The incoming Joe Biden administration has chosen a foreign policy team of liberal internationalists in an era of hard-edged realism. The question for New Delhi is not whether they have knowledge or affection for India. There is an equilibrium in the India-United States (US) ties from which no administration will stray far. The question New Delhi needs to ask is whether the incoming Biden administration understands that the tenets of an earlier post-war global order increasingly no longer hold true. And that the primary reason for this is a powerful and pugnacious China.
Mr Biden’s senior-most appointments, Anthony Blinken as secretary of state and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, are drawn from the Obama administration. The first Obama administration was a mix of isolationism and naivete. The second was a belated attempt to pushback against Beijing. Going by the statements of the Biden team, it is the experience of the second Obama term that animates them. But while they talk of the need to confront Chinese hegemony, this goes hand-in-hand with a desire to cut back US defence expenditure.
The priority of the Biden administration is to restore the credibility of the US’s network of allies. This would allow them to use diplomacy to compensate for any military roll-back. So far, India has been included in this cluster. Much will depend on how much cooperation develops between the two in technology, climate and defence. It is not that failure on these fronts will make India and the US enemies. However, it will determine whether either country is in each other’s inner circle or whether both will move in some more distant orbital.