Strategies for autonomy

With Trump, will India be able to maintain its choices?
The scope of Open Embrace , writes Varghese K. George, Associate Editor of The Hindu , in the introduction, is to explore how U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both driven by notions of nationalism, are reshaping the U.S. and India, respectively, and the impact of that process on their external ties. An extract: While Indian foreign policy has evolved over the decades, what has not changed is the concept of strategic autonomy, which is that India would not join any military alliance, would always keep its choices open and would choose what is good for it depending on the situation at a particular moment. Some commentators have derided strategic autonomy as a rigid ideological position that has prevented India from achieving more in the international arena. Some have said that India should have become an ally of the U.S. several decades ago, and by not doing so, it had limited its potential.Even before Mr. Trump, if one considers the last two decades of accelerated engagement between the two countries, the U.S. has made abrupt U-turns on many foreign policy issues, much to India’s discomfort. It has alternated between trying to befriend and confront China — something that continues under Mr. Trump; it has sought to ignore Pakistan, punish it and then woo it with money and weapons; it has tried to contain Iran and then open up to it and, now, contain it again; and it has given conflicting signals on Afghanistan. President Obama wanted India to take a tougher stand against the military junta in Myanmar, and then went ahead for a rapprochement with them himself. Strategic autonomy has allowed India to have its own policies towards these countries to a great extent, in the midst of the flux that the U.S. often contributes to. Mr. Modi and his key adviser in the initial years, S. Jaishankar, did not use the phrase strategic autonomy in the beginning. But in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, Mr. Modi said: “It is a measure of our strategic autonomy that India’s Strategic Partnership, with Russia, has matured to be special and privileged.” The speech itself was an elucidation of the age-old policy of India’s strategic autonomy.
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