Tag Archives: President Trump

Trump and the Broken Gulf: Will India be Able to Swim Through?

ISSSP Reflections No. 54, June 13, 2017

Author: Shreya Upadhyay

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In what has been termed as a step to “fight terrorism”, the three Global Corporation Council (GCC) countries– Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain- and Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Maldives recently announced their decisions to sever ties with Qatar accusing it for fomenting terrorist and sectarian groups, including the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. This article looks at the following: What is the US’ Response to the Crisis? Can this this lead to leadership change in Qatar? What role can India play in the recent Gulf Crisis? 

Trump’s Response to Gulf Crisis

Two weeks back, Trump’s speech in the Middle East demanded that Muslim states fight terror. The recent developments an therefore be termed as the first fallout of what is being referred to asTrump doctrine’. Still in its nascent stage, the doctrine espouses the US’ involvement in the war against extremist ideology and organisations in the region and those who back them. In this war, it seeks the support of Saudi and its allies, termed as the Arab NATO. The third and arguably the most pivotal aspect of the doctrine is confronting Iran—“the axis of evil”. The analysts have read it as an anti-Iran Sunni alliance bolstered by Israel’s participation.  

Trump during the visit firmly placed the US as a strategic ally of the Saudi Arabia. This was reversing Barack Obama’s policy of avoiding Middle East conflicts and a redialing of the Bush era. The US-Saudi alliance has picked up with more than $400 billion defence and other trade deals in the coming ten years.  For Saudis, who viewed Obama’s policies towards the region and especially Iran as a nightmare, Trump’s presence is a welcome step.  With US support, Saudi Arabia is confident to flex its muscles in the region and take on Iran.

However, for the United States it’s a sticky situation with Trump storm tweeting his praise on Saudi Arabia and allies for severing ties with Qatar and also taking credit for it while 11,000 US troops are housed in the island, considered one of the most crucial stations in fight against the ISIS, with B-52 bombers carrying out air strikes from the Al Udeid Base against ISIS supply warehouses in Iraq and Syria.

Towards Qatar’s Leadership Change?

Qatar’s maverick attitude in the region has always been an irritant for Saudi Arabia. However, in 2013 when the former emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa, handed over power to his son Sheikh Tamim, known to be close to Saudi royal court, many in the Gulf thought that this would lead to policies more in sync with that of the region. However, Qatar, with a total population of less than 3 million and a modest military force of 11,800 wants good working relations with all. It shares good ties with Iran, Israel as well as the US. Its ‘modern’ Wahhabist ideology is portrayed as accommodative and relatively open. In being the voice of reform, it backed Arab Spring and Moslem Brotherhood much to the chagrin of Saudi Arabia and allies. Qatar has also been bold in its support to Hamas and Hezbollah calling them “legitimate resistance movements”, which are often viewed by many, including the US, as terrorist organisations. Qatari media organisation Al Jazeera is also seen with skepticism by Arab governments and has been criticized often for its take on Moslem Brotherhood and Arab spring.

Just after Trump’s visit, Qatari media published remarks apparently given by emir Sheikh Tamim, with a pro-Iran stand and cautioning the Saudi kingdom to not become too dependent on Trump.  While Qatar denied making these comments emphatically stating that its news agency had been hacked, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the allies launched the diplomatic attack on the island nation.

Credibility of Qatar royal family to rule has also been vilified in the media that made public a letter signed by the 200 descendants of ibn Abdul Wahhab demanding the renaming of a Qatar mosque named after the 18th-century cleric even though most Qataris practice Wahhabism. There has been a questioning of the right of the royal family to rule the nation. It can therefore be said that pressure is being mounted on Qatar to change its posture to suit that of others in the region.

Back in 2014, Gulf states had withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar in an eight- month long diplomatic crisis. That had resulted in Qatar closing the al-Jazeera Mubashir of al-Jazeera network. However, this time the sanctions are much more crippling. The small country has been isolated with land, sea and air routes closed off. That will have repercussions on movement of people. Qatar imports almost 90 per cent food from outside, making it vulnerable to food and water insecurity. If the crisis continues there can be issues procuring infrastructure and construction material. Qatar’s shipping industry and ports, as well as its flagship air carrier, could face significant problems. Its banking system could come under major strain if foreign deposits are withdrawn.  

Should India Be Worried?

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj termed the development as an internal matter of the GCC and played down its impact stating that India has good ties with all regional rivals.

However, the region plays a strategic role for India. As much as 65 per cent oil comes from the region. New Delhi is the second largest buyer of Qatari liquefied natural gas (LNG), after Japan. India’s Petronet LNG imports 8.5 million tonnes LNG from Doha every year.  As many as 6.5 million diasporic population is settled in the region with over half a million in Qatar alone sending almost $4billion dollars in remittances. India’s corporate sector too is increasingly pursuing business opportunities in Qatar. Companies, particularly in construction/infrastructure and IT, have operations in Qatar, L&T, Punj Lloyd, Shapoorji Pallonji, Voltas, to name a few.

The present Indian government has been working towards forging good strategic ties with the countries in the region. Not only trade and people, the recent years have seen enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia and UAE. Cooperation has been going on intelligence sharing and sending back people with Islamic State’s  links. Modi visited Qatar and hosted the Emir in New Delhi last year. However, the present situation brings out dilemma for New Delhi to act. In principal, it wants all parties at the negotiating table and would not want to take sides. Till now neither side has even tried using India as a leverage. However, this might not be the case in case the political crisis deepens.

About the Author

Shreya Upadhyay, Consultant at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at <vini.shreya@gmail.com>

Trump’s End Game in Middle East

ISSSP Reflections No. 53, May 26, 2017

Author: Shreya Upadhyay

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US President Donald Trump first international nine-day tour comprises three major religious capitals of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. With that, he chose to plunge straight into the middle East politics with sit downs in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine. This article looks at Trump’s first diplomatic mission and analyse the contours of his endgame in the Middle East.  

A Pan Arab, US, Israel Coalition: Targeting Tehran?

Trump’s perfectly tailored speech on “radical Islamic extremism in Saudi Arabia urged the Muslim countries to take lead in combating radicalisation.  The President also held separate session with leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council to discuss the civil war in Syria and potential “de-escalation zones” to provide safe areas for civilians.  

In recent years, fears of a rising Iran have started to chip away at differences among Arab countries. Israel has also voiced her wish to improve ties with Saudi and other Gulf countries as part of an initiative that would draw Palestinians into a peace deal and create a broad front against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. During his visit Trump addressed major issues that are of immediate concern to the US. ISIS and other radical Islamist factions in the region remain a threat. However, Syria and Iran take remain of particular concern for the US. In his speeches he sent a strong message to Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions.  Interestingly, till now Trump has not ‘ripped up’ the Iran nuclear deal till now due to what the analysts see as reflecting business interests at home and diplomatic interests abroad.  However, Trump has accused Iran of funding, training and equipping terrorists and militias.  

Trump administration is taking up “Arab NATO” rather seriously and working towards closer security coordination between key Arab states and more burden-sharing to maintain the security of the region. A budding coalition of the United States, Israel and Arab leaders, largely arising from their shared view of Iran as a growing national security threat seems to be taking shape.                                                     

The Ultimate Israel- Palestine Peace Deal

The US President hammered the requirement of re-invigorating an Israel-Palestine peace process stating it was important for establish a common cause with the Arab neighbours in order to challenge Iran. It should be noted that even in the past, US Presidents ranging from Jimmy Carter to Obama have expressed confidence in their ability to bring the two sides together. Obama was certain that peace would occur under his watch that he told the United Nations in his 2010 address that it was possible the dream of a Palestinian state could be realized in the next year. The talks have, however, been moribund since 2014.

Trump during the visit avoided addressing thorny issues that have stalled peace efforts for decades. Instead, in his talks with the Israelis and Palestinians, he sought common sets of principles to build momentum for peace. However, his speech was missing specifics and bordered largely on rhetoric and goodwill.

The Israeli side was already miffed with revelations that the US president had shared sensitive intelligence with Russia. Another strain was backtracking on a campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, that led to a fracas between American and Israeli officials planning for Trump’s visit. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to join Trump on his visit of the Western Wall, but was snubbed. US officials declined to say whether the Western Wall belonged to Israel. Western Wall and the surrounding area holds an important place for the Israelis as well as the Palestinians. The US has withheld recognition of Israeli control of the area until there is a deal.

On paper, both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have made right noises about their readiness to negotiate. However, in reality they face domestic constraints on their freedom to manoeuvre. A peace deal still remains elusive till the five core issues (borders, security, Jerusalem, a right to return for refugees and mutual recognition) are not addressed.

Challenges to Trump’s Policy in Middle East

A new US president with a different foreign policy is a welcome step for the Middle Eastern leadership. Moreover, the region views Trump as someone not beholden to a particular ideology. That gives him some leeway and freedom. However, there are challenges to achieving the Arab-Israel peace and forging a regional security alliance against Iran and Syria.

  1. Regional Issues: One of the biggest issue for Trump is the distrust in the region. The level of disbelief between Israel and Palestine exists not only on the leadership level but also among the public. The Gaza war that started after the breakdown of the 2014 talks have worsened the situation. The issue of trust not only exists between Israel and Palestine but even within Palestine with the rift between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah, led by Abbas, growing deeper in recent months. Israel on its part is sceptical of the entire region. Till now the US ensured that Israel must maintain a ‘Qualitative Military Edge’ in the region and therefore constrained its military sales to Gulf. Trump’s recent $110 billion defence deal with Saudis is sure to attract grumblings of discontent among those in Tel Aviv.
  2. Russian Influence: In the past few years, Russia is reasserting its influence across the globe, including Middle East. The starting point was intervention in Syria where Russians have put boots on the ground. Other than that there is growing Russian involvement in several other Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Israel with which the US had built strong ties over the decades. Russia is also coordinating with many of these countries against the ISIS. Netanyahu has made three visits to Moscow in the last two years and Putin has also tried to organise a summit between Israel and Palestine, an area traditionally dominated by the US. For the Trump administration, it is therefore crucial to strengthen ties with the region and find ways in which Russia and the US can collaborate on increasing the safety and security in the region. Notably, the US government were caught off guard with Putin’s presence in Ukraine and Syria. The US needs to be mindful of Russian activities in the regions such as weaponising Iran, and other activities to undermine US interests in the region.   
  3. Saudi Money: Analysts have questioned whether the Saudi kingdom is in a position to afford the deal thanks to its flailing economy due to volatile price of oil and massive deficits.  Saudi’s forex reserves are plummeting at an alarming rate due to plunge in oil prices. Even as the regime recognised conceded its weakness in the Vision 2030 unveiled last year, its spending of billions of dollars only shows economic lunacy and too impractical to be honoured.   
  4. Domestic Constraints: Trump took his first foreign trip amidst mushrooming domestic challenges. His public approval ratings continue to revolve around 40 per cent, a low mark for a new US President. However, he received a royal welcome from the middle eastern leadership and got some goodies to take back home as an example of Trump as a deal making President helping America domestically. However, the Trump administration may find congressional opposition to the some of the promised defence equipment, amounting to as high as $86 billion, that can be a source of instability in the region. 

About the Author

Shreya Upadhyay, Consultant at ISSSP, NIAS. She can be reached at <vini.shreya@gmail.com>

East Asia 2017: In the age of Donald Trump

East Asia 2017: In the age of Donald Trump

NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 15 | Author: Prakash Panneerselvam | March 2017

To read the complete report click here

To cite: Prakash Panneerselvam. “East Asia 2017: In the age of Donald Trump,” NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 15. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, March 2017.

The power relationship in East Asia depends on the interaction between the three big powers – the US, China and Japan. In the age of Donald Trump, East Asian countries are worried about Trump’s precarious view on the alliance system and regional affairs. The sea-change in the US foreign policy has not only created uncertainty on the economic and strategic front but it also significantly impacted the fate of East Asia.

This report examines and assess responses of Japan, Korea and China to Trump besides looking at emerging issues in the region that might pose a serious challenge to the new US administration.

United States 2017: Trump and Asia

United States 2017: Trump and Asia

NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 14 | Author: Amit Gupta | March 2017

To read the complete report click here

To cite: Amit Gupta. “United States 2017: Trump and Asia,” NIAS Strategic Forecast No. 14. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, March 2017.

On the campaign trail Donald Trump made a series of provocative statements about dealing with China and the broader Asian region. He suggested that his administration could impose 45% tariffs on China, accused Beijing of currency manipulation, and swore to withdraw the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

After being elected, President Trump took a congratulatory call from the President of Taiwan and even questioned the rationality of the United States’ decades long one-China policy. Added to these proclamations was the insistence that a Trump Administration would not tolerate a nuclear and aggressive North Korea.

Where is the Trump Administration likely to go in its dealings with Asia?

Conducting Academic and Policy Research related to National and International Security Issues
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