New Delhi: India hopes that a United States-Russia rapprochement under Donald Trump will isolate China and make it more manageable in the South Asian context. Unfortunately, geopolitics does not always work in such neat cause-and-effect formats. The greater the distance between the cause and the hoped-for effect, the more the chances grow for distortion. At the most India can control its actions and hope for some desired results. To pin hopes on second and third parties to act in a way to benefit its interests is to be extravagantly hopeful. Foreign policy founded on such hopes usually comes crashing down. It is important and imperative to be cynical and realistic in formulating foreign policy. When a complete establishment outsider like Donald Trump becomes President of the United States in a few weeks’ time, it would be sensible to hedge bets, keep expectations low, and persevere at the best options available. Trump may be wonderful news for India. On the other hand, he may not be. It never pays in foreign policy to put all the eggs in one basket.

India would be well-served to know exactly where it stands in the world. India ranks at the level of the middle powers. Middle powers are powers that are constrained from altering the geostrategic environment entirely to their advantage. All powers, Great and middle powers included, have to keep enhancing their powers because they are embedded in a highly competitive and dynamic matrix. Middle powers, however, have their tasks cut out for them because the pressures on them from the top and bottom are considerable and growing. Great Powers usually tend to reach an equilibrium amongst themselves. The world order depends on their stability. Such a cushion is not available to middle powers like India who have forever to strive and struggle unless and until they break into the big league. India is at this perilous point in history. It has aggregated considerable heft as a middle power but needs that final push to become a Great Power. That final push will have to come from within. No Great Power will assist India to become a Great Power. And India will not become a Great Power if it expects other Great Powers to do its heavy lifting.

The United States, Russia, China and NATO Europe are in the league of the Great Powers. NATO Europe is imploding so it will be excluded from this analysis. Donald Trump sees no objective basis for strained relations with Russia. Trump and Vladimir Putin have a common interest in eviscerating the Islamist threat. That threat has its roots in the Afghanistan jihad of 1979 and anything that old would not be easy to put down. Russia and America have to be very creative in containing Islamism and this needs both hard and soft measures. It is not clear that either Trump or Putin have seen the problem in all its dimensions. They may. They will have to. Right now, we are not there. Relationships founded on one single common interest cannot be expected to be everlasting. Relations between Trump’s America and Putin’s Russia may plunge when the going gets hard. Besides, Trump is bound by the electoral politics of America. And as everyone knows about electoral politics, they have their ups and downs. Winston Churchill was present in one half of the Potsdam Conference. A crushing defeat in the general election of 1945 compelled him to yield his place to the victor, Clement Atlee, for the rest of the conference. There is no guarantee that Trump will be re-elected or even that his first term will go well. He could choke up like Barack Obama.

One could go on. But the point is simply this. India just cannot depend for its security and wellbeing on one kind of behaviour from a set of Great Powers. If India desires a certain kind of behaviour from the world, it must originate a certain set of actions for itself. It must understand fully and finally that Russia has reset relations with India. The earlier relationship of complete trust is over. There is nothing to morally outrage about this. This is standard Great Power behaviour. India should accept the change, lower the relationship level with Russia, and seek compensation in other relationships. As a Great Power, Russia will protect only its interests. As a middle power, India should be even more energetic in finding alternate and compensating partners to Russia. Japan was once a Great Power. A world war defeat and two atomic attacks have made it timid. That provides an opening to India. Japan and India both perceive a common threat in China. The Chinese threat to Japan and India is corporeal as opposed to the disembodied threat of Islamism that could bring the US and Russia together. In other words, there is greater scope for Indo-Japanese partnership than a good chance of lasting US-Russia ties. If a direct way to address the Chinese threat is available to India, why should it bank so heavily on the dubiety of the US and Russia coming together? If you stare hard at the question, the absurdity of the Indian enterprise becomes rather apparent.

This is not to belittle India’s ties with the United States, Russia or the Great Powers in general. Nevertheless, India should understand that it cannot approach foreign policy in the old way. India’s rising power status has alerted the other powers to competition from it. The India of 2016 is not the India of 1947, 1962, 1971 or even 1991 when economic reforms made their way for the first time. India is being interrogated about its power status like never before. With the US in decline and Trump determined to restore his country to greatness, why should India not expect him to interrogate this country harder for concessions? In that event, would overdependence on the United States to counter China not put India to acute disadvantage? And why shouldn’t Russia separately exploit India’s paranoia about China? The harsh rules of geopolitics apply equally and indiscriminately to all. India cannot expect or crave for special treatment. Rather than depend on US-Russia bonhomie to produce a counter to China, India must proactively address the Chinese threat. India and Japan need one another. Japan became an ally of Great Britain against Russian expansionism in the beginning of the last century. Chinese expansionism now makes India and Japan natural allies. Often, a solution lies closer to home than you realize.