Russia and Global Security Risks
Biden Presidency May Not Be a Cakewalk for India

In spite of the initial euphoria among many Indians over the election of Joseph Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, there is a need to soberly assess where Indo-US relations stand and what impact the changing of the guard in The White House will have on January 20,  2021.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent years had developed close engagement with incumbent President Donald Trump. The grand welcome staged for the US leader for his India visit on February 24-25, 2020 suggested that New Delhi had put all its eggs in Trump’s basket and that now was the time to fish out “plan-B”.

Frankly speaking, Modi’s engagement with President Barack Obama to develop personal chemistry had born some fruit; the American leader was invited to take part in the Republic Day celebrations in January 2015 as chief guest, thus making him only US president to visit India twice in his term of office. Obama had reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to “global strategic partnership” with India enjoying bipartisan support.

However, Trump has a legacy of disruptive policies, such as wrecking multilateral arrangements like the nuclear deal with Iran, withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, refusal to prolong the Open Skies Agreement and INF Treaty with Russia, and attack on the WHO at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. He behaves like a “bull in a china shop” in international relations, with America’s closest allies in NATO and elsewhere, including economic rival China. This has left a bitter aftertaste and cast doubt regarding the predictability of US policy in the longer-term. 

The victory of the Biden-Harris duo in the race for the White House could be seen as a “balm” to sooth the injuries inflicted during the four years of Trump’s term. Hopes and expectations that Biden and Harris would return everything back to the “old normal” may prove to be wishful thinking. There are a set number of issues in India-US bilateral relations which from time-to-time come become aggravated, among them trade disputes are prominent. Here we see a head-on collision between the “India First” and “America First” ideologies.

Global Corporations and Economy
India’s Growing Strategic and Economic Interests in the Quad
C. Raja Mohan
India’s new readiness to engage with the US and its two major Asian treaty allies, Australia and Japan, in the so-called Quadrilateral Security Framework is widely viewed as a major departure from its traditional policy of non-alignment. But a closer look suggests that Delhi did experiment with close alignments in the past, when its core national interests faced serious threats.

 Trump mocked India as the “tariff king” and denied New Delhi the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) privileges in trade as a developing country, causing billions of dollars of export losses to India, just to punish it for an overall trade surplus of just USD 17.42 billion. For comparison’s sake, the American trade deficit with China is USD 345.2 billion.

“The Modi government’s failure to resolve the trade disputes with the US administration is disappointing, could be potentially costly to India…” a top US expert on South Asia, Mumbai-born Ashley J. Tellis of the Carnegie endowment for international peace warned earlier this year. He blamed the Modi government’s “protectionist instincts and ambitions of self-reliance” saying the are preventing India from offering satisfactory solutions.

Joe Biden’s incoming administration is unlikely to change US trade policy vis-a-vis India even as newer and newer problems are piling up, including New Delhi’s data localisation requirements and e-commerce, to name a few. New Delhi will remain under pressure under Biden to once again provide trade concessions and opening its market to US business. 

Another sticking point is the human rights issue in the face of the alleged dismantling of the country’s secular fabric, change of the autonomous status of Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcation of this formerly princely state, which joined India in 1948 when attacked by tribal militia from neighbouring Pakistan. The Modi government is under constant pressure from the liberal camp at home and abroad for allegedly curbing religious freedom by enacting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), discriminating against Muslims (migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh) while towing his Hindu agenda. With the new dispensation in the White House this pressure will increase; Democrats as such are particularly infamous for using human rights issues as a powerful foreign policy tool. 

China’s increasing  self-assertive behaviour  in the Indian Ocean and the Beijing - Islamabad nexus along its north-eastern and western borders are major security and defence concerns for India, which has reason for closer Indo - US military cooperation and the sale of US arms to New Delhi. Unlike Trump who had stopped military aid to Pakistan and pushed China in trade and militarily, Biden is not perceived as a China-baiter. Although he may mount pressure on Beijing for its human rights issues in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, he not be that vocal on supporting India in its stand-off with its northern neighbour.

The concept of Indo-Pacific, albeit different in ambit for both sides, has been a driving force of the Indo-US strategic partnership, with the purpose of containing China. Under Trump it acquired the shape of ‘The Quad’, comprised of the US, Australia, Japan and India. India, which joined it only reluctantly, hopes Biden will return to Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, which in India’s view, should move the American forces from the Middle East to the west Pacific to ensure freedom of sailing in the South China Sea amid growing Chinese naval might. 

Goodbye Pacific Rim, Hello Indo-Pacific?
Anton Bespalov
In recent years, the term “Indo-Pacific” has been used more and more frequently. According to some analysts, it is replacing the well-established concept of the Asia-Pacific region, reflecting a new balance of power in Asia. Beijing is suspicious of the fact that the Indo-Pacific concept is being actively promoted by Washington, believing that its ultimate goal is to contain China. We investigating whether or not this is so – and whether Russia should be wary of the emergence of a new regional construct.

India also hopes that Biden’s campaign promise to return to the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -JCPOA) will clear its Chabahar port connectivity project in Iran linking India with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia through a North-South Transport Corridor bypassing Pakistan.

Perhaps the most irritating issue in bilateral relation for Washington remains New Delhi’s ongoing defence partnership with Russia. It was under Obama’s watch that Moscow was slammed with crippling sanctions. Later, for the Kremlin’s alleged interference in the US presidential elections in 2016, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act (CAATSA) was adopted. The president had powers to waive in certain cases from applying secondary sanctions against any country entering into significant arms deals with Russia. Although CAATSA sanctions were not immediately applied against India for signing contract for the purchase of four S-400 Triumf advanced missile systems. However, it is not clear how Biden Administration will act. Russia remains the biggest supplier of arms as well as innovative defence technologies and the leasing of strategic assets like nuclear-powered submarines. So far, India has been balancing by simultaneously buying military hardware from the US. Obama and other senior officials in Washington have described India as a “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean Region, often ignoring the fact that it had pursued long-term defence cooperation with Moscow, which shares defence technology with New Delhi that the US does not provide, even to its closest NATO allies. 

The Biden – Harris team has its limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic implications. However, Modi’s dispensation is bent on the restoration of India’s past glory and fetching the country global power status. In the post-COVID world it would expect a partnership based on equality; it won’t be easy to achieve this and won’t be a cakewalk to reach this goal.
The US Elections and India-Russia Relations 
Dhruva Jaishankar
India’s efforts to preserve the primacy of its partnership with Russia would be made much easier should Russia pay more heed to certain Indian concerns that are distinct from Washington’s, writes Dhruva Jaishankar, Director of the US Initiative at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF). The article is published as part of the Valdai Club’s Think Tank project, continuing the collaboration between Valdai and Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi).
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.