Column | US upbeat despite challenges lurking all around

US President Joe Biden. Photo: Reuters

The United States is moving ahead with determination and looks to the future with confidence even as numerous challenges lurk all around. A raging war with the potential to become a global conflict, high inflation, persisting threat of Covid-19 in certain areas, an uncertain election looming large, an octogenarian President who is seeking another term, collapsing banks, the risk of a conflict with China on Taiwan, the challenge to the US Dollar as an international currency and prediction of doom with AI technology and loss of jobs in many sectors are among major concerns.

Masks have disappeared and keeping safe distance to ward off Covid-19 is not in fashion. Travel, both national and international, have gone beyond pre-pandemic levels and there is an air of confidence in business. 

Domestic and overseas situation

The US seems to have put behind them the triple devastating challenges of the 21st century, 9/11, economic meltdown and the pandemic, but there is no effort even to secure a ceasefire on the Ukraine front. The weaknesses of the Russian military machine revealed in the one year of war seem to have emboldened the US to treat the war as an opportunity to defang Russia. President Biden’s visit to Ukraine and his declaration that nothing should be done to encourage Russia to regroup its armed forces for a new attack was a clear indication that the US might find a military solution to the war. He also promised strengthening of the capacity of Ukraine to fight on. 

The atmosphere of normalcy may be the result of a hardened nation, which has tackled multiple challenges and survived. The homeland security has been guaranteed by tough measures on the land and air borders. The US has become less entangled in distant lands even though China has been spreading its tentacles in western spheres of influence like the South Pacific. The threat of Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan is no more considered immediate. 

As for the emerging new world order, the strengthening of NATO and the fissures in the Chinese monolith have given the US some confidence. A China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan axis has inherent contradictions, which the US expects to tackle in the way ahead. One way to deal with the situation is to strengthen alliances like AUKUS and I2U2. (AUKUS is a security pact between Australia, the UK, and the US. I2U2 is a grouping of India, Israel, the UAE, and the US.) The recent loss of US influence in the Middle East and the rise of China in the region are matters of concern and the instability in Israel is another setback. 

Can US count on India?

There is evidence of a re-assessment of bilateral relations being made to figure out which countries the US can count on in a possible conflict with China. India-US relations, which had reached an all-time high towards the end of the Trump Administration, have been affected by the Indian position on the Russia-Ukraine war, but after the G20 summit in Indonesia, the Indian role appeared helpful to find an end to the war. But the lack of Indian success in making progress in this regard during the recent G20 meetings in India so far has been disappointing. The US does not have much to gain from the the other agenda items which favour the Global South more. 

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US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hold a bilateral meeting alongside the Quad Summit at Kantei Palace in Tokyo, Japan, May 24, 2022. PHOTO: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

At least one strategic thinker in the US has categorically stated that India will not side with the US in the event of a war with China because of India’s security imbalance with China and its volatile border with China. India had never seen itself as a military ally of the US and its effort had always been to be a deterrent to China, which would be of value to the US itself indirectly.

The Biden administration’s lack of faith in Indian democracy and the concern about religious freedom in India have also been irritations in bilateral relations. India’s rhetoric against the west in the Russian context has only made the situation more difficult. But the defence partnership, involving exchange of intelligence and supply of sensitive equipment do not seem to have been interrupted. The reported failure by Russia to fulfill its commitments to India on the defence front must be of concern to New Delhi. High-level exchanges are necessary to iron out these differences in light of Chinese belligerence on the border.

The Quad partnership is not military, but it deals with a number of issues like the Covid-19 vaccines, climate change and supply chains which are crucial for peace and development in the Indo-Pacific. India’s participation in the Quad brings the democracies in the region to secure peace and stability. It even provides a model for international cooperation in a diverse setting. In the context of the emerging rivalry between democracies and autocracies, the US and India would end up on the same side and there lies the hope for the future.

Bright prospects

The mood in the United States is upbeat as it expects to come out of the present situation with its primacy in the world still intact. The energy situation in the world is likely to evolve into a favourable situation. American oil companies are making record profits in a war situation. The crises it has faced seem to have energised the people to  work even harder and a mood of optimism has set in among the people. 

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