Prof. Sumit Ganguly is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, Bloomington.
A specialist on the international and comparative politics of South Asia. He is the author, co-author, editor, or co-editor of at least twenty books on the region.
His most recent books are Deadly Impasse: India and Pakistan at the Dawn of a New Century (Cambridge, 2016), Ascending India and Its State Capacity co-authored with William R. Thompson (Yale University Press, 2017) and The Future of US-India Security Cooperation edited with Christopher Mason (Manchester University Press, 2021).
In 2018-2019 he was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the South Asia Institute of the University of Heidelberg. Professor Ganguly is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a columnist for Foreign Policy.com.
Dr. Pramod Jaiswal, Strategic Affairs Editor at Khabarhub, spoke to Prof. Sumit Ganguly on the issues related to Biden’s Foreign Policy.
How do you assess President Biden’s Foreign Policy doctrine? Do you see Biden’s foreign policy priorities in line with his hallmark, “America is back” that he proclaimed after taking office?
I certainly think so because you can see the United States’s re-engagement with the world, the decision to return to the Paris Climate accords, an attempt to revive the US-Iran nuclear agreement, attempts to restore the degree of calamity with western European allies, contrary to popular belief consultation with Western European allies on critical issues and a focus on competition with Russia and China who are the principle antagonists of the United States.
The Biden administration has signaled its intention to “right-size” the U.S. military presence in the Middle East and began the process by pulling anti-missile systems out of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. Will we be observing a significant restructuring of the US military footprint in the Middle East?
One imagines that’s going to be the case, though I think the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will necessitate a certain US military presence in the Middle East, largely to maintain what Biden refers to as ‘Over the Horizon’ counter-terrorism capabilities and to pursue these ‘Over the Horizon’ counter-terrorism capabilities, the US will have to maintain a sizeable military presence in the Middle East.
Though my suspicion is that Biden’s principle concern is really focused on the Indo-Pacific where the competition with China which had already begun to some degree under the Trump administration will probably continue, especially given China’s continued assertiveness in various parts of Asia.
The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is heavily criticized, particularly the way it was done. What could have been done better?
Even though I supported the American withdrawal from Afghanistan because I don’t think that a continuing presence would have produced a different outcome and I do not share the view that maintaining 2500 troops would have made a material difference.
On the contrary, those 2500 troops would have become ideal targets, both for the Taliban and for ISIS and there would have been continued blood-letting in Afghanistan without making a material difference in terms of sustaining the Ghani government.
That said, I think better preparations could have been made, small incremental steps could have been taken to ensure that flights were in place, Bagram air force base was used as a platform for the flights and I am not entirely sure why the Biden administration, which has demonstrated considerable organizational capacities in other areas, seems to have dropped the ball when it came to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
China and Russia have not outrightly spoken in support of the Taliban but at the same time, they emphasized their approach would be realistic and, in their interest, hence how and where does China and Russia’s equation with the Taliban push the future of Afghanistan towards?
Much depends on what they do because the immediate need for Afghanistan under the Taliban government is humanitarian assistance, and neither Russia nor China have never demonstrated a great capacity for humanitarian assistance or a compelling interest in providing humanitarian assistance. So, it remains to be seen what exactly they’ll do.
Obviously, there is a certain amount of delight in Moscow and in Beijing with the American withdrawal because essentially, it reduces the American military footprint just at their doorstep and consequently, there is a certain amount of pleasure that Beijing and Moscow have derived from what seems like a rather ignominious American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But that said, Afghanistan is in a state of crisis and indeed faced with a complex crisis of governance and the maintenance of political order and even simply feeding its own population at a time when its coffers are empty.
And with the Americans having embargoed $10 billion which Afghanistan has in American banks and has exerted pressure on the IMF and the World bank not to work with Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is really at the mercy of a small number of NGOs who are providing much-needed assistance. So, under these conditions much remains to be done by Russia and China if they really want to make a material difference in Afghanistan and alleviate human suffering. Whether or not they will do that remains an open question.
What will follow the ‘US’s War on Terrorism’, is it the ‘War on China’?
I don’t think there’s going to be a war on China, but I think there will be intense security competition with China especially in light of Xi Jinping’s unrelenting approach towards the United States for sustaining a level of competition with the United States which he does not seem willing to give up on.
Also given that the Biden administration seems to care at least rhetorically about human rights, something that the Trump administration had all but completely abandoned cozying up to some of the most squalid regimes in the world, ranging from North Korea to Russia.
That at least has come to an end under the Biden administration and one hopes that the Biden administration will put some teeth to its commitment to human rights and values.
This of course is entirely unacceptable to Xi Jinping who sees this as unwarranted interference in his country and is continuing with the crackdown in Hong Kong and at home.
So, I suspect that the USA and China, though they may cooperate in particular areas like international trade or climate change, will still be locked into a competitive relationship.
Even though Biden has often framed US relations with China and Russia in ideological terms, his actual policies towards the two powers have not been the same. In your view, has Biden prioritized the competition with “rising China” well above Russia, aiming to establish a rather stable and predictable relationship with the latter?
I think that’s mostly correct, though I think there is still an element of ideological competition with Russia because Russia basically is suggesting that the American model of liberal capitalism and democracy is not a workable model.
Look how badly the US handled or actually mangled the COVID-19 crisis and on the other hand, how well China has managed the COVID-19 crisis.
There are a host of other problems of deep inequality in the United States which remain unaddressed that the US’s falling behind on infrastructure.
So, an element of ideological competition to demonstrate that liberal capitalist democracy can still work, will remain with Russia and certainly with China. And consequently, I think with both countries not only will there be competition in the material realm but also in the ideational realm.
As Biden rallied American allies at the G7 meeting of wealthy democracies and treaty partners at NATO, before his sit-down with Putin. Was this sequencing a strategy or a symbolism to create a unified-front posture in order to bolster Biden’s position regarding Russia?
I think it was both strategic and symbolic and symbolism does matter especially after the Trump administration which treated longstanding allies in Western Europe in the most cavalier fashion and cozied up to the squalid leadership of Vladimir Putin.
So, I think both its strategic and symbolic levels of the statements at the summit were of extraordinary significance.
The first in-person summit of the leaders of the Quad countries is likely to take place in Washington on September 24. Can the meet give a new momentum to the functioning of Quad? What contributions are likely to be achieved out of the summit?
It’s a little premature to predict what will transpire at the summit but I think it is significant that there is an in-person meeting against the backdrop of COVID-19.
This is not a trivial matter and furthermore bear in mind that the Indian Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar recently gave a very ringing endorsement of the QUAD in Australia, this is not insignificant.
India has been one of the more wobbly members of the QUAD but it now seems that India has woken up to the significance of the QUAD and will embrace it in a more fulsome fashion. Much depends on the kind of leadership that Biden provides at this QUAD meeting and also the vision that he spells out for the QUAD.
So, it will really bear watching what transpires at the QUAD and what positions the various members of the board to assume at the September 24th meeting, and most importantly what kind of message does Biden spell out at this meeting.