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India-U.S. Ties in a Trump Presidency

Author: Alyssa Ayres, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia
November 14, 2016


On 9 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with US president-elect Donald Trump to congratulate him on his victory. In no previous change of administration—either in the US or in India—did India rise to the next-day call list. For that matter, in no previous US election did a major party candidate release a campaign ad in Hindi. Or attend a Bollywood-and-anti-terrorism-themed jubilee in Edison, New Jersey.

The Trump administration thus heads into office positively disposed towards India, and will likely continue to pursue stronger ties with the world’s largest democracy, in keeping with a general bipartisan consensus on India. But Trump has signalled throughout his campaign that he will focus on “America First”. The direction the US takes will affect US-India ties as a result. India will likely benefit from impending geopolitical shifts, but will likely find itself at odds with a balance-sheet approach to trade and economic policies.

From the George W. Bush administration forward, the US has actively supported India’s rise towards great power status and a larger role in the world. While it remains unclear how actively a Trump administration would champion a permanent seat for India in the UN security council—in fact, he has said little about his approach to the UN—it seems clear that in their approach to global security concerns, Trump and Modi will find commonality on the urgent threat Islamist terrorism poses.

The Trump administration will need to develop its approach to the US effort in Afghanistan—its longest war, where the Islamic State has now spread. Based on his promise to crush the IS and to calibrate a limited but strong role for the US military abroad, we can anticipate a more counter-terrorism focused approach to Afghanistan than a larger, full-scope governance and democratization assistance effort.

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