Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet President Donald Trump over the weekend. The relationship which Modi had with Obama is not there and so expectations from this visit are low.
However, for the US, India would be a key player. This is because the US is heading into security isolation, solely due to Trump’s own policy of ‘America First’.
Since his ascent, President Trump has surprised many with his flip-flops. Never before has any head of state jumped from one opinion to the other in a flash leaving all guessing on what his intentions are.
His policy decisions appear to be based solely on ‘creating jobs’. The world which once looked upon the US as the guardian of democracy seeks alternative security groupings that ignore the US. His criticism of China during his election speeches changed as soon as China offered to invest, though he sugar-coated the new found bonhomie by stating that China was cooperating in reining in North Korea.
His criticism of Saudi Arabia vanished when he visited the country. He had condemned them for treating women as slaves, killing gays and maintaining ties with 9/11 hijackers.
His visit provided a remarkable reversal when he stated, “we are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be”.
The arms deal signed with Saudi Arabia was to create a thousand jobs, which was one of his aims. His relations with the Western world are frosty. His address to NATO allies asking them to spend more was quietly ignored. His pulling out of the Paris accord almost isolated the US from Europe.
Leaders in Europe have begun making increasing comments on the lack of reliability of the US for defence and military cooperation.
They have instead stated that they need to be linked closer and cooperate more to ensure their own security. The EU has enhanced its own defence fund, different from NATO. EU President Jean Juncker remarked, “The US is no longer interested in guaranteeing Europe’s security.”
Other close allies like Australia, Japan and Singapore are seeking closer collaboration and cooperation with India, basically because they have lost faith in the US since Trump cannot be trusted on continuing existing alliances. His refusal to honour the immigration deal which Obama committed to Australia made relations frosty.
Trump’s obsession with North Korea due to its ability to target the American mainland is possibly the only reason why the US may be compelled to continue maintaining its bases in South Korea. His reliance on China to reel in the North Korean regime would enhance its influence and threaten its traditional rivals including Japan and India.
Even Canada, closely allied and working in tandem with the US and jointly operating NORAD (North American Aerospace Command), is seeking other options.
Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian foreign minister stated, “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course.” Canada’s defence budget is on the rise.
Her words portray the feelings within the Western world and traditional US allies. The US is increasing its involvement in West Asia and Afghanistan, where it has limited options as it battles growing Russian and Iranian influence. Trump’s animosity for Iran is well known.
He has continuously attempted to forge groupings against it.
His visit to Saudi Arabia was aimed at this. The Qatar crisis that followed has been aptly summed up as ‘Trumpification’ of relations in the region by the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel. His relations with Russia show no signs of mending, mainly due to internal pressures on his alleged illegal contacts with Russia during his campaign.
NATO allies presently supporting and participating in operations in West Asia and Afghanistan are hesitant to expand their deployment.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that she does not believe that Germany is ‘first in line’ to send additional troops. The British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, stated, “Britain should turn down NATO’s demand for additional troops in Afghanistan.”
A coalition government in Britain would have to toe a careful line. Internally Trump faces increasing hostility. His Presidential orders are being overruled by courts and internal policies are being blocked by a doubting Senate. Pressures have compelled him to frequently change his own advisors.
Investigations into his Russian contacts during elections would preclude his seeking closer cooperation in resolving West Asia and Afghanistan. To reconsider the nuclear deal with Iran, he would need Russian backing, which is unlikely and hence he creates anti-Iran alliances.
Racism is raising its ugly head in the US. There is a marked increase in hate crimes and a noticeable divide within the population. His immigration policies have drastically reduced the number of foreign students in US universities. There is uncertainty all around.
Trump’s changing perceptions have created doubts within the US’ traditional support base across the globe. Possibly the only nation in sync with the US presently is Israel.
The US is heading for security isolation, which irrespective of the power of a nation is irrational in the present environment. It is time his advisors be more frank with him, before he pushes the US into a dark security corner, exiting which would be difficult.
Hence, Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Trump is unlikely to result in any worthwhile statement or success. It is a low-key visit as compared to his previous ones. In the present context, the US needs India more than the other way around.
Simultaneously, India’s growing military and economic power would involve it in increased security groupings, side-lining the US and making it a key international player.
As the US moves into isolation, India rises to become a global player alongside China, which is happily filling the void caused by the US.
The Modi visit may end up with US seeking Indian cooperation in troubled spots, rather than the other way around.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.