Amid ‘America First’ chasing Indian goals

| | in Oped

As the ‘America First’ doctrine takes shape, there will be uncertainty in Asia, which needs to be offset by India's engagement with the region and broader world

The isolationist ideas behind US President Donald Trump's ‘America First' doctrine — a vigorous argument to change the US' actions at home and abroad while departing from the US postwar order that Trump argues has left many American workers behind — threaten a retreat of American leadership and engagement in Asia. The possible economic and security ramifications of this markedly different US platform has created uncertainty in regional affairs and needs to be offset by India's increased engagement with the region and broader world.

It is no question that New Delhi and Washington find themselves at a pivotal time in the region. Beijing's deepening security ties to South Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka); lingering India-China territorial disputes; rising maritime tensions in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean; the onward march of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme; Islamic terror and anxieties concerning Trump's demands for changes to trade agreements are some of the pressing matters facing the Asia-Pacific.

The scope of these challenges requires the cooperation of partners. As sister democracies, with a commitment to the rule of law, plurality ad self-Government, India's and the US' shared values and strategic interests continue to be the natural glue behind their cooperation on these issues. Yet, as the Trump Administration's ‘America First' ideology unfolds and takes shape, American involvement in the region is likely to lessen to some degree, particularly in the realm of trade.

Amid this changing landscape, Asia would benefit by New Delhi's increased involvement in these areas:

Trade and commerce: India's current transformation into a world economic power holds promise for the Indian people and the broader world. This journey will require investment in infrastructure —  roads, airports, rail, Internet connectivity, ports, etc — as well as a commitment to continuing the path of economic and financial reform, such as the opening of markets and the pairing back of stifling bureaucracy. Foreign entities can help provide needed expertise and resources and, as the US enters a new phase of eschewing foreign trade and supporting “economic nationalism”, India will benefit by assuming a leadership role among trading nations and by deepening regional commercial ties.

Medicine, science, space and tech: India's prowess in medicine, science, space and tech will be needed to meet many of the world's coming challenges. Superbugs and pandemics; the search for sustainable energy; fighting pollution; the militarisation of space; artificial intelligence and the menace of hacking will continue to be just a few of the many areas that will require India's leadership and collaboration with new partners. While the US may become more inward looking under ‘America First', Indian initiative and collaboration in these key fields will be vital in making headway on many 21st century endeavors.

Fighting terror: India can find advantage in continued anti-terror efforts with key partners through intelligence sharing, joint military and law enforcement training and arms procurement. Longer term, working with Pakistan and other Muslim counterparts on educational reform that focuses on abandoning the vilification of non-Muslims while encouraging understanding and tolerance will be key towards achieving real progress on some of the root causes of terror. New Delhi would also be well served to continue its various roles in the region (ie, Afghanistan) to counter regional threats, Islamic State among them.

China: China's rise brings with it opportunities as well as security concerns. With eyes wide open and while remembering past Chinese aggression, New Delhi can both take advantage of the opportunities of Beijing's ascent while also investing in military upgrades to protect key interests in the Indian Ocean and disputed border areas. While the prospects of Washington's detachment from world affairs poses certain challenges and burdens on its traditional partners, these unusual times require New Delhi's leadership. India's steady progression to global power status is a well timed development that must be welcomed with open arms by the world community. A failure to embrace India's larger leadership role will likely threaten prospects for security, economic growth, human development and, freedom in the broader region.


(The writer is Instructor of Political Science at Central Texas College, US  Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California) 

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