US sanction could boomerang
CAATSA is a recipe for disaster to India’s security concerns.
CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), a new law in the U.S armoury, if implemented by Trump Administration, could have disastrous consequences to India's security. The law provides for sanctions against India's arms purchase from its traditional ally Russia. It is, however, a double-edged weapon in the sense if imposed could have serious implications to India's growing defence cooperation with the United States and that's one of the reasons that saner voices in Washington are against it being used on India.
It is precisely for this reason top US Admiral Philip S Davidson, the nominee for the US Pacific Command Commander, warned recently that imposing such sanctions on countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia for buying defence equipment from Russia would pose a concern for America's defence ties in the Indo-Pacific and this would only increase the dependence of these countries on Moscow for arms and ammunition purchase.
Russia and the erstwhile Soviet Union have had a long and time tested cooperation with India in defence. Russia has not only provided hi-tech equipment but also greatly helped in the training of personnel and indigenisation of defence equipment manufacture over the past 70 years.
As per the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia was the top arms supplier to India with total deliveries of $19.8 billion during 2010-17. From United States it was just $3.05 billion and Israel $ 2.6 billion. Though Russia is India's largest partner in defence purchases, its share has come down from 74 per cent to 62 per cent, whereas the combined share of arms imports from US and Israel has gone up from 9 per cent to 26 per cent. But the bulk of the potent weapons in India's arsenal are of Soviet/Russian origin and some of them cannot be purchased from any other source for love or money. The nuclear submarine INS Chakra, the Kilo-class conventional submarines, the supersonic Brahmos cruise missiles, the Mig series and Sukhoi fighter aircraft, transport planes, aircraft carrier, T72 and T90 tanks and helicopters are some of the major defence equipment that formed the mainstay of Indian armed forces.
The most immediate fallout of the sanctions, if implemented, would be in the purchase of high-value military equipment from Russia, that is the state-of-the art S 400 missile defence systems, valued at $4.5 billion. India is keen to get this hi-tech equipment as China is already in possession of it. Acquiring this hi-tech equipment is critical to Indian defence in the face of growing Sino-Indian tension after the recent Doklam border stand-off.
But what is significant is the growing lobby in United States itself against pursuing such short-sighted policy of imposing sanctions by the Donald Trump administration at a time when America wants to develop alliances and partnerships in the Asian-Pacific region, particularly with China emerging as a major and growing military power in the region. Also Pentagon is concerned about the implications of such a sanction on growing American military ties with India.
This is one of the reasons that many defence analysts believe that CAATSA is unlikely to be imposed on India anytime soon as it would act as a dampener on the booming defence relationship between US and India.
Besides, India will not allow the US to dictate suspension of its military cooperation with Russia because of its overwhelming share, some of which are critical defence hardware. There is a trust deficit as well. India cannot expect transfer of technology that easily from the United States, particularly dual-use technology. There is joint production as well of defence equipment between India and Russia, which cannot be jeorpardised to the detriment of the industry.
That's why the Pentagon is very concerned over the possible implication of Russian sanctions on defence ties between India and the US. "We have to break down that historical background to a certain extent, break down is not the correct word but be willing to work with that so that we can move forward with India," Davidson said adding "It is a fundamental priority for the United States and PACOM to continually develop our alliances and partnerships so that all nations benefit from an environment that safeguards security, stability, prosperity, and peace for the entire region."
Russia's engagement is already on the rise in the Pacific region. The relationship is mutual. While Russia sees economic opportunities to build markets for energy exports and arms sales, the countries in the region, including India, see it as an opportunity for their energy security and collaboration for manufacturing military hardware. India has some investments in Russian oilfields in Siberia. The cooperation comes as a package.
India needs a partner like Russia as it faces a complex security environment. It spans a full spectrum of conflict from nuclear to sub-conventional war and every possibility of two-front war. Apart from cross-border terrorism, India is challenged by unresolved border disputes with Pakistan and its all weather friend China. With growing unpredictability, India needed an ally like Russia all the more. Hence, imposition of a sanction by the United States will impact growing India-US military cooperation rather than with Russia. It is, therefore, in US interest that it does not indulge in such adventurism as Washington, too, stands to lose because of growing defence cooperation between the two countries. But with President Donald Trump at the helm of affairs, one will never know what will happen as he is so unpredictable.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)