Why Donald Trump is Good for India

NOTHING IS MORE dreaded by liberal America than the potential presidency of Donald J Trump. He means to blow up the foundations of the existing global order along with the current set of US foreign and military policies. Notionally ‘Republican’ in his ideological moorings, Trump has declared he will tear up all free trade agreements, end refugee, immigrant and even visitor flows into America from nations “compromised” by “radical Islam”, including France and Germany, and, in order to generate well-paying jobs at home, stop US companies from outsourcing work offshore. Most significantly, his government will require, he says, treaty allies and strategic partners to pay their “fair share” for the military protection provided to them. Trump will terminate alliances, including NATO, since he perceives these as vehicles for allies to free-ride on security accorded by the US that drains its wealth and saps its spirit. Americans have always believed that ‘there is no free lunch’; Trump has extended this principle to assert there’s no free protection either.

International security arrangements are protection rackets, after all, and, one way or another, beneficiary countries do end up paying. Tokyo coughs up what it delicately calls ‘omoiyari yosan’ (compassion monies) amounting to several billions of dollars annually for the US military presence in Japan. It is armed security this country could well do without if the ‘peace constitution’ imposed on it by the US did not prohibit the Japanese from gaining militarily self-sufficiency in the first place. If it is amended, Japan can acquire nuclear weapons within weeks. It is a direction Trump has urged not just Japan but also South Korea to take.

Washington’s looser, more laissez faire attitude to nuclear self-defence and non-proliferation should ease fears of possible US- led sanctions and thus liberate New Delhi from its self-imposed America-placating strictures, motivate it to resume underground testing, and obtain a versatile arsenal by filling it with proven and credible nuclear and thermonuclear weapons of various yield-to- weight ratios. More consequentially, it can arm Vietnam with nuclear missiles as payback for China’s doing the same with Pakistan. India, Japan and Vietnam armed with such weapons would effectively ring-fence China. If that doesn’t sober it up fast, nothing will. Nations on the periphery of China will find Beijing becoming more receptive to equitable solutions for its border dispute with India and for others in the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands. Chinese leaders will have to worry that any show of bellicosity may push more adjoining countries to seek nuclear empowerment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets along well with US President Barack Obama. He may get along even better with Trump—and then again, perhaps not—because they seem to be cut from the same cloth in many ways. Both are self-centered and share the same personality traits. The Republican Party presidential candidate has confessed, for instance, that he consults only himself when it comes to foreign policy matters. “I’m speaking with myself, I know what I’m doing,” he told an interviewer. “I listen to a lot of people… But my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.” Personal instinct and gut-level feelings are also what Modi banks on and which take precedence over the advice of experts and professionals. Trump’s boast, moreover, that he is able to do this because, as he put it, “I have a very good brain”, has shades of Modi’s preening reference to his own “56-inch chest”.

Trump’s neo-isolationist stance, however, packs the potential for the most lasting effects. With him implementing punitive policies, withdrawing the US behind Fortress America, and pulling up the drawbridges, international institutions such as the United Nations and economic forums such as the G-20 will become defunct, and the Indian Government will face a world bereft of the comfortable certainties of the past. With no assurance of an economic safety net or security shield, it will be compelled to look out for the country’s interests, muster the economic, military, technological and industrial resources necessary to fight off China or any combination of rivals and adversaries on its own. Should New Delhi relapse into its old habit and ask Washington to act as rescuer, Trump will demand that India sign up as a treaty ally, and, of course, pay for any military deployment.

New Delhi has been too complacent for too long, confident that in any dire situation an extant great power will rush to India’s aid. India’s big power rhetoric aside, its foreign policy has been like that of a cripple on foreign crutches, or like a pepper vine needing to wind itself around a sturdy tree to climb and prosper. In the 1950s and 60s, India relied on the US and the Soviet Union; in the following two decades, exclusively on the Soviet Union; and in the new century, on the United States. Trump will kick the crutches from beneath the Indian Government’s shaky worldview and mindset. Worse may follow in the economic sphere. Trump’s populism has been his winning card. He has promised that he will bring industry and jobs back to the US. This he means to do by cutting off access to the American market of those countries enjoying what he deems to be unfair advantages—in terms of hidden subsidies, tariffs and preferential treatment of home companies— and by curbing the outsourcing of work to foreign shores.

Globally, India’s biggest comparative advantage vis-à-vis other countries is in the Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled services sector. It accounts for 67 per cent of the $124-130 billion market pie, employs 10 million people and is expected to grow to $350 billion by 2025. The trouble is that this vast edifice—a prime advertisement for a globalised and modernising India—will come crashing down if access to the American market is curtailed and H-1B visas are stopped. These visas permit Indian firms to send engineers and technicians to work in the US on Indian wages— Trump’s reason for shutting down this business altogether.

This industry is a vehicle of middle-class aspirations, and since the late 1990s, New Delhi has been very mindful of keeping the US door ajar for it and courting the votes of this burgeoning section of society. Getting close to America was an aim of the governments led by AB Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, as it now is of the Modi Government. They have striven to forge a ‘special relationship’ with the US for another reason too: a ‘strategic partnership’ as a security hedge against an aggressive China.

THE HISTORICAL RECORD of countries seeking a ‘special relationship’ with the US, however, is not good. Winston Churchill as wartime British prime minister, and in his second term at 10 Downing Street in the early 1950s, discovered that it meant Britain being treated as a supplicant, a second-rate power, and having to tolerate unending slights. A Trump-led America will be even more insufferable in these respects, and falling in with the US may mean swallowing one’s pride and accepting insults and supercilious behaviour. Then again, recent policy trends suggest the Indian Government may not be averse to becoming a subsidiary power.

Even so, assuming there are limits beyond which the Indian people won’t accept the belittling of India, the country will be left with no alternative than to fend for itself and safeguard its extended interests. It will be a signal departure in that India will, per force, have to discard the habit of leaning on foreign countries for anything, ruthlessly pare the government and the public sector, task the private sector with the bulk of economic effort, including achieving self-sufficiency in armaments, and, with regard to foreign and military policies, insert steel in them, make them disruptive, reorient Indian diplomacy towards realpolitik, and enable India to emerge as an independent power that friends and foes alike fear and respect as much for its clout as its unpredictability. But for these benefits to accrue, Americans first have to elect Trump as their president.

Published in ‘Open’ magazine, July 29, 2016 at http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/politics/why-donald-trump-is-good-for-india#all

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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11 Responses to Why Donald Trump is Good for India

  1. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Worth mulling over – give a pawn to take their king. Could the transnational style of Trump end up fumigating the parasites that infest our body politic?

    Just that at the end the day both Democrats and Republicans are just social engineers of world wide scale. Probably this Trump waghera is just to tap the bottled up emotions of the American failures. After all everybody needs somebody else to blame. What better than the Neo Cons of Democrat party.

  2. Siddappa says:

    Trump stands as much a chance, as Modi had in 2013. He’ll have to brace thru a torrent of opposition by November. Also, most of US Senate is due for elections. Not much light is shone on who gets house-majority.

    Pinning Hopes of radical change on Trump may not be prudent. Like Dubya, Trump may be “Either with me or against me” kind of guy, from whom it could be tough to snatch anything worthy.

    IT Services will take a hit. Almost it’s a tradition now, from past 2 decades that new POTUS brings with him recession. (Oops, with her possibly…) Add to it, maturing of needs, Automation, Cheaper Options, Brexit & such “Turn clock bac on Globalisation” trends & above all “Turn S/W Developer in 2 months crowd” will trounce any meaningful chance of recovery.

    Less said the better about our Premier’s habit of trying to charm his counterparts.
    We thought he’s quite hardnosed person from a border state, but looks Delhi has charmed him into his predecessor’s MUTED by remote mode. I hope against hope, He’d become the unassuming person, he was when he was in campaign mode.

    • Of course, the whole analysis is predicated on “in the unlikely event” of Trump getting elected and his sticking to policy notions he has voiced during the Republican party primaries and the 2016 presidential campaign.

  3. One correction H1B visa holders don’t work in USA on Indian salary. There are minimum wage requirements & companies have to be competitive so pay salary at levels to attract talent. Having said that one question comes to mind.

    Without economic strength there isn’t going to be any military strength either. By all accounts free trade has only helped Indian economic strength then how is any protectionism going to benefit India. Likely USA will look at cutting individual FTAs rather than the present low barrier regime. That would hardly be in Indian Interest. China proactively used free trade to build its economy. India has been slow in comparison but how is losing IT services/software advantage going to help India in any way?

    It seems both Trump and Hilary are bad news for the world and for USA. But only for next 4 years.

    • Read the piece again. Free trade is a boon for everybody. But if the US market is closed, Indian industry, and services and commodity purveyors will have no alternative than to work their skin to the bone to find new markets as replacement which, in turn, will compel them to be more creative, innovative, etc., all the things that will make India a more strategically competitive nation and economy.

  4. Shaurya says:

    >>But for these benefits to accrue, Americans first have to elect Trump as their president.

    Thank god, the post ended, on the above note, for Trump never had a chance…Hillary maybe mediocre but not crazy. Americans will not choose the crazy one.

    Bharat: Have you lost all hopes on India to use the crutches of American electoral politics to grow gonads on India? You know better than anyone else that national interests supersede all electoral rhetoric and FP interests will remain constant despite the rhetoric.

    There is only one thing to know about Trump, he is a liar and NOTHING he says can be trusted. So, why waste bandwidth. Now the only reason, I could think of to root for Trump is if one wants the down fall of American power. Trump will guarantee that and if this fall in power is good for India and can be, then Tump can be good for India :Wink

  5. MS says:

    “Then again, recent policy trends suggest the Indian Government may not be averse to becoming a subsidiary power”. Unfortunately, this is likely to be true perhaps for long, and not a short time, before the survival instinct kicks in.

    I think that winning elections is very tough and so a lot needs to be said which may not have to be done.

    However, the important takeaway from your piece-when will India stand on its own? It is not easy to answer. Don’t you wonder sometimes, why we can’t have 500 medical colleges in the country when there is such shortage of doctors and such abundance of good students passing out of XIIth but not getting any admission?

    You are optimistic like many of us in our inherent potential. But how long we will continue to fail our own youth? Some big infra things like ports, and highways, shipping projects being done. These things should have been done 10 years ago, because now, we need to do them at a very fast pace to engage our youth and give them a chance to contribute in development. India has always had so much potential yet we remain stuck in poverty.

    Your theme of indigenisation is catching on-news suggest going slow on many import oriented defence contracts. If we have to survive, we have to make own things. So it is not for defence superiority but for survival that we need to make our stuff after digesting the tech.

  6. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    We don’t have 500 medical colleges because somebody ensures that it is so. Because that is how the gravy train works. Who will pay for capitation fee if there so many colleges. So unless the exact same national body conducts the exact same exam for all aspiring doctors and unless the entry requirements (land allocation & construction licence bribery) into setting up medical colleges is not reduced, we will never get enough medical colleges. Meantime our people will die like flies just so that a few lazy kids of a lucky sperm in power can send his kids to a Green Card queue.

    Its the same everywhere. Col. Ajai Shukla has reported how despite the DM Parrikar having mentioned the LCA Mk-2 privatization (remember USD 12 billion offer in 2014) multiple times, no private sector entity is willing to risk it. And why would anybody with the Chandigarh Gang active inside the forces itself. Not even an Ambani can investments of Rs. 1000 Cr (capital) + 9000 Cr (learning curve). Under such conditions only HAL will be able to fund such big investments. And the gang inside would be more than happy if the private sector can spend the rest of its life, making landing gear doors or silly passenger cabins (yeh yeh I know these are hi tech).

    I think some here are expecting too much from the current political setup, given the already subverted thought infrastructure that has been left behind by several earlier political leaderships. Take for example the earlier link provided by a reader http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/how-to-win-the-world-over/article8929256.ece.

    The writer is an (an Ex-MEA bureaucrat) and it has been drilled into him as matter of institutional practice that the job of the system should ideally be:
    1) “to pursue strategic advantage by taking one or the other side”
    2) “make a friend before you need him”
    3) “pragmatism to weigh a ‘give’ in one area against a ‘take’ in another”
    4) “India has to find the right trade-offs, ensuring that what we gain is commensurate with what we concede”

    I am not criticizing the writer its just that the whole set up actually does not have the capacity to admit and act like we are in total competition with the whole of the rest of the world. When they see the outside world they see a lot of different types of competitions and that ends up as a Grey Reflection inside their brains. I am not criticizing because for a big country like India holding just a few daily jobbers or their departments, responsible for the troubles, is unjustified. But at some point, in some manner, people who are in power will have to accept that unless the country changes its ways, it will end up with even lesser in its hands.

    When US corraled half the world into Pan-Americana or when the CPC decided that they have had enough of Pan-Americana, they were not thinking about giving something and taking something. They were thinking about taking it all and giving a jhunjuna instead. Most neta log of those times took that jhunjuna (exactly like the bloody landing gear door and the bloody passenger cabin today).

    Agreed we don’t and probably even should not do what the Americans did during the Post WW-2 times. But unless our people are exactly that ruthless, the whole polity will remain exactly the way it is.

    Just look at the Americans. Trump is being protected by their Babudom because they know that Holiary cannot be sold because of Obmama. Obmama himself was picked up from his MLA/MP seat & installed as President because they knew the Bushes were past their expiry date. Bushes themselves came in only to protect the deep state from the Philanderer. Who himself was supposed to have pulled their country out from the Walker’s decisions. They just pick up a random neta and cut the oxygen for everybody else. Present an either-or situation choice and keep the country happy. Regardless the deep state wins. No projects of that deep state ever gets curtailed. But at least they have some projects, howsoever misguided they are. For us Indians lets do things better but still the deep state has to begin behaving like they have some interests. Not like a bloody give and take.

    People actually with power and their support structures, have got to stop thinking like a negotiator and instead starting thinking like a builder.

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