social fabric.
The economic performance of the US is anything but spectacular. It has been experiencing the Great Recession for the last seven years. The unemployment rate is high and is more than the government statistics suggest. Leaders across the political divide complain about jobs travelling abroad and promise to create more jobs for their citizens. According to reports, about seven million people out of 62 million in the age group of 25-54 are neither employed nor looking for employment. The opportunity cost of two million people in US prisons is not common knowledge, but it is real. 

This problem has a spill-over effect on social stability as well. It is extremely difficult and increasingly so for someone who has been arrested or convicted to get a job in any company. That means the prisoners in the US, highest among the developed countries, will remain jobless for the rest of their lives. They will, in other words, be passengers in the revolving door connecting prisons with the streets.
Significantly, African-Americans constitute the largest section of the prison population, disproportionate to their numbers in the census figures. During the last several months the killing of African-Americans in the streets of the US by policemen has generated a deep sense of insecurity among the people and resentment among minority communities. The assassination of five white policemen in Dallas and its repercussion across US cities reflect anger, frustration and insecurity in the society. 
This has in turn infected the political space in the US. Several leaders belonging to various political parties have expressed diverse opinions on the Dallas incident. Some have expressed sympathy with the police department, some have called for serious investigation and some have even spoken about the need for reforms in the system. While President Barack Obama opines that the situation is not as bad as it was during the 1960s, presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party Donald Trump sees a deep racial divide in the society. Everyone, nevertheless, calls for national unity and living the American dream. 
The current US social and economic scene, however, does not inspire the international community. American ideals and treatment of minority communities is not reflected in the present state of race relations, and nor does the existing state of the US economy encourage other countries to follow. The days of the Washington Consensus as an economic model are over.
On the other hand, the Chinese economic performance has certainly brought international respect and admiration to that country. Generally speaking, US’loss cannot be China’s gain and vice versa. But the evolving Sino-US Cold Confrontation negates that general proposition. China has undoubtedly gained admiration abroad in recent decades, especially around the time the US began to lose it.
The 9/11 terrorist attack on the US, harmful fallout of the US invasion of Iraq and then their exit, inability of the US and NATO forces to bring order to Afghanistan after fifteen years of intervention and the mishandling of the Arab Spring culminating in the rise of the Islamic State (IS) have all been perceived as US’ weaknesses. 

In the meantime, Russia’s geopolitical gains in Eurasia and China’s awe-inspiring assertiveness in the East and South China Seas have certainly made these countries less popular and more feared, but the regional countries, particularly the victims of Russian and Chinese muscle flexing, have little expectation from the US except loud lip service. The US is neither in a position to confront Russia except in imposing token or mild sanctions, nor in preventing China from reclaiming islands and militarising some of those in the South China Sea. 

The respect that the US commands from various allies and strategic partners is in serious danger of further erosion. These allies expect the US to protect their interests from being allegedly infringed upon by regional powers, such as Russia and China. But the complex interdependence in the international system has tied US’ hands from behind. The US has deeper economic cooperation with China, and Russia has expansive energy and economic cooperation with US’European allies to the extent that makes it difficult for the NATO members to play the same tune with Washington on critical issues. 

Thus, foreign policy intricacies, domestic, social and political divides, and the economic recession pose serious challenges to the US position in the world. In addition, the Donald Trump phenomenon appears to have frightened its allies around the globe.

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#5061, 13 June 2016
Implications of Modi’s US Visit
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Professor, School of International Studies, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fourth visit to the US and second meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House had not raised heightened expectations, and thus, the outcome of his visit also failed to generate much excitement in either India or the US.

The main event that drew the attention of the Indian media was his address to the joint session of the US Congress. It is difficult to extract any aspect of his speech or statements to highlight any newness in the emphasis or novel initiative. What accounts for little anticipations from Modi’s recent visit to the US and tiny excitement over the outcome after his visit?

Firstly, Prime Minister Modi has already met the US president multiple times and it was to be yet another round of interactions. Secondly, his first visit to the US after assuming office as the Indian prime minister was already spectacular both in terms of optics and substance. And nothing more could have been expected in just about two years. Thirdly, his initiative to invite President Obama to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebration also indicated both his innovative diplomacy and coherent efforts to effect a deeper cooperation between the US and India.

All that needed to be said had already been said in last two years and this time the visit perhaps meant to reinforce the mutual commitment to implement the measures agreed upon. Many believed that it was not prudent to visit the US to speak with an outgoing president and especially at a time when that nation was acutely engrossed in an election year. But such an argument is fallacious. Regular interactions at the highest levels of government undoubtedly have value-addition; and especially since the two countries have begun a journey along a new trajectory in their bilateral relationship in the midst of a difficult transition in the global political economy and subtle power shift. Moreover, Modi did not yet have an opportunity to directly engage with a powerful component of the US federal government, whereas President Obama had addressed the Indian parliament during one of his visits. That gap has been desirably filled with this visit.

The principal question that needs to be examined is whether Modi’s recent visit would have any substantial impact on the US’ policy towards South Asia. What were the major points raised by the Indian prime minister during his recent visit to the US? First, he expressed his desire to elevate the level of economic and technological cooperation between the two countries. India’s economic performance in the backdrop of a slow recovery of the global economy from recession, and the Modi government’s ambitious economic agendas to develop India’s infrastructure to fit the 21st Century global standard; create one hundred smart cities; and improve rural-urban connectivity through digitisation; certainly provide a great opportunity to expand Indo-US economic cooperation.

Secondly, Prime Minister Modi reiterated his idea of more robust Indo-US cooperation to fight global terror whose incubation takes place in India’s neighbourhood. Here, one may say that the two countries have been making some combined efforts to combat terrorism for long, but the nature of engagement between Washington and Islamabad has and will continue to set the limits. So long as the US forces are present on the Afghan soil, Pakistan will remain a relevant security partner of Washington’s. No matter, who enters the White House after the upcoming November election, expecting more than what already is the level of cooperation between New Delhi and Washington would be like building castles in the air. Pakistan seems to be a necessary evil that no US government can close its eye on.

While the US apparently is seeking closer security ties with India in the emerging context of escalating challenges from enlargement of the Chinese sphere of influence in South and Central Asia, it remains to be seen how India and the US actually collaborate extensively in the economic sphere. China’s economic footprint in Pakistan has been enlarging and the promised implementation of Sino-Pakistan economic corridor will further strengthen Beijing’s influence in South Asia. This in combination with Chinese economic presence in other smaller countries in South Asia do pose a long term security risk to the US’ influence in this region. Unless the US considers this aspect and seeks to enhance its economic involvement in this region, its single-minded effort to forge defence and security partnership with India will be inadequate to maintain a regional balance.

The Indo-US strategic partnership at present seems heavily loaded in favour of defence and security ties. There is no need for course correction, but greater economic and technological focus is necessary to make it more balanced. Modi’s reemphasis in the US on enhanced economic cooperation is thus a welcome development.

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#4957, 15 January 2016
Forecast 2016: Difficult Days Ahead for Washington
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The Obama administration faced many thorny challenges in 2015, and none of those are likely to fade away in 2016. While foreign policy challenges encountered by the US are global, the most critical of those come from a region that is very much part of India’s strategic environment.

To start with, the decision of the Obama administration to fully implement its goal to end its military operations in Afghanistan witnessed a turnaround in the absence of a credible peace process involving the Taliban. The current efforts towards the same will almost certainly fail, unless some miraculous developments take place.

Dynamic Indo-Pak hostility, rising divergences between the Afghan government and the Pakistani establishment, resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, and spread of the Islamic State's (IS) influence into the Af-Pak region will continue to obstruct the US aspiration to make a quiet exit from Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, US military involvement in Afghanistan will progressively thin down, enlarging the political abyss between the US and Pakistan. While the White House and the US State Department will struggle to maintain cordial ties with Pakistan as long as the US troops remain in Afghanistan, the executive-legislative tug of war will increase and the massive US assistance to Pakistan will keep dwindling in the coming months. As Pakistan's chances of severing ties with terrorist organisations appear dodgy and the possibility of China enhancing its economic footprint in Pakistan seems plausible, the trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad is bound to mount. The steady growth of Indo-US strategic cooperation with regular military exercises and advanced arms trade will also impact the state of US-Pakistan ties.

Significantly, the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have begun their quadrilateral cooperation to address the Afghan situation. India is out of this loop. This, precisely, is going to weigh down the US effort of peace-making in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s nightmare is a stronger Indian influence in Afghanistan, and it vetoes an Indian role in peace-making. After so much investment in nation-building activities in Afghanistan, can India afford to allow Pakistan to re-design its strategic depth in that country? Can India really trust the above-mentioned quadrilateral and buy the outcome of their deliberations, even while remaining a bystander to a peace process in its immediate neighbourhood?

The bigger challenge to US engagement beyond South Asia comes from the knotty precariousness in the West Asian strategic scene. The Obama administration withdrew all US troops from Iraq and left a power vacuum that was filled by the IS. While President Obama stopped using the term “global war on terror,” promised to engage with the Islamic world with constructive cooperation, and terminated military operations in Iraq, the end result turned out to be more perilous. The IS declared a caliphate, ran civil administration, sold oil in the international market, beheaded its opponents, and in a way, provoked the US to return to the battle fields of the region. President Obama did practically that, while repeatedly promising not to put boots on the grounds. He bombarded IS facilities from the sky, sent some troops to train Iraqi soldiers, and now, US Special Forces are also selectively engaging in combat.

The expectation that the entry of the Russians and the Iranians to wage war against the IS would be of great benefit were belied in 2015. The Russians are more interested in protecting the Assad regime than combating IS. In the meantime, the US began to complain that Russian planes were also hitting anti-Assad, pro-Western rebels. While Iran is deeply involved in Iraq and is reportedly training, aiding and equipping the private Iraqi militias to take on the IS, Tehran does not coordinate its operations with the US forces. The US backing of Saudi military intervention in Yemen and killings of Tehran-supported Houthi rebels have contributed to more US-Iranian hostility.

In the meantime, the signature achievement of the Obama administration - the Iran nuclear deal - is under stress. It has annoyed the Saudis and angered the Israelis. The other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have paid lip service to the deal, but privately appear quite unhappy. Besides the Shia-Sunni divide currently engulfing the West Asian region, the Persian-Arab cultural conflict is also aggressively surfacing. Arab countries are increasingly using the term 'Arabian Gulf' instead of 'Persian Gulf' and Iranians think that it an affront to their ancient history.

All these developments have contributed to the plight of the US Middle East policy, although critics partially blame US policy for the current crisis in the region. The US has lost its grip over the developments in the region, even as the civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya are ravaging on.  Anti-Americanism is at its height among the Shias and Sunnis, Arabs and the Persians, and the most trusted ally, Israel, also appears to have lost faith in the Obama administration for its handling of the Iran nuclear deal. The constant depreciation of energy prices has negatively affected shale gas producers in the US as well. It is very unlikely that the economic crisis, social instability and the political upheavals or even terrorism in West Asia would be satisfactorily handled in this period. American hegemony in West Asia, already facing trouble, will have no respite in 2016.

Developments in the Asia Pacific are no less exigent to US power.

North Korean nuclear obstinacy and Chinese muscle-flexing in the South China Sea raise questions of US credibility among its allies. The competition between the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Chinese-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), Chinese defiance of US calls for multilateral dispute resolution in the South China Sea, Chinese resistance to the movement of US ships or surveillance planes close to islands reclaimed by China, the single-minded construction of potential military facilities by Beijing in the disputed islands of this sea and several other similar developments indicate that Obama’s strategy of a “pivot to Asia” is little more than gesticulation.

In 2016, US' Asian allies such as the Philippines, Australia, Japan and South Korea will expect it to behave more robustly vis-à-vis China. Deployment of ships, flying of bombers, more frequent surveillance, selling military equipment and reiterating US commitment to the security of its allies will not be considered enough. All these actions by the US have hardly altered Chinese policy or behaviour. Nor have threats and sanctions brought North Korea to its knees. As the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) have proven powerless to manage an assertive China and adamant North Korea, the US may look for alternative methods to deal with provocations in this region in 2016.

The US preoccupation with the unprecedented chaos in the Middle East/West Asia, domestic political polarisation, persistent economic recession in the world, and election year in the US will constrain the Obama administration from taking tough measures abroad. As such, President Obama has tasted the bitterness of some of his liberal approaches. First, he drew a red-line for the Assad regime on the issue of use of chemical weapons and fell short of carrying out the promised response.

Second, he wanted to reset relations with Russia and found that US-Russia relations have deteriorated further. Third, the Budapest Pact promised Ukraine territorial integrity in exchange for its surrender of nuclear weapons. But the US could do precious little when Russia annexed Crimea.

Fourth, critics hold President Obama responsible for continuing violence in Libya, mishandling of the Arab Spring, and the inability to overthrow the Assad regime. Fifth, two key US allies - Israel and Saudi Arabia - feel estranged in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal, and yet there are still there no signs of Iran refraining from missile tests, or supporting  alleged terrorists, or providing muscular support to the Assad regime.

Is there any possibility of President Obama taking appropriate measures to answer his critics? Can he stabilise Libya? Can he bring an end to the Yemeni and Syrian civil wars? Can he get Iran to abide by the nuclear agreement it negotiated with the P5+1? Can he stop the Saudi-Iranian regional Cold War? Can he improve the image of the US in this region? Can he persuade or pressurise China to vacate the occupied islands in the South China Sea? Can he coerce China to withdraw its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)? Can he end the US military presence in Afghanistan even after seeing the consequences of total US withdrawal from Iraq?

There is hardly any time for Obama to do so much. Nevertheless, Obama has not done everything wrong. In the complex strategic landscape of the post-9/11 era, everyone witnessed the empowerment of non-state actors. Modern technology has proven to be both a boon and curse. No superpower can flex its muscle and use all its abilities to control, direct and shape global events. Even then, President Obama’s diplomatic success in the Paris Climate Change Conference, in roping in Russia and China to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, in opening a new chapter in US relations with India in the post-Devyani Khobragade episode, are no mean achievements. In the last year of his office, President Obama will certainly try to build on his successes.

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#4770, 11 December 2014
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor at the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, JNU

In less than four months, the new Prime Minister of India and US President Barack Obama will meet for their second summit in New Delhi. The first summit was the outcome of Obama’s initiative when he called the newly elected Prime Minister of India and invited him to visit the US. Modi, who was denied a visa for about a decade by the US State Department, promptly and positively responded to Obama’s invitation. The result was the first summit between the two leaders in late September 2014.

The planned second summit between Modi and Obama is the result of an innovative initiative by Prime Minister Modi who invited the US President to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebration in India on 26 January 2015. This time it was Obama’s turn to swiftly accept Modi’s invitation.

The first Modi-Obama summit was indeed an event that broke the frozen ice in the diplomatic ties between the two countries. No bilateral relationship in international relations is without political and economic frictions. But the diplomatic discord that resulted from the Devyani Khobragade episode had threatened to stall the fast moving strategic partnership between India and the US and a summit between the leadership of the two countries was essential to restore the momentum.

It is admitted on all hands that the first Modi-Obama Summit turned out to be highly successful step in renewing the cordial ties between New Delhi and Washington. Firstly, Very rarely countries issue joint vision statements before the summit and in this case the issuance of a joint Indo-US vision statement raised expectations that the final outcome of the summit would be a positive one. Secondly, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi co-authored an article that was published in the influential Washington Post that hinted at better days to come in the diplomatic ties between the two countries. After the summit, a joint statement issued by the two leaders, moreover, contained language that indicated India’s boldness in taking clear positions and the determination of the two leaders to address certain crucial issues in the current global scenario. The first one was related to the need to tackle the menace created by the ISIS the West Asian region and the second one was about political turbulence in the South China Sea raising uncertainties over freedom of navigation.

Modi’s announcement of his government’s plan to provide visas on arrival to American citizens was a master diplomatic stroke in the backdrop of the history of US visa denial to him. Significantly, Modi’s first meeting with President Obama took place after his summit meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping - the two most powerful Asian powers. Modi had also met Russian President Vladirmir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil.

All these signalled the new Indian government’s foreign policy goals to develop cordial and constructive ties with all major powers of the world. Modi’s visit to the US was not meant to put all eggs in the American basket. In fact, Japan’s commitment of US$35 billion dollars and China’s commitment US$20 billion foreign investment in India had encouraged Modi to draw a substantial amount of FDI from the US. It is true that the American system of economy would not permit President Obama to compete with Japan and China in promoting foreign investment in India. But Modi was well aware of the American situation and he held separate meeting with the CEOs of many topnotch American companies. And, according to an estimate, the total potential US investment that Modi could attract could be the tune of more than US$40 billion.

None, however, could foresee that Modi and Obama would be ready so soon to have a second summit. They met each other on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Myanmar and on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Australia and appear to have hit it off.

The resilience and expansion of the ISIS influence, the resurgence of the Taliban threat in Afghanistan, instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and China’s apparently unstoppable assertiveness provide a significant rationale for the second Indo-US summit.

On the other hand, Modi’s economic vision for India, his robust economic diplomacy and the value of the Indian market for US companies provide the required pull-factor for President Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. It is only appropriate to say that an American President’s presence in the Republic Day celebration in India has been long-awaited necessity, and it is better late than ever! It will be an inspiration for other democracies and add value to role of democracy in world affairs. In the world of diplomacy, symbols are as important as substance.

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#4733, 10 November 2014
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The US’ mid-term Congressional election result was, in the perception of the Republican Party – that came to control the US Congress for the first time in last eight years – a referendum on incumbent President Barack Obama’s presidency. 
If the American voters’ verdict was overwhelmingly against the Democratic Party, some analysts argue, Obama is a lame duck president. Given how Obama could not effectively promote his political agenda when the Democratic Party held majority in the powerful Upper House of the Congress, how can he expect to do so now, when both Houses of the US Congress have come under Republican majority?

It is understandable that Obama will have to cope with tremendous challenges to his domestic political agenda in the next two years of his presidency. The gridlock in Washington, the temporary government shutdown and the sequestration that affected even the Pentagon occurred when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stonewalled Obama’s political agenda. If history repeats again, Obama will certainly be called a lame duck president.

But history is very unlikely to repeat itself in Washington’s beltway. First of all, encouraged by the recent electoral victory, the Republican Party will try to project itself as a responsible political party that cares for its constituents and the country’s political stability and economic growth. Its image has taken quite a beating due to its behavior in the recent past and the Party, keeping its eyes on 2016 presidential election, cannot afford to retain a negative image among the voters.

Second, there are some issues, such as corporate tax reforms, where Obama and the Republican Party bosses appear to be on the same page. In fact, the Democratic Party, failed to capitalise on Obama’s oratory skills and back his policies during the election campaign and thus had to face consequences. Obama’s desire to leave a noteworthy legacy will induce him to make compromises even if his own party leaders take contrary views on certain legislations.

Third, all said and done, the Republican Party has not got a veto-proof majority in the Congress or a filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate. President Obama will retain his right to veto legislations he opposes and some of his party men can be persuaded to filibuster a Republican legislative measure, if it is perceived to be against the principal party line.

All these do not signify that there is going to be trouble free Obama administration until 2016. Key issues related to energy, environment, immigration, healthcare and public debt will encounter sharp political debates and divisions, and may even create an image of a drastically divided nation over the coming months. But the Republican leadership will be mindful of the 2016 election and Obama will strive to put in place a respectable legacy and hence political processes in the country’s capital may actually witness more restrained dynamics and controlled temper than in the recent past.

Mid-term elections in the US are generally local affairs and do not draw much attention abroad. But the 2014 election is conspicuously different. The world watched it with intense curiosity in view of the ongoing disorder in the world. Russia and China have been flexing muscles in their respective regions and the Obama administration’s response is regarded by the US allies as either weak or lackluster. The Syrian civil war, the spread of the Islamic State’s (IS) influence in West Asia, and the difficulties of finding a workable solution to Iran’s nuclear questions demand a kind of engagement and leadership that the Obama administration has not been able to provide.

The international community does not want to witness the unfolding of a cold war-type equation between the US and Russia and/or between Washington and Beijing. International concerns over the inability of the US-led air strikes to contain the IS are also palpable.

Will Obama act like a lame duck president on foreign affairs? Frankly, under the US constitutional provisions of separation of powers and checks and balances, the president enjoys enormous privilege and leeway to conduct the country’s foreign relations and safeguard national security. The Congress has the power over the purse and it can create hurdles for the White House in matters of implementation. 
But significantly, the Republican Party desires a more robust use of force in the conduct of foreign policy and has criticised Obama for lack of leadership, growing anti-Americanism in the world and less than weighty means to confront Russia on the Ukraine issue and the IS and Syria in West Asia.

One has to watch how far the Republican Congress can persuade, encourage, back and induce the Obama White House to restore the US’ primacy in global affairs. In other words, the Republican Congress will desire President Obama to be more proactive and not a lame duck in conducting world affairs and addressing national security threats.

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#4691, 13 October 2014
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism’s Sake?
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor at the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, JNU

India’s hyperactive Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now widely known for his magic - the Modi Magic. His charisma made him popular ever since he began his tour of India to campaign for the parliamentary election and his charm became more widespread going beyond the borders of India soon after he became the Indian Prime Minister. 

In one month, Prime Minister Modi has held three summit level meetings with three world leaders - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the US President Barack Obama. The Chinese leader announced an investment of US$20 billion to develop infrastructure in India; the Japanese leader declared an amount of US$35 billion and, while the American leader could make no such commitment, the US-Indian Business Council estimated that Modi’s visit to the US would bring about US$41 billion of investment to India.

Why the US president was not able to make an open commitment on investing in India is not unknown. It is the private corporate sector in the US that can make investment commitments and not the US administration. And, investment, after all, is not aid!

There is no doubt that Modi’s summit meeting with the US President was the most important among the three summits, not only because the US is a superpower, but because Washington’s approach towards the new government in Delhi would considerably impact China’s attitude and Japanese engagement vis-à-vis India.

Critics point out that Modi’s US visit was high on symbolism and low on substance. Some pointed out that the grand reception he received in New York was the handiwork of the Gujarati community in the US. It has also been argued that there was a big media hype in India about Modi’s US visit, but there was nothing of significant importance in the coverage by the US media. Still others complain that no new agreement was signed during the Modi-Obama summit, no big ticket item was proclaimed, and that there was nothing original in the joint statement issued by the two leaders.

These are actually criticisms for criticism’s shake. First of all, Modi’s address at the Madison Square was clearly aimed at the Indian American community and not just the Gujarati community. In fact, the short cultural programme before the Prime Minister’s arrival had an India flavour and the Rajasthani dance performance by Gujarati dancers symbolised the unity of India in diversity! The Prime Minister’s announcement of life time visas for overseas Indians (PIO and CIO) was not meant for the Gujarati community alone.   

Secondly, American newspapers rarely give wide coverage to any one foreign leader, and Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with the US President in view of this fact was like such meetings in the White House, that is, almost a daily affair. Moreover, an article by the PM in The Wall Street Journal, a major voice of corporate America, and a joint article by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi in the influential The Washington Post were quite uncommon feats.

Finally, a pair of eagle eyes is needed to discover the novel elements in the US-India joint statement. First, the statement clearly and strongly sends signals to Pakistan to rope in its home-grown terrorist networks and to China to follow international law in handling maritime disputes in the South China Sea. No diplomatic nicety was shown, unlike earlier joint statements, in matters of tackling terrorism and managing freedom of the seas.
Secondly, the need to robustly tackle the IS and D-Company, among other terrorist outfits, and their safe heavens, was a significant part of the joint statement and the mark of the Modi Government on this issue was crystal clear.

Thirdly, the concord between the two leaders to clean up the logjam in the implementation of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement was an important declaration. The UPA government failed to implement years after the declaration of the nuclear deal and six years after signing the 123 agreement.

Significantly, Modi’s summit with President Obama preceded his unprecedented corporate diplomacy marked by his meetings with the CEOs of a large number of American Big Business houses and his public diplomacy with the influential Indian American community. In both these initiatives, the Prime Minister’s goal was to allure American investments into India to create smart cities, modernise the country’s infrastructure and turn India into a manufacturing hub of the world.

Modi was neither selling dreams nor making populist remarks. He had done his home work. Based on his understanding of India’s strengths - democracy, demography and demands - he tried to convince the American public and the government the benefit of doing business in and with India. Neither his corporate diplomacy nor his public diplomacy was anathema to the White House.

Modi has planted many seeds in the US. The road to success, however, is long and not without hurdles.       

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#4649, 8 September 2014
Changing Global Balance of Power: Obama’s Response
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The term ‘unipolar world order’ has slowly been erased from the lexicon of current debates on world affairs. While the Obama Administration appears determined to keep the flag of Pax Americana flying around the world, events in Latin America, Europe, Asia and West Asia have begun to challenge the US-led global order. 

China and Russia have successfully penetrated Latin America by spreading their economic and military presence hitherto completely dominated by the US. While Japan has been seeking in vain to chase the Chinese into Latin America, the Obama Administration has been accused of neglecting its own backyard. 

Many analysts raised eyebrows when US President Barack Obama promised considerable assistance to Africa last month but had little to offer to Latin America. China already has a robust presence in Africa and has replaced the US as the principal trading partner of many Latin American countries. The US financial assistance has always been conditional to protection of human rights or promotion of democracy, but China imposes no strings; and thus, an increasing number of countries in Africa and Latin America are looking up to Beijing for assistance. 

Notably, China has little to offer to strife-torn West Asia. It has taken a back seat in the game of diplomacy and has not even attempted to restore order in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria or Iraq. The US on the other hand has directly or indirectly remained a high profile actor in this region. The reigning superpower, however, has failed to contain, manage, and let alone resolve, the ongoing violence in West Asia.

The credibility of the US as a world leader has been questioned in view of Washington’s alleged mishandling of the Syrian civil war; the delayed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS); the lack of satisfactory steps to re-establish order in the post-Gaddafi Libya; and the inability to arrive at an agreeable solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  

Critics have pointed to the US’ hasty withdrawal from Iraq before restoration of socio-political stability and its planned exit from Afghanistan despite the resurgence of the Taliban as indicative of the US’ diminished ability and willingness to sustain its hegemonic world order. While some argue that the US is on the march to become-energy independent and hence cares little about the West Asian muddle, the region remains critical to global energy security. Can the US economy sustain itself, if there is instability in the global energy market?

The US’ recent decision to seek NATO assistance in addressing the threat from the IS is but one among several examples that testify the US’ declining power to maintain world order on its own. There was little doubt that the US dominated the NATO during the Cold War. However, this domination ended after the collapse of the Soviet Union and despite NATO’s geographical expansion. 

The support received by the US from NATO in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 vanished in 2003 when the Bush Administration prepared to militarily intervene in Iraq.  In the recent NATO summit in Poland, Obama persuaded some NATO members to expand its activities to other parts of the world with the creation of rapid deployment force. The first such step would be to tackle the terror threat from IS. However, it signifies the US’ weakness than strength in managing the IS threat.
The jerky balance of power in today’s world, however, is more discernible in Europe and the Asia Pacific where the resurgence of Russian power and the emergence of China as a potential global power has put to the test the resilience of the US-led global order. American threats, sanctions, and/or even diplomacy failed to prevent Russia from spreading its control over to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014. Over the past several months, Ukraine has emerged as a new cold war battleground between the Obama and the Putin administrations.

After Putin brandished his nuclear arsenal, his proposal for a cease-fire became effective in Eastern Ukraine.   

Similarly, the US seems ineffective in stemming the expansion of Beijing’s influence in the Asia Pacific both due to China’s rising military prowess and vast economic muscle. China has occupied several islands in the South China Sea, harassed smaller neighbours, challenged the US’ naval vessels and surveillance ships risking potential confrontation, declared Air Defence Identification Zones and patrolled in waters close to the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in East China Sea. The US has issued statements warning China and assuring its allies, but there is no manifestation of its effect.

Significantly, China and Russia have been forging closer economic and military ties to alter the global power structure, making it difficult for the US to stop the erosion of its global influence.

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#4601, 11 August 2014
Obama Administration: Re-engaging India
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

After months of downgrading its engagement with the Indian government, US President Barack Obama’s administration has woken up to the new reality of a transformed political profile in New Delhi, and has managed to alter its diplomatic course.

The Devyani Khobragade episode had cast a shadow over the much-trumpeted US-India strategic partnership. It was followed by disturbing headlines on the bilateral, when the May 2014 national election catapulted Narendra Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to the centre-stage of Indian politics. The massive popular mandate to the BJP has meant a stable central government for next five years in India that effectively replaces decades-long coalition politics and a recent tendency towards federalisation of Indian foreign policy making. 

The difficulty for the US was to begin dialoguing with the new Indian strongman who was, for years, denied a US visa. There is no parallel in the US history to the denial of a visa to a three-time chief minister of a democratic country. 

However, the US’ pragmatism has always been legendary. Soon after it was clear that Narendra Modi would lead the next government in India, Obama dialled ‘M’ for Modi, congratulated him and invited him to visit Washington at an agreeable time. Modi’s pragmatism has been equally legendary and he promptly concurred. 

Modi, nonetheless, gave no impression whatsoever that he was too eager to make a trip to a country that refused him access for an alleged violation of human rights that had been cleared by the Supreme Court of India. His decision to invite the SAARC heads of states to his inauguration; choosing Bhutan for his first foreign visit; postpone a planned visit to Tokyo; but miss no chance to meet with the Chinese and Russian leaders at the BRICS summit; and to ask his External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to choose Bangladesh for her first foreign visit; signalled that Modi would maintain relationships with the US, and its allies on his own terms.

The Obama Administration, on the other hand, did not take things lying down. The US’ persistence is reflected in the fact that thirteen officials from Washington have already visited New Delhi to establish contacts with their counterparts at various levels. Three cabinet level officers, the US Secretary of State, the US Commerce Secretary and the US Secretary of Defense visited India and met Prime Minister Modi, along with others, to kick-start the momentum in the bilateral relations.

Next month, Modi will head to Washington for his first summit with Obama. While the US cabinet level officials visited Delhi to prepare for the Obama-Modi summit in September, surprisingly, none at the cabinet level from India has visited Washington yet. 

It appears that more than New Delhi, it is Washington that is keen to bury the past and move ahead to repair the relationship and build further. Significantly, US Secretary of State John Kerry stated during his visit that he would not like to dig the past and that, in any case, Modi was denied visa by the previous Republican Administration. In fact, a post on Twitter mentioned that President Obama was unaware of the denial of visa to Modi. 

Similarly, one could make the point that the US-India differences over airline security, pharmaceutical business, solar panel manufacturing, Indian steel and several other issues that constituted headline news should not be allowed to affect Indo-US ties in other areas. 

In fact, Kerry came to India like a diplomatic sales-executive to promote cooperation in the energy sector; Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker came to impress upon India the importance of signing the Trade Facilitation Act (TFA) at the World Trade Organisation and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during his visit, sought to discuss defence deals worth billions of dollars. 

Clearly, India’s civil nuclear liability act is a road block to fulfil Secretary Kerry’s desire for full-fledged energy cooperation and the Modi government’s firm decision to not sacrifice India’s food security policy at the TFA’s altar is a disappointment for Secretary Penny. 

While the Kerry-Penny visit to India coincided with the vote on the FTA at the WTO, and India’s refusal to lend its support overshadowed their visit, Hagel’s visit to India pumped some positive energy into the bilateral relationship. Compared to the India-US economic and diplomatic ties, defence ties between the two countries appear more cooperative and less controversial. Despite differences over pricing, technology transfer, the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement, and end-user agreement, India was the largest market for US weapons last year, and has already purchased $10 billion worth of defence equipment over the past decade.

Unlike the recent US initiatives towards India, the Modi government’s plans and proposals to better ties with Washington still has a veil of secrecy. The government is still in its infancy, though. Nonetheless, one expects clarity of Modi’s moves towards the US during his September summit with Obama.

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#4555, 14 July 2014
US in South Asia: Declining Influence
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The US’ influence in South Asia is fast diminishing and this trend is likely to continue deep into the future. In the aftermath of World War II, South Asia was considered a strategic backwater by the US policymakers. Additionally, South Asia offered little economic opportunities to the US corporate sector. With the solitary exception of turning Pakistan into an alliance partner, the US cared little about this region.

Even in the realm of alliance politics, the US had little to offer Pakistan. Pakistan’s membership in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and the Central Treaty Organization, and the US’ military assistance to Pakistan was ineffective during Pakistan’s military misadventures against India. It was only after the late 1970s’ Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan that Washington got critically involved in South Asia.

The US’ interest in South Asia deepened in the post-Cold War era in view of Indian economic reforms, nuclearisation of the region and the pivotal role Afghanistan played in the terrorist attack on the US in September 2001. As the US once again turned Pakistan into an alliance partner in the war against terrorism and established an extraordinary strategic understanding with India, South Asia occupied substantial priority in the US national security agenda.

The US’ war in Afghanistan that began in 2001 is about to come to a close. The US troop withdrawal from this country is indisputable. Irrespective of debates over the probable level of US engagement in Afghan affairs post 2014, it is almost certain that the closure of billions of dollars worth of war in Afghanistan will trim Washington’s influence in South Asia. The resilience of the Afghan Taliban and limitation of a superpower’s abilities to confront non-state-actors will question the US’ credibility in the region.

Secondly, the US leverage over Pakistan in the post-Afghan war phase will dry down with an almost automatic cut in the US military and economic assistance to Islamabad.  History will unquestionably repeat and the US-Pakistan alliance will terminate, as was the case after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. 

Thirdly, the US’ influence over India, resulting from an innovative “strategic partnership” project during former US President George Bush’s era may not survive his successor Barack Obama’s administration. The enthusiasm of the first Obama administration to further elevate this partnership was short-lived and the second Obama administration has paid less than modest attention to India. 

There is no doubt that the election victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of now Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a strong popular mandate, has generated sizeable excitement in Washington. Hope of revival of the earlier impetus in the Indo-US strategic partnership has been rekindled. Obama’s invitation to Modi to visit Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal Desai’s trip to India soon after the new government assumed office, visits by influential Senator John McCain and Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns to prepare the ground for the Indo-US strategic dialogue between Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj are all signals of Obama’s renewed interest in India.

But Prime Minister Modi appears less animated to visit the US, more involved in constructing a peaceful neighbourhood, more focused on reviving the national economy and less enthralled to project India as a global leader. About ten months have passed since the Devyani Khobragade episode begot a psychological divide in the New Delhi-Washington bond. Repairing the mind-set is not going to be easy even for the new Indian government.

The Obama administration’s relationships with other smaller South Asian countries – especially Bangladesh and Sri Lanka – have also soured in the recent years. Washington was hesitant to do business with the Awami League government after the January 2014 elections, criticised Dhaka’s handling of human trafficking problems, and reduced import of garments after a deadly fire in a garment factory.  

The US’ efforts to hold the Sri Lankan government responsible for severe human rights violations during the closing weeks of anti-Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam operations have widened the political divide between Colombo and Washington. The Sri Lankan government has demonstrated bitterness over the US double standard in combating terrorism—one standard for itself and another for other countries. 

Significantly, India’s smaller South Asian neighbours are fast moving towards developing closer relationships with China. Although this is generally perceived as an anti-India phenomenon, the reality is that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are looking up to China as a new guarantor of help in the face of the US’ heavy-handed approach towards them.

It is also a fact that the US has enhanced its engagement with Nepal in response to fast growing Chinese economic presence and political influence in that country. But compared to China, Washington’s influence in Nepal is minimal. It is almost certain that the drop in Washington’s political weight will further augment Chinese leverage over Islamabad as well. It is time to ponder over the diminished US and rising Chinese profile in the region.

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#4501, 9 June 2014
US Foreign Policy: Rehashing Old Stances
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The foreign policy community’s anxious wait to hear US President Barack Obama make his foreign policy speech at the West Point Military Academy finally came to an end on 28 May, 2014. In his commencement address to the graduating military officers, President Obama outlined his foreign policy views and approaches that stunned some analysts, and pleased many ruling elites abroad.

Some saw a new foreign policy approach in the US president’s speech, but those who keenly follow US foreign policy, saw very little in the content that could be described as new.

What was striking in the presidential address was Obama’s strong articulation of liberal institutionalism at a time when the potential military and economic rivals of the US are busy flexing their muscles in parts of Europe and Asia.

Highlighting the importance of observing international norms and rules, President Obama said, “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We cannot exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.... What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”

The decision to affirm the importance of international law, norms and institutions by a US president in the backdrop of one military intervention every 17 months between 1991 and 2001 is certainly a refreshing development to believers in multilateralism. Obama chided “a lot of sceptics who downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action,” and said, “working through international institutions, like the U.N. or respecting international law” was not a sign of “weakness.” 

While many would contest his own approach to the UN in executing his war against terror in Afghanistan by use of Drones, championing liberal institutionalism at a time of planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is understandable. 

President Obama, moreover, has shown utmost restraint in dealing with difficult situations, such as the ones in Syrian civil war, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Chinese occupations of islands and atolls in South China Sea. His difficulty in handling violence and lawlessness in Iraq post the US withdrawal; in Egypt after the Arab Spring; and in Libya after the overthrow of Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s regime gives ample reason to sing the praise of liberal approach to international politics as opposed to the neoconservative penchant for frequent use of military and coercive diplomacy in dealing with international crises. 

Obama coded his policy of using soft power instead of military means in this address by saying, “...U.S. military action cannot be the only, or even primary, component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Advocates multilateralism would certainly draw inspiration from Obama’s liberal approach to world affairs, but it is important note the traditional US foreign policy approach, cutting across the political divide that wasn’t missing in Obama’s speech. He made it loud and clear: “Let me repeat a principle.... The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it.” And the US will obviously determine what that “core interests” would be. Does it mean his advocacy of liberalism is mere opportunism?

In any case, Obama has come under fire from many critics who say his foreign policy is just a “hedging strategy” and devoid of any “grand strategy.” Many Republicans and some Democrats have criticised his foreign policy as “global retrenchment” of the US that has shaken the confidence of allies and pleased the adversaries. 

Some have lamented that he said little about meeting the emerging Russian challenge in Europe and the Chinese effort to dominate Asia. Newspaper editorials in the US carried no praise for Obama’s new foreign policy. Lawmakers in the US too remained unhappy. One Senator made a caustic remark on Obama’s speech: “The President’s speech was just another great example of his disastrous foreign policy. The reset and the pivots have all failed. All you have to do is look at Syria, Iran, Libya, Ukraine, or the South China Sea to see where this foreign policy gets us in the world.”

President Obama has approximately one and a half years before he leaves the White House. Many citizens of the US were expecting the president to spell out his foreign policy plans in coming months, but failed to get any satisfaction from the West Point speech. The rest of the world always carefully listens when an US president speaks. 
The fact that there was hardly any adverse reaction to his speech from the rest of the world signals that Obama was actually speaking to his own people at West Point. One key new suggestion that needs more clarification is his proposal to set up $5billion worth structure to combat terrorism with willing partners around the world.

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#4430, 12 May 2014
US’ Frantic Effort to Make the Rebalancing Strategy Work
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

Since late 2011, the Obama administration has been repeatedly trumpeting a new strategy to sustain and strengthen the US’s interests in the Asia-Pacific. 

First, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton published an article highlighting the need for Washington to “pivot to Asia” and then the President himself said so while addressing the Australian parliamentarians.

In the face of China’s ferocious warning against any new containment strategy to prevent its rise, the Obama administration promptly rechristened the strategy as “rebalancing” that would engage China, strengthen allies and befriend new strategic partners. The rebalancing, moreover, would consist of military, economic and political dimensions. The US push for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was touted as the economic leg of rebalancing. 

But traditional allies of the US in Europe and West Asia too were critical and suspicious of this new strategy. The Europeans thought it would dent the Trans-Atlantic alliance and the West Asians felt that the US would abandon them after the end of the Iraq War, planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the discovery of shale gas reserves the country.

Significantly, the Asian allies of the US drew little comfort from the rebalancing strategy. Most of them today find in China an attractive economic partner and the US economic attractiveness has lost the competitive edge. When the Bush and the Obama administrations got preoccupied with tackling other problems since 2001, the Asian allies started feeling neglected.

However, when Washington woke up to the new reality of the expanding Chinese hegemony in the Asia-Pacific and strategised to set a new balance that would not corrode its traditional influence in the region, the ‘pivot to Asia‘ or ‘Asia rebalancing’ doctrine saw the light of the day.

But to the US’ dismay and its allies’ distress, China buried its concept of ’peaceful rise’ and began to use measured force to retaliate against the US’ strategy. Beijing’s naval assertiveness in the East and South China Seas should be examined in the light of its anger against the new Obama doctrine. 

Tension along the Sino-Indian border; the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute; the Scarborough Shoal issue; Beijing’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone; the reassertion of Chinese claim of sovereignty over almost whole of the South China Sea; and the Sino-Vietnamese spat over maritime boundaries are among the many developments have resulted in cold confrontation between China and the US.

The aforementioned examples indicate a clear pattern of Chinese leadership picking up issues with either traditional US allies, such as Japan and the Philippines, or new strategic partners like India and Vietnam. Cold confrontation between the reigning superpower and the challenger is not confined to these events alone. China has built a robust navy with an anti-access and area-denial capability, and the US has instated new Air-Sea battle capability.

The fundamental challenge to this emerging security scenario lies in the fact that both the US and its allies and strategic partners have substantive economic relations with China. Accordingly, the US appears less confident on the prospects of its allies standing by their expected commitments in its differences with China, and vice versa.

When President Obama failed to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the East Asia Summits in October 2013 due to domestic political constraints, Washington’s ability to implement the rebalancing strategy came to be questioned in Asia. Obama’s failure to stand up to his promise when Syrian President crossed the so-called “Red Line” and the US’ perceived feeble response to developments in Ukraine further raised doubts about Washington’s willingness to sternly deal with an assertive China.

Asian allies began to feel that, despite statements and proclamations, Washington’s attention has been confined to developments in Europe and West Asia. In order to reassert the US influence in the Asia-Pacific, recently, Obama spent eight days visiting four Asian countries.

In Tokyo, the US president made it clear that he would invoke the alliance treaty with Japan in an event of Sino-Japanese armed conflict over island disputes. In Seoul, he assured the South Koreans that the US would “protect” the country from any North Korean invasion. In Manila, Obama succeeded in inking an agreement that would make Filipino military facilities accessible to the US forces and military machines. In Kuala Lumpur, Obama became the first US President to set foot in Malaysia in five decades, and his charm worked to some extent.

However, the expected US-Japan positive statement on TPP did not materialise; and the US military commitment can be tested only when there is a contingency. Just days after Obama returned to the US, China promptly sent a message by placing oil rigs near Paracel Islands and ramming Vietnamese ships. Clearly, the US rebalancing will keep encountering cold confrontation with China in years to come.

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#4387, 14 April 2014
US, Ukraine and the End of Unipolarity
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

When Ukraine became a sovereign independent republic following the Soviet disintegration, a unipolar world order was born. Now with Crimea’s secession from Ukraine and the annexation to Russia, the death of the unipolar world seems certain.
US unilateralism during the era of a unipolar world order remained unchallenged.

There was no one to question then US President Bill Clinton’s decision to rain missiles on Afghanistan as a response to the bombing of two US embassies in Africa; no one could challenge then US President George Bush’s decision to unilaterally abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, withdraw from Kyoto Protocol, invade Iraq, and overthrow Saddam Hussein from power. 

Incumbent US President Barack Obama promised to promote a liberal world order; employ more diplomacy and less force; end occupation of Iraq; talk Iran out of a suspected nuclear weapon programme; bring North Korea back to the Non-Proliferation Treaty; positively engage the Islamic world; strive for establishment of a nuclear weapon free world; reach out to the largest democracy of the world; make China a responsible stakeholder; make Russia a partner for peace; and many more.   

However, project Obama, although partially successful, it has largely failed. President Obama can be given credit for Iran’s decision to accept the détente with the US, Syria’s willingness to destroy its chemical weapons, US Navy Seal’s spectacular assassination of Osama bin Laden, and his successful approach to stemming the country’s downward economic spiral.

Nevertheless, his foreign policy flops appear more stunning. The Arab world is clearly on fire with dangerous political upheavals and unrelenting violence. The White House will have to accept a fair share of the blame for the Libyan chaos, Egyptian instability, the interminable civil war in Syria, and the North Korean nuclear tenacity.

Additionally, the US is not in a position to inspire confidence among its Asian allies at the time of growing Chinese assertiveness. All goodwill between India and the US appears to have become a thing of the past following the fierce diplomatic discord sparked by the arrest and perceived mistreatment of an Indian consular officer by the New York Police Department. The Marshall Plan aid to Europe in the post World War II period remains in the history books, and the present day US is simply incapable of instituting a similar assistance programme to rescue Europe from its current economic calamity.

In other words, the unipolar world order was already facing the risk of extinction, when Russia’s response to the political turbulence in Ukraine threatened to alter that order. During the period of Soviet disintegration, pundits could not predict the final outcome of events in Moscow. Similarly, in the case of the Ukrainian political turmoil, no one could imagine the speed with which Russian President Vladimir Putin would be able to dismantle Ukrainian political geography and annex Crimea.  

The Obama administration’s response was slow and meek. Along with the EU, it imposed sanctions against some Russian individuals. Although Russia’s membership from the G8 and its voting rights in the Council of Europe was suspended, no sanctions could be imposed on critical sectors of the Russian economy, and nor could any military measure be contemplated. High rhetoric and docile measures highlight Washington’s response. 

All these are the result of the resilience of a resurgent Russia and the relative decline of the US. The US military presence in Europe is far less today compared to that during the height of the Cold War. There are no US aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean; US navy personnel numbers in Europe have reduced to 7000 from 40,000;  and army personnel numbers have been reduced to 66,000 from over several hundred thousand in the recent past. 

Reduction in the US military presence has coincided with the increased Russian leverage in Europe, especially in the energy sector. Germany purchases one-third of Moscow’s gas; Russia accounts for over half of Austria’s gas imports; and Finland imports all of its gas from Russia. Germany’s exports to Russia stand at $40 billion a year; France’s banks have over $50 billion claims from Russia; and UK reaps billions of dollars of profit from the indulgences of Russian Oligarch in London.

How can the US and the EU unite to resist expansion of Russian sway over Ukraine?

While the European allies have developed mistrust in the US since the Snowden episode, Asian allies lack credibility in the US in the wake of Chinese muscle flexing. Brazil is upset with the US’s eavesdropping activities and India is more than offended by the State Department’s handling of the Devyani Khobragade incident. 

President Obama managed his relations with US allies, strategic partners and emerging powers shoddily, and finds it difficult to deal with Russian advances in Ukraine. South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Crimea have fallen into Russian hands, and three provinces in Eastern Ukraine seem to be in the queue. As the dominoes fall, the unipolar global order also appears to be breaking down.

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#4333, 10 March 2014
US-China Cold Confrontation: New Paradigm of Asian Security
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to China exemplified a complex dynamics of relations between the existing superpower and an aspiring one.
The US’ “Manifest Destiny” and China’s “Middle Kingdom Mentality” appear ready to accelerate cold confrontation between the US and China. Both the US and Chinese officials reject the theory of “Great Power Transition” that stipulate armed conflict between the departing hegemonic power and the new hegemon.

Former Chinese President Hu Jintao was of the opinion that war was not inevitable between a declining power and a rising power. His successor, Xi Jinping, is pushing for a new kind of Great Power relations. 

On the eve of Kerry’s trip to China, Evan Madeiros, a senior US National Security Council official, remarked, “We’re aware of the historical predictions that a rising power and an established power are destined for rivalry and confrontation. We simply reject that premise.”

Although a military clash between the US and China is progressively becoming improbable, a kind of cold confrontation between them has been quietly developing in the Asian theatre.

The Sino-US cold confrontation is the result of an altered geopolitical order in the Asia Pacific from the early years of 21st century. As the US stayed engaged in warring against the Afghan insurgents and the Al Qaeda activists; indulged in misplaced military intervention in Iraq; and experienced a faltering economy, Chinese economic influence in Asia sky-rocketed, and its military modernisation perceptually began to threaten US hegemonic presence in the region.

The People’s Liberation Army of China developed anti-access and area-denial capability, threatening the hitherto uninterrupted movement of the US naval vessels in the region. The wide-ranging debate over the relative decline of the US influence and China’s drive towards a superpower status reflected an indisputable contest for influence in the Asia Pacific.

Currently, the US consternation that China may surface as an Asian hegemon, and the Chinese angst that the US intends to restrict the growth of the Chinese power, will shape strategic landscape in Asia in coming years.

The current Sino-US cold confrontation has taken the shape of a passionate competition for regional influence, an occasional show of force, and conflicting positions on bilateral and regional disputes.

Instances of the Sino-US cold confrontation are discernible in critical differences between Washington and Beijing on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues; the Syrian civil war; the Sino-Japanese disputes over the Shenkaku/Diaoyu islands; the Sino-Filipino disputes over Mischief Reef and the Scharborough shoal; and the Chinese declaration of a nine-dash-line encompassing its sovereignty in the South China Sea.

China’s muscle flexing in the region has bamboozled the Obama Administration. In 2012, Chinese ships occupied a reef 125 miles off the coast of the Philippines and blocked access to Filipino ships. In November 2013, China declared an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in East China Sea and in December 2013, a Chinese ship, by design, came close to a US-guided missile destroyer Cowpens, and risked dangerous collision.

In January 2014, China’s Hainan Province announced a new law requiring “all foreigners or foreign ships” to get approval before they could fish in the two million square kilometer of the sea. More recently, in February 2014, China parked three ships on a disputed reef, about fifty miles from the Malaysian coast and reportedly held a ceremony to “safeguard sovereignty and territorial interests.”

The US reacted to China’s declaration of ADIZ by flying two B-52 bombers and endorsing similar moves by Japan and South Korea. The US has called for a multilateral approach to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea and considers the Chinese nine-dash-lines as “inconsistent with international law.”
China’s anger is actually its response to Obama’s strategy of the Asian rebalance. China has since picked fights with most US allies and strategic partners in the region. Notwithstanding the voluminous explanations from the US officials, the Chinese leadership reads a new containment strategy in the Asia rebalance strategy.

China fumed, when, during his visit to China, Secretary Kerry cautioned the Chinese against declaring any ADIZ in South China Sea. It advised the US to be mindful of Chinese sovereignty and stressed that “no one can shake” China’s determination to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Asian security will indubitably hinge upon the nature of the US-China relations in coming years. The US allies have found in China a constructive economic partner, but they continue to rely upon Washington’s security commitments.

China realises the importance of economic cooperation with the US to sustain its economic growth, but it has issues with the US hegemony in Asia. Its military modernisation is aimed at stimulating Chinese influence and constraining the US’ hegemony in the Asia Pacific. A Sino-US bipolar cold confrontation will thus be the dominant paradigm of the Asian security discourse in the coming future.

Cold confrontation, nonetheless, will remain within limits and will not escalate to armed confrontation. The complex Sino-US economic interdependence will preclude a Cold War. 

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#4299, 10 February 2014
US in Asia: A 'Non-Alignment' Strategy?
Chintamani Mahapatra

As territorial and maritime disputes in Asia have sparked regional cold wars, the United States appears to have adopted a non-aligned strategy to navigate in troubled political space of the continent. 

George Washington and Non-Alignment
Non-alignment as a diplomatic instrument of state craft has been known to American Administrations for centuries. Although the term “non-alignment” was not used, the need of such a strategy was first articulated by first President of the United States—George Washington. In his farewell address, Washington warned against the folly of getting involved in the European entanglements. 
In order to keep the US out of European quarrels, controversies and collisions, he pleaded that “Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.”
Three centuries later, as the US recognizes the economic and strategic significance of Asia for its national interests, it encounters myriad Asian quarrels and controversies over “sovereignty” issues. Such disputes are “essentially foreign” to American “concerns”. 
Asia Pacific Today and the American Non-Alignment
Turbulence in the Asia Pacific is discernible in Sino-Japanese rivalry over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The spat over the islands, islets and reefs in the South China Sea between China and five other claimants, such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei threatens to contaminate the cooperative ties of China with these countries. China-Taiwan conflict remains unresolved despite a series of confidence building measures and rising trade and investment ties. 
During the Cold War days, Washington shunned the non-alignment foreign policy championed by India and many others. But the strategic compulsions and economic imperatives of the post-Cold War era have tempted the US policy makers to innovate “non-alignment” strategy and apply in the mini-Cold Wars of Asia. 
The US political support to the idea of creation of a “Palestinian State” in the post-9/11 incident and building of pressure on Israel to seriously negotiate peace; Washington’s policy of making India a “strategic partner”, while elevating Pakistan’s status as “major non-NATO ally” during the anti-terror operations in Afghanistan; constructing a rock-solid economic partnership with China, while maintaining defence and security ties with Taiwan; giving lip service to multilateral dialogue for resolution of South China Sea disputes, yet conducting joint research with China for oil exploration in the waters of this sea; refraining from backing Japanese claim of sovereignty over Senkaku/Diaoyu  islands, but standing by the US-Japan bilateral alliance treaty are some of the prominent illustrations of American non-alignment.
It is true that non-alignment emerged out of a bipolar power structure in the international system. The two poles, represented by capitalist USA and communist USSR, made it difficult for a large number of newly independent countries to take sides in the Cold War. The enlightened self-interest compelled them to pick out a stratagem that would enable them to seek cooperation with both the rival power blocs. The hostility to the idea of non-alignment by both Washington and Moscow often posed acute dilemmas for the non-aligned countries. Since non-alignment was not maintenance of equidistance from the two poles, non-aligned countries’ stances on various cold war related issues were sometimes sympathetic to Moscow and sometimes supportive of Washington. For example, India appeared to have appreciated the US position on the Suez crisis, but sympathized with Moscow’s approach to the Hungarian crisis in 1956.
The United States in the post-Cold War era has no die-hard adversary. Although there is visible decline of the US influence in world affairs and relative rise of the Chinese power, the PRC is no USSR. Up-and-coming superpower China perceives an emerging new containment strategy of the established superpower, the USA.

American strategic community, on the other hand, senses a Chinese project to push US out of the Asia Pacific. Such mutual mistrust has, nevertheless, not sparked a new cold war. Complex economic interdependence is almost certain to preclude a Sino-US Cold War, though cold confrontation seems to be mounting between the two.
China has responded to America’s Asia rebalance strategy by picking up squabbles with most American allies, such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and others. But the non-aligned approach adopted by Washington has resulted in growing Chinese assertiveness and dwindling credibility in the US as a security provider. The Asian allies of the US doubt, if Washington would protect their interests at the cost of losing business in China. American non-alignment makes China fear less and America’s allies doubt more about the efficacy of alliance treaties. 

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#4254, 13 January 2014
Indo-US Strategic Partnership Post Khobragade: The Long Shadow
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor, School of International Studies, JNU

The Devyani Khobragade episode that took place in the backdrop of a strong strategic cooperation between the two countries has terribly hurt the Indian government and the people alike. The diplomatic discord between India and the US over the indictment, arrest, strip and cavity search of the Deputy Consul General of Indian Consulate in New York has cast a long shadow over the bourgeoning strategic partnership between the two countries. 

Both New Delhi and Washington officials in charge of their diplomatic affairs swore by the need to preserve and promote strategic cooperation and not allow any single incident to adversely affect the relationship in the midst of the diplomatic row. However, such pledges only exemplify the fear that this episode has cast a long shadow and will take a slow and long process to finally be erased. Promoters and stakeholders in the Indo-US friendship question as to why such an incident took place at all and why it took so long to partially resolve the issue and that too in a distasteful manner. Khobragade was asked to leave the US and not return unless to face the charges in the American court. Wayne May, a US diplomat accused of colluding in the clandestine evacuation of Indian citizens (family members of Sangeeta Richard, the alleged victim in the case) was asked to leave the country by the Indian government within forty-eight hours. The Indian external affairs ministry felt that the US could have avoided this ‘mini crisis’, and the US State Department regretted that Wayne May was asked to leave the country by India.
While the two governments have expressed the desire to get back to business, it is doubtful if it is going to be business as usual. Certain wounds do not heal well and keep resurfacing periodically to prevent the robust growth of mutual trust even after considerable investment of political and diplomatic capital. How long did it take for India to manage its psychological hurt over Washington dispatching the USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal during the 1971 War? It was not until President George Bush signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India that the Indian strategic community could address the issue of US nuclear threat to India. Indians have also not forgotten the Bhopal Gas tragedy that directly shaped the debate in the Indian parliament over the nuclear liability bill. 

The issues of American disregard for India’s sovereignty (as reflected in the clandestine evacuation of Richard’s family members), American disrespect for the Indian judicial system (as indicated by overlooking the Delhi High Court’s injunction against Sangeeta Richard), the US State Department’s unwillingness to share information about the impending arrest of Khobragade with the visiting foreign secretary of India, all raise questions of mutual distrust, and the ending of one phase of the diplomatic discord by expelling each other’s foreign service officers will almost certainly haunt future diplomatic interactions.
Early indications of the impact of this episode can be found in the postponement of visits to India by the new Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. These two officials were, of course, aware that a visiting Congressional delegation could not meet the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, and other senior officials in India.
Practitioners of diplomacy will no doubt avoid looking at history and instead seek to move ahead with the relationship. Both the State Department and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs may try hard to put in place a series of ‘damage limitation’ exercises and new initiatives may be launched to prove that the ‘strategic partnership’ is alive and kicking.
But none of these efforts will take off the ground until an agreeable solution to the Khobragade episode is found. In addition, the current diplomatic spat is only the latest in a series of developments that signal numerous glitches in the Indo-US strategic partnership. Bilateral differences over climate and trade issues; American disappointment over the slow pace of implementation of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement, Indian displeasure over the pending Immigration Bill in the US Congress, American frustration over the slow pace of Indian economic reforms, particularly foreign investment in the retail sector and Indian discontent over the Obama administration’s over-emphasis on curtailing outsourcing are some examples.
However, the real challenge of diplomacy is removing hurdles and facilitating cooperation for mutual prosperity and national security. Besides, the regional security challenges in the wake of the US decision to end military operations in Afghanistan and the Chinese decision to open a new chapter in their concept of ‘peaceful rise’ and adopt a muscular approach to territorial and maritime disputes should alert New Delhi and Washington not to miss the broader picture, while resolving bilateral differences!

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