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Retain Obama's policy towards India: Tellis urges Trump

By Ajai Shukla
January 21, 2017 06:54 IST
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Possible US envoy says India must get assurance against China, reports Ajai Shukla.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama at their eigth meeting in Laos in two years, September 2016

As President Donald Trump's administration and policies take shape, Ashley Tellis, whom the Washington Post identifies as America's likely next ambassador to New Delhi, has urged America's new president to continue former Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama's policies towards Asia, and India in particular.

Writing in the publication Asia Policy, Dr Tellis has recommended that Trump should '(take) the existing threats of Pakistan-supported terrorism against India more seriously, (develop) a considered strategy for aiding India in coping with Chinese assertiveness, and (persist) with the existing US policy of eschewing mediation on the thorny Indo-Pakistani dispute over Jammu and Kashmir.'

New Delhi is concerned that the Trump administration might back track substantially on Obama's 'rebalance to Asia', reducing the salience of India in US foreign policy.

While campaigning, Trump had indicated he would reduce America's superpower role of maintaining global order, allow US military intervention only to tackle direct threats to the US homeland, make military allies pick up a larger share of the bill for their own defence and reject multilateral trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key component of Obama's economic strategy in Asia.

As in New Delhi, there is concern in capitals across the Indo-Asia-Pacific about whether America's 45th president will leave the region on its own in dealing with a rising, aggressive China.

Dr Tellis, one of America's most highly regarded strategists, warns the incoming administration: 'An Asia in which the United States ceases by choice to behave like a preponderant power is an Asia that will inevitably become a victim of Chinese hegemony.'

'In such circumstances, there are fewer reasons for India to seek a special strategic relation with the United States, as the partnership would not support New Delhi in coping with the threats posed by Beijing’s continuing ascendancy.'

President Bush, Tellis says, devised the policy of supporting India without expecting reciprocity from New Delhi, an approach that Obama has continued.

'It was anchored in the presumption that helping India expand in power and prosperity served the highest geopolitical interests of the United States in Asia and globally -- namely, maintaining a balance of power that advantaged the liberal democracies,' he writes.

'Accordingly, it justified acts of extraordinary US generosity toward India, even if specific policies emanating from New Delhi did not always dovetail with Washington’s preferences.'

This 'calculated altruism whereby Washington continually seeks to bolster India's national capabilities without any expectations of direct recompense,' he points out, 'includes the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement, support for a permanent US Security Council seat for India, championing India's membership of global non-proliferation regimes and relaxed access to defence and dual-use technology.'

Such initiatives would reap success, says Dr Tellis 'only if the larger architectonic foundations of the bilateral relationship -- centered on boosting New Delhi's power -- are fundamentally preserved, not because they happen to be favourable to India, but more importantly because they serve larger US grand strategic interests in Asia and beyond.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama at their eigth meeting in Laos in two years, September 2016.

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