Prime Minister Modi must engage the White House at the earliest.
New Delhi: Donald Trump may have brought with him to the White House a variation of cabinet diplomacy. Cabinet diplomacy was the norm in the mid-nineteenth century especially after the Napoleonic Wars and prior to the rise of Otto von Bismarck and Imperial Germany.
Cabinet diplomacy and legitimacy went together. As the terms suggest, the hereditary rulers of the principal empires of Europe met amongst themselves to settle issues of war and peace. Public opinion did not count because democracy was virtually unknown outside Great Britain. Mass politics had yet to emerge in the way we know.
All of that changed of course with the advent of Bismarck and then with British predominance of West European power politics after the ouster of the Iron Chancellor. Indeed, in the lifetime of Bismarck itself, he had accepted with good grace the rise of Britain at the cost of Tsarist Russia which indeed complicated Imperial Germany’s own relations with Russia and skewed the balance of power.
Bismarck’s gloriously tangled diplomacy is beyond the needs of this limited piece. But in conceding the British victory in the Balkans and Russia’s commensurate loss in relation to Ottoman Turkey, he was also accepting the final burial of cabinet diplomacy. The Berlin Congress where these decisions were formalized was the last Congress, and then diplomacy as we know it today, modern diplomacy, influenced by mass politics, democracy, ideology and public opinion, came into prominence.
Modern diplomacy has further evolved with a multitude of state and non-state institutions and interest groups persevering to influence it and succeeding in varying and remarkable degrees. Occasionally, modern diplomacy has veered back to an approximation of cabinet diplomacy, with an elected head of government taking full charge of foreign policy to the exclusion of the permanent state institutions of foreign policy. It happened in the administration of Richard Nixon when he came close to becoming an “imperial President”. It may be happening now again with President Trump in the White House.
This writer has no ideological position on it. What happens in America is strictly America’s business. Being the sole economic and military superpower, other countries have to adjust to America’s choices. And if President Trump prefers the course of cabinet diplomacy or a variation of it, India has to be suitably compliant.
In Trump’s version of cabinet diplomacy as it is unfolding, the White House has become the centre of foreign policy-making. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, are apparently the United States’ principal foreign policy designers. The Department of State, according to bits and pieces appearing in the American media, has been cut off from major foreign policy decisions. The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to all intents and purposes, finds himself demoted.
If President Trump is indeed progressing towards renovated cabinet diplomacy, India would have to rapidly reorient its manner of engagement of the United States. The Ministry of External Affairs would discover its traditional diplomatic methods not yielding results in Washington. The Indian embassy in the US capital would likewise recognize the fruitlessness of its exertions since the inauguration of President Trump. President Trump requires the highest level of engagement from India, and it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who would have to step forward and make the necessary moves.
Modi can no longer delay the visit to Washington. Naturally, India would need an expeditious invitation, and there are also always dangers involved in precipitating a summit meeting. A summit based on inadequate groundwork and weak foundations could collapse, and this is a risk India cannot run. Moreover, as this writer has written prior, Modi and Trump are alike in some respects, and there is every danger that this sameness would stoke the forces of repulsion than engender genuine chemistry.
But these risks will not recede with time, and there is no way that Prime Minister Modi can altogether avoid meeting the US President. After all, the circumstances were less propitious when Modi engaged with Barack Obama for the first time; the outcome indeed exceeded all expectations. Modi is pragmatic. He has a way of influencing people. This writer sees every sort of good flowing from a Modi-Trump summit held soon.
With cabinet diplomacy back in vogue, India has to set aside its traditional approach and reach President Trump directly. The British and Japanese Prime Ministers have already called on him. The Chinese President is due soon. Any delay on Modi’s part would affect India’s key interests in the United States.
Editor’s Note: 1. Whilst an Indian American who gratuitously baited a White House official in a shopping mall is getting free Indian press publicity, the Indian government would be wise to ignore her provocative rants. The future of the entire Indian community in the United States is at stake, and no cause is served by abusing the Trump administration. This is the time to work together, not indulge in recrimination. The Indian media ought to be more responsible than giving oxygen to troublemakers.
2. The Narendra Modi government must simply ignore the detractors and forge ahead with good works in Uttar Pradesh. This is the last chance to save the state. This writer would repeat an earlier suggestion to swiftly commission a full-spectrum international airport in Uttar Pradesh in the neighbourhood of Delhi. An infrastructure project this large would provide spectacular growth opportunities that Uttar Pradesh desperately needs. Secondly, it would provide a respite to air travellers from the crowded Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). In that course, Uttar Pradesh could also become the logistics hub of the country and indeed of all of South Asia. This would generate mass employment and raise the state’s GDP. Further, the provision to operate international and domestic flights would bring considerable revenues to Uttar Pradesh and catalyze the tourism and hospitality industries. The airport could be named the Gautama Buddha International Airport and built to rival IGIA.