Will the US carry out a change of foreign policy direction after a new president enters the White House early next year? It’s early days and much is in the realm of speculation. But it’s appropriate to step back and look at the last eight years of the Bush presidency. India should do that, if only to prepare for new challenges.
A summation of these developments is carried out by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in the coming (July/August) issue of Foreign Affairs. She underscored the traditional axes of American policy: freedom, human rights, open markets, democracy and the rule of law. What was changed during the Bush era was how these goals were implemented: The approach was much more muscular and more unilateral. In the bargain, it brought some nations closer to the US and antagonized others. In the changed equation, India and Brazil gained prominence while Russia and China were eclipsed.
(Illustration by Jayachandran / Mint)
This may change. Protectionism is likely given a weak American economic performance. This, in turn, may give rise to an inward outlook as the electorate has turned against foreign “adventures” and views free trade (outsourcing, for example) as something that destroys local jobs and prosperity. India is likely to get a lukewarm, if not hostile, treatment.
From rough weather on the nuclear deal to reigniting Jammu and Kashmir at international fora to a much adverse trade regime, India is likely to confront a host of issues for which it stands unprepared. India has not only lost these material opportunities, but also something much more tangible and valuable: an opportunity to cement a strategic partnership with the US.
If that happens, it will have no one to blame but itself. A fractious polity that is unable to take decisions, even if they are in its national interest, is what characterizes India. Given the hostile geopolitical environment in South Asia with China in the east and Pakistan in the west, closer ties with Washington would have made these countries wary of opposing India. In the Bush administration’s worldview, India was much closer to it in terms of “values” (democracy being a prime one) than any other country in South and South- East Asia. That’s over now.
What’s the way ahead? First and foremost, it’s important to delink foreign policy from domestic political concerns. The nuclear deal fell victim to them. There are technocratic means to evaluate foreign policy options, ones that amply take care of national interest. But that will have to await an elusive bipartisan (Congress and BJP) political consensus.
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