By Souresh Roy. PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne; former researcher at the India Australia Institute
The presidential elections of 2016 mark a moment in history when democracy in America is saddled with two contrasting worldviews.
On one hand there is great uncertainty about how the future is going to unfold and hence a belief that someone who has been part of the establishment is best suited to sail them through this crisis.
Simultaneously there is a huge section of the American population who are of the opinion that it is in fact the establishment and the entrenched interest groups who are responsible for the mess the country finds itself in; and the only antidote to the present quandary is a rank outsider.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent these two diametrically opposite poles of this election respectively.
While much of their rhetoric during the election campaign have focused on domestic issues, their comments and policies on international affairs are being scrutinised closely both within and outside America. This is not surprising considering that as the world’s foremost superpower with multiple security commitments, US foreign policy has repercussions across the globe.
Trump doesn’t have a coherent policy on India
With no previous record in the administration of government or public service, it is difficult to get a sense of coherence in Trump’s approach to matters related to foreign policy. Even though he believes Pakistan to be a very dangerous country in possession of nuclear weapons and considers involving India as an ally to check Pakistan, he has not laid out any blueprint to handle the fast-changing geopolitical landscape of South Asia.
His anti-immigration rhetoric and criticism of outsourcing jobs to India, or American firms hiring skilled Indian professionals on H1B visas has not enamoured him to the Indian community either.
Trump might withdraw from Afghanistan and aid the rise of China
The more troubling aspect for India has been Trump’s insistence on a non-interventionist foreign policy approach wherein the US will withdraw itself from all its overseas security commitments.
First, even though the conflict in Afghanistan has taken a back seat as insurgencies in Syria and Iraq has intensified in recent times, American troops continue to fight its longest war in a country that is far from being stable. The instability in Afghanistan has significant consequences for India as many of the insurgent groups in Afghanistan are supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. Without American presence in Afghanistan, these terror groups may regroup, thus pushing the region back to where it was prior to 9/11.
Secondly, with regards to an increasingly assertive China, when countries like India, Japan, Australia and US are contemplating a security architecture for the Asia-Pacific region, Trump’s non-interventionist foreign policy approach has the potential to derail such arrangements thereby risking the stability of the whole region.
Trump believes in a kind of economic-determinism wherein the US will offset China’s labour cost advantage in manufacturing with a combination of tariff and non-tariff barriers as the best way to stop China’s rise. While there may be a logic to this line of thinking, a fast modernising military like China’s cannot be just countered by harsher economic and trade policies.
Clinton has long been a friend of India
Since the end of the Cold War, the foundations of the India-US relationship has been strengthened through the efforts of both in New Delhi and Washington. This is also the time when Clinton has held influential roles, initially as the First Lady of the United States for eight years, senator for another eight and Secretary of State for four years. During this time she has been a friend of India.
No incoming President has had the level of interaction with India that she has had. She co-chaired the Senate India caucus, supported the India-US civilian nuclear agreement, and as Secretary of State between 2009-2013 consolidated the relationship further by facilitating co-operation in transfer of high technology, defence and instituting the strategic dialogue between the two countries.
Clinton has supported India on terrorism and China
For India, two of its crucial contemporary challenges are terrorism emanating from Pakistan and an increasingly assertive China.
Clinton has been very critical of Pakistan’s role in tackling terrorism, especially its inability to eliminate terrorist safe havens. This sentiment will align well with the current Narendra Modi government’s proactive measures to counter Pakistan-sponsored terrorism from across the border. It is also important to recall that as Secretary of State, Clinton played a crucial role in President Obama’s rebalancing America’s policy towards Asia in which she argued for stronger US-India relations in the 21st century.
Under a Clinton presidency, India will be expected to play a greater role in maintaining security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region and thereby check China’s growing assertiveness, which could potentially destabilise the region.
Photo: US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meeting with Indian Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2011 as Secretary of State, courtesy of Wikipedia commons