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A story of two visits, sixty years apart: analysis


Sixty years ago, India extended the red carpet, and crowds, to US President Dwight Eisenhower. American and Indian differences, including in economic policy, the Soviet Union or Pakistan, had not disappeared. But India and the United States (USA) came together through a growing strategic convergence. With the border skirmishes between China and India, the escape of the Dalai Lama to India and concerns about Beijing’s influence in Nepal, Delhi increasingly saw China as a challenge. This required internal strengthening and external balance, and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru saw the United States as useful in both aspects. The Eisenhower administration, in turn, had accepted the idea of ​​India as a counterweight and democratic contrast with communist China and, therefore, of helping Delhi win “the fateful race” with Beijing. This convergence provided the basis for an India-United States partnership, as well as the impetus for Eisenhower’s trip, which was also useful for two leaders facing questions at home.

Fast forward six decades later and the trip of President Donald Trump. Like Eisenhower’s visit, Trump’s trip will be heavy in optics, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi unfolding the red carpet. But there will be no lack of substance. This visit will also reflect the convergences between India and the United States. The fact that it is happening is largely due to these shared interests. Trump does not like foreign travel, but he has been clearly convinced that it is a trip worth taking, even if, for him, it is for more transactional reasons than for some of his officials. As on Eisenhower’s trip, the divergences between India and the United States will also be evident. But Trump’s trip will also reflect Delhi’s understanding that it is a very different president than he had in the past.

In terms of convergences, the progress in the diplomatic and security relationship in recent years has been notable, stimulated in large part by the shared concerns of the United States and India about China’s actions in the region. In the last three years, this has resulted in “deliverables”, including new dialogue mechanisms (2 + 2 and quadrilaterals), improved platforms (trilateral India-Japan-USA), enhanced interoperability thanks to the signing of agreements ( for example, the Memorandum of Logistics Exchange Agreement and Agreement of Compatibility and Security of Communications), and an improved and expanded set of military exercises (for example, Tiger Triumph). The Trump administration has also supported India during two crises (Doklam in 2017 and after the Pulwama attack in 2019), and in the United Nations Security Council and the Financial Action Task Force.

During this visit, there is likely to be some progress in an area where recently there has been little: defense agreements. An agreement for multi-function helicopters for the Indian army seems imminent. Others could also be discussed or even finalized (for example, for additional Apaches or P-8is). Beyond that, pay attention to the signs of progress in the Basic Agreement on Exchange and Cooperation, which would facilitate the exchange of geospatial information. And more generally, expect to see a reaffirmation of the free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific visions of the US. UU. And India

Also look for progress in several areas of cooperation in the joint declaration, which will also make clear the breadth of the relationship, whether in terms of sectors (counterterrorism, cybernetic, nuclear, science and technology, space and energy and water) or stakeholders ( ministries, public, business, diaspora). This document may seem like a laundry list, but this is the subject of which sustainable partnerships are made.

The missing absent product seems to be the one that both countries sought, although for different reasons: a trade agreement. This has eluded them either due to negotiation styles, lack of political will, different priorities, changes in objectives or political sensibilities. Could they still take a rabbit out of a hat? Possibly, if the two leaders decide that it is a priority. But if at least they cannot reach a high level of trade, economic friction could extend to areas of strategic convergence.

Somewhere to compensate for that, Modi will probably make an additional effort to produce another deliverable for Trump: optics. While Trump could get an agreement between the United States and the Taliban on their way to or from India on an unannounced scale, Delhi will want to make sure the US president. UU. Do not leave India empty-handed. Then, beyond the defense agreements, you will get the great audience you crave and the images your election campaign will use. However, the Indian government will have to be careful that its actions are not considered a political backer, and is aware that it needs to restore the bipartisan perception of the relationship. However, both Modi and Trump, dealing with unwanted headlines at home recently, will expect the trip to give public relations a boost.

The optics, even knowing that they could be used politically, will be just one aspect of the trip that will show how much India has had to make adjustments for Trump to keep a crucial partner aside. Defense agreements, which are rarely announced during summits between leaders from India and the United States, are being scheduled for the visit. Unusually, India, according to reports, also agreed to acquisition commitments in business talks. And it is likely that Delhi will also minimize differences over Russia and any extravagant Trump statement about Pakistan or Kashmir or China or 5G, to which he would normally have made an exception.

But whether with this leader or with a more traditional one like Eisenhower, during and after this trip, India, and the United States, you should keep in mind that it is not healthy to rely solely on the strategic drivers of the relationship. A more balanced relationship, with strong strategic, economic and shared value legs, will allow a more stable and sustainable India-United States partnership.

Tanvi Madan is a principal investigator at the Brookings Institution and author of the Fateful Triangle: How China formed relations between the United States and India during the Cold War

The opinions expressed are personal.

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