Strategic Outcome of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Agenda

American approach depicts one thing evidently that US has realised the potentiality of QUAD nations as effective axis to counter China in large part of Indo-Pacific. There seems probability of QUAD evolving as Asian NATO in near future

By Shibdas Bhattacharjee

Foreign Affairs, Opinion

Joe Biden’s victory in the last US Presidential election; a bitter one in the democratic history of America was looked rather with a negative approach by a section not only in the United States but also rest of the world. Prime reason behind this was certainly Biden’s so-called soft approach towards countries like China and Pakistan. But one thing was clear that whatever Biden’s political ideology or philosophy be, as the President of United States, he would be compelled to change his agenda and approach as well as take forward US interests in the given time that do not ratify Washington adopting soft policy towards China. After all, apart from America’s security and strategic interests, the powerful trade lobby of America would compel Biden to change his personal approach regarding Beijing and of course communist doctrine. In fact, throughout his long political career Biden had built an image of a liberal leader and exponent of Left-ideology in extremely Rightist American socio-political order.

Apprehensions were made by certain quarter considering his political image despite no one believed in Biden transforming his ideology into America’s State policy. Another reason was comparison between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in terms of trajectory, policy, election issues and others. This is true that difference between the two leaders seemed evident. But image, perceptions and narratives hardly matter in geo-political or strategic affairs particularly at a time when American dominance is declining as dust falling from the fist across the globe. Even if the worst is taken into consideration that like the European nations, America may adopt the policy of limited and narrow strategic presence and concentrate only on harnessing trade and economic interests, such policy never sounds pragmatic. Today’s reality is economic goal is more dependent on strategic strength in the changed global order. Americans certainly understand that nourishment of US economic interests if looks secured to certain extent, this is mainly because of Washington’s strategic holds in some parts. Classic example of this is definitely American dominance in the oil-rich Arab world.

The saga of American confrontation with Iraq, Syria and others is connected more with economic aspirations than the military agenda of the United States. Same is true in case of China. After all, this is not the age of building political hegemony as was the case before the World War II; the era of European colonialism. The world has come out of the phobia of gaining political hegemony like establishing colonies. There are no doubt several territorial disputes across the world and military confrontations are going on. But beholding the disputes and confrontations expose one important point; strategic significance of all those parts and involvement of major parleys of the world in the dispute for strategic interests. Naturally, this is rather foolish to believe the narrative that US President can change the discourse. Then how can Biden be different?

But the relevant point is despite increasing challenge from China, Washington and Pentagon are bewildered about how to deal with China. In fact, Americans are yet to formulate any game plan to restrict China. If seen pragmatically, despite strong anti-China narrative of former President Donald Trump, nothing substantive happened through the policy initiatives of Trump administration in this context. Problem with American policy makers has been they have overestimated US capability and to certain extent remained contained about US strategic holds. Perception of American leadership has been utterly wrong one; Washington alone can restrict China. Existing situation has badly exposed American standpoint as futile and illogical. This is true that there are some regions where American strategic dominance seem secured and China will have to travel a long way to evolve as a stakeholder in those parts. But here the point is different. The regions that are virtually under Chinese shade, China has cemented the ground as is the given geo-strategic situation in East Asia, Far East Asia, ASEAN, substantial parts of South East Asia and others.

America has never been a strong presence in East Asia since the emergence of China after fall of Japan in the World War II. During the Cold War era neither US nor the then USSR could build strong base in this region. But if China is occupying larger ground in parts of East Asia and West Asia, along with other factors US policy should be blamed as well. After all, what can endorse American policy towards Pakistan? But whenever point was raised regarding America’s Pakistan policy or emerging situation in Pakistan, this has been perceived as India’s agenda by the American think-tank. But it is Pakistan that is providing space to China and extending Beijing’s influence in adjoining regions. Considering America’s hype on democracy, its policy towards Iran can never be ratified. As far as Iran’s nuclear issue is concerned, US dual policy seems evident. Is Pakistan a more reliable nation than Iran on nuclear issue? Is India irresponsible than Pakistan on nuclear issue? These questions arise considering American policy so far regarding nuclear disarmament. Providing free hands to the countries like Pakistan, America has dug its own grave and present United States seems to have virtually no policy to counter this.

One thing was clear that whatever Biden’s political ideology or philosophy be, as the President of United States, he would be compelled to change his agenda and approach as well as take forward US interests in the given time that do not ratify Washington adopting soft policy towards China

Outlining all these bear special significance as Biden administration has recently documented new US strategic agenda. As per media reports “the Biden Administration has said that by restoring US credibility and reasserting forward-looking global leadership, it will ensure that America, not a more assertive and authoritarian China, sets the international agenda, working alongside countries like India to shape new norms and agreements globally that advance its interests and reflect its values. The comments were made in the Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance–In its interim National Security Guidance, the White House said that this agenda will strengthen its enduring advantages, and allow it to prevail in strategic competition with China or any other nation.—-Reiterating that the US will reinvigorate and modernise its alliances and partnerships around the world, the Guidance said that beyond its core alliances, the US will also double down on building partnerships throughout the world, because its strength is multiplied when it combines efforts to address common challenges, share costs, and widen the circle of cooperation.

——At its root, the White House said that ensuring national security requires them to defend and nurture the underlying sources of American strength, including its people, economy, national defence, and democracy at home; promote a favourable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the US and its allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions; and lead and sustain a stable and open international system, underwritten by strong democratic alliances, partnerships, multilateral institutions, and rules.—-The relations between the US and China are at an all-time low. The two countries are currently engaged in a bitter confrontation over various issues, including trade, the origins of the novel Coronavirus pandemic, the communist giant’s aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea and human rights violations. At the same time, the White House recognises that strategic competition does not, and should not, preclude working with China when it is in its national interest to do so.”

The same report quoted White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stating specifically on Biden’s strategic agenda as “it lays out a vision for how the United States can seize what we view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew America’s advantages at home and abroad. It describes the changed strategic landscape the US faces today and affirms our enduring core national interests, including protecting the security of the American people, expanding economic prosperity and opportunity, and realising and defending the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life. The most effective way for America to out-compete a more assertive and authoritarian China over the long-term is to invest in our people, our economy, and our democracy.

By restoring US credibility and reasserting forward-looking global leadership, we will ensure that America, not China, sets the international agenda, working alongside others to shape new global norms and agreements that advance our interests and reflect our values. By bolstering and defending our unparalleled network of allies and partners, and making smart defense investments. We will also deter Chinese aggression and counter threats to our collective security, prosperity, and democratic way of life. As we do, we will recognise that our vital national interests compel the deepest connection to the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Western Hemisphere. And we will be mindful of both our values and our interests as we engage partner nations. We will deepen our partnership with India and work alongside New Zealand, as well as Singapore, Vietnam, and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, to advance shared objectives. Recognising the ties of shared history and sacrifice, we will reinforce our partnership with Pacific Island stat.”

The policy decisions adopted by Biden administration are not all that easy to implement. Similarly, America claiming to set the global agenda in today’s world keeping aside China does not sound convincing in the given time. The countries that seem standing with US at this crucial juncture will never accept neo-American hegemony for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the decision and policy to counter China have significances. One thing is clear that Biden administration accepts and ratifies other countries as important stakeholders to reframe the global order. Washington and Pentagon have accepted India to play a larger role in this context. This is no doubt significant for India particularly from strategic point of view. America knows very well that it is none but India that can play the role of mediator between United States and the nations of East and Far East Asia as stated in the new strategic agenda of America. So also, American approach depicts one thing evidently that US has realised the potentiality of QUAD nations as effective axis to counter China in large part of Indo-Pacific. There seems probability of QUAD evolving as Asian NATO in near future. Other countries may join QUAD and the new US strategic doctrine has given invitations to the Blocks like ASEAN and countries like Indonesia to join this. Extended base and more memberships in the QUAD have great strategic significance. After all, QUAD nations in the existing situation have limited presence in the vast Indo-Pacific region as far as question of countering China up to South Sea is concerned.

But the relevant point is despite increasing challenge from China, Washington and Pentagon are bewildered about how to deal with China. In fact, Americans are yet to formulate any game plan to restrict China

But apart from anything else, the developments are quite encouraging for India’s point of view. This provides strength to India’s strategic agenda and her larger interests in the region and beyond. Present India is trying to harness the dream of evolving as a major strategic power in the continent. Things are taking shapes likely. But New Delhi must make serious introspection meticulously, study all aspects related to President Biden’s strategic agenda. One thing is true that the new US strategic doctrine has the potentiality of strengthening India’s maritime strategic base. India needs not only displaying existing maritime strength but also empowering further to evolve as a maritime power particularly in the Indian Ocean Region and the periphery. But India’s interests are not confined in restricting China in the naval route. Prime concern for India is to restrict China in the land border, Beijing making base in the adjoining nations and getting alternative economic relationship to outplay New Delhi. India’s strategic interests are securing land border against Pakistan, shielding the country against terrorism-sponsored by Pakistan and dismantling terror network in the POK. Restriction against China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is another point.

India has already proved her capability against China on the military front. Effective strategy for India is to make efforts including these factors in the new strategic framework of Biden. After all, this will never be logical on the part of New Delhi to enhance efforts to strengthen US strategic agenda undermining India’s basic strategic vulnerabilities. Hyping on democracy or advocating liberal doctrine may sound impressive. But these are rhetorical in case of strategic issues and clearly speaking meaningless. India does not need ratification regarding her commitment for democracy and liberal world. India needs her strategic concerns to be ratified and addressed. US accepting India as a strategic power in the Indo-Pacific is no doubt encouraging. However, this is undoubtedly true that Washington is trying to harness US strategic interests through this. India’s stand should be whether New Delhi’s legitimate concerns have been specified properly in Biden’s new strategic doctrine. If not, better option will be putting pressure on beleaguered United States. After all, diplomacy demands such endeavoures. QUAD leaders are meeting soon. Things will be clearer then. However, unalterable thing is enhanced strategic and diplomatic initiatives by India to ensure the maximum so that New Delhi evolves stronger against China, Pakistan, terrorism, and other concerning issues related to India’s national interests. There may be different logic. But is there really so?

-The writer is Assam-based strategic affairs analyst. The views are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda