The nixing of the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Paris Agreement are only some of the many ways that the United States has alienated its closest allies.1 President Donald Trump has already roiled the milieu by demanding that allies do more for themselves and rely less on his country.2 The United States, an inconsistent and unreliable friend even under prior US administrations, has increasingly become a feeble and feckless ally. Increasing military alignment, let alone a strategic partnership, with the United States would be a liability for India.
The dangers of partnering with the United States have only grown during the Trump administration. Trump’s decision-making method is, according to one former US intelligence official, based “less on fact and evidence and more on feeling, preference, emotion, grievance, tribe, loyalty”.3 Trump’s belief system sees the United States being “ripped off” in multilateral forums and that better terms are only obtainable on a bilateral basis. His world view is that of an economically-strapped and exploited America, its wealth decanted through unfair trade transactions and military pacts requiring the United States to expend its resources while allies strengthen their economies and free-ride on security. How can India expect to benefit from aligning itself with such a destabilising commander-in-chief?
India is no exception to Trump’s wrath
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been no exception to Trump’s scant respect for allied leaders, negligible interest in addressing what allied leaders want, and unreasonable expectations of loyalty.4 While Trump reciprocated the Indian leader’s trademark public hugs during Modi’s June 2017 Washington visit and made the usual noises about shared democratic values, Trump soon thereafter stuck it to India.5 Despite Modi’s fervent appeals, the Trump administration weakened India’s flagship US$167 billion information technology industry by all but killing off H1B visas — a generally tech-focused visa, of which some 70 per cent go to Indians.6 Furthermore, the United States has imposed tariffs on Indian steel, aluminium and engineering goods, accused India’s cost-competitive pharmaceutical industry of price-fixing, and challenged the Indian government’s agricultural subsidy scheme at the World Trade Organization.7 These measures reflect an attitude that is not just unsympathetic to Indian concerns but inimical to India’s national interest.
Weak on China and indifferent to Indian security
The basic geostrategic reason for India and the United States getting together is ostensibly to balance China’s power in Asia. As a candidate, Trump promised that he’d label China a “currency manipulator”, put Beijing under economic pressure, and join Asian states and Australia in arresting the spread of Chinese power and influence in the Indo-Pacific region. As president, however, he seems eager to humour Chinese President Xi Jinping and, far from penalising China, has reversed the technology ban on the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, tweeting that this would have cost “too many jobs in China” — the sort of solicitousness not shown towards India.8
With Washington spurning the hard line with China, it will likely flinch in military crises involving its Asian partners and the People’s Liberation Army.9 In this regard, Trump virtually urged Japan to get its own nuclear weapons.10 He has not, however, encouraged India to resume nuclear testing (barred by the 2008 Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal) and secure for itself a proven thermonuclear arsenal (because the fusion device tested in 1998 had fizzled) even though it would be an Asian deterrent to China’s aggression, and lessen the military dilemma for the United States.11
Indeed, the nuclear deal is only the latest diplomatic contrivance in a series of US nonproliferation policies and actions from the early 1960s when the Indian nuclear energy program reached the weapons threshold. The US aim thereafter was to prevent India from obtaining nuclear weapons and, post-1998, proven thermonuclear armaments and intercontinental ballistic missiles.12 Given that its extended deterrence policy lacks credibility, Washington’s continued antipathy to India emerging as a thermonuclear weapons-armed Asian military counterweight suggests an absence of trust and Washington’s desire to keep India from becoming an independent power.
Few dividends for India from US alignment
Trust is the glue binding strategic partnerships. Its absence ensures that geopolitical plans remain only intentions. A trust deficit has always marred Indo-US relations, with Washington continually disregarding contractual obligations, retroactively changing agreements, and imposing economic and technology sanctions that have hurt India’s growth prospects and disabled its fighting capabilities.13
Post-nuclear deal, the United States has not walked the talk, even denying India high technology already accessed by China.14 The US-Indian Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, created in 2012 to help increase defence ties between the two nations, has yet to produce any collaborative projects in advanced military technology. Yet India is nonetheless still asked to seed trust by buying more high-cost, non-lethal goods (transport and P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft) and obsolete weapons systems — F-16 combat aircraft, M-777 howitzers, etc.15
Finding support outside of the United States
Juxtaposed with Moscow’s supply of frontline weapons systems (Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter planes, T-90 tanks, and leasing of the nuclear-powered Akula-II-class SSNs) and assistance to sensitive indigenous projects like the nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing Arihant-class submarine, and America ends up looking less like a friend than a proto-adversary intent on keeping India down.
It is an impression reinforced by the US Congress denying India the waiver from sanctions under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) targeting Russia and sought by Defense Secretary James Mattis.16 CAATSA will seriously hurt the Indian military considering 70 per cent of its equipment is of Russian origin. The twist here lies in the hint by some in US policy circles that CAATSA’s impact would be especially mitigated if India followed up the Logistics Support Agreement by signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).17 But COMCASA, the Indian armed forces fear, will permit the United States to penetrate – vertically and horizontally – the official communications network, including the country’s strategic forces’ command and control links, which is an unacceptable outcome.18
Far from getting Delhi to thin its ties with Russia, CAATSA led Modi to a mini-summit with President Vladimir Putin on 21 May 2018. There, Indo-Russian ties were upgraded to, in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s words, a “special privileged strategic partnership”.19 Maybe the Indian government is waking up to the unpleasant reality that it is more onerous to have America as a friend than foe, because an adversary at least knows where it stands with Washington.
- Ken Thomas, “US will need to give Kim Jong Un security assurances: Pompeo”, AP, ABC News.go.com, May 13, 2018, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/pompeo-us-give-kim-jong-security-assurances-55129977https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory/pompeo-us-give-kim-jong-security-assurances-55129977↩
- Jon Henley, “Angela Merkel: EU cannot completely rely on US and Britain anymore”, The Guardian, 28 May 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/28/merkel-says-eu-cannot-completely-rely-on-us-and-britain-any-more-g7-talks ↩
- This according to General Michael V. Hayden former director, CIA. See Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN Live Today, May 13, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24Ht34aUBIo↩
- Matthew Karnitschnig, “Analysis: Trump nukes Europe’s Iranian dreams”, Politico.com, May 9, 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/trump-nukes-europes-iranian-dreams/; Rebecca Morin, “Trump team sends mixed signals to Europe”, Politico.com, May 13, 2018, https://www.politico.com/story/2018/05/13/bolton-pompeo-trump-iran-sanctions-584206 ↩
- “Trump: Relations with India better than ever” – White House speech welcoming Modi, June 26, 2017, CNN, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/07/opinions/trump-india-china-opinion-andelman/index.html ↩
- “Why the American dream just got tougher”, Times of India, April 2, 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/h-1b-visa-why-the-american-dream-just-got-tougher/articleshow/63576179.cms “H-1B visa approvals for Indian companies drop sharply: Report”, NDTV Profit, April 25, 2018, https://www.ndtv.com/business/h-1b-visa-approvals-for-indian-it-companies-drop-sharply-between-2015-17-report-1842507; “India’s IT, ITeS exports clocked $111 billion in 2016-17: ESC data”, Business Standard, January 25, 2018, http://www.business-standard.com/article/technology/india-s-it-ites-exports-clocked-111-billion-in-2016-17-esc-data-118012501003_1.html; “IT and ITeS industry in India”, India Brand Equity Foundation, April 2018, https://www.ibef.org/industry/information-technology-india.aspx ↩
- Kirtika Suneja, “India to check if US’ move to hike duties on steel, aluminum follows global norms”, Economic Times, March 5, 2018, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/policy/india-to-check-if-us-move-to-hike-duties-on-steel-aluminium-follows-global-trade-norms/articleshow/63164621.cms; E Kumar Sharma, “Price fixing allegations, a new worry to deal with for some leading Indian pharma companies in the US”, Business Today, November 3, 2017, https://www.businesstoday.in/sectors/pharma/price-fixing-allegations-indian-pharma-companies-in-the-us/story/263225.html; Jayshree Sengupta, “A toothless and weak WTO”, The Tribune, March 27, 2018, http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/a-toothless-weak-wto/564012.html ↩
- Ana Swanson, Mark Landler & Keith Bradsher, “Trump shifts from trade war to concessions in rebuff to hardliners”, New York Times, May 14, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/14/business/china-trump–zte.html. And, recall that Trump billed himself (during the 2016 presidential campaign) as India’s “true friend in the White House”. For this Trump quote refer footnote # 6.↩
- “US, China drop tariffs, put trade war on hold”, Reuters, Times of India, May 21, 2018↩
- Jesse Johnson, “Trump warns China it could face ‘big problem’ with ‘warrior nation” Japan over North Korea”, Japan Times, Nov 4, 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/11/04/national/politics-diplomacy/trump-warns-china-face-big-problem-warrior-nation-japan-north-korea/#.Wvu-8u8vzIU ↩
- Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition [New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2005, 2002], 607-647. ↩
- Ibid, 179-196, ↩
- Bharat Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) [New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2015], 187-219.↩
- Thus, the US approved the Israeli use of the Elta 2032 computer, and not the more powerful Elta 2052 computer, in the Indian AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar project for the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft while allowing the transfer of the Elta 2052 computer technology to China. See Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 186.↩
- See fn #13.↩
- Yashwant Raj, “US defence secretary James Mattis seeks waiver for India from sanctions on Russia”, Hindustan Times, April 27, 2018, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/us-defence-secretary-james-mattis-seeks-waiver-for-india-from-sanctions-on-russia/story-9OErUOwDva2YTb5cKOBJML.html ↩
- Indian official sources; unattributable.↩
- Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), 201-207.↩
- Jayanth Jacob, “Defence buys won’t be dictated by US: India on Russia sanctions”, Hindustan Times, May 18, 2018; “PM-Putin meet elevates ties to ‘spl privileged strategic partnership’”, Times of India, May 22, 2018.↩
- https://in.usembassy.gov/u-s-india-defense-relations-fact-sheet-december-8-2016/; https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/world/asia/india-russia-s-400-missiles.html↩
[Published as a ‘Debate Paper’ on the subject “Should India Increase Military alignment with the United States?”, The United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney, Australia, 21 June 2018, https://www.ussc.edu.au/analysis/should-india-increase-military-alignment-with-the-united-states-the-debate-papers ]