What Trump’s return will mean for India

A second term for Donald Trump could have dramatic consequences for foreign policy and other big changes for India.
The US election is still eight months away. Opinion polls put Donald Trump ahead in five of the six swing states that will determine the outcome. Now, opinion polls are fallible. In last week’s Super Tuesday primaries in 15 states, Trump beat Nikki Haley by much smaller margins than polls forecast. In 2016, such polls predicted an easy victory for Hilary Clinton, but Trump won.
Regardless, India must prepare for a second Trump term. A powerful coterie around him has already prepared a detailed blueprint to transform America and the entire world order spearheaded by the US in the 20th century. India will have to shift gears accordingly.
The Trump team aims to sack most civil servants and replace them with Trump appointees. The aim is not just to crush an independent civil service but to prosecute those who checked Trump in his first term. This will break the national consensus on political behaviour.

Why India should prepare for the contingency of a Trump second coming


Newcomers will be loyal to Trump, not the Constitution. They aim to destroy the checks and balances of the US system that made radical change so difficult in his first term. Trump aims to expand the executive power of the presidency enormously. If the US courts support him — and the Supreme Court is stuffed with his appointees — the President will be able to steamroller over checks from Congress, state governments, regulatory agencies, and the judiciary.

All regulatory agencies will be filled with Trump nominees. They will change the rules on everything from trade and immigration to the environment and industrial policy. This will make cumbersome new legislation unnecessary since rules can be changed internally without external approval.
Globally, Trump rejects the 20th century order based on multilateral rules covering the whole world for global benefit. He believes these have allowed other countries to prosper at US expense. He will immediately put an import tariff of 10% on all goods, and of 60% on Chinese goods, happily violating the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Trump doesn’t want to be bound by the rules of international institutions
In his first term, he crippled the WTO appellate authority by refusing to sanction judges for vacant posts. His policy is crudely, unashamedly ‘America First’. He will be highly transactional in foreign dealings. He has no use for 20th century globalisation based on global rules that so greatly aided world prosperity. Trump thinks globalisation was better for others than the US.
This has immense consequences for foreign policy. He may leave NATO. He will remain if European allies either greatly increase their defence contribution or else pay Uncle Sam for providing security. Trump loves doing deals. Some analysts ponder on his doing a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine. Others even suggest a deal with China over Taiwan. Such moves would destroy the 20th century consensus on US foreign policy. He could abandon US security arrangements with Japan and Korea, telling them to defend themselves. He will probably be comfortable with Japan and Korea going nuclear in consequence, to ward off China.

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What does this mean for India? First, we must be ready for trade wars. India will be hit by Trump’s omnibus 10% tariff, and should be prepared for additional tariffs demanded by US lobbies. India has recently gone the atmanirbhar way with tariffs on many imports. Trump’s ‘America First’ is atmanirbhar by another name. He will insist on easier access into the India market for US agricultural products, including fruits, nuts, and soybeans. In Trump’s first term, India retaliated against his tariffs on steel and aluminium by imposing some tariffs on US goods. Many disputes went to the WTO and were later settled mutually. The second Trump term promises an expanded trade war.

He opposes both illegal and legal migration. He wants all IT work done in the US and opposes H1B visas for Indians to work in the US. This will thwart progress on a proposed Indo-US Free Trade Agreement.
Trump opposes military adventures abroad. So, will he abandon or weaken the Quad? He is very anti-China, and this constitutes common ground with India. He will happily sell India sophisticated arms. He will also be relaxed on India buying Soviet equipment, contrary to the initial US opposition to buying Russian S-400 missiles.
Trump is erratic and impulsive. He is notoriously inconsistent and may not precisely play the role being sketched for him by the coterie and thinks around him. But he is out to remake the US and abandon its 20th century consensus on economic globalisation and global security. We are in for interesting times.
This article was originally published by The Times of India  on March 9, 2024.

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