Almost a year in office and after two bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, the US government on Tuesday marked out India’s emergence as a “global power” in its first National Security Strategy — a significant upgrade in Washington’s assessment of India in the last 15 years.
In 2015, in Obama administration’s last NSS, India’s role was described as a “regional provider of security” and in 2010, India was termed one of “21st century centers of influence”. In 2006, during George W Bush administration’s NSS, it had called India as one of “regional and global engines of growth” and in 2002, it was viewed as a “potential great democratic power of 21st century”.
Said Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson Raveesh Kumar: “We appreciate the strategic importance given to India-US relationship in the new National Security Strategy released by the US. As two responsible democracies, India and the US share common objectives, including combating terrorism and promoting peace and security throughout the world. A close partnership between India and the US contributes to peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region as well as to the economic progress of the two countries.”
India was mentioned eight times in Trump’s NSS, where it said: “A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region, which stretches from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States, represents the most populous and economically dynamic part of the world. The US interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific extends back to the earliest days of our republic.”
Putting strategic and defence partnership front and centre, the 68-page NSS document said: “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.” The first quadrilateral meeting at the senior officials’ level took place in Manila last month, on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia summits.
The strategy paper said, “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.”
The status of a major defence partner was granted by the outgoing Obama administration in 2016 and has been endorsed and carried forward by the Trump administration.
The NSS made a special mention of India in the context of Indian Ocean security in tune with its strategic calculus on the Indo-Pacific region as outlined by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October this year.
On Pakistan, the Trump administration’s NSS said that it will “press” Islamabad to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts and demonstrate that it is a “responsible steward” of its nuclear assets. “The prospect for an Indo-Pakistani military conflict that could lead to a nuclear exchange remains a key concern requiring consistent diplomatic attention,” the NSS 2017, released by Trump administration said.
“We will press Pakistan to intensify its counter-terrorism efforts, since no partnership can survive a country’s support for militants and terrorists who target a partner’s own service members and officials. The United States will also encourage Pakistan to continue demonstrating that it is a responsible steward of its nuclear assets.”
“We will help South Asian nations maintain their sovereignty as China increases its influence in the region,” it said, in an oblique reference to Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.
In this context, it said that the US will encourage the economic integration of Central and South Asia to promote prosperity and economic linkages that will bolster connectivity and trade. And “we will encourage India to increase its economic assistance in the region”, the NSS said, echoing Trump’s South Asia strategy in August this year when it had asked India to do more in Afghanistan. New Delhi has, since then, committed to undertake more than 100 projects.
The Trump administration’s NSS was particularly harsh on Pakistan, as it said that the United States continues to face threats from “transnational terrorists and militants operating from within Pakistan”.
It said that US interests in the region include countering terrorist threats that impact the security of the US homeland and our allies, preventing “cross-border terrorism” that raises the prospect of military and nuclear tensions, and preventing nuclear weapons, technology, and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists.
“We seek an American presence in the region proportionate to threats to the homeland and our allies. We seek a Pakistan that is not engaged in destabilizing behavior and a stable and self-reliant Afghanistan. And we seek Central Asian states that are resilient against domination by rival powers, are resistant to becoming jihadist safe havens, and prioritize reforms…. We will insist that Pakistan take decisive action against militant and terrorist groups operating from its soil,” the NSS said.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry responded angrily and said that NSS has made “certain unsubstantiated allegations towards Pakistan”.
“Pakistan rejects such unfounded accusations that belie facts on ground and trivialize Pakistan’s efforts for fighting terrorism and our unmatched sacrifices to promote peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said.