Trump vs Biden: India’s security stakes - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

Home Top Ad


Wednesday 4 November 2020

Trump vs Biden: India’s security stakes

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 5th Nov 20


With the US election count evenly poised overnight between President Donald Trump and his Democratic Party challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, New Delhi is left guessing about what kind of American leader it will deal with over the next four years.


US foreign and defence policy has traditionally hewed to a bipartisan consensus, with relatively minor differences between Republican and Democratic Parties. This is especially true for India, which has, for the past two decades, enjoyed strong bipartisan support in all three policy centres in Washington: The administration, the US Congress and the White House.


This stability was shattered with the election of Trump in 2016. In this election too, Biden and Trump present two entirely different visions of American leadership and its role in global security, including for India.


Biden’s election would return Washington to its traditional leadership role, based on a multilateral security, diplomatic and economic architecture that has held since World War Two. He would also be guided to a much greater extent than Trump by common interests with liberal democratic allies and partners. 


In contrast, Trump’s transactional worldview is founded on “America First” nationalism that demands US “exceptionalism” without the costs of US leadership. In Trump’s view, military alliances and security partnerships are to be ditched if the US is “getting a raw deal.”


The Democratic Party presidency of Barack Obama (to whom Biden was vice-president) demanded little from New Delhi while making India a cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific strategy and while helping the Indian Navy grow into the role of “net security provider” in the Indo-Pacific.


Similarly, 2005-2008, the Republican administration of George W Bush and the Democratic administration of Barack Obama had concluded the US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement on enormously favourable terms for India, sealing the deal with a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group.


President Trump’s administration, in contrast, has pushed relentlessly for quid pro quos in the US-India defence relationship. He has personally canvassed for India to buy American weaponry and has put in place legislation – the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) of 2017 – that penalises India for buying Russian weaponry, or for servicing its legacy Russian arsenal.


Even today, the threat of CAATSA sanctions hangs over New Delhi for buying five regiments of the S-400 Triumf air defence system from Russia. Trump has legislated for himself the power to waive CAATSA, but has not done so for India.


Meanwhile, the Trump administration has put pressure on India to sign three “foundational defence agreements” that New Delhi had resisted for years. These include the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) in 2016, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018 and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geospatial Intelligence (BECA) last month. In doing so, India’s concerns about strategic autonomy have meant little.


On the positive side, the Trump administration has designated India a “Major Defence Partner”, a partnership category that Washington considers equivalent to a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally, and which entitles India to high-technology – and, therefore, expensive – weaponry.


In dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak), another Trump administration will be more detrimental to New Delhi’s concerns than a Biden presidency. While Biden has declared he will withdraw "the vast majority" of US troops out of Afghanistan, Trump’s second-term foreign policy agenda explicitly calls for winding down American’s “endless wars”, and leaving just 2,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan.


New Delhi is also worried by Trump’s peace agreement with the Taliban, which pledges that Kabul would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban’s release of 1,000 Afghan security men. While this has not yet happened, there are Indian concerns about a flow of jihadis into Kashmir.


Both Biden and Trump are likely to continue the current US policy of confronting China. However, a second Trump administration is likely to pursue a harder-edged “strategic confrontation”, including measures such as the on-going sale of $5 billion worth of defence equipment to Taiwan, including Reaper armed drones.


A Biden presidency would be more inclined to seek out areas of cooperation with China. Biden would, most likely, continue the current Trump policy of countering China's “abusive economic practices.” However, he would adopt a multilateral approach in contrast with Trump's tendency to strike unilateral trade deals. 


On Iran policy, a Biden administration would ease the pressure on New Delhi that Trump generated in 2018 by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal. This was followed by the re-imposition of economic and trade sanctions on Iran, which have hit India’s oil supplies, damaged India-Iran relations and impacted on the Chabahar project that was intended to provide India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.


Biden argues that this policy has failed and that Iran is now closer to a nuclear weapon than it was when Trump came to office. He says he would rejoin the nuclear accord if Iran returns to strict compliance, after which he would lift sanctions – a relief to India.


  1. Really, if you want to cooperate with the West, you should not want to buy weapons from a non-free country and phony democracy like Russia, let alone wanting to deal with the Iranian theocrats! I am no big Trump fan, big I don't see why these two complaints hold water. I do agree his agreement with the taliban was stupid.

    I hope India and the west can cooperate on a lot of topics, like economy, technology and defense! China's CCP is the biggest problem for the free world in the 21st century. India can become a very strong power, eventually probably even stronger than the US, with so many citizens and democracy and growing wealth!

    1. Russia's or the West's system of governance are totally irrelevant in geopolitics. This is America's view as well (US allies - saudi, paki, qatar etc).

  2. US policy on India is largely bipartisan


Recent Posts

Page 1 of 10412345...104Next >>Last