New Delhi: This is not intended to rain on India’s party but the country’s description as a “global power” by the United States should be taken with a generous pinch of salt. Countries do not become global or Great Powers because a foreign power meretriciously bestows that title. Intrinsic substance makes that possible and India is a very long distance from becoming a global power much less a great one whose turn may never come. The United States is a declining power relative to rising China and its most hopeless president in modern times is using India as a cat’s paw against China. Smart strategists in the country should wake up to the danger of the United States pitting India against China more so since the Narendra Modi government would think nothing of putting India in harm’s way to get into Washington’s good books. A post-Narendra Modi government has its task cut out to return India to the safe and secure shores of Non-Alignment and strategic autonomy.

The United States has the most divided and directionless leadership in years. Donald Trump, moreover, enjoys the lowest rating of recent presidents in the first year of office. A United States president with abysmal ratings has negligible public support. Although the president’s term is fixed, a president can scarcely function if broad public opinion turns against him. Overwhelmingly re-elected, Richard Nixon was a helpless puppet in the hands of public opinion once the Watergate scandal and antiwar sentiments occupied mass consciousness. Trump compares nothing to Nixon’s command of geopolitics being the president who extricated the United States from Vietnam and compelled the Soviet Union to detente by inter alia playing the China card. None of this mattered for the American public which wanted Nixon gone. In contrast Donald Trump has no successes: his latest tax proposal heavily favours the rich and should further inflame the middle class against him. Indeed, vast swathes of the population have no stake in his presidency. He will go unmourned.

This is not all. Not being his own man on geopolitics, Donald Trump can be influenced to take extreme positions by ideological and interested parties. His cabinet secretaries for state and defence are sober men with middle-of-the-road views. They prefer diplomacy to military action because military action in itself cannot win peace. On that metric the United States has not succeeded in one major war since World War II. Trump, on the other hand, believes in the resolving powers of war having dodged the Vietnam War draft himself. In Trump’s war beliefs, he has friends like Steve Bannon. Bannon has left the White House but still exercises control on Trump. Bannon was behind Trump’s disaster in Alabama. Bannon was a US naval officer in the Pacific and has not reconciled to China’s rise.

The rise and fall of Great Powers is one of the magnificent constants of Modern history. Great Power rivalry has resulted in total wars or in the Cold War of the past century attended by surrogate wars where lesser powers and tiny states have borne the brunt of the rivalry. The decline of America accompanied by the rise of China has led to apprehension of a third kind direly called the Thucydides’s Trap. The Athenian historian, Thucydides, wrote of war as inevitable when the growth of Athenian power provoked fear in Sparta. War between the United States and China will be calamitous. It will be a nuclear war with no winners. This writer has no apprehension of the Thucydides trap being purely sprung between the United States and China. The danger is of America employing middle or lesser powers to attrit China. Japan and South Korea are small countries with small armies. India is huge in comparison. India should be wary of US designs.

China is quite capable of contesting the United States on equal terms. India wisely should stay away from their rivalry. China is India’s immediate neighbour to the north. The United States is thousands of miles away. Once a Great Power goes into decline, reversal is difficult. China and India have a longstanding border dispute to resolve. India needs at least a quarter century of peace to raise the bulk of its population above the poverty line. (In the Vasant Kunj neighbourhood where this writer stays, refuse collectors separate the chapattis and sell it. It is an aspect of urban poverty you will never know.) Tags like “global power” are vain distractions that should not sway India from its core purpose of nation building. Narendra Modi is unlikely to understand any of this. He is besotted with power and America. The prime minister who succeeds him should return the country to sane and sensible geopolitics.