WASHINGTON. Presidente lect Donald Trump’s decision to appoint South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as his future UN Ambassador underscores that the incoming administration, which begins on January 20, understands the importance of developing stronger India-US ties.
The bilateral national security relationship is critical for realising both countries’ core defence objectives.
Showing how Trump can set aside political differences for the national interest, Haley initially supported Marco Rubio’s candidacy for the presidency, then that of Ted Cruz, before backing Trump. If confirmed by the Senate, Haley would become the most prominent Trump political appointee representing the more than three million Indian-Americans in the United States. The Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans represents the largest House caucus focused on a single foreign country.
Nikki Haley could also help Trump deepen relations with India. When Trump spoke at the Republican Hindu Coalition in mid-October for a charity concert in New Jersey, he praised the Hindu faith, India as a nation, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong leadership. Then and elsewhere, he described India as a vital ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
The persona l re lat ionsh ip between him and Modi goes off to a good start. Modi was part of the select group of leaders to speak on the phone with Trump the day after his election. The Prime Minister also tweeted to Trump, “We appreciate the friendship you have articulated towards India during your campaign.”
The two men have similarities in their political background – both are outsiders who challenge conventional views by pushing for free-market policies at home and nationalist policies abroad in the face of generally unenthusiastic foreign-policy establishments.
US defence leaders have come to see India as a key US partner. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called India a “linchpin” of US policy in Asia; Chuck Hagel, also former Defense Secretary, termed India a security provider “from the Indian Ocean to the greater Pacific”; and Ashton Carter, who was just in New Delhi to reaffirm ties with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, has said that “the US-India relationship is destined to be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”
India-US defence exchanges have been expanding substantially in number and kind, making the United States the main foreign military exercise partner of the Indian Armed Forces. In particular, the two militaries have participated in frequent bilateral and multilateral exercises during the past decade, with special emphasis on naval cooperation.
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