India and the United States in the Trump era: Re-evaluating bilateral and global relations

A crowd cheers as the motorcade carrying India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives for him to pay homage at the Mahatma Gandhi Statue in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington September 30, 2014.

Content from the Brookings Institution India Center is now archived. After seven years of an impactful partnership, as of September 11, 2020, Brookings India is now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, an independent public policy institution based in India.

Donald Trump’s election at a time of growing and converging interests between India and the United States necessitates a re-evaluation of several aspects of Indian domestic and foreign policy. This paper identifies four areas in which Trump’s election affects Indian interests: bilateral relations (encompassing trade, investment, immigration, and technological cooperation), the Asian balance of power, counterterrorism, and global governance. It argues that India must continue to engage with the Trump administration and other stakeholders in the United States—including the U.S. Congress, state governments, and the private sector—in all of these areas. New Delhi must attempt to convince Washington that India’s rise is in American interest. This idea provided the underlying logic behind the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations’ engagement with India, but it will be more difficult to sustain given the United States’ new political realities and impulses.

At the same time, India must insure against the prospect of a more “normal” America, an imbalance of power in the Asia-Pacific, divergent counterterrorism priorities, and a relative vacuum in global governance. While in many instances U.S. power cannot be fully replaced or replicated, India will have little choice but to invest in relationships with other countries to achieve its desired outcomes, while more forcefully projecting its own influence and leadership. This will mean deepening bilateral economic, social, and technological relations with the likes of Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, China, and Russia, as well as smaller powers such as Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Canada, and Australia, especially in areas where they boast comparative advantages. Additionally, New Delhi must double down on its “Act East” policy in order to preserve a favorable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region. This will mean enhancing its military capabilities, deepening its Indo-Pacific security partnerships, assuming greater regional leadership, developing eastward connectivity, and participating more actively in Asian institutions, even while continuing to seek opportunities for sustainable economic and commercial cooperation with China. On counterterrorism, India will have to convince the United States to adopt policies that compel the Pakistani state to stop its support and tolerance for terrorist groups. India must also consider the possibility of contributing more in military terms to support the Afghan government in Kabul. Finally, without harboring unrealistic expectations, India must continue efforts to advance its entry into apex institutions of global governance, in order to position itself to play the role of a leading power.