As India gets inexorably closer to its "strategic partner", it will be worthwhile for it to never forget the simple rule in global geopolitics--- that for a nation of its values, size, global and regional influence there is immense wisdom in maintaining “strategic autonomy“ and being ever prepared to fight its own battles, writes Lt Gen Kamal Davar for South Asia Monitor
By Lt Gen Kamal Davar
“America is in the game and America is going to win,” said US President Donald Trump in a tenor reminiscent of his populist campaign speeches, as he unveiled his first National Strategic Security (NSS) policy document on December 18, 2017.
He categorized his ambitions for the US as based on “principled realism,” to be propelled by the “re-awakening of America.”
Dismissing former President Barack Obama’s cautious foreign and economic policies, including withdrawing the US from internationally agreed upon commitments to combat climate change, Trump’s exhortations did not find much resonance even among many centre-of-the road American politicians and strategy analysts.
The strategy document which every US president is required by law to produce lays down the US administration’s foreign, security and economic policies. The US Secretary of State usually introduces the document, but Trump broke with tradition to personally enunciate his future strategies. President Trump outlined his priorities for the coming years based on his “whole of government approach” which stresses the “economic and military might” of the US to further America’s national strategic objectives. That the US is currently financially fatigued and even militarily weary and stretched, according to its own analysts, is another story.
Trump outlined his NSS based on four pillars; protecting the homeland, promoting prosperity, peace through strength and accelerating US influence globally. Terming China and Russia as “revisionist powers,” he called on the US military to augment its capabilities stating that “our rivals are tough, they are tenacious and committed to the long term, but so are we.”
He cautioned China about its growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region while mildly chiding it for its ‘One-Belt One Road’ initiative, claiming that though “China presents its ambitions as mutually beneficial, but China’s dominance risks diminishing the sovereignty of many states in the Indo-Pacific.”
The NSS castigates China that “seeks to displace the US in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and re-order the region in its favour.” That the US has done little to check the Chinese in the choppy waters of the Indo-Pacific is a harsh reality.
Trump also alluded to the “unfair” trade practices adopted by China while seeking its cooperation to keep North Korea’s dangerously errant nuclear ambitions in check. That North Korea has got away - so far- with its nuclear blackmail in the region and threatening the US is a sad commentary of the times when possession of nuclear weapons, even by nations starved of basic necessities, has emerged as the final arbiter of one’s status in the world.
In his geo-political projections Trump was, perhaps, unfair to Russia as he portrayed it as a global rival, stating that “ Russia seeks to restore its great power status and establish spheres of influence near its borders,” alluding to Ukraine and Crimea.
This assessment by the US will hardly be welcome to India which has been looking for rapprochement between the US and Russia in the South Asia region, especially in Afghanistan and Iran, to counter the ever-growing Pak-China nexus. It would be fair to also assume that, notwithstanding Indian sensitivities, even India’s old partner Russia is searching for newer alliances in the region.
The NSS document, however, would be music to Indian ears, as it calls India a “leading global power,” while seeking larger Indian assistance in South Asia. The US calls for a stronger strategic and defence partnership with India.
As has been done many times in the past, without much success, the US has, in the NSS, warned Pakistan to refrain from its assistance to terrorists in the region saying the US sought a “Pakistan that is not engaged in destabilizing behaviour and a stable and self-reliant Afghanistan.”
Trump also stated that “we have made it clear to Pakistan that while we desire a continued partnership we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help.”
That any such exhortations to Pakistan will not help reduce terrorism in the region is a moot point which the US acknowledges but persists with its policy of appeasing its one-time protégé - an aspect which needs to be critically factored by the Indian security establishment.
Notwithstanding the shrill rhetoric of Trump’s call, only time will tell if his articulation gets translated into reality- some of it definitely fraught with additional dangers to global peace.
As India gets inexorably closer to its ‘strategic partner,’ it will be worthwhile to never forget the simple rule in global geopolitics - that for a nation of its values, size, global and regional influence there is immense wisdom in maintaining “strategic autonomy” and being prepared to fight its own battles.
(The writer was founder of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency and is currently President of the Delhi Forum For Strategic Studies.)