In his policy in South Asia, President-elect Donald J. Trump will follow his understanding of the pragmatic and realistic interests of the U.S., and currying favor with the leaders of the region’s countries and beyond, including Russia, will not be on the agenda.
President-elect Donald Trump waves to the crowd as he leaves the New York Times building following a meeting, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, in New York. Photo: AP
There are several reasons why the foreign policy outcomes of the U.S. presidential elections are still unclear.
Firstly, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump was contradictory to himself in the course of the presidential campaign. Now he needs to clarify what was a reflection of the developing foreign and security policy of the new administration and what were his personal views and will not necessarily become a part of his foreign policy.
Secondly, there is no clarity about the key figures in his administration, who will be in charge of U.S. foreign and security policy. The appointments so far announced are known for their previous statements but mostly unknown for their ability to conduct foreign and security policy.
The nature of the next U.S. administration’s foreign and security policy is important for the country and will certainly have implications for regional issues worldwide. The U.S. policy towards the South Asia region will be no exception. Neither President-elect Trump nor his candidates for the posts can boast deep understanding of the region and therefore do not have any strategy there. However, they may acquire some in the process of real involvement in South Asian affairs.
The negative attitude towards Trump among many bureaucrats could lead to the departure of civil servants who have an understanding of South Asia. If this happens, the transition from the Obama administration to the new one will not mean the transfer of knowledge.
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U.S.-India relationship is key
These uncertainties mean we can make only humble speculations about what will happen to Washington’s South Asian policy over the next few years. A new period in U.S.-Indian relations may bring both good and bad news to Russia.
The good news is related to Trump’s critical attitude towards alliances and U.S. commitments to allies. If this attitude is a part of the White House’s new foreign and security policy, any Russian fears of a possible political and military alliance between Washington and Delhi will become absolutely groundless.
Yet these fears would be mainly groundless even without Trump. Those Russian officials and journalists who believe in a U.S.-Indian alliance in the future cannot understand how powerful the non-alignment legacy continues to be among the Indian elite and in various political camps. In fact, it remains an integral part of India’s identity and nationalism.
Any limitation of U.S. military and financial support for Afghanistan due to a reluctance on Washington’s part to maintain its commitments to its allies could be seen as bad news for Moscow. The new administration could try to stimulate its NATO allies and Kabul to take more responsibility in providing security in Afghanistan.
If such a scenario is implemented, it might lead to a further destabilization there. In such circumstances, even Moscow’s flirtation with the Taliban will not protect Russia and the Central Asian countries from the growing threats coming from Afghan territory.
Pragmatism: the good, the bad and the uncertain
A decision by the United States to discontinue the military and financial assistance it has been providing to Pakistan would be good news for Russia. The Trump administration may try to put relations with this country on a more pragmatic footing. This would alienate part of the elite in Pakistan and make rapport between Moscow and Islamabad easier and faster. However, there are doubts about Russia’s readiness to embark on substantial long-term commitments in Pakistan, but that is another story.
A similarly pragmatic approach by Trump toward India could be bad news for Moscow. The White House may turn out to be much more flexible than previous administrations in providing India with peaceful nuclear technologies and strategic military technologies.
In that case, Russia would face growing competition from the U.S. in the nuclear and strategic military domains, where there has been zero competition for Moscow until now. Yet to push this business in India the Trump administration will have to consolidate legislators’ support and overcome numerous bureaucratic obstacles. For now, this does not appear an easy task.
These speculations about the future U.S. policy in South Asia may turn out to be correct, or could be completely wrong. But at least one thing is clear. In his policy in South Asia, Trump will follow his understanding of the pragmatic and realistic interests of the U.S., and will not be seeking ways to please the leaders of the countries of South Asia and beyond, including Russia.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.