Optics with Substance

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 PM Narendra Modi with US president Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump

The American President Trump and Prime Minister Modi both are committed to promoting and protecting their respective national interests while at the same time moving their nations forward on a common path that promotes the overall prosperity and security of their people

Two tall leaders on the global stage— US President Trump and Indian Prime Minister championed the national interests of their respective countries—US and India during President Trump’s two-day trip to India. Straddling the areas of defence and security, energy, trade and technology, people to people contacts, and global and regional matters the two leaders had fruitful, productive, and engaging dialogue.
Defence deals relating to the sale of military helicopters by the US to India that were inked during the visit netted the US close to 3 billion dollars and at the same time beefed up the military power of the Indian navy and army forces. Aspects relat ng to the reactivation of the Homeland Security Dialogue between the US and India, and the institution of the bilateral Working Group on Drug Trafficking as well as a lengthy discussion on Afghanistan and the terrorist infrastructure active on Afghanistan’s eastern border (that poses a grave and serious threat to regional security to the region post the exit of the US forces from Afghanistan in the near future) as well as on India’s eastern border featured quite conspicuously and extensively in the discussion between the two leaders and their delegations. The joint statement that came out after the visit highlighted the extension of bilateral cooperation on non-traditional security threats like cyber security and terrorism affecting the US and India to third countries, thus highlighting the expansive interpretation that the two leaders and the two countries now accord to the defense and the security arena. This seems to explain the rechristening of the Strategic Partnership between the two countries as the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership. The reference in the Joint Statement to expanding US-India bilateral security relationship to the Quad (that comprises Japan and Australia along with to the US and India) is quite noteworthy in this context, especially with regard to safeguarding the economic and military security of the Indo-Pacific. President Trump’s effusive praise for Prime Minister Modi’s strong stand on the issue of terrorism shows how the Indian concerns on terrorism in South Asia resonate so strongly with those of the United States. Also, the fact that President Trump in his press conference refused to dwell on questions relation to India’s recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) showed how resolutely the US adheres to non-interference in the internal affairs of its valued strategic partner India and how clearly it appreciates Indian security concerns relating to immigration. The Indian side in turn probably understood the need of the US to vacate the Afghan war theater after nearly two decades of protracted battle that resulted in the loss of precious blood and treasure.
The continued and ever increasing sales of American gasoline and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to India shows how positively India’s burgeoning energy needs are being addressed by the US. This found a conspicuous mention in not just the joint statement but the press briefings accompanying the visit. The imminent sale of six nuclear reactors by the US to India will further serve India’s energy interests as well as US commercial interests.
The reaffirmation of India as a major defence partner of the United States in the joint statement shows the importance of the procurement and transfer of advanced military technology in the bilateral security relationship. The much talked about comprehensive trade deal that was touted as the big ‘takeaway to be’ from the visit would take some more time due to the hard bargaining on both sides to protect their respective national interests. And this is no surprise considering the fact that prominent visits of national leaders are not in themselves a destination but important stops along the long journey to stitch and strengthen bilateral strategic partnerships.
The importance given in press briefings to ‘people to people contacts’ between the two countries is exemplified by the strong rapport struck by the two leaders that represent the two countries—namely President Trump and Prime Minister Modi. It is also reflected in numerous exchanges between businesses, academics, scientists, students, and citizens from both countries from practically every walk of life. The rousing welcome that President Trump received during his visit is reflective of the warm feelings that the Indian people have for him and for the 330 million strong American people that he represents. Prime Minister Modi’s mention of Indian and American manufacturers becoming part of each other’s’ supply chains brings out how national interests of each country and their people are served while promoting the common interests of both the countries. And just as Prime Minister Modi has wooed foreign investors to set up manufacturing facilities in India on his trips abroad, President Trump was courting additional investment to the US in his meeting with Indian CEOs.
President Trump’s visit was thus both heavy on optics and substance. Two strong leaders—the President and Prime Minister Modi both wedded to promoting and protecting their respective national interests while at the same time moving their nations forward on a common path that promotes the overall prosperity and security of their people through free two-way movement of ideas, entrepreneurship, information, capital, goods, services, and labor.
(The writer is President, AAA International Security Consultants LLC)