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Stability of disagreements: Biden’s election may usher in a period of volatility in US-India relations

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Fifteen countries across the Asia-Pacific region recently inked an agreement on the Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is seen as the largest regional free trade accord signed to date. The signatories are Australia, China, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan and the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The United States and India – the region’s two largest countries – are notably absent from this list though. How could the Indo-American approach to the consolidation of the Asia-Pacific region change as we move on?

The RCEP deal appears to be a serious success for Beijing, promising good strategic prospects in the future. Amid its trade and technological standoff with the United States, China managed to win over to its side 14 leading Asia-Pacific countries that comprise upwards of 2.2 billion people and account for over 30 percent of the global economic output. According to the German-language business newspaper Handelsblatt, the deal “allows China to appear as a flagship of globalization and multilateral cooperation. China thus finds itself in a better position to call most of the shots in regional trade.”

The RCEP agreement may have even a greater significance for China, whose leadership initially promoted this accord as an alternative to Washington’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) project – a comprehensive trade agreement that the Obama administration spent so many years to prepare. Officially, it was meant to comprise almost all the leading countries of the Asia-Pacific region with the exception of China, while unofficially – to keep in check China’s growing influence, at least financial and economic. Now, according to many US experts, Japan and South Korea can benefit the most from RCEP by 2030. Beijing is thus setting the stage for strengthening mutually beneficial ties with two potential participants in America’s main regional military-strategic anti-Chinese project, known as the Quad (“Quadrangle”) or the Asian Entente.

At the same time, the absence of two key Quad members (US and India) from the list of RCEP participants may intensify even more the competition between various projects of strategic consolidation in Asia and the Pacific. As we know, Trump withdrew from the TPP talks just days after moving into the White House justifying his decision by the agreement’s potentially “irreparable” damage to America’s productive sector. Shortly after that, relations between Washington and Beijing began to sour. In 2018, the White House essentially declared a full-scale trade war on China, to which a financial standoff and a cold war in technology were added in 2019.

When it comes to relations with India, the new Republican administration, despite its almost demonstrative desire to distance itself from the political legacy of its predecessor, generally stayed the course charted by Barack Obama. In its foreign policy Washington prioritized an expansion of strategic ties with New Delhi, which it regarded as an ally against China’s growing role in the Asia-Pacific region. India thus acquired a “key role” in the US administration’s strategy in South Asia and during the Trump presidency the Asia-Pacific region began to be referred to by US officialdom and political experts as “the Indo-Pacific.”

In comments to Foreign Affairs journal, former national security advisor to the Indian Prime Minister Shivshankar Menon notes that during Donald Trump’s four-year stint in the White House India-US relations have only strengthened with a quantitative and qualitative expansion of ties between the two countries’ military and intelligence officers and a flurry of security agreements signed. By the close of 2019, the United States had become India’s largest trading partner, ahead of China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September 2019 visit to the United States was a big success, just as Donald Trump’s visit to India in February 2010. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center poll, 56 percent of Indians have confidence in President Trump’s foreign policy, compared to just 29 percent globally.

At the same time, determined as he was to build up ties with India on strategic issues, Trump regularly dealt painful blows to that country’s economic interests. His policy of bringing US investments and industries “back home” led to a significant drop in US investors’ interest in Indian projects. In June 2019, Trump essentially declared a trade war on India, stripping New Delhi of trade privileges that would allow duty-free delivery of $5.6 billion worth of Indian goods to US markets. In the summer of 2020, the White House introduced visa restrictions for highly qualified Indian professionals.

The new aggravation of Washington’s policy vis-à-vis Iran came as a serious blow to India, which had to abandon its planned participation in the project for the development of the port of Chabahar, as well as the construction of a railway to Afghanistan – two key elements of the “strategic containment” of Pakistan and China in the western direction. Bending under US pressure, India was forced to look for an alternative to Iranian oil, and also lost some of its export revenues. Meanwhile, Tehran began to gravitate towards Beijing and Washington’s demands for India to scale down its military-technical cooperation with Russia were only adding to differences between India and the US.

During the campaign, Joe Biden was sending out conflicting messages to New Delhi. On the one hand, he, as well as the Indian-born vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris, have been very harsh critics of India’s domestic policy, above all the elimination of Kashmir’s autonomous status, the establishment in the state of Assam of the National Register of Citizens, which resulted in 2 million local inhabitants, mainly Muslims, losing their citizenship, and a new version of the country’s citizenship law, which critics saw as open discrimination against Muslims and an attempt to undermine India’s status as a secular state. On the other hand, Biden called India a “natural partner” of the United States and promised that, if elected, he would make an expansion of bilateral ties one of his top foreign policy priorities.

Also, during his years in the US Senate, Biden played a prominent role in expanding US-India ties, including in the field of military-technical cooperation, which is extremely important for India, given its “natural” and “historical” confrontation with China – a problem, which features front and center in New Delhi’s foreign policy today. In view of the military and economic superiority of the Celestial Empire, a “counterbalance strategy” and the maximum possible rapprochement with the United States is a natural choice for New Delhi to go for.

Meanwhile, the very same Quad format is now gravitating towards solving problems of naval deterrence, which is much more in line with US, rather than Indian interests. Even though, according to The Economist, New Delhi is now prepared to consider even “some kind of military alliance” with other Quad members, the almost 3,500 km land border with China remains India’s main concern, as well as the need to contain its historical rival – Pakistan. Indian political analysts have strong doubts about Washington being ready to “fight China for the interests of India.” What they don’t doubt, however, is the need to develop the friendliest possible relations with the world’s “only superpower.”

From the standpoint of expanding economic ties between the United States and India, the situation looks even more complicated. India’s sluggish socio-economic development is the main obstacle on the way of strengthening the country’s position in Asia and elsewhere in the world. For example, India’s main formal reason for withdrawing from RCEP after seven years of negotiations, was pragmatic fears that the final agreement “would be overshadowed by China’s dominance,” which would de facto mean the conclusion of a free trade zone agreement with China – something Indian industry is unprepared for now.”

India’s economy has been hit very hard by continuing COVID-19 crisis, which has already sent the country’s GDP down by almost a quarter since January. In such circumstances, Trump’s policy of economic nationalism is seen by some US experts as shortsighted, devoid of strategic vision and detrimental to America’s long-term interests. Just as Foreign Affairs noted in January, US officials and politicians need to realize that pressuring allies to equalize the rules of trade can’t overshadow the overarching goal of confronting China. And to this end, Washington must assist the economic development of countries such as India.

That being said, however, the rise in Trump’s popularity showed that the ideas of protecting the national economy very much resonate with the American public. Therefore, a realization of the need to simultaneously take into account the interests of the new economic sectors, so vital for the globalization process to go forward, and also of the tens of millions of voters, whose incomes are tied to traditional industries, objectively limits the freedom of economic maneuver for any future US administration. All the more so since the Indian authorities are embracing, just like Trump, the ideas of economic pragmatism by openly encouraging national production and limiting foreign competition.

And last, but certainly not least, New Delhi is wary of the fact that during his stint as Barack Obama’s Vice President, Joe Biden supported the policy of “involving” China in international institutions under the auspices of the West, and of promoting across-the-board trade and economic relations with Beijing. However, during the election campaign, Biden kept ratcheting up his rhetoric against the People’s Republic to the point of pledging to take a “tough” stance towards Beijing.

Still, when and if Biden is finally declared president, he will need the support of the left wing of the Democratic Party. As a result, the idea of ​​bringing America’s foreign policy back to where it was before Trump, including unconditional support for New Delhi in the spirit of Realpolitik, may fall victim to a compromise with the “progressives.”

Overall, the current state of India-US relations looks highly controversial. On the one hand, relations between the two have noticeably improved in some areas. On the other, the field of interaction has significantly narrowed. The main reason for the rapprochement between India and the United States of the past few years was their mutual concern about China’s growing power and influence. As we all know from history, it is always easier to be friends “against” someone, but such “friendships” are rarely consistent and lasting.

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

Interpreting the Biden Doctrine: The View From Moscow

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Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

The newly unveiled Biden doctrine, which renounces the United States’ post-9/11 policies of remaking other societies and building nations abroad, is a foreign policy landmark. Coming on the heels of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, it exudes credibility. Indeed, President Biden’s moves essentially formalize and finalize processes that have been under way for over a decade. It was Barack Obama who first pledged to end America’s twin wars—in Iraq and Afghanistan—started under George W. Bush. It was Donald Trump who reached an agreement with the Taliban on a full U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Both Obama and Trump also sought, albeit in strikingly different ways, to redirect Washington’s attention to shoring up the home base.

It is important for the rest of the world to treat the change in U.S. foreign policy correctly. Leaving Afghanistan was the correct strategic decision, if grossly overdue and bungled in the final phases of its implementation. Afghanistan certainly does not mean the end of the United States as a global superpower; it simply continues to be in relative and slow decline. Nor does it spell the demise of American alliances and partnerships. Events in Afghanistan are unlikely to produce a political earthquake within the United States that would topple President Biden. No soul searching of the kind that Americans experienced during the Vietnam War is likely to emerge. Rather, Washington is busy recalibrating its global involvement. It is focusing even more on strengthening the home base. Overseas, the United States is moving from a global crusade in the name of democracy to an active defense of liberal values at home and Western positions abroad.

Afghanistan has been the most vivid in a long series of arguments that persuaded Biden’s White House that a global triumph of liberal democracy is not achievable in the foreseeable future. Thus, remaking problematic countries—“draining the swamp” that breeds terrorism, in the language of the Bush administration—is futile. U.S. military force is a potent weapon, but no longer the means of first resort. The war on terror as an effort to keep the United States safe has been won: in the last twenty years, no major terrorist attacks occurred on U.S. soil. Meantime, the geopolitical, geoeconomic, ideological, and strategic focus of U.S. foreign policy has shifted. China is the main—some say, existential—challenger, and Russia the principal disrupter. Iran, North Korea, and an assortment of radical or extremist groups complete the list of adversaries. Climate change and the pandemic have risen to the top of U.S. security concerns. Hence, the most important foreign policy task is to strengthen the collective West under strong U.S. leadership.

The global economic recession that originated in the United States in 2007 dealt a blow to the U.S.-created economic and financial model; the severe domestic political crisis of 2016–2021 undermined confidence in the U.S. political system and its underlying values; and the COVID-19 disaster that hit the United States particularly hard have all exposed serious political, economic, and cultural issues and fissures within American society and polity. Neglecting the home base while engaging in costly nation-building exercises abroad came at a price. Now the Biden administration has set out to correct that with huge infrastructure development projects and support for the American middle class.

America’s domestic crises, some of the similar problems in European countries, and the growing gap between the United States and its allies during the Trump presidency have produced widespread fears that China and Russia could exploit those issues to finally end U.S. dominance and even undermine the United States and other Western societies from within. This perception is behind the strategy reversal from spreading democracy as far and wide as Russia and China to defending the U.S.-led global system and the political regimes around the West, including in the United States, from Beijing and Moscow.

That said, what are the implications of the Biden doctrine? The United States remains a superpower with enormous resources which is now trying to use those resources to make itself stronger. America has reinvented itself before and may well be able to do so again. In foreign policy, Washington has stepped back from styling itself as the world’s benign hegemon to assume the combat posture of the leader of the West under attack.

Within the collective West, U.S. dominance is not in danger. None of the Western countries are capable of going it alone or forming a bloc with others to present an alternative to U.S. leadership. Western and associated elites remain fully beholden to the United States. What they desire is firm U.S. leadership; what they fear is the United States withdrawing into itself. As for Washington’s partners in the regions that are not deemed vital to U.S. interests, they should know that American support is conditional on those interests and various circumstances. Nothing new there, really: just ask some leaders in the Middle East. For now, however, Washington vows to support and assist exposed partners like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Embracing isolationism is not on the cards in the United States. For all the focus on domestic issues, global dominance or at least primacy has firmly become an integral part of U.S. national identity. Nor will liberal and democratic ideology be retired as a major driver of U.S. foreign policy. The United States will not become a “normal” country that only follows the rules of realpolitik. Rather, Washington will use values as a glue to further consolidate its allies and as a weapon to attack its adversaries. It helps the White House that China and Russia are viewed as malign both across the U.S. political spectrum and among U.S. allies and partners, most of whom have fears or grudges against either Moscow or Beijing.

In sum, the Biden doctrine does away with engagements that are no longer considered promising or even sustainable by Washington; funnels more resources to address pressing domestic issues; seeks to consolidate the collective West around the United States; and sharpens the focus on China and Russia as America’s main adversaries. Of all these, the most important element is domestic. It is the success or failure of remaking America, not Afghanistan, that will determine not just the legacy of the Biden administration, but the future of the United States itself.

From our partner RIAC

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AUKUS aims to perpetuate the Anglo-Saxon supremacy

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Image credit: ussc.edu.au

On September 15, U.S. President Joe Biden worked with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison together to unveil a trilateral alliance among Australia-U.K.-U.S. (AUKUS), which are the major three among the Anglo-Saxon nations (also including Canada and New Zealand). Literally, each sovereign state has full right to pursue individual or collective security and common interests. Yet, the deal has prompted intense criticism across the world including the furious words and firm acts from the Atlantic allies in Europe, such as France that is supposed to lose out on an $40-billion submarine deal with Australia to its Anglo-Saxon siblings—the U.K. and the U.S.

               Some observers opine that AUKUS is another clear attempt by the U.S. and its allies aggressively to provoke China in the Asia-Pacific, where Washington had forged an alliance along with Japan, India and Australia in the name of the Quad. AUKUS is the latest showcase that three Anglo-Saxon powers have pretended to perpetuate their supremacy in all the key areas such as geopolitics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. In short, the triple deal is a move designed to discourage or thwart any future Chinese bid for regional hegemony. But diplomatically its impacts go beyond that. As French media argued that the United States, though an ally of France, just backstabs it by negotiating AUKUS in secret without revealing the plan. Given this, the deal among AUKUS actually reflects the mentality of the Anglo-Saxon nations’ superiority over others even if they are not outrageously practicing an imperialist policy in the traditional way.

               Historically, there are only two qualified global powers which the Europeans still sometimes refer to as “Anglo-Saxon” powers: Great Britain and the United States. As Walter Mead once put it that the British Empire was, and the United States is, concerned not just with the balance of power in one particular corner of the world, but with the evolution of what it is today called “world order”. Now with the rise of China which has aimed to become a global power with its different culture and political views from the current ruling powers, the Anglo-Saxon powers have made all efforts to align with the values-shared allies or partners to create the strong bulwarks against any rising power, like China and Russia as well. Physically, either the British Empire or the United States did or does establish a worldwide system of trade and finance which have enabled the two Anglo-Saxon powers to get rich and advanced in high-technologies. As a result, those riches and high-tech means eventually made them execute the power to project their military force that ensure the stability of their-dominated international systems. Indeed the Anglo-Saxon powers have had the legacies to think of their global goals which must be bolstered by money and foreign trade that in turn produces more wealth. Institutionally, the Anglo-Saxon nations in the world—the U.S., the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand—have formed the notorious “Five eyes alliance” to collect all sorts of information and data serving their common core interests and security concerns.

This is not just rhetoric but an objective reflection of the mentality as Australian Foreign Minister Payne candidly revealed at the press conference where she said that the contemporary state of their alliance “is well suited to cooperate on countering economic coercion.” The remarks imply that AUKUS is a military response to the rising economic competition from China because politics and economics are intertwined with each other in power politics, in which military means acts in order to advance self-interested economic ends. In both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms, the rise of China, no matter how peaceful it is, has been perceived as the “systematic” challenges to the West’s domination of international relations and global economy, in which the Anglo-Saxon superiority must remain. Another case is the U.S. efforts to have continuously harassed the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany.

Yet, in the global community of today, any superpower aspiring for pursuing “inner clique” like AUKUS will be doomed to fail. First, we all are living in the world “where the affairs of each country are decided by its own people, and international affairs are run by all nations through consultation,” as President Xi put it. Due to this, many countries in Asia warn that AUKUS risks provoking a nuclear arms race in the Asian-Pacific region. The nuclear factor means that the U.S. efforts to economically contain China through AUKUS on nationalist pretexts are much more dangerous than the run-up to World War I. Yet, neither the United States nor China likes to be perceived as “disturbing the peace” that Asian countries are eager to preserve. In reality, Asian countries have also made it clear not to take either side between the power politics.

Second, AUKUS’s deal jeopardizes the norms of international trade and treaties. The reactions of third parties is one key issue, such as the French government is furious about the deal since it torpedoes a prior Australian agreement to purchase one dozen of conventional subs from France. Be aware that France is a strong advocate for a more robust European Union in the world politics. Now the EU is rallying behind Paris as in Brussels EU ambassadors agreed to postpone preparations for an inaugural trade and technology council on September 29 with the U.S. in Pittsburgh. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared in a strong manner that “since one of our member states has been treated in a way that is not acceptable, so we need to know what happened and why.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for European affairs, went even further as he put it, “It is once again a wake-up call for all of us in the European Union to ask ourselves how we can strengthen our sovereignty, how we can present a united front even on issues relevant to foreign and security policy.” It is the time for the EU to talk with one voice and for the need to work together to rebuild mutual trust among the allies.

Third, the deal by AUKUS involves the nuclear dimension. It is true that the three leaders have reiterated that the deal would be limited to the transfer of nuclear propulsion technology (such as reactors to power the new subs) but not nuclear weapons technology. Accordingly, Australia remains a non-nuclear country not armed with such weapons. But from a proliferation standpoint, that is a step in the direction of more extensive nuclear infrastructure. It indicates the United States and the U.K. are willing to transfer highly sensitive technologies to close allies. But the issue of deterrence in Asia-and especially extended deterrence-is extremely complicated since it will become ore so as China’s nuclear arsenal expands. If the security environment deteriorates in the years ahead, U.S. might consider allowing its core allies to gain nuclear capabilities and Australia is able to gain access to this technology as its fleet expands. Yet, it also means that Australia is not a non-nuclear country any more.

In brief, the deal itself and the triple alliance among AUKUS will take some years to become a real threat to China or the ruling authorities of the country. But the deal announced on Sept. 15 will complicate Chinese efforts to maintain a peaceful rise and act a responsible power. Furthermore, the deal and the rationales behind it is sure to impede China’s good-will to the members of AUKUS and the Quad, not mention of their irresponsible effects on peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Was Trump better for the world than Biden, after all?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joe Biden and the State Department just approved a major deal with the Saudis for 500mln in choppers maintanance. Effectively, the US sold its soul to the Saudis again after the US intelligence services confirmed months ago that the Saudi Prince is responsible for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Biden administration is already much more inhumane and much worse than Trump. Biden doesn’t care about the thousands of American citizens that he left behind at the mercy of the Taliban, the Biden administration kills innocent civilians in drone strikes, they are in bed with the worst of the worsts human right violators calling them friendly nations. 

Biden dropped and humiliated France managing to do what no US President has ever accomplished —  make France pull out its Ambassador to the US, and all this only to go bother China actively seeking the next big war. Trump’s blunders were never this big. And this is just the beginning. There is nothing good in store for America and the world with Biden. All the hope is quickly evaporating, as the world sees the actions behind the fake smile and what’s behind the seemingly right and restrained rhetoric on the surface. It’s the actions that matter. Trump talked tough talk for which he got a lot of criticism and rarely resorted to military action. Biden is the opposite: he says all the right things but the actions behind are inhumane and destructive. It makes you wonder if Trump wasn’t actually better for the world.

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