Those concerned about the shape Indo-US relations might take under President Joe Biden after the unceremonious departure of the maverick Donald Trump from the White House need not lose their sleep. A variety of geo-strategic and socio-economic factors are at play in shaping ties between the two greatest democracies, while change of governments in either country impacts merely the peripheral. The core of the Indo-US ties will survive Trump. This was clear from the first conversation between Biden and Prime Minister Modi the other day. The two exchanged notes about shared values and convergences in strategic and security matters.
Defending the freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific, now increasingly menaced by China, was a strong point of cooperation. The Quad, the grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia, was essentially geared towards this end. The two leaders undertook to bolster the Quad further. Thanks to the wide consensus in the US, particularly in its strategic community, that China has poses an existential threat to global peace and order, and aims to soon replace the US as the superpower, successive US administrations have willingly co-opted India in their efforts to checkmate an aggressive and hegemonic China.
The two leaders, according to the readout issued by Washington after their conversation, also undertook to deepen strategic and defence ties and to share military-sensitive intelligence. Expectedly, they also exchanged notes on the democratic values that bound the two nations, which they undertook to defend around the globe. The defence of democratic institutions at home and abroad being a shared goal, domestic critics of Modi however sought to make much of Biden’s commitment to defend human rights and universal values, implying it was an oblique criticism of the Indian government.
A few days earlier, Biden had enunciated the foreign policy of his administration in an address, most appropriately, at the State Department. Laying out the broad outline of the diplomatic goals to be pursued, the Democratic President made a sharp departure from some of the more contentious actions of his Republican predecessor. The US was not only back as a full-fledged member of the WHO, it was now back as a member of the Paris Climate Accord and would take the lead in achieving the salutary goals set therein. Committed to stop global warming, to achieve a carbon-neutral energy mission by 2050, Biden undertook to cooperate with China on this front. Though he was committed to push back the Chinese effort to disrupt the post-war global order and establish global hegemony through the increasing use of its military and economic muscle, Biden would do so in a considered and nuanced manner, unlike his predecessor.
Also, Trump had gone out of his way to snub European allies and ride roughshod over the post-war alliances, Biden undertook to strengthen the multilateral architecture of alliances and treaties. Both China and Russia were on notice, not only for their suppression of human rights and denial of basic freedoms to their peoples, but for the grave security threat they posed to their neighbours, and further afield, to world peace. While Trump shuddered to note edgeways the perfidious role Putin’s Russia played in disrupting peace in his own neighbourhood, and in West Asia, instigating a war-mongering Syria and taking sides in the intra-Arab tensions, Biden indicated a welcome impatience with the bellicose rulers in the region.
To begin with, he may have virtually ended the years’-long armed conflict in Yemen, stating that the US would no longer supply arms to the Saudis for use in that country. He also encouraged China and Russia to use their good offices to try and bring Iran to the negotiating table, persuading it to abandon its ambition to develop a nuclear device. The end of sanctions on Iran will be good for India sourcing, as it traditionally gets a good portion of its energy supplies from that country. Though there was no reference to India in Biden’s tour de force of the US foreign policy agenda, nonetheless it was reassuring that his commitment to return to salutary diplomatic goals would make for a peaceful global order committed to resist all new and old autocrats. An emerging power like India was certain to find its place in any arrangement aimed at defending global peace and order.