Is Trump A Game-Changer for the India–U.S.–Europe Trilateral Relationship?
An American perspective: No, Trump is not a game-changer. In terms of transatlantic ties, he has reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to NATO and has proposed an increase in defense spending which will enhance the capabilities of the Atlantic alliance. With respect to U.S.–India relations, the strategic partnership forged in the 2000s has grown stronger despite multiple changes in political leadership in both Washington and New Delhi. The factors drawing the United States and India together create enormous synergies for cooperation which are bigger than any leader — including their joint interests in managing Chinese power, defeating terrorism, securing the Indian Ocean sea lanes that are superhighways of global trade, and pushing the frontiers of science, health, and innovation to advance mutual prosperity. U.S.–Europe–India cooperation is urgent given the fraying liberal world order on which these three largest democratic polities depend. The greatest danger to the rules-based system is not Donald Trump, who remains bound by U.S. laws and institutions, but Chinese revanchism, which enjoys no such constraints. China is trying to build a parallel, illiberal order across Eurasia through mechanisms like the Belt and Road and new institutions that exclude the United States. An expanding Chinese sphere of influence is a danger to India’s aspirations to have sufficient strategic space to rise as a world power, and a threat to India’s development should it intensify security dilemmas in India’s neighborhood. Sustaining a rules-based system, including free access to the global commons that carry the world’s trade and an open international economy that does not fall prey to protectionism and mercantilism, must be a central ambition for the United States, India, and Europe over the coming decade.
-Daniel Twining, Counselor and Director, Asia Program
A European perspective: This is certainly a more complex question than it looks at first sight. First, it supposes that such a thing as a trilateral India–U.S.–Europe exists. But while strategic convergences are real, the competition for access to the Indian market is fierce. Second, to the extent that the trilateral relationship exists, it is not limited to government relations. Reducing it to a function of the new U.S. approach to India and/or to Europe would be ignoring that economics, culture, and people-to-people relations are largely — although not totally —independent from government policies. Third, one hundred days into the new presidency, there are no objective reasons to believe that U.S. policies will fundamentally differ from the ones of President Trump’s predecessor vis-à-vis India or Europe. Yet the election of Donald Trump has undoubtedly added a fair degree of uncertainty in international geopolitics. This is particularly true in Asia where despite Washington’s reassurances, every state on China’s periphery wonders about U.S. commitment to regional security. Such uncertainty existed during the Obama presidency but has reached a new and unprecedented level under Trump. For the trilateral relationship, the most likely outcome of the evolving situation is a multiplication of India’s strategic partnerships — although with different contents — between India and its European partners seen mostly, but not exclusively, as potential technology providers. None of these partnerships, whether in their existing bilateral format or in whatever new format may be created to deal with the new configuration, will be a substitute for the partnership with the U.S. In this scenario India will be the ultimate arbiter, picking and choosing whoever it deems fit to meet its own security requirements. But the new situation will undoubtedly confer both India and Europe new responsibilities on the regional scene while diminishing the burden of the United States. The challenge for them will be making sense of the resulting increased strategic autonomy while keeping the United States engaged in the region. To that extent, yes, Trump could be a game changer for the trilateral India–U.S.–Europe relationship. But that may not necessarily be a bad thing after all.
-Frederic Grare, Nonresident Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
An Indian perspective: The only possible answer is: probably. President Trump’s foreign policy so far has been a mixture of conventional approaches and unconventional messaging. It is unclear when these two will collide, if this is a coherent strategy, or if the conventional nature of the actual actions taken is simply a product of momentum, and will be altered over the course of the administration’s first year in office. What is clear, however, is that even if the Trump administration in the end follows through on a few of the more alarming promises, suggestions, and potential actions that the president has gestured at, the trilateral relationship will undergo deep changes simply because of the uncertainty the messaging has produced. Friends and allies of the United States, once they squarely face the possibility of an unreliable Washington, will inevitably seek to draw together themselves to maintain the pursuit of their common targets with or without the United States. Across the board, from climate change to security to reform of the administration of the global commons, there is an incentive for the United States’ partners to move forward on their agenda “as if” the United States is no longer fully committed — even if there is no concrete evidence that U.S. commitment is decreased.
-Mihir Sharma, Bloomberg View Columnist, Author "Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.”
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