Editorial Plus

18 November, 2020

8 Min Read

GS-II : International Relations
Under Biden, security empathy, liberal antipathy

Under Biden, security empathy, liberal antipathy

By, Vivek Katju is a retired member of the Indian Foreign Service


  • Mr. Biden has signalled that he will revert to the traditional norms and patterns of American foreign policy and, more so, its diplomacy.
  • The abrasive turbulence of the Donald Trump era will give way to calmer and predictable American policies.

What New Delhi can expect

  • India’s political and security elites have shed their inhibitions of a closer relationship with America.
  • China’s actions since April this year along the Line of Actual Control have strengthened the case of India-America defence and security cooperation.
  • India’s signing of all the foundational agreements and its full participation in the Quad did not attract domestic criticism; this would not have been so in the past.
  • It can also be expected that bilateral trade and immigration issues will positively move ahead from an Indian viewpoint under a Biden administration.
  • It is ironic that at a time when Indian and American interests are becoming increasingly congruent in the security sphere, there is a growing perception among American liberals that India is moving away from its foundational moorings.
  • In the earlier eras, while the security interests of the two countries diverged, the American system acknowledged a commonality in national values.
  • India’s democratic order was held as a good example for emulation by the developing world.
  • India then had the empathy of the liberals while there was antipathy in sections of the American establishment dealing with security.
  • Now, the opposite may happen.

The Obama phase

  • The Narendra Modi 1.0 government dealt with the Obama administration for the first half of its term and the very different Trump administration in the latter half.
  • Obama has condemned the lynching in the name of cow protection, religious tensions, and promotion of freedom of religion and human rights in his speech at the Siri fort.

Security, economy for Trump

  • The Trump administration was not concerned about human rights not only during the Narendara Modi 1.0 government but also after Modi 2.0 began.
  • It focused on the security and economic spheres though its officials made a few ineffectual noises on the administrative steps taken after the constitutional changes in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) on August 5, 2019.
  • It largely and correctly implied that the constitutional changes were within India’s domestic jurisdiction.
  • However, some members of the Democratic Party and the liberal sections of the American media were deeply concerned with the detentions and other steps taken by the government to ensure peace in J&K.
  • These concerns grew with the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
  • Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal who is of Indian origin and is a left of centre Democratic party member from Washington state.
  • She had introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives criticising the administrative steps taken in J&K after August 5 last year.
  • Mr. Jaishankar said that he was not interested in meeting her and went to the extent of cancelling a meeting with the leaders of the House Foreign Relations committee because Ms. Jayapal would have been present at the meeting.
  • Significantly, the U.S. Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, defended Ms. Jayapal and tweeted that she stood with her.

Rights issues on the horizon

  • It may not be as easy under the Biden dispensation to ignore American liberal opinion as it was during the Trump years.
  • They will bring a degree of pressure to bear on the administration to more vigorously pursue the issues of rights including minority rights with the Modi government.
  • The Biden administration will no doubt be partially responsive to these pressures and some lecturing can be expected.
  • Will the Modi government, on its part, continue to ignore the likes of Ms. Jayapal especially because of the certainty that on account of the Chinese challenge to world order, India-U.S. cooperation in security and defence will not slow down?

Way forward

  • Indian diplomacy must realise that it cannot promote the vision of sabkasaath, sabkavikas, sabkavishwas  without engaging the country’s foreign critics even those with seemingly closed minds. And is not opening closed minds the ultimate test of diplomacy?


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