Republican presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy delivered his first foreign policy address last night at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. The biotech entrepreneur used the platform to position himself as an America-first realist and a reviver of the Nixonian foreign policy tradition.
But Ramaswamy’s address — delivered in his signature self-assured, rapid-fire style — displayed a glaring and potentially dangerous ignorance of global realities.
In fact, a Ramaswamy foreign policy would undermine fundamental U.S. alliances and reward non-allies like India and Russia. It would also accelerate China’s rise in the Asia-Pacific region and the emergence of a multipolar world order.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s Foreign Policy Agenda
Ramaswamy says his foreign policy combines a “modern Monroe Doctrine” with the “Nixon Doctrine.” In other words, his priorities are to defend the U.S. homeland and hegemony in the Western Hemisphere and push, a la Nixon, for allies to “be the first protectors of their own national security.”
At first glance, some of this sounds reasonable. America cannot and should not be the world’s policeman. The top U.S. priority should be guarding our physical borders and territory. Our European allies continue to hold back on defense spending and lag behind in funding Ukraine’s war effort. They need to do more.
But America can’t uphold a world order in its favor without allies. And Ramaswamy appears confused as to who exactly is an American ally and what purpose these alliances serve.
In his address, Ramaswamy ignored U.S. allies like Australia, France, Japan, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. When he referred to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it was only in negative terms. Ramaswamy chided other NATO member states for not spending enough on defense. And he proposed denying Ukraine NATO membership as part of a peace deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ramaswamy Wants To Make a Deal With Russia
Ramaswamy says he aims to pull a “reverse Nixon” by splitting Russia from China — America’s chief geopolitical rival.
“Pull[ing] Russia apart from China” is the first half of Ramaswamy’s plan to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan into the end of his first term. (TL;DR: Taiwan would be on its own after 2029.)
Ramaswamy proposes a tradeoff with Moscow: a ceasefire along the current front lines of the Russia-Ukraine war and restoration of economic ties in exchange for a “hard commitment that Ukraine won’t be admitted into NATO.” Russia, Ramaswamy says, must also “exit its military alliance with China” and dismantle its military presence in the Western hemisphere.
Now, a negotiated settlement to the war is likely at some point and will involve some concessions to Moscow, potentially even on the question of Ukraine’s NATO accession.
But Ramaswamy’s proposed grand bargain with Russia rests on something that isn’t true: his claim that Beijing and Moscow are “treaty allies.” The agreement the two countries signed in 2001 is not an alliance. China and Russia aren’t committed to fighting in one another’s defense.
Ramaswamy’s false claim that China and Russia are “treaty allies” helps him oversell the importance of bringing Moscow in from the cold. The China-Russia relationship is increasingly unequal. Russia needs China way more than China needs Russia.
A Deal With India Too
The other half of the Ramaswamy plan to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is to expand the U.S. “partnership” with India.
Successive U.S. administrations have devoted tremendous energy to growing the relationship with India. More recently, during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington this summer, the two countries took steps to advance joint defense engine manufacturing and the sale of combat drones.
But Ramaswamy wants to advance the bilateral relationship must faster. He claims he can get from New Delhi “hard commitments to close the Andaman Sea and block the Malacca Strait if required in the position of potential conflict arising around Taiwan.” How exactly? India, Ramaswamy says, “would happily do that if we gave them a trade deal similar to what we have already with Chile or Australia.”
The deal Ramaswamy offers is a non-starter. India has shown no desire to get involved in a hot war over Taiwan. One reason: it’s overwhelmed by managing its long, contested border with militarily-superior China. New Delhi fears that if it gets involved in a conflict over Taiwan, then Beijing can take the war to mainland India and Indian-controlled territory. India would not raise potential threats to its security just for a trade deal.
Two decades of U.S. courtship of India — including the landmark bilateral civil nuclear deal — shows that New Delhi would use the dialogue with Washington to secure strategic concessions without giving much in return.
More importantly, what Ramaswamy gets wrong is his assumption that India would entertain the idea of a formal military alliance with the United States. Senior Indian officials have made clear their opposition to any such commitments.
The current Indian government, like its predecessors, jealously guards its “strategic autonomy.” New Delhi seeks a commitment-free relationship with Washington, which it regards as a declining power. India envisions a future multipolar world order in which its power grows and that of the U.S. and Europe diminishes. Simply put, India is not and will never be a U.S. ally.
Letting Taiwan Fend for Itself
Perhaps the most egregious element of Ramaswamy’s foreign policy is his treatment of Taiwan. He argues for a firm, short-term commitment to Taiwan’s defense. Like a coupon with an expiration date, that commitment would end once the U.S. achieves independence on the manufacturing of semiconductors, which Ramaswamy says would be achieved by 2029.
After 2029, the Taiwanese must fend for themselves. Ramaswamy recommends that Taiwanese citizens arm themselves and Taipei should increase defense spending.
Ramaswamy attempts to offer a foreign policy of restraint. The businessman-turned-polemicist pledges: “Our actions outside the Western hemisphere will be limited to the circumstances in which it’s in our interests.”
But the world order the U.S. has shaped and benefitted from cannot be unwound overnight — at least responsibly. Like Obama’s timebound surge in Afghanistan, Ramaswamy’s commitment to Taiwan with an expiration date would signal to China and regional U.S. allies like Japan and the Philippines to get ready for a post-American order.
Witnessing Washington’s demotion of a longtime strategic alliance to a timebound transactional relationship, regional states — especially those in southeast Asia — would begin to appease or tilt toward China. India too would find a way to make peace with China, while benefitting from a U.S. trade deal that would hurt American industry and workers. And European Union members, including France, would accelerate their push for “strategic autonomy.”
There are redeemable aspects to Ramaswamy’s foreign policy, including its push for restraint far beyond America’s borders and a clearer definition of the national interest.
But its headline features are reckless as statecraft. As a polemicist, Ramaswamy has a knack for “demolishing” his opponents. But as president, he would take a wrecking ball to U.S. influence around the globe.
Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine. He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.