America is deeply divided. And that sends the wrong message to China in the Indo-Pacific

By The Print

Whoever wins the presidential race — Donald Trump or Joe Biden — the emerging verdict has made it clear that the US, today, is a deeply divided society, far beyond anyone’s imagination. While this is unlikely to have much immediate impact on the US’ foreign policy, especially towards the Indo-Pacific and China, which are rapidly freezing in place, it could have some impact on the stability in this region if China becomes aggressive in its over-confidence and miscalculates that domestic divisions would prevent the US from responding. But most seriously, in the longer term, a divided America could be a weaker and more inward-looking America, something that might hurt Indian interests.

The last time such deep divisions were visible was during the George W. Bush administration — it impacted both the US’ foreign policy and India, although the ultimate effect was limited because the US, back then, was stronger and could brush off its effects. For example, the internal divisions led to an intense domestic opposition to Iraq and even the Afghan war, and contributed to efforts to delegitimise American power internationally.

For India, though the administration was able to push through the nuclear deal with the US, arguments about American unilateralism undermining the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime became part of the discourse, arguments that echoed the general domestic criticism of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

These were later used by China as part of its reasons for unsuccessfully opposing the nuclear deal and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)’s waiver for India in 2008. But the divisions now may be even deeper, and importantly, the US in 2020 does not have the margin for error because its relative power advantage is far less than what it was.

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