<b>Fifth Columnist :</b> Trump’s next move
New Delhi is keen to know the future of comprehensive DTTI with the US
Archives of the 1962 India-China war, which were declassified in the 1990s in the US, have this particularly poignant moment when all seemed lost for the Indians.
China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) was seriously threatening the entire Brahmaputra Valley and it was clear that unless something was done immediately to stem the tide, virtually the whole of Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland would go into Chinese hands. From that point, Calcutta would have become walking distance.
The perennial anti-imperialist (read anti-American) Jawaharlal Nehru was down on his knees, pleading for American assistance. An urgent and frantic second letter he wrote to President John F Kennedy, on November 19, 1962, highlighted India’s desperate straits. “Chinese threat as it has developed involves not merely the survival of India, but the survival of the free and independent governments in the whole of this sub-continent or in Asia,” pleaded India’s first prime minister.
From then on, recalled veteran diplomat John Kenneth Galbriath several years later, it became a question of how and not whether, India needed US help.
Then came Kennedy’s classic response, giving the Chinese troops 48 hours to pull back or else face the wrath of the US President, who tied up as he was with the Bay of Pigs crisis, conferred with his aides on how best military assistance could be provided to a poorly-armed Indian military.
Not surprisingly, exactly 48 hours later, the Chinese had announced a unilateral ceasefire, pulling out of Indian territory, without laying down any pre-conditions. Much as liberals and free thinkers wallow about the role of the US as the world’s super cop, it is anyone’s guess how things would have shaped in 1962 if the US President was not Kennedy, but Donald Trump.
The new US President in a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week has affirmed intentions of his close ties with India – indeed, some observers have been keen to point out, there are a number of parallels between Modi and Trump, not the least of which is the outrage of the liberal establishment at being proved wrong in their electoral assessment of two politically incorrect leaders of their countries.
The big point therefore is this: how would US allies stand with Trump’s new doctrine, which puts `America first’, providing an inward trajectory to the world’s most affluent military and economic power in the last 100 years?
In doing so, the US President is seemingly going back on one of America’s most enduring foreign policy tenets, 1823’s Munroe Doctrine, which sought to protect US interests, first vis a vis the Europeans and then, in effect, gave the country sovereign rights to protect its interests, wherever they mattered on the face of the globe.
In a tense – sometimes even hostile South Asian neighbourhood – Trump’s and American reaction would be critical to India’s interests. The growing bilateral political and economic ties between the two countries in the last over-a-decade, irrespective of the party in power, has made it imperative that these relations be put on a sound footing, than it has been thus far.

Despite the fact that Trump has said all the right words to Modi and for the US (and the rest of the region) to be apprehensive about the rise of China, India would indeed be the crucial pivot for an anti-Beijing axis, New Delhi is still looking at how things evolve in an `America first’ posturing. And if the new US President decides to turn everything Obama on its head, what happens to Indo-US defence ties, a lot of which was fashioned in the Obama years?
Of particular interest is the comprehensive India US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative or DTTI. Started as brainchild of US defence secretary Ash Carter in 2012, the first four projects under DTII were announced during President Obama’s visit to India as chief guest at the 2015 Republic Day parade. India and US are currently working on six projects under the DTII framework, while two other US proposals are under consideration of the defence ministry.
The DTTI, in essence, is the most comprehensive defence relationship India has had with any country since the defence cooperation agreements signed with the then Soviet Union back in the late sixties and early seventies. The only difference is that DTII system represents a substantially higher upgradation of technology. It includes among other projects, joint biological tactical detection systems, micro unmanned aerial vehicle, advanced tactical ground combat vehicle and a newly-proposed future vertical lift helicopter.
The initial signs are good. In his testimony to the US Senate during his confirmation earlier this month, new American defence secretary Gen James Mattis highlighted the centrality of DTII, saying that the bilateral relations have grown “to benefit both the countries.” Still, it is early days. While the Obama administration was keen to push this vital, all encompassing defence pact with India with Carter at the helm, the crucial question is where does it go from here?
Hopefully, policies are more important and enduring than personalities and it is this, coupled with harsh geo-political realities, which should pave the way ahead, as far as Indo-US defence and security ties are concerned.

Ranjit Bhushan