New Delhi: The Chinese have a saying that “When the wind blows, the reeds must bend.” Donald Trump cannot be stopped in his trade wars at the moment. He has China, Western Europe, Canada, Mexico and India firmly on his radar to extract trade concessions and India certainly does not have the might to stand up to the United States. Furthermore, the United States senate has Russia and China on its crosshairs for posing threats to US security. India’s military trade with Russia will attract the ire of the senate and the Trump White House will calamitously add fuel to the fire. Bowing to the wisdom of the Chinese proverb, India must bend for the hot winds to blow over. This is not the time to buy the Russian S-400 Triumf however suited it is to India’s air-defence requirements. Nor is it sane to quarrel with the United States on trade. Circumstances demand instead that India batten down the hatches, engage the United States on the friendliest terms and without the smallest show of pique, and hope that the worst of Trump’s moods would soon pass. There is simply no major power that India can trust more than the United States for all that it can offer, from a shared democratic polity to free trade and an open world, to all of which Donald Trump represents an aberration. However long the aberration survives, for one term or two, and even assuming that Robert Mueller’s investigations do not eventually impeach Trump, Trump still does not represent the final and total expression of the United States as a Major Power. The danger is to assume the aberration as permanent reality and mutate foreign policy in step. India could not make a worst mistake. Donald Trump, too, shall pass.

Not for a moment should all this lend the impression that this writer is advocating a special relationship with the United States. This piece also makes no attempt to downgrade Russia whose relations with India are valuable. The fact is simply this. For India to rise economically, it needs the United States more than the remaining two major powers. Russia can make little to no contribution to India’s economic growth. On the other hand, China is a strategic competitor and the country’s security threat number one. No one should have any doubts about this. China realizes the long-term economic threat from India. Combined with India’s overwhelming democratic order, India’s economic rise would challenge China’s pre-eminence in this part of Asia. All this only leaves the United States as India’s economic partner and ally. While Donald Trump is egocentric and insufferable, he is also inerasably an elected leader accountable to the American public and especially to his base. He will work primarily to safeguard US interests and only secondarily that of the world, and may be not even that. The second inescapable fact is that America is broken. For all the good that globalization has brought, it has also considerably hollowed out the United States. US presidents thus far tolerated the situation. Trump will not. He is an old man in a hurry and he would rather go down than give up. And, frankly, it is not in the interest of the world that the United States goes into decline to the immediate and lasting advantage of China. It took two world wars to roll back German totalitarianism. The third, let us suppose, to overcome Chinese dominion of the world, could well end in Armageddon. There is simply no alternative to the United States as the leading world power. If India shows understanding of US distress, it might move the rest of the world, especially the US’s Western allies, to re-engage with Donald Trump. It is best to keep Trump in the fold than cede him to the totalitarians.

Out of pique for the cancelled two-plus-two meeting, India spurned the United States placatory gesture of inviting the Indian defence minister for a solo trip. If the invitation can be revived, it is worth the minister’s while to go. If she could carry to Washington India’s understanding of US cares and concerns, it could undo some of the damage that India’s reckless actions of challenging US tariffs have caused. To further soothe the anxieties of the US senate, India could delay the S-400 with military assent. In any case, it is worth examining the impact for India of the Chinese acquisition of the same weapon in view of their adeptness in reverse engineering and information warfare. Even if the S-400 is a safe bet, it cannot be allowed to hold India-US relations in ransom. From Canada and Western Europe to Russia, China and OPEC Saudi Arabia, Donald Trump’s words and tweets carry the weight of world altering terror. In the circumstances, discretion is the better part of valour. Quiet and patient diplomacy is the need of the hour and not Narendra Modi’s theatrical, hyperbolic and ultimately counter-productive summitry.