Trump’s pullback is good news for India

Emerging Powers in a Post-American World by Sreeram Chaulia seeks to address many questions around the US President and upcoming powers

By   |  MR Narayan Swamy  |  Published: 15th Dec 2019  12:20 amUpdated: 14th Dec 2019  8:15 pm

What kind of a President is Donald Trump? Is his decision to pull back America from troubled spots good for the US – or the world? How does it affect other countries? Will it make it easier for China to become THE superpower? How can India and other emerging powers face a new global order? Can they, perhaps, redraw the strategic map? Scholar-academic Sreeram Chaulia answers these questions with a candid reading of four countries, India included, in four parts of the world.

Unlike most Western scholars who take an alarmist view of Trump’s reversal of Washington’s traditional I-am-the-global-cop policy, fearing an easy road to China’s rise as a universal economic and military giant, Chaulia has another view.

This Western reading is a fallacy, argues the Professor and Dean at the O.P. Jindal Global University at Sonipat. Countries losing the US umbrella or friendship are not necessarily looking for a Chinese raincoat, he says.

The four countries Chaulia identifies with the potential to play leaders in their respective regions are India, Turkey, Brazil and Nigeria. All of them have national identities based on exceptional narratives. But, Chaulia sounds out a warning: these upcoming powers cannot afford to be narrowly nationalistic. They must be accommodative and magnanimous too in their respective regions to assert their leadership. Taking one’s backyard for granted is a strategic blunder.

Trump, argues Chaulia, is at once a blessing and a curse for emerging nations. The President’s decision to yank America out of its long-standing project of ruling, policing and governing the planet has opened the field to “all kinds of leadership, permutations and anxieties to mushroom in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.”

Trump’s narrative is opposition to globalisation, which benefitted the middle class in emerging nations and the ultra-rich in developed countries. He has moved far away from liberal internationalism due to domestic American pressure.

He can go to the extent of shedding the traditionalist US view of Russia as a foe, unmindful of the fact that he is forcing a decline of the US hegemony. This book is a guide to how emerging powers are struggling to minimise the downsides and maximise the upsides of the Trump earthquake.

India, too, was caught unawares by the Trump revolution, says Chaulia, a political scientist specialising in both international security and international political economy. The Trump administration went on an offensive against India on a variety of issues ranging from movement of skilled Indian software personnel to American crude oil.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to placate Trump by even overlooking past Indian inhibitions about loss of sovereignty and signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement to open the door for the US to sell encrypted communications system and equipment to the Indian military.

But unending pressures from Trump made Modi take a firm, nationalist stand on the issue of buying S-400 anti-missile system from Russia. Modi made it clear that India was not a malleable client. India also did not go for economic sanctions against Iran. At the same time, Modi recalibrated relations with China, knowing that Trump will not come to New Delhi’s aid in the event of any trouble. India restrained the political activism of the Tibetan refugees. Trump’s belittling of India’s role in Afghanistan struck a raw nerve in New Delhi.

According to Chaulia, India would be committing a blunder if it thinks that Trump’s policies will be reversed by his successors, in Afghanistan (from where US troops are set to leave) or elsewhere. So it is up to “capable rising powers” like India to pick up the slack and stabilise South-Central Asia. India has the potential to be a coordinator of intra-Asian stabilising mechanisms, perhaps by teaming up with Indonesia for a new Asian bond.

Turkey was one of the linchpin states of the American-crafted liberal international order from the 1940s but has now fallen out with Washington, forcing it to shake hands with Russia and even Iran, forming an unlikely axis. President Recep Tayyib Erdogan is a vocal advocate of Muslim minorities fighting oppression across the globe.

But Chaulia says the trouble with Turkey is that it has alienated all potent actors of varied leanings in the Middle East and earned a reputation as strategically untrustworthy. His military misadventures and promotion of jehadi terrorists has also sowed mistrust in the region. But Ankara is unlikely to have followers coming under its umbrella in opposition to both the US and Russia as long as Erdogan remains in power.

Constructing a parallel mechanism for South America has always been Brazil’s strategy. Under the leadership of the charismatic President Lula da Silva (2003-10), Brazil came up with the Union of South American Nations, achieving something closest to the European Union. There was also the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trilateral before the larger BRICS (involving Russia and China too) was formed. Alarm bells rang in Washington. But new President Jair Bolsonaro did a complete U-turn, bringing Brazil in Trump’s embrace.

At the same time, Brazil’s dependence on China has grown by leaps and bounds. Brazil must know that Trump’s friendship is tactical. Brazil needs a course correction, underlines Chaulia, if it has to play a leadership role in the region.

Nigeria must also reformulate its strategy to become Africa’s leading power. Trump has shown no respect for Africa or its people, often parroting lies. But governance failure, ethnic fratricide and Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in Nigeria have tied it down. While the US and France is each wary of Nigeria, the latter must integrate deeply into its West African sub-region within the AU framework. The rivalry with South Africa must end. On its own, it will only remain a ‘sleeping giant’; but Nigeria can rebrand itself as a different sort of power.

Trumped: Emerging Powers in a Post-American World
Author: Sreeram Chaulia
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 239
Price: Rs 799


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