Perhaps of most import domestically, Trump appointed conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, signed a major tax reform, and his Federal Communications Commission appointee weakened net neutrality.
Internationally, Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accord, increased focus on North Korea, and announced the US embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem.
But to truly understand the major shift in US international views under Trump, and what it might mean for India, it helps to look at the new National Security Strategy (NSS), released on 18 December. The NSS is an important policy document, giving a peek into the mind of the President and his chief strategists. As directed by President Trump and prepared under National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster, the NSS gives insight into how the administration sees the world. And what it plans to do about it.
It names names. In his launch speech, Trump called China and Russia “rival powers” of the US and said “we have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help.”
The NSS is particularly clear on China. Calling it a “revisionist” power. The change in approach is explicit: “For decades, U.S. policy was rooted in the belief that support for China’s rise and for its integration into the post-war international order would liberalize China. Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others. China gathers and exploits data on an unrivaled scale and spreads features of its authoritarian system, including corruption and the use of surveillance.… China is using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.”
At the same time, the NSS takes a strong line on terror, and countries harbouring terrorists. In the launch speech, Trump said: “Our strategy calls for us to confront, discredit, and defeat radical Islamic terrorism and ideology and to prevent it from spreading into the United States.” The NSS reads: “We will insist that Pakistan take decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its soil.”
In that context, what does the NSS have to say about India? Not much (India wasn’t even mentioned in Trump launch speech), which is probably a good thing given those singled out tended to be named for all problems they were causing. However, when India is named, what is written is positive. This is not surprising given the many converging international concerns shared India and the US.
First off, there is a whole section of the NSS devoted to the Indo-Pacific, framed by the statement: “A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.” From a DC perspective, that puts India clearly onside with the US.
The NSS also overtly encourages India’s growing role on the world stage: “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner… We will expand our defense and security cooperation with India, a Major Defense Partner of the United States, and support India’s growing relationships throughout the region. We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region… [W]e will encourage India to increase its economic assistance in [Central and South Asia].”
Overall, the framers of the NSS are focused on achieving security, prosperity and freedom in the context of “America First”. The main threats to those goals are presented as China, Russia and Jihadists—with others such as North Korea, Iran and illegal immigration also featured. India, especially after Doklam, is seen by the US as part of the solution to some of those challenges.
Given how much Trump got done in year one, it’s harder than usual to predict what might happen in year two. But, for now, the US door seems to be open for India. It’ll be up to Delhi to decide how much and how fast to go through. Whatever happens, 2018 is not going to be boring.
Cleo Paskal is The Sunday Guardian North America Special Correspondent.