(This was originally posted in The Print by Nayanima Basu)
New Delhi: Imposing sanctions on India under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) over its planned purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems has the potential to “damage” its ties with the US, and Washington should keep in mind its larger policy objectives with New Delhi, Kenneth I. Juster, former US envoy to India, has written in a report.
According to Juster, who wrote an opinion piece titled ‘Remove A Sanctions Cloud From US-Indian Relations’ in ‘War On The Rocks’, while India is “neither an ally nor an adversary of the United States”, it has made an effort, unlike Turkey, to gradually diversify its military inventory “with increased purchases from the United States since 2008, which now total over $20 billion”. Juster was the US Ambassador to India from November 2017 till January 2021.
He said while imposing sanctions on countries always has the risk of creating collateral damages, in the case of China as well as Turkey on whom the former Donald Trump administration did impose sanctions for buying the S-400 missiles, it was “acceptable under the present circumstances”. The sanctions were imposed though Turkey is a NATO ally.
In order to diversify its defence portfolio, India has been since 2008 purchasing several important platforms from the US, especially naval assets like the P-8I maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft and the MH-60 Romeo helicopter that will “enhance maritime security in the Indian Ocean region” even as both sides became partners under the Indo-Pacific strategic construct as well as Quad.
“The U.S.-Indian partnership is now critical to promoting a free, open, and stable Indo-Pacific region and resisting the threat of an expansionist China. But the cloud of sanctions has hovered over the relationship since August 2017, when the United States enacted the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” he said in the report.
‘Obama admin was reluctant to provide advanced missile defense systems to India’
Juster also noted that many American defence conglomerates are now actively working in India, “facilitating co-production of defense equipment and the integration of Indian companies into the supply chains of U.S. defense manufacturers”.
“The Tata-Boeing joint venture in Hyderabad will soon become the sole location for the production of Apache helicopter fuselages, and the Tata-Lockheed joint venture, also in Hyderabad, supplies all of Lockheed’s C-130 empennages and will soon be its source for F-16 wings. These important contributions to the U.S.-Indian defense partnership, along with India’s diversification away from Russian equipment, support the broad policy goal of CAATSA,” he highlighted.
He also stressed on the fact that New Delhi and Moscow began negotiating the $5 billion S-400 deal way back in 2012 and while similar talks also began with the US also at that time, the then Barack Obama administration was “reluctant to provide advanced missile defense systems to India”.
“India and Russia formally signed their agreement in 2018. The United States subsequently offered surface-to-air missile equipment to India in late 2018 — the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. From the Indian perspective, however, the U.S. equipment does not have the same needed operational capabilities as the S-400 and is much more expensive.”
Moreover, he wrote, India felt that it already had a “done deal” with Russia.
He also said keeping in mind its growing defence and strategic ties with India, the US Congress, during the Trump administration, amended the CAATSA in 2018 allowing a waiver “under certain conditions” such as “whether the concerned country is cooperating with the United States on critical security matters and taking steps to reduce its procurement of major defense equipment from Russia”.
‘Biden admin may be internally discussing waiver for India’
The issue of CAATSA sanctions came up prominently during the visit of Lloyd Austin, US Defence Secretary, to India in March and in his meeting with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh.
“There may be internal disagreements in the Biden administration, as there were in the Trump administration, on whether to grant a waiver to India for the purchase of the S-400. Or perhaps the Biden administration has decided internally to issue a waiver to India if and when the S-400 is delivered, but it prefers not to state that now to avoid establishing a precedent for other partners considering the purchase of the S-400 or other Russian equipment,” Juster wrote.
He added: “The administration may even hope that an intervening event will preclude the delivery of the Russian missile system to India.”
Juster said while imposing sanctions on India for buying S-400 missiles will only “damage the U.S.-Indian relationship without punishing Russia”, New Delhi should also explain to Washington its reasons to continue its military purchase from Moscow.
“In the course of these bilateral discussions, New Delhi can explain why, especially in cases where other countries do not have or will not offer comparable equipment, it wants to continue to make purchases from Russia that it views as critical to its national security.”
The former envoy believes Washington should also on its part stress on the “malign Russian activities” and a possible compromise of US technology due to Russian equipment in India’s inventory.
Juster stressed that the present US government should also focus on the fact that China has already acquired the S-400 system from Russia, and thus if “India is concerned about its defensive capabilities against China, it will be relying on a system that China knows well, including possibly how to circumvent it”.