It is no surprise to those who keep an eagle eye on international politics that the current world situation resembles that of pre-WWII. Major world powers are involved in a constant tug of war in forming new alliances & decoupling with the older alliances on both military and economic terms, currently making geo-politics a very volatile subject and hard to grasp and difficult to keep updated with.
We are again living in a bi-polar world with China-US being the leading superpowers, and the next ground for a potential global conflict being the Indo-Pacific region with South & South-east Asia being crucial for American alliance building efforts to counter China. The driving factor for this renewed cold war being the challenge posed by Chinese Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) & digital Yuan based financial order to the so-termed international “rule based” framework (IMF, WB, WHO, FAO, WTO) led by the USA, United Kingdom and other western alliance countries. The link between the aforementioned reasons demands another article, but for now I would try to stress on the effects of this ever changing international situation on Sikh struggle and how and what position the Sikh diplomacy should take to secure its interests in the Indian Union.
It was in 2011 when the then Secretary of State Hilliary.R.Clinton in an opinion article “America’s Pacific Century” came up with the ground work for the 2012 “pivot to Asia” policy that followed during Obama administration. Under “pivot to Asia” the US came to conclusion of rebalancing and redeploying the American military & diplomatic resources towards the Indo-Pacific region. The reason for this re-articulating is that the Indo-Pacific region lead by China will be the epicenter of 4th Industrial revolution with a potential of generating $ 27 trillion (USD) worth of market by the end of the current decade, it all boils down to the fact who will have the largest share of this pie and lead the 4th Industrial revolution of the 21st century.
In 2016 while moving forward with the Obama administration “pivot to Asia”, the Trump administration came out with an “Indo-pacific” policy which churned out key points like, forming new alliances and increasing diplomatic presence in ASEAN & South Asia, strengthen relationship with existing partners and assisting in their rise and development. Both the foreign policy academia and military leadership of the United States has identified China as a key competitor & strategic threat to the American interests in Asia. This policy has also placed a strong connotation of indispensability & paramountcy of Indo-US alliance. In its 2022 version of the Indo-pacific policy, the Biden administration along with Japan & Australia has stressed upon the importance of India as a key player to counter the rise of China. In this background the Sikh diasporas in the west which are in the activism for Sikh homeland are aligning their interests with the US lead west and betting everything on a single horse, this believe is being fueled by misinterpretation & misconstrued decoding of international affairs.
Foundation for the present-day Indo-US partnership (alliance) that manifested into Quad, western Quad, Indo-Pacific partner and natural alliance, was laid during the early days of George W Bush Administration in 2001 when Secretary of Defense designated India as “Friendly Foreign Country”. It was in 2001 when the Bush administration decided to lift ban from all the American economic and military sanctions on India for conducting nuclear testing back in 1998, The move was to promote and strengthen the American strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region. At that time the present US President Joseph Biden, then a Democrat senator and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee strongly condoned the move.
United States trade representative Robert Zoellick while supporting the move that will help promote trade & business interest stated “‘The United States wants to treat India realistically for what it is — a major country and an emerging power.
”We want to engage India in a strategic dialogue that encompasses the full range of global issues,” he added. ”The United States appreciates that India’s influence clearly extends far beyond South Asia.”
George. R. Perkovich an arms expert at W. Alton Jones Foundation suggested that countering China was indeed on the administration’s mind when they think about India.
On the other hand deputy Secretary of State of that time Richard Armitage maintained that the relaxation toward India was not motivated by a desire to create a counterweight to China. ”Whenever you try to establish a relationship with a country which is based on a third country, then you’re doomed to failure,” he said.
These initial steps in opening up towards India evolved into Indo-US nuclear deal, a pet project of then US president George W Bush, where he lauded India as a “Grand Democracy” and US “partner” during his 3 days visit to India in March of 2006. The Indian Prime Minister at that time dubbed Indo-US partnership having no limits. It could be believed that the Indo-US nuclear deal was aimed at countering rise of China in the region, the reason we come to this conclusion is based upon an interview given by former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill in which he states “once the congress (US congress) considers the strategic context of Indo-US relations the deal would pass.” No one would want China to have nuclear dominance over India, he further adds.
The author is of the opinion that at the time when US was punishing both Iran and North Korea for their nuclear program, it made India an exception for the reason of containing & counter growing Chinese influence in the Asia region as the smooth supply of nuclear material and technology will alleviate India from the duality of prioritising the Uranium of either civilian or military use.
Furthermore, statement by Indian Foreign Secretary Shayam Saran in Nov 2005 saying “I think India-US can contribute to much better balance in the Asian region”. On the same note Kapil Sibal the then Science & technology minister stated “if the US faces challenge in the 21st century, it will not be from India, but somebody from it’s neighbourhood. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while stressing on the importance of the deal from a trade point of view stated that “US kept private sector in mind during the deal with India that is expected to generate business worth $13 billion.
Under Obama Administration the upward trend in the Indo-US strategic relationship continued, it saw full implementation of the nuclear deal signed by the previous administration to the signing of historic military agreements between the two countries.
In August 2016 both US & India entered military logistics agreement also known as Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) under which the Indian military bases will be available for US military for repairs, refueling, spare parts etc, & US bases will be available for Indian military for the purpose. Since Indian military does not consist of a significant global presence, it is highly likely that the broader aim of LEMOA will be to countering growing maritime power of Chinese navy in the Indian ocean region. Later in that very year the Obama administration designated India as it’s “Major defence partner” which is a unique definition that the US uses for a very few countries. The American state policy of “pivot to Asia” which evolved into the Indo-Pacific policy that is imperative of India was conceived under the Obama administration, as almost $1.4 trillion worth of American trade passes through the Indo-pacific region.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell in his statement once said that “China cannot become a strategic partner rather than a potential regional rival. During any conflict in near future with China, India will share intelligence information on Chinese military capabilities particularly in the Indian Ocean, US officials further add.
Under the Trump administration we witnessed how the US reinforced and fortified military alliance and strategic relationship with India. We saw under Donald Trump presidency the revival of Quad alliance consisting USA, Australia, Japan & India. Though it was dubbed as a humanitarian alliance as it’s inception is rooted back in 2004 during Asian tsunami joint rescue efforts by the navies of US, India & Australia, but China sees it as an Asian version of NATO. Also, it was under the Trump administration that both US & India signed a crucial military deal named Basic Exchange & Cooperation Agreement (BECA), in late 2020 after India suffered a border set back from China in June of that very year.
Many western experts on international affairs termed this BECA deal to be the last foundational defence agreement signed between the US and India (earlier being LEMOA mentioned above). Under this agreement India will synchronise her missile and armed drones with the American geospatial satellite system in order to get real time access to satellite images and topographical data & aeronautical data for precision targeting. Before the BECA agreement was signed there was another military agreement signed in 2018 named, Communications Compatibility & Security Agreement (COMCASA) which could be seen as a step towards facilitating interoperability between US and Indian military. Usually, interoperability is reserved only for special and close allies of a state, this can give a fine idea of how deeply embedded the American interests are in its relationship with India. While on his visit to India in February of 2020 he signed $3 Billion worth defence deal with India. It is the same year when the Trump administration suspended H1-B visa that effected 2 million Indian immigrants in the US.
Furthermore, the role of Trump administration has not been limited to promoting deep relationship building with India but also insulating it from it’s domestic law of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanction Act, 2017 (CAATSA), under which the US imposed sanctions on both Turkey (being a NATO member & close ally during cold war) & China (biggest trade & business partner) for purchasing Russian made S400 air defence system. The same S400 India got the delivery last November but the deal itself was signed with Russia back in 2018.
Current Biden Administration in it’s Indo-Pacific Policy paper has declared India a “Crucial” partner and has also aimed for assisting India’s rise & promoting it as a regional player. Author is of the view that those members of Sikh diaspora that are in pro-freedom activism that believe the United States Government will be pivotal in their struggles towards freedom should rethink their stand and re-reckon their respective strategy. The Biden administration has not only declared India as an important strategic partner crucial for US security, but is also working towards military interoperability with the Indian military. Moreover, the American intelligentsia is of the view that both the countries should develop an economic framework that could streamline the trade and commerce between them which will further help in establishing new trade-based partnerships with the countries of the Indo-pacific region. The move can be seen as limiting and countering Chinese dominance and preventing China from writing the rules of trade & commerce of that region.
In a recently concluded 2+2 ministerial dialogue both US & India has agreed to take their defence relationship towards military interoperability that means US is ready to gradually replace India’s Russian based military platform with American one which is an important prerequisite for military interoperability. The earlier hint of that level of American assistance was announced by the deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) to Biden administration Daleep Singh during his visit to India earlier this month. While dancing on the similar tune the Indian intelligentsia and academia is pushing India towards US led American camp as well by propping up a narrative about the benefits of joining the western alliance in the face of declining Russia, and how India can benefit from the economic and military clout of the USA.
On another hand the United Kingdom that is both the guiding source of American foreign policy and also a leading power of the western world and its institutions has also made a move to reach out to India. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his opening statement, last week during his visit to India addressed his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as special friend (Khas Dost). Both stressed upon increasing economic engagement and establishing a Free Trade Agreement by the end of 2022. This is critical for the UK as it will help in revitalising the British economy which is going through a phase of stagnation after Brexit in 2020 and which further exacerbated during the Covid pandemic.
While promoting the similar free and “rules based order” in the Indo-Pacific region the UK has decided to open a general export license pertaining to defence equipment that will be tailored to the specific needs of India. Apparently, Boris Johnson has also agreed to India’s demand to set up an “anti-extremist task force” to monitor and control so-called Khalistan extremists’ groups in the UK, he further unequivocally stated that “We don’t welcome people who want to use our legal system to evade law in India.
It is time to wake up to the harsh reality that the future state interests of the Western world led by USA and the United Kingdom are both intertwined and aligned with that of Indian State, and author is of the opinion that highly objective outlook is the need of the hour to decrypt the correlation between the west and the Indian Union. Western policies and actions are underpinning the status of India as their imperative geo-political partner (player) to a behemoth magnitude. It demands that the Sikh diaspora to go back to the drawing board and rethink and brainstorm the future course of action in the volatile world, that is to from ground up.
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