In international relations, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. With both India and US conducting talks on pragmatic “interests-based” approach, there is no scope for utopian ideals of ‘Shared values’.
Are shared values the key to striking bonding and enduring strategic partnership between the U.S. and India in a “Hawkish World”? Call it by whatever phrase one make like to coin, it is absolutely a “bogey” of, most aptly, intellectual fraud.
Even a cursory look at the U.S. relations or strategic bonding with nations in the post-World War 2 era clearly reflects that its foreign policy was not based on “Shared Values”. Ipso facto, the U.S. forged strategic partnership with Communist China under Mao, Pakistan under Military Rule, Saudi Arabia under Monarchy and many others.
In reality, pragmatism governed its consideration with primacy on “National Interests”. Can any intellectual world over deny it?
Quite aptly, experts viewed them as “Estranged Democracies” for over 50-years. Before bridging the gap and bonding, already fissures have appeared in respective domestic arenas.
Let me highlight that the hype around the world's “two largest democracies and natural partners based on shared values” is good semantics.
As per American analysts, India under Modi has undermined commitment to “shared values” by implementing multiple actions – revocation of Article 370 followed by unprecedented shutdown, termed a “form of collective punishment” by UN human rights experts; and CAA, NPR and NRC fast tracking citizenship for regional immigrants specifically excluded Muslims and introduced religion as a criterion for citizenship for the first time, undermining India’s secular foundations.
Also, where does the US stand today under President Donald Trump dictator-like administration, who is attacking the values enshrined in its Constitution?
Many US experts are totally disillusioned particularly after the Senate cleared the impeachment hurdle. As per his critics, impeachment hearings have abundantly made clear that their shared tolerance and respect for the truth, their sacred rule of law, their essential freedom of the press and their precious freedoms of speech have all been threatened by Donald Trump – egoistic, narcissist and megalomaniac President Donald Trump is a firm believer in “Capitalism”. And, he is in pursuit of “Make America Great Again”, “America First” foreign policy that represents American nationalism, unilateralism, protectionism, and isolationism and “Sharing the Burden” policy.
However, President Donald Trump is believed to be steadfast advocate for religious liberty, who is committed to protecting the liberty and freedom of religious communities, organizations, and students. In reality, his actions betray his concern against Muslims and Islam. Donald Trump's campaign call for all Muslims to be barred from entering the US has morphed over the past three years into a complex web of travel and immigration restrictions placed, to varying degrees, on 7% of the world's population.
Initially, he blocked most immigrants and many travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. Now, the latest restrictions are imposed on permanent immigration for people from Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania.
In a recent address, Donald Trump recited the poem entitled “the Snake” that provides a clear insight into his firm religious beliefs against Muslims and Islam. Most important, Donald Trump is on record that civic virtue, concern for the public interest and personal ethics are, at best, delusions of the weak. He has exposed the idea of "American values" as a thin, easily penetrable veneer. What lies beneath that is exactly what Trump represents and advances with his every utterance and executive order – fidelity to the ancient maxim, "might makes right."
Finally, Donald Trump believes in his “Deal Making Prowess” in pursuit of his self-centric and American interests. Let none of the analysts suffer from illusions on the above count and read too much about Modi-Trump friendship, and, hype great expectations from their 2-day Bromance.
Let me reiterate the implications of “Shared Values” and “National Interests”. Shared values imply freedom, justice, human rights and commitment to the rule of law. Americans claim to be champions of majesty of freedom and the dignity of the individual. In contrast, “National Interests” cover the full spectrum of political (Domestic and international), social, economic (trade), technology and military affairs.
What is the reality of Permanent Interests” of the United States - political (Domestic and international), social, economic (trade), technology and military affairs?
If one prioritize them from the US point of view then their order may include: 1) Strategic Indio-Pacific with India as a central partner in efforts to counter China rise; 2) military arms deals to bolster US private industry; 3) energy deal particularly gas supplies; 4) 5G with focus aimed against China’s Huawei; 5) technology transfers – low-end; 6) trade – on the backburner; and 7) Kashmir and terrorism, besides CAA, NPR and NRC issues.
Quite clearly, India’s national interest priorities would vary with Kashmir, CAA, NPR and NRC on the backburner with a firm statement that they are internal issues and it does not brook interference from other nations or leaders. From people’s point of view, H1B visa and green card issues have greater significance. Even on other issues, the Indian responses will be well thought out and articulated to keep all options open.
The silver lining of the US posture till now is that the US establishment has stopped short of taking a firm stance. There is an uncomfortable truth in Washington’s silence: It is not “Shared Values”, but “Shared Interests” that increasingly shape Washington’s foreign policy outlook.
After all, the Trump administration has taken a pragmatic approach, prioritizing strategic and economic benefits over democratic divergences. As the world’s largest democracy and fifth largest economy, India’s potential to challenge China’s influence in Asia is vast. Over the past 20 years, the US has invested heavily in India — militarily, economically, and diplomatically — to build its strength as a counterweight.
In reality, the US has shied away from pressuring New Delhi on “Shared Values” for fear of disrupting “Shared Interests”. Both are walking the pragmatic course based on convergent interests and cautiously keeping on hold divergent interests.
The US realizes that it cannot take a firm stance on divergent issues out of fear of estranging India that may tilt it towards the Russia-China strategic partnership. If the US has not applied sanctions on acquiring S-400 missile defense system from Russia, it is a clear indication of leveraging its posture on strategic relationship.
As of now, both India and the US are conducting talks on pragmatic “interests-based” approach. If any there is a strong and pragmatic argument favoring “interests-based” order that has shaped relations over the past 20 years. For example, the US has consistently viewed the “Kashmir” problem as a “Bilateral Issue” to be resolved amicably. So also, there is convergence of interests with regard to countering terrorism and sharing of intelligence. And, there is growing military (QUAD) and technology convergence particularly in space, nuclear and other high-tech fields.
In sum, the concept of “Shared Values” is the worst fraud. In international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. Henry Kissinger’s had articulated quite lucidly that “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”.
Thus, all Indian visual media hype over the outcome of President Donald Trump’s 2-day visit may be good for comic entertainment; but cannot be read with a prism to intelligently appreciate its future course. After all, when either Trump or Modi relinquishes their leadership roles, there is no guarantee for the strategic partnership to consolidate and advance in posterity.