Updated: May 9, 2020
The recent visit of President Donald Trump’s visit to India at the backdrop of the approaching US elections will be seen as a crucial bilateral visit for various reasons. The visit was high on both optics and rhetoric, making it a grand global event, which was followed keenly by various global stakeholders. However, what were the important outcomes from this bilateral visit to India and the United States? To answer this, we have two experts to spell out how the visit will pan out for both the countries.
Dr. Monish Tourangabam and Dr. Shreya Upadhyay answer some critical questions relating to the policy outcome of ‘Namaste Trump’ and the emerging Indo-US relations. Dr. Monish Tourangabam answers the first three questions, whereas the last three questions are addressed by Dr. Shreya Upadhyay.
1. How could the importance of this visit be perceived for President Trump in the backdrop of the US presidential elections later this year?
It is election season in the United States, and President Donald Trump’s visit to India comes towards the end of a presidential term and before the onset of a new one. In November, it will be either Trump 2.0 or a new face from the Democratic Party entering the White House. Regardless of who occupies the seat of power, the trajectory of India-US relations seems to be a positive one. In this context, this visit was significant to keep the momentum alive for the next steps in the relationship.
Trump’s visit also came during the nomination race for the Democratic candidate. The Namaste Trump, as well as the Howdy Modi event, were primarily aimed at the Indian American community who are increasingly seen as one of the most successful ethnic groups in the United States, earning one of the highest median incomes there. Even though they may not make up a consequential population group by numbers alone, both the parties see them as influential funders to the election campaigns.
Indian-Americans are increasingly contending for or occupying important public offices in the US. Although this community has largely voted for the Democratic Party, this trend cannot be taken for granted, and it is clear that the Republican Party would certainly aim to make some dents in the upcoming election.
2. What are the important outcomes relating to defense cooperation and strategic convergence in the Indo-Pacific from this visit?
The defense cooperation between India and the United States has grown rapidly in the last two decades. Increasing interoperability between the two militaries and the growing quantity and quality of defense trade are the two major planks of the defense partnership. The continuity seen through the India-US defense framework and the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) has substantially pushed the bilateral understanding ahead.
The elevation of the military-to-military exercises to the tri-service level and the signing of foundational agreements like the LEMOA and COMCASA have been major landmarks. The two countries have also started engaging in a ‘2+2’ dialogue between the Foreign and Defence ministries, and India has been designated as a major defense partner of the United States. Cooperation in improving maritime domain awareness between the two countries, and with other like-minded countries, through initiatives like the India-US-Japan trilateral and the Quad involving Australia, is seen as crucial in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Defense procurement and exploring areas of transfer of military technology and co-production are focus areas of India-US engagement, and the joint statement released after President Trump’s visit reflected this aspect. Moreover, as the joint statement showed by announcing a number of new endeavors, India-US partnership in the Indo-Pacific is multifaceted and involves collaboration in the areas of infrastructure development, humanitarian assistance, and effective development solutions.
3. What impact will President Trump’s visit have for the Geopolitics of South Asia, in the context of the US factor in India-Pakistan relations and the emerging political scenario in Afghanistan?
As President Donald Trump toured India, the United States was looking forward to a peace deal with the Taliban that should pave the way for the crucial intra-Afghan talks. The tense dynamics between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the contested Afghan election results, India’s own difficult history with the Taliban, Pakistan’s influence with the Taliban and the certainty that Taliban will return to Afghan power corridors in some form or the other, makes the scenario there less predictable but of high consequence.
India has been one of the most important civilian aid donors to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. However, with the question of withdrawal of the US forces and the effectiveness of the Afghan national security forces, the nature of India’s future role in Afghanistan has been acutely debated and discussed in the Indian strategic community.
Despite the public praises showered on India’s role in Afghanistan by President Trump, as seen in the joint statement, what kind of understanding will New Delhi arrive at with Washington, how would the Pakistan factor pan out and what would be Kabul’s approach remains to be seen? Will, the emerging scheme of things, change New Delhi’s chemistry with the Taliban, and what would be the shape of things to come as far as the security engagement between India and Afghanistan is concerned? These are important questions to ponder upon, as New Delhi attempts to align its interest with that of Washington in South Asia.
4. In the recent past, President Donald Trump has been critical about India’s protectionist trade policies. The United States has also classified India as a ‘developed country,’ thereby revoking preferential trade treatment. What could be the major takeaways for India-US trade and commerce from this visit?
Before Donald Trump’s visit, there were expectations that a tangible outcome of the US President’s visit will be a bilateral trade deal and higher investment commitments from American companies. However, the trade deal remained elusive as both sides are still trying to iron out the existing trade wrinkles. The United States, under Trump, has, in the past, been critical of India’s trade policies and repeatedly raised concerns over high trade tariffs.
Yet, in this visit, even in the absence of a trade deal, there remains a hope of a “bigger deal.” Ultimately the economic relationship is a crucial factor for both sides. But this visit entailed more people to people approach. Nonetheless, Trump loves quoting numbers. And the $3 billion defense deal, therefore, remained a talking point for both sides as a tangible outcome. Above all, both sides have attached increased importance to the long term trade stability that will benefit economies on both sides. The joint statement pointed in the direction of carrying forward the negotiations and exploiting the full potential of commercial relations, job creation and advancing investment in both the countries
5. Partnership in energy security seems to be an emerging domain of cooperation between India and the United States. What is the likely future trajectory of this cooperation?
In September 2019, India’s Petronet LNG had announced plans to invest in Tellurian Inc’s Gulf Coast project. And the recent visit saw talks on technological offer regarding the completion of six nuclear reactors. India also signed an MoU on building pipeline infrastructure for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) between ExxonMobil, and Indian Oil Corporation. Additionally, US International Development Finance Cooperation (DFC) has also been planning to open a permanent presence in India and delineating $600 million towards renewable energy projects in India. Considering that the US is the largest producer of energy and India the largest consumer, energy cooperation is a mutually beneficial aspect that will help in reducing the trade deficit along with meeting the energy demands on India.
6. India-US cooperation in Outer Space seems to have been an emphasis during the visit. What is the extent of this cooperation, and what could be the likely future?
India- US space cooperation has been on an upswing since 2008. Both the Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump events showed the growing partnership between the two countries on space exploration. These include agreements on data sharing, T launching joint satellites to monitor floods, glacial changes, etc. There is a US-India Joint Working Group on space exploration. More, however, can be done in the area of environmental surveillance, remote sensing, broadband, and maritime domain awareness across the Indian Ocean Region. Space can be utilized for employing electronic, signals, and cyber intelligence. Other areas include potential. Another great area for cooperation can be joint exercises about thwarting plausible military threat perceptions in space. Both the *The US and India have the strategic depth to pursue these areas and should exploit the opportunity.
About the experts:
Dr. Monish Tourangbam is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal. He was previously an Associate Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He was a South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow at the Stimson Center, Washington D.C, and a visiting faculty at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Dr. Shreya Upadhyay is a Principal Analyst at India Bound. She teaches Geopolitics and Area Studies at Symbiosis University, Pune. She has earned her Ph.D. in US Area Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been a Nehru Fulbright scholar. She has worked with various think tanks across India and has taught at several Universities. Her area of interest lies in looking at policy ramifications of geostrategic events.
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