Unveiling Trump’s New Security Strategy: What’s In It for India?
US’ security strategy clearly recognises India as an emerging global superpower.
US’ security strategy clearly recognises India as an emerging global superpower.(Photo: The Quint)

Unveiling Trump’s New Security Strategy: What’s In It for India?

The formal release of the Trump security strategy has been preceded by its execution over the last eleven months, or at least glimpses of what the US has been seen to be seeking. The broadest brush with which one can describe it is that President Trump is unwilling to allow the idea of diminishing US power to take shape. In his world view, the US may have helped shape emerging powers but has not abdicated power to them. ‘America First’ is the resounding voice that we hear.

US’ Perception of Diluting Power

The drawdown from Af-Pak without a decisive victory, the withdrawal from Iraq without stabilisation, the emergence of ISIS and three years of its bloodletting, the Syrian civil war in which anti US forces are succeeding, the Russian presence in Syria and northern Iraq, enhancing Iranian power in the Levant, Russian ability to upend the Ukraine situation in its favor and the surge of evident robust power of China in Asia through the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) – there is no doubt that these have all contributed to a perception of diluting US power.

The ‘Pivot to Asia’, with which Trump first disagreed, has not fructified because of the pull of events in Europe (Brexit, Turkey, Ukraine) and the Middle East, which have prevented the rebalancing of US’ focus on Asia. 

Trump’s 12-day long visit to Asia in October 2017 and the awkward signals of defiance emerging from North Korea, along with the sheer urgency to find solutions for Afghanistan and the necessity to counter China’s expanding influence have all been taken into account to outline the strategy. The paper terms China and Russia as revisionist powers out to shape a world against US interests and values.

The broad security concept outlined includes protection of the homeland, promotion of American prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence.

This actually encapsulates exactly the principles that the US has almost always followed since the end of World War 2, and more closely since the end of the Cold War.

Tolerance, Freedom in Trump’s Policy Open to Local Interpretation

While the US has adversaries galore, they can be placed in three broad groups, which the paper identifies.

First includes nations like Russia and China in search of a new global order that could hurt or hamper US interests. Second are regimes perceived as rogue – Iran and North Korea – which are pursuing clandestine programs, of weapons of mass destruction and support to terror groups. Third, the transnational terror groups and crime syndicates.

There is little clarity about the manner of engagement in which the US will indulge. While support for NATO is emphasised, it is also known that Trump believes in some fundamental changes in its structure and concept, including funding. A departure from the past is on the promotion of liberal democracy – the very reason why the Arab Spring arose. Trump’s policy emphasises tolerance, liberty and freedom of religion but leaves these for local interpretation and suitability to environment, rather than through the pursuance of the liberal democratic model.

For India, it is the China factor which is important. The strategy clearly focuses on India’s emergence as a leading global power, and promises the increase of Quad cooperation in which India is a partner along with Australia and Japan.

The observation in the paper that China built its power through compromise of the sovereignty of other nations in the region is a recall of Beijing’s attempts at elbowing for strategic space in the Indo Pacific at the cost of India, Japan and ASEAN. 

All this should be music to the ears of Indian strategic planners, who can count on the emerging Indo US strategic partnership progressing to the next level as sought by the Modi government in India.

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US Visualises Higher Place for India at UN

The strategy is tough and vocal on Pakistan, calling upon it to desist from its destabilising actions in Afghanistan and to end support to terror groups and militants who target US personnel and interests in the Af-Pak region. On the other hand, the US visualises for India a place at the high table at the United Nations.

Obviously, an expectation that Pakistan would be placed in the same grouping as Iran and North Korea would have been farfetched, due to the constraints that exist of following a successful Afghanistan policy without support from Pakistan.

However, the mere mention of Pakistan as a nation which has been supporting terror against US interests puts it on a watch. 

Pakistan’s response is bound to be a greater closing of ranks with China. For India, that means enhanced collusion between the two – leading to even greater dependence of Pakistan on China. While US security strategy may speak for the interests of other regional players in the Indo Pacific, its mention of terror activities is in relation more to itself and only to the dangers of a potential showdown between India and Pakistan – including a potential nuclear standoff.

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While security strategy documents are guidelines and project the identification of interests, the methodology followed in the execution is often not in sync. That is because the document reflects a broad philosophy and intent, which situational changes can upend for new tactical interests.

For India, the positives can be linked to its identified wider global role, the larger involvement in regional groupings, such as the Quad, and the broad understanding of its predicament relating to the issues with Pakistan. However, the Sino Pakistan collusion, which for us is a major threat, is of little concern to the US.

(The writer is a retired Lieutenant General in the Indian Army. He is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group. He can be reached at @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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