By Shireen Singh & Captain Vikram Mahajan (Retd)
Indian protection forces are anticipated to obtain the primary supply of the Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles (SAM) later this yr. With the supply quick approaching, the Biden Administration will quickly have to resolve whether or not to sanction India beneath the U.S. Countering America’s Adversaries By means of Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which got here into impact following allegations of Russian interference within the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The regulation contains provisions that require the U.S. President to impose sanctions on any nation with ‘important transactions’ with Russian defence trade.
Whereas US lawmakers and Administration officers have reportedly mentioned a waiver for India, when requested about CAATSA on his current go to to New Delhi, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stated: “Effectively, we now have – we now have our legal guidelines. We’ll – we apply our legal guidelines, however we shared our issues with India about this. However I’m not going to get forward of myself. We’ll see how issues evolve within the coming months.”
In different phrases, there’s room for a waiver, however sanctions are additionally attainable, and the US has but to make a closing judgment. Earlier than India takes supply of the S400 system, the US Administration ought to stand agency with a choice to grant India a CAATSA waiver and put together to formally inform Congress that it’s within the very important nationwide safety curiosity of the US to protect India from sanctions over their S400 buy.
This choice just isn’t with out controversy. Adversaries (China) and allies (Turkey) have already been sanctioned beneath CAATSA. The regulation bolsters a major nationwide safety precedence for the US and has help from each main political events. So, what justifies an exemption for India?
First is context. India imported most of its weapons from Russia for over half a century. Till the early Nineties, round 80 % of Indian navy stock was from the previous USSR, and India nonetheless relies on Russia for every little thing from coaching to spare components. However this dependence has diminished significantly. From 2015-2019, Moscow’s share within the Indian weapons market declined from 72 % to 56 %. In distinction, U.S. protection gross sales to India have drastically elevated from virtually nothing 15 years in the past to roughly $21 billion as we speak. India is on the proper path from the U.S. standpoint.
Second, the US and India are aligned in a number of essential areas: a free and open Indo-Pacific, anti-terrorism, ending the pandemic, resilient international supply-chains, commerce, cyber safety, house, schooling, local weather change, and a dedication to democracy, to call just a few. The US is well-aware of India’s vital place as a regional power within the Indo-Pacific, as indicated in Secretary Blinken’s current settlement with Overseas Minister Jaishankar to increase the multilateral safety partnership and counter China’s rising affect within the area. On the geo-political degree, India’s essential function as a part of the “Quad” grouping and its pivotal function within the Indo-Pacific area can’t be ignored.
CAATSA sanctions may be narrowly focused, however the symbolic penalties would undermine all of those priorities. Following the 1998 nuclear checks performed by India, the US led a gaggle of western nations to impose sanctions on India creating deep distrust. Washington quickly regretted that alternative and labored to rebuild ties. However the present maturity of the connection took over twenty years to rebuild. Sanctions would endanger progress remodeled twenty years beneath 5 American presidents. Whereas Indians would view sanctions as an avoidable and unwarranted ‘punishment,’ the Russians (and Chinese language) would view US sanctions on India as a geo-political and business victory.
Sanctions would placed on maintain the Main Protection Partnership the 2 nations share, derail Quad cooperation, and have a adverse ripple impact on greater than 40 ongoing dialogues between the 2 democracies, together with these associated to: protection commerce, navy workouts, and vaccine diplomacy. The general public backlash would place a political chill on relations, and it’s unlikely that the injury can be restricted to the protection sector.
Proper now, the US-India partnership is stronger than ever. When the US requested nations world wide to cease crude oil imports from Iran, India labored to conform given US flexibility and negotiations behind the scenes. This helped the U.S. obtain an vital geopolitical milestone in pressuring the Iranian regime over its nuclear program. However CAATSA is a more durable ask. With energetic navy threats from its neighbors, India is not going to defer upkeep, overhaul and improve of Russia materiel procured over 50 years. India can’t quickly wean off Russian arms.
Sanctions would push India again to Russia as a most popular and dependable supply of weapons, growing moderately than lowering the power of Russia’s protection sector. Sanctions would weaken a typical entrance deterring China’s most destabilizing exercise within the area. And sanctions may reduce off India’s vital long-term marketplace for the U.S. protection trade. Within the case of India, CAATSA’s core goal shall be undermined by its implementation. Congress and the Administration ought to take notice.
(Extra in regards to the authors: Shireen Singh, Senior Director Coverage Advocacy, USISPF and Captain Vikram Mahajan (Retd), Director, Aerospace and Defence, USISPF. Views expressed are private and don’t replicate the official place or coverage of Monetary Categorical On-line.)