The last four years of the United States-India relationship could be called the golden era of the bilateral relations given the progress the two countries made in bilateral cooperation. PM Modi, right from the day he took oath as the Prime Minister of the country, was very clear that India and the United States are natural allies. Therefore, the two countries increased cooperation, but Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda, as far as the Indo-Pacific is concerned, was not in the best interest of India.
The real progress started when after two and half years of the Modi government, Donald Trump won the Presidency in the United States in 2016. Although PM Modi had already visited the US in 2015 and 2016 and Obama visited India in 2015, the relations moved only incrementally in a typical Democratic Party fashion.
The two major foreign policy issues of India- de-hyphenation with Pakistan, decoupling of China and the US were yet to be solved. Obama was, in fact, focusing on Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which would have only increased dominance of China in the Indo-Pacific region. Also, the Obama administration was not taking any substantial step against Pakistan.
But, the day Trump came to office, most things just flipped. In a few months after being elected to power, Trump ended the US military aid to Pakistan. As per a report by the Centre for Global Development, the United States had given around 80 billion dollars in civilian and military aid to the Islamic nation of Pakistan. Trump ended all the military aid to Pakistan in a sweep and the civilian aid was also cut down substantially. Also, since Trump came to power, no American official visits to Pakistan after visiting India and the two countries are no longer talked about in the same breath in US foreign policy.
Trump has been even more resolute and tough on Xi Jinping-led Chinese Communist Party in the last four years. Till Obama was the President of the United States, Xi Jinping implemented the agenda of global domination through the BRI. From 2013 to 2016, BRI was a huge success, but take a look at where it reached in the last four years. The project is almost dead and cost trillions of dollars to the Chinese government.
A few months after coming to power, Trump scrapped TPP and, in 2017, started a trade war against China when the CCP did not listen to his complaints on the skewed trade balance and currency manipulation.
However, the most important joint initiative of US and India, which is going to be NATO of the 21st century, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), was started in 2020- the last year of the first term. In the last cold war against Russia, Europe played the role of the most important ally and helped the US to win. In the new cold war with China, India is going to help the US to win and this will also be a victory for India given the fact Beijing has made its intentions against India very clear through conflict in the Himalayas.
Like the trans-Atlantic relations defined the post- World War II global order, the trans-Pacific relations are going to define the 21st century. The supply chains of the global economy are set to disrupt and India, which already is the ‘back office of the world’ is going to be the factory of the world, too.
In terms of economy, disruption of China dominated supply chains in Donald Trump’s biggest contribution for India which would benefit the country for years to come. In geostrategic terms, Quad, which would define the global foreign policy in the 21st century is his biggest contribution.
In pure defence agreement terms, India signed Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed in 2018 and recently in 2020 the long-pending Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation. These two, along with the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which was signed in 2016, makes India and the United States full-fledged defence allies.
In the last four years, the US-India cooperation increased exponentially against the incremental change during the Obama regime. What Trump has done for India’s economy and security in the last four years would outlast him and would prove a cornerstone of US-India relations in the 21st century.