September 16, 2020

The Australia-India Strategic Partnership

The following Analysis was published by the Lowy Institute on September 16, 2020. The Executive Summary is below, and the full text can be accessed here.

After five decades of testy or distant strategic relations, India and Australia began in the early 2000s to forge an increasingly cooperative defence and security partnership. The primary drivers were similar concerns about China’s rise, behaviour, and assertiveness, as well as converging views about the regional strategic landscape.

The decreasing salience of their divergences — Cold War-era geopolitics, India’s nuclear status, strained people-to-people ties, and shallow economic and trade links — also helped create more favourable conditions. Starting slowly in 2000, and accelerating in 2006 and 2014, the Australia–India strategic relationship began to involve policy dialogues, military exercises, defence exchanges, and security arrangements of greater frequency and sophistication.

Today, all the major elements of a robust defence partnership are in place, although still at very early stages of development. Important constraints remain, including mismatched capabilities, divergent priorities, and differing strategic circumstances, especially concerning relations with China and the United States. In addition to appreciating and navigating these differences, New Delhi and Canberra can enhance their strategic partnership by structuring and prioritising their consultations, improving military interoperability, deepening technological collaboration, and broadening relations. [Full text]

August 26, 2020

Biden Will Stay the Course with India

The following article originally appeared in The Hindustan Times on August 26, 2020. 

So many major issues appear to be at stake in this November’s elections in the United States (US) — the recovery from Covid-19, race relations, unemployment, US-China competition, the composition of the Supreme Court — that Washington’s largely cooperative relations with India should normally be but an afterthought. But that did not prevent the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, his running mate Kamala Harris, and several senior campaign advisers from participating in a virtual event on August 15 dedicated to India and Indian-Americans. While similar events had been held for other countries and constituencies, the content of the speeches and profile of the speakers were significant. The message was essentially two-fold: First, a Biden administration would look to preserve and further deepen the relationship with India and, second, that it would be particularly inclusive of Indian-Americans.

Although Biden is a veteran of the American foreign policy establishment, there had been questions about his campaign’s approach towards India amid competing priorities. In his August 15 address, Biden described the relationship with India as a “special bond” and recalled his role in securing the passage of the India-US civil nuclear agreement as a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He pledged to continue “standing with India in confronting the threats it faces in its own region and along its border,” while also working with India to expand trade, tackle global challenges such as the climate crisis, and strengthen democracy. In his words, he hoped for an “honest conversation about all issues as close friends”.

Biden’s top foreign policy adviser Tony Blinken similarly highlighted the Obama-Biden administration’s “significant progress in strengthening relations between our countries,” including the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the Major Defense Partner status for India to be treated on a par with close allies, and cooperation on the Paris Climate Agreement. “There’s probably no common global challenge we can solve without India,” he argued. By contrast, Blinken said, Trump’s approach to India has been “basically full of photo-ops and short on actual real demonstrable progress.”

The broad theme of building a more cooperative partnership with India is consistent with statements that Biden and his advisers have made elsewhere. For example, in an article in Foreign Affairs published in March, Biden effectively promised to build upon Trump’s approach to the Indo-Pacific. He argued that the US needed to work with democratic friends beyond North America and Europe, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, and Indonesia, “to advance shared values in a region that will determine the United States’ future.” In his policy platform — articulated in a document called “Joe Biden’s Agenda for the Indian American Community” — Biden pledged to “work with India to support a rules-based and stable Indo-Pacific region in which no country, including China, is able to threaten its neighbors with impunity.”

Biden’s outreach to Indian-Americans, and articulation of priorities concerning India, suggest that the differences between Democrats and Republicans are not as wide on strategic relations with India as they are on most other issues. As an incumbent, Donald Trump’s approach to India during a second-term is already somewhat discernible, or at least as discernible as possible for a leader known for his inconsistency. More favourably disposed following his visit to India earlier this year, Trump would be expected to continue to deepen the US strategic partnership with India as part of his administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. This would potentially translate into even closer security coordination, deeper technological cooperation, and increased military interoperability, as part of several efforts that are currently underway.

Instead, the differences between Republicans and Democrats of relevance to India would manifest themselves more in bilateral ties. Biden has spoken in favour of greater two-way trade, cooperation on global health and the climate crisis, and improvements in immigration policies. He has also underscored the importance of democracy and pluralism, as part of a cemented partnership between the two countries. By contrast, a second Trump administration would be likely to redouble efforts at eliminating trade deficits and restricting immigration. The biggest targets of his trade policies would be China, Mexico, Germany, and Japan, while Mexico and Central America would bear the brunt of immigration crackdowns. But in the short-run, India could be adversely affected by both.

There had been widespread speculation about the prospect of a more difficult relationship between Washington and New Delhi in the event of a Democratic victory in November, one defined primarily by American disapproval over internal developments in India. This is unlikely. While less ambivalent than a Trump presidency, Biden and his advisers have now made it clear that their bigger priority is to build further upon the emerging strategic partnership with New Delhi. This should not be surprising. Whatever the outcome in November, the next US presidential term beginning in January will require the victor to deal urgently with a series of daunting challenges — a major public health crisis, a recessed national and global economy, and intensifying geopolitical competition in a more disorderly world.

July 21, 2020

How India can act as a global bridge

The following article appeared in the Hindustan Times on July 21, 2020. 

Earlier this year, United States (US) President Donald Trump used his prerogative as G-7 host to suggest inviting the leaders of India, Australia, and South Korea to the annual conclave. “I don’t feel that as a G-7 it properly represents what’s going on in the world. It’s a very outdated group of countries,” Trump said in May. While he later considered adding Brazil, Trump’s proposal was overshadowed by his suggestion that Russia be included, a move opposed by many of his advisers. Meanwhile, questions persist about whether this year’s G-7 summit — already postponed — will be held at all in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This is not the first hint that the G-7 format will expand. Last year, France extended a similar invitation to India (along with Australia, Spain, Chile, and five African countries) when it was the host. More recently, the British government floated the prospect of a D-10 partnership of democracies (comprising the G-7-plus India, Australia, and South Korea) to cooperate on 5G telecommunications technology.

These proposals come at a time when cooperation among democracies appears to be back in vogue, amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness, the global economic battering at the hands of Covid-19, and greater technological competition. Two new mechanisms for coordinating policies related to the pandemic reflect a similar sentiment. The first, consisting of the US, India, Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and Vietnam (as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), involves the countries’ foreign secretaries or their equivalents. Another initiated by the US secretary of state consists of discussions with his counterparts from Japan, India, Australia, Brazil, South Korea and Israel.

While these have, so far, been one-off initiatives or issue-specific mechanisms, permanently expanding G-7 could represent a logical and natural progression. The G-7 evolved as an annual summit between heads of government after the economic shocks of the early 1970s. It was initially intended to be an informal forum for economic and political coordination involving the largest democratic economies. Starting with the five leaders of the US, Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom (UK), it soon expanded to seven with the additions of Italy and Canada. Additionally, the leadership of the European Union (EU) was also included by convention.

In the 1990s, as part of a bid to incorporate Russia into a post-Cold War order, G-7 evolved into G-8. For a while, in the early 2000s, a G8+5 format attempted to engage the leaders of the largest developing economies, including China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico, before the elevation of G-20 after the 2008 global financial crisis made this redundant. In 2014, Russia was dropped after its annexation of Crimea and G-8 reverted to G-7.

The recent signals from Washington, Paris, and London suggest an opportunity to permanently amend G-7 in a manner that better reflects today’s international order and priorities. In 1980, the economies of India, Australia, Brazil, and South Korea ranked 14th, 16th, 17th, and 29th in the world, respectively. Prior to the 2020 pandemic, they were 5th, 14th, 9th, and 12th. Given their relative strengths — large populations, important geographies, technological advantages, and capable militaries — not to mention their systems of governance, the inclusion of some of these countries would undoubtedly strengthen the democratic world’s ability to address today’s most pressing global challenges.

Despite the US’s invitation this year, an expanded G-7 is by no means a foregone conclusion. For now, US entreaties and India’s openness to participating in such formats are driven by tactical considerations, including both countries’ immediate problems with China. A more permanent shift would depend upon whether future leaders perceive value. While the presumptive Democratic nominee for US president Joe Biden has stressed the need to renew multilateral coalitions, he may be reluctant to so obviously exclude China, the world’s second-largest economy.

For its part, India has an unusual opportunity. Over the next two years, it will have a leadership role at three important organisations: Chair of the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO), non-permanent membership on the United National Security Council (UNSC), and chair of G-20. This affords a good opportunity to achieve favourable multilateral outcomes at these and other bodies.

And, yet, India confronts other challenges. One is learning how to effectively utilise such a forum. Indian officials have become so accustomed to working within the framework of the G-77 — the large bloc of developing countries at the United Nations — that working with the G-7 will require a very different mindset. In fact, India could be a natural bridge between the two international groupings, one of which represents the global South, the other the global West.

Finally, there will be the inevitable concerns about whether India’s entry into any such grouping would undermine its strategic autonomy. In fact, it does quite the opposite. India is already a member of groupings such as BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), East Asia Summit (EAS), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and G-20, all of which meet regularly at the leadership level. Associating with other major economies, all of them democracies, ought to be a worthy aspiration.

July 20, 2020

"For Our Enemies, We Have Shotguns": Explaining China's New Assertiveness

The following article - coauthored with Andrew Small - originally appeared in War on the Rocks on July 20, 2020. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be accessed here

China’s ambassador to Sweden, Gui Congyou, has a colorful turn of phrase to describe his country’s approach to foreign policy: “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies we have shotguns.” The “enemies” he has attacked in the last two years encompass a bewilderingly expansive range of media and political targets, one of the contributory factors behind China’s rapidly deteriorating reputation in Sweden, alongside the Chinese government’s unwillingness to release a Swedish bookseller that it kidnapped. His belligerent behavior has been the subject of some bemusement in Stockholm: Why would Beijing choose so comprehensively to alienate a country that should, given its free-trading tradition, leading technology sector, and unusually successful investment ties with China, be one of its closest European partners?

In recent months, it has seemed like much of the world has been subjected to the same treatment, eliciting similar questions about why Beijing should engage in such self-defeating behavior. By any measure, China’s recent foreign policy has displayed an astonishing level of assertiveness. That Beijing has shed its prior inhibitions in the midst of a devastating global health and economic crisis for which the Chinese leadership itself bears culpability, and a still-fragile economic situation in China itself makes it all the more remarkable.

For those who have observed this pattern of behavior, the reasons remain confounding. Four possible explanations suggest themselves, based on whether Beijing perceives this as a new era in its foreign policy or a temporary phase, and whether its actions are motivated by a sense of strength or vulnerability. Analyzing whether its new foreign policy reflects temporary opportunism, hubris, crisis management, or deeper insecurity is helpful in discerning whether Beijing will ultimately look to wind back its aggressive posture or if there is greater escalation to come. Yet in practice, the most effective policy responses will look very similar, regardless of China’s intentions. 

July 13, 2020

The Sunnylands Principles on Enhancing Democratic Partnership in the Indo-Pacific Region

The following document published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) was based on a meeting at Rancho Mirage, California, from January 23-25, 2020, to achieve consensus on a vision for regional cooperation to advance democratic governance norms in the Indo-Pacific. 

"The basis for all these diverse and inclusive efforts should always remain the promotion of human dignity. We are optimistic about the future of democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, but old challenges remain and new ones have arisen. Diverse approaches to advancing democracy must be more consciously aligned to build momentum that achieves the region’s vision for open, free, transparent, accountable, inclusive, and prosperous societies." 

Read the full document here