President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as his future UN Ambassador underscores that the incoming administration, which begins on January 20, understands the importance of developing stronger Indian-U.S. ties.
The bilateral national security relationship is critical for realizing both countries’ core defense objectives.
Showing how Trump can set aside political differences for the national interest, Haley initially supported Marco Rubio’s candidacy for the presidency, then that of Ted Cruz, before backing Trump.
If confirmed by the Senate, Haley would become the most prominent Trump political appointee representing the more than three million Indian-Americans in the United States. The Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans represents the largest House caucus focused on a single foreign country.
President elect Trump is appointing new faces who are not simply camp followers. A case in point is the South Carolina governor to the post of US UN Ambassador.
Haley could also help Trump deepen relations with India.
When Trump spoke at the Republican Hindu Coalition in mid-October for a charity concert in New Jersey, he praised the Hindu faith, India as a nation, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong leadership.
Then and elsewhere, he described India as a vital ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
The personal relationship between the two presidents go off to a good start.
Modi was part of the select group of leaders to speak on the phone with Trump the day after his election. The Prime Minister also tweeted to Trump, “We appreciate the friendship you have articulated towards India during your campaign.”
The two men have similarities in their political background—both are outsiders who challenge conventional views by pushing for free-market policies at home and nationalist policies abroad in the face of generally unenthusiastic foreign-policy establishments.
U.S. defense leaders have come to see India as a key U.S. partner.
Leon Panetta called India a “linchpin” of U.S. policy in Asia; Chuck Hagel termed India a security provider “from the Indian Ocean to the greater Pacific”; and Ashton Carter has said that “the U.S.-India relationship is destined to be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
Indian-U.S. defense exchanges have been expanding substantially in number and kind, making the United States the main foreign military exercise partner of the Indian Armed Forces. In particular, the two militaries have participated in frequent bilateral and multilateral exercises during the past decade, with special emphasis on naval cooperation.
The Trump team has opportunities to broaden and deepen the Indian-U.S. defense relationship.
In addition to the single-service drills that they regularly undertake, the United States and India can expand their bilateral military training to include rehearsing large multi-service combined exercises.
In addition, the number of army exercises should increase since India’s army receives more than half of the country’s defense budget while its navy, which has been the Pentagon’s most active exercise partner, receives a much smaller percentage.
On a multinational plane, increasing cooperation with Japan and other third partners—for instance, by following the advice of Admiral Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command chief, who called for a revival of the Bush-era “quad” between India, Japan, Australia and the United States—would expand the impact of the Indian-U.S. security partnership.
India may play a key role in regional security assistance as the incoming Trump administration seeks to transition defense and security burdens local partners. For example, the United States should encourage India to provide more extensive assistance to the Afghan and Central Asian security forces. Trilateral Russia-U.S.-Indian security opportunities may emerge in Eurasia if U.S. relations with Moscow improve.
Indian-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation can be strengthened by furthering intelligence sharing, reviving their stalled homeland security dialogue, deepening nuclear and biological security cooperation, encompassing a wider range of narcotics trafficking issues, and signing the planned cybersecurity framework agreement.
India should heed the Trump administration’s likely demand that India join the U.S.-led “Global Coalition against Daesh,” which now includes 68 members.
The Trump administration can better overcome Indian resistance to this step by encouraging India to provide non-combat intelligence, economic, and humanitarian assistance.
In future negotiations with India, the Trump administration may be torn between continuing previous administrations’ policies of developing a strategic partnership to share common security burdens and adopting a more short-term transactional economic focus.
The former approach will be more difficult to achieve, it but should be the objective of the new administration regarding India.
In an increasingly competitive global arms market, India has become a key partner of choice for the West and Russia. (Credit: Bigstock)
In fact, the latter strategy might work better with Pakistan, where generous past U.S. assistance has failed to attain much U.S. influence over Pakistani policies. Indians might enjoy seeing Trump set aside diplomatic niceties to more explicitly attack Pakistani ties to Islamist terrorism.
By strengthening India’s counterterrorism, homeland defense, and nuclear security capabilities, moreover, the United States can reduce the risks that Pakistani-backed terrorist attacks could escalate into a major Indian-Pakistani military conflict.
In this regard, Trump should continue the recent practice of de-hyphenating India and Pakistan, making aid to Pakistan more conditional and reducing both U.S. security and developmental assistance. While Pakistan is a U.S. regional partner, India is a strategic partner throughout Asia, and increasingly globally.
Meanwhile, India should raise its ceiling on foreign defense investment and relax some offset requirements. For instance, the Indian government should specify when 100% FDI is permissible.
India should also strengthen the barriers against the unauthorized transfer of U.S. military technology to third parties like Iran. These changes will help meet the Trump administration’s goal of boosting U.S. exports and developing more balanced international economic relations without compromising on U.S. security goals.
Enhancing Indian-U.S. security ties along these lines should balance the tensions that might arise during Trump’s presidency over immigration (India has a large Muslim minority), climate change (Indians had expected to receive foreign funds and technology to curtail their carbon emissions), and the possible de-emphasis of democracy promotion and Afghanistan.
While potentially a point of friction with the Indian government, it remains to be seen how the new administration would curtail the outsourcing of labor to India.
Although Trump criticized outsourcing in his book, Time to Get Tough, and said during the campaign that he would give corporations incentives to bring outsourced jobs back to the United States, Trump has spared India by mostly faulting China for predatory economic behavior. Indians will benefit if Trump’s tough approach leads China to treat its economic partners better.
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