Tellis tells Trump to retain Obama’s policy towards India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 21 January 2017

Tellis tells Trump to retain Obama’s policy towards India

Possible US envoy to New Delhi says India must get assurance against China

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Jan 17

As President Donald Trump’s administration and policies take shape, Ashley Tellis, whom Washington Post identifies as America’s likely next ambassador to New Delhi, has urged America’s new president to continue Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama’s policies towards Asia, and India in particular.

Writing in the publication, Asia Policy, Tellis has recommended that Trump should “[take] the existing threats of Pakistan-supported terrorism against India more seriously, [develop] a considered strategy for aiding India in coping with Chinese assertiveness, and [persist] with the existing U.S. policy of eschewing mediation on the thorny Indo-Pakistani dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.”

New Delhi is concerned that the Trump administration might back track substantially on Obama’s “rebalance to Asia”, reducing the salience of India in US foreign policy. While campaigning, Trump had indicated he would reduce America’s superpower role of maintaining global order, allow US military intervention only to tackle direct threats to the US homeland, make military allies pick up a larger share of the bill for their own defence and reject multilateral trade pacts like the Trans Pacific Partnership, a key component of former President Barack Obama’s economic strategy in Asia.

As in New Delhi, there is concern in capitals across the Indo-Asia-Pacific about whether America’s 45th president will leave the region on its own in dealing with a rising, aggressive China.

Tellis, one of America’s most highly regarded strategists and a Mumbai-born (??) India expert who served in New Delhi a decade ago, warns the incoming administration: “An Asia in which the United States ceases by choice to behave like a preponderant power is an Asia that will inevitably become a victim of Chinese hegemony. In such circumstances, there are fewer reasons for India to seek a special strategic relation with the United States, as the partnership would not support New Delhi in coping with the threats posed by Beijing’s continuing ascendancy.”

Tellis says that President Bush devised the policy of supporting India without expecting reciprocity from New Delhi, an approach that Obama has continued. “It was anchored in the presumption that helping India expand in power and prosperity served the highest geopolitical interests of the United States in Asia and globally — namely, maintaining a balance of power that advantaged the liberal democracies”, he writes.

“Accordingly, it justified acts of extraordinary US generosity toward India, even if specific policies emanating from New Delhi did not always dovetail with Washington’s preferences.”

Tellis writes that this “calculated altruism whereby Washington continually seeks to bolster India’s national capabilities without any expectations of direct recompense” includes the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, support for a permanent US Security Council seat for India, championing India’s membership of global non-proliferation regimes and relaxed access to defence and dual-use technology.

Such initiatives would reap success, says Tellis “only if the larger architectonic foundations of the bilateral relationship — centered on boosting New Delhi’s power—are fundamentally preserved, not because they happen to be favourable to India but more importantly because they serve larger U.S. grand strategic interests in Asia and beyond.”


  1. Career diplomats need to be appointed to key nations for competent representation in their field of expertise, and Obama played to the gallery by appointing a Chinese-American to China, Carolyn Kennedy to Japan, and ethnic Indian-Americans such as Richard Varma to India and now strategists like Ashley Tellis.
    It is no secret that ambassadorships for non State department persons are sinecures and quid pro quos for political backscratching during election campaigns.
    They may be great individuals, but what happens when there is a crisis ? Besides, the truth is that the State department is WASP territory (White, Anglo-saxon Protestant), and anyone outside of that group, is ultimately an outsider looking in. Indian, and US interests are served better by having a dyed-in-the-wool diplomat with a deep understanding of South Asian terror challenges.

  2. The americans don't want to prevent a india-china war. Instead they want to encourage it so that the two big powers can cancel each other out; atleast enough to be out of the equation vis a vis america.

    Sadly, most indian pro-west observers do not understand this reality or plain refuse to acknowledge it. Nehrus congress understood this the hard way during the cold war and the BJP is slowly understanding it. Military power is directly related to economic power and modi knows this well. When war breaks, I hope the pro-west indian observers do not get caught in the same situation as nehru did until the 62 war slapped him back into reality.


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