Wait and watch: on U.S. security strategy

India has unequivocally welcomed U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of the National Security Strategy (NSS) for his country during his tenure. To be sure, the positive words used in the international section of the 55-page strategy paper represent an affirmation of India’s stature, and acknowledge “India’s emergence as a leading global power”. It mentions plans to “encourage Indian economic assistance in the region”, and outlines U.S. support to India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region” as a priority. Mr. Trump’s views of China’s assault on the “sovereignty” of South Asian nations and of Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups are closely aligned with India’s concerns in the neighbourhood. It is significant that the U.S. has highlighted them. In its response, New Delhi has “appreciated the strategic importance” given to India as well as the common objectives that India and the U.S. now share. Predictably, the five countries singled out by the U.S. for criticism have not been as warm in their response. China has accused the U.S. of pursuing what it calls a “cold war mentality and the zero-sum game”. Russia has said that the strategy reeks of “imperialism” as the NSS accuses China and Russia of using their military might to deny America access to what it calls “critical commercial zones”. Pakistan, Iran and North Korea have also been dismissive.

India must be mindful, therefore, that in welcoming the U.S.’s categorisations of its security threats, it doesn’t unthinkingly get swept into an American clinch. To begin with, the U.S. articulation of its perceived challenges has swung wildly over the past year of the Trump administration. It would be wise to await a stabilisation in Mr. Trump’s policies, or at least concrete action to back its words. For example, while the U.S. has talked of countering China’s influence in South Asia, it has not backed this with actual financial assistance for infrastructure critical to the region. Equally, while Mr. Trump’s words on Pakistan and terrorism are sharp, the U.S. has yet to show its hand, either in terms of military action or withholding of coalition support funds. While the U.S. strategy deals with global concerns, the past year has seen American withdrawal from pacts ranging from the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the Paris agreement on climate change. A tough U.S. security strategy can only be realised through cogent policymaking — whether it is on Israel-Palestine, North Korea, Iran or Afghanistan, Mr. Trump has been publicly at odds with his key advisers. A watch-and-wait stance is still India’s best option to preserve the autonomous and pluralistic nature of its engagement in areas where the U.S. faces its greatest challenges.

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Printable version | Jun 28, 2022 1:31:21 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/wait-and-watch/article59780902.ece