David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, wrote an op-ed for WENY News about the possible consequences of President Trump’s strengthening relationship with India.
Quietly, all but unheralded, Donald Trump has begun tilting significantly away from Pakistan and toward another South Asian ally — a counterweight to China that could help tip the balance, particularly in the region’s potentially most sensitive flashpoint, the South China Sea. That enemy of my enemy is India, and it is not an inconsiderable friend to have.
So, when did this relationship with India develop? The United States and India have been allies for a while, but Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have significantly strengthened their bonds over the few months. Modi visited Trump in Washington last June, kicking off a new set of talks between the nations. And then at November’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, Philippines, the two leaders resolved to strengthen the US-India defense partnership, discussed expanding Indian oil imports from the United States to help shrink the trade gap and agreed to expand a supply line to Afghanistan that India was developing.
In its nuclear arsenal, India already is believed to have 120 to 130 nuclear warheads, compared with China’s 270, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Building a deliverable nuclear capacity has been a vital concern to India, until recently as a deterrent to the nation it has long seen as its mortal enemy: Pakistan, with 130 to 140 nuclear weapons. Which makes the current strategic situation in the region especially fraught, because both nations are believed to be bulking up their arsenals still further.
This confrontation comes at the very moment the Trump administration has entered into a bitter war of words with Pakistan, once a loyal South Asian nation. As he has done in other parts of the world, notably the Middle East, where the President has thrown America’s support firmly to Saudi Arabia, last month Trump announced that he was withholding some $2 billion of security aid from Pakistan as punishment for the regime allegedly harboring terrorists who are actively working to further destabilize Afghanistan.
Not surprisingly, the Pakistani government has begun actively seeking new strategic partners. And, according to Chinese state-owned media, China has eagerly stepped in to assist. Already, China has investments and loans in Pakistan surpassing $100 billion. China has also, as CNN reported, made a major move into India’s offshore neighbor, Sri Lanka, with a 99-year lease on a major port facility and some $15 billion in investments.
All this has led a number of Asian nations, already skeptical of Trump after his withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, wondering how committed the United States is to providing a counterweight to Chinese hegemony across the region. While India could eventually prove to be such a counterweight, China has a significant head start.