Why India needs to focus on its foreign affairs

Kanwal Sibal
Kanwal SibalOct 24, 2018 | 13:22

Why India needs to focus on its foreign affairs

The international scene is becoming confusing and complicated. America’s policies under Trump have become disruptive and unpredictable. China has unveiled its alarming geo-political and economic ambitions epitomised by its colossal Belt and Road Initiative. US and Russia are getting locked into a Cold War-like situation.

Trade wars

Trump has decided to repudiate the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, with serious repercussions for Europe. Distrust between US and Russia has reached dangerous levels, with Putin himself displaying new highly advanced weapons capable of piercing all US defences.

Trump has unleashed a trade war against China to punish it for stealing US technology, violating IPRs, curbing access to its market, failing to reduce its massive trade surplus with America and other sins, including interference in US domestic politics as claimed by VicePresident Pence in a recent comprehensive broadside against China. All this has been driving Russia and China to forge an increasingly stronger strategic partnership to counter US hegemony.

Reducing America’s trade deficit and re-building America’s lost manufacturing capacities constitute Trump’s primary foreign policy agenda, in pursuing which he is willing to target friends and foes alike. Strategic issues are either secondary for Trump or it is through his trade agenda that he believes he can make strategic gains for America over the rest.

His America First doctrine implies a disregard of the interests and concerns of all others, including his allies. It also means a determination to revise the multilateral trade arrangements America has entered into such as NAFTA (already revised to America’s advantage) or abandon them (such as the TPP to America’s disadvantage in the eyes of many or TTIP which has frustrated the ambition to build stronger US-Europe economic ties).

Trump believes that in negotiating trade deals bilaterally, America can exert its full weight and obtain better terms than in a multilateral format where it has to make concessions to obtain a consensus. The comfort zones of US allies have been disturbed because Trump believes Europe has used NATO to make the US pay much more than its share and Europe much less than what it must for Europe’s defence.

Because of his trade fixation, Trump has fired at the European Union, supporting Brexit and specifically targeting Germany because of its trade practices. At a time when the EU is suffering serious internal political and economic strains to the point that concerns about its future are being widely expressed, Trump has aggravated these anxieties.

Impatient Europe

The extra-territorial application of US sanctions legislation has always been an issue for the international community at large because international law and sovereignty of states are violated.

Yet, countries have been reluctant to ignore such US legislation because of fears of exclusion from the US financial market and exposure to other penalties. Until recently for Europe, as well as other US allies, this was not an issue of critical concern because all have supported US sanctions against targeted countries and imposed their own, including on Russia.

Today, however, key European countries are chafing at US sanctions against Russia and Iran under America’s CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) legislation. Europe has decried Trump’s unilateral repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal and yet is constrained to abide by CAATSA sanctions because its corporations have far greater equities in the US market than prospectively in Iran.

Humiliated by having to bend to US dictates against its will, Europe plans to devise legal instruments to protect its companies from the extra-territorial application of US laws but this will take a few years to materialise, and even then how effective they would be remains uncertain.

CAATSA is also aimed at undermining the energy security of key European countries, especially Germany, by targeting Russia’s energy sector and especially the Nord Stream 2 gas project, with the commercial objective of promoting US gas sales to Europe.

trump3-copy_102418010429.jpgIndia needs to be particularly wary of US pressures on India on trade issues. (Photo: Reuters)

Diplomatic move

Europe too has contributed to the disquieting elements in the international situation today. Its activism in pushing the frontiers of the EU (and NATO) to the erstwhile constituents of the Soviet Union has generated serious tensions in EuropeRussia ties, its actions in former Yugoslavia are still generating tensions in the Balkans, the blowback of its intervention in Libya and Syria in the form of refugee flows is destabilising Europe’s politics by boosting right wing political forces in the continent.

Europe is chastising the US for abandoning multilateralism, but its own values-based diplomacy has had a unilateral dimension. China’s lately expressed allegiance to multilateralism is counterfeit in the light of its actions in the South China Sea and its highly self-centred political and economic policies.

India’s diplomacy has to wade through all the international political and economic shoals that have threateningly surfaced, with least damage to its interests.

US pressures on India on trade issues, the impact of CAATSA on our relations with Russia and Iran and the extent to which India can disregard US legislation that seriously prejudices its national interest, oil price rise because of tensions and instabilities being fomenting in West Asia, the negative fall-out of a fortified Russia-China strategic partnership for India’s regional interests, managing the developing confrontation between US and Russia both of whom are vital partners of India in diverse fields and protecting ourselves from collateral damage from the US-China trade war to the extent possible are the challenges that India has to face in the period ahead.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)


Last updated: October 24, 2018 | 13:22
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