US/Asia: There is an Indian problem in the United States, and it is all about Russia. In 2018, India agreed to buy five Russian S-400 missile systems for a whopping price of $ 5.4 billion. The highly advanced S-400 system is equivalent to the Patriot rocket, the United States’ best air defense system. It is the same mission system that led the outgoing Trump administration to impose a US embargo on Turkey in December 2020. Now India is in the line of similar sanctions – and the approach has caused serious injury on bilateral relations, US defense sales in India, and questioning Joe Biden’s commitment to working with allies to confront China.
The clearance issue is not, in fact, about India. It is about Russia. The Countering America’s Advisers Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed by Congress in 2017 to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 US election, comes very close to requiring the president to ban any country is. “Important” purchase of military equipment from Russia. But it would be a big mistake if Biden India imposed sanctions.
On the contrary: The United States should really welcome India’s purchase of Russian arms.
When it comes to facing China in Eurasia, America needs India and India needs America. For India, the United States is a welcome and valued security partner, but not far away and not very reliable. For the United States, India is the only friend in the region capable of responding to China. If Washington wants New Delhi’s help in resolving many smoldering conflicts in New Delhi, it will have to show some tolerance for the sanctions. It is better to keep Russia with sanctions than to hold India in the CAATSA net.
India is the world’s largest democracy and the sixth largest economy in the world, soon to become the fifth largest. It is also about overtaking China as the world’s most populous country. India is an advocate of stability in the Indian Ocean region and has a major uprising against Chinese expansion. It is a founding member of the Indo-Pacific Strategy of America and the Quad, a coalition of Indo-Pacific democratic countries. He was the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War. And it is also a major buyer of Russian military equipment.
It is not just the S-400 that is on India’s shopping list. India has been buying from Russia since the days of the Soviet Union. The Indian Air Force flew MiG-29 and SU-30 fighter jets. Its navy flies aircraft manufactured by Russia based on a Russian manufacturer. It also has several Russian frigates and ordered a Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine. And despite a recent program of modernization and ‘buying Indian’, the Indian Army is primarily equipped with Russian main battle tanks and other armored vehicles.
But India has never been a Russian or Soviet satellite state. It buys from Russia because Russia is a reliable commercial supplier of high quality equipment. India is also buying from France, Israel and the United States. But even without the S-400 purchase, India would already be on the CAATSA list of bad countries for all other equipment purchased from Russia – and it would still buy from Russia. India’s approval for its Russian procurement does not include future US partners. This would simply drive away a potential partner and an increasingly profitable military customer.
and for what? Eurasia’s strategic geography ensures that India’s S-400 will never move toward the United States or its allies. And unlike Turkey’s S-400, they will not uncover F-35 secret secrets because India is not an F-35 customer and is probably never attacked by the Air Force. The sole purpose of imposing CAATSA sanctions on India is to use the law for which it was established: to punish Russia. And it only shows what can go wrong if the US Congress tries to pass foreign policy.
The primary objective of CAATSA’s Russia related provisions was to pressure Russia to substantially curb global programs of cyber-espionage and cyber-manipulation with sanctions against its defense industry. (Separate provisions of the law are aimed at Iran and North Korea.) Congress can largely assume that any device prohibiting the export of Russian defense is good for the United States, perhaps even for the world. . But a careful analysis of Eurasian geopolitics suggests otherwise.
The complicating factor is China. In recent years, India has so far been Russia’s largest export destination for military hardware, accounting for nearly a third of annual Russian arms exports between 2010 and 2019, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. By 2018, Beijing’s purchase of advanced Russian weapons was rapidly reaching New Delhi, as China struggled to develop its high-technology components such as jet engines. But protect pro
Procurement relations between the two countries were closed in 2019 over allegations by Russia that China was reverse engineering proprietary technologies. As a result, Russia is reluctant to sell small batches to China
It’s okay, it’s not like China mimics samples instead of placing large follow-up orders for the real thing.
India’s status as Russia’s best customer – and an honest customer to boot – gives India a huge advantage over the ever-cash-for-Russian regime. Thus, when there was a fight between India and China in Ladakh last year, China was accused of Indian pressure to stop supplying S-400 technology to China. Indian demand is particularly important to ensure that Russia can continue the operation of military production lines and maintenance at the industrial level. This may not seem attractive to the United States. But because Russia also supplies arms to other countries that are intimidated by China’s growing ambitions, Russia’s arms industry actually promotes American interests in Eurasia’s interior.
The complicating factor is China. In recent years, India has been the largest export destination for military hardware in Russia, accounting for an average of one-third of Russia’s annual arms exports between 2010 and 2019, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. By 2018, Beijing’s advanced Russian arms purchases caught up rapidly with New Delhi, as China struggled to develop its own high-tech components such as jet engines. But in 2019, the defense-takeover relationship between the two countries came to a halt due to Russia’s allegations that China is its own technology for reverse construction. As a result, Russia has become reluctant to sell small quantities to China. Otherwise China will copy samples rather than placing large follow-up orders for the right thing.
India’s position as Russia’s best customer – and an honest customer to begin with – gives India permanent cash – a huge advantage over the strained Russian regime. When India and China fought in Ladakh last year, Russia apparently joined the Indian pressure to stop supplying S-400 technology to China. India’s demand is particularly important in ensuring that Russia can continue to operate military production lines and maintenance on an industrial scale. This may not seem appealing to the United States. But because Russia also supplies weapons to other countries that are troubled by China’s growing ambitions, Russia’s arms industry actually promotes American interests in the interior of Eurasia.
If the United States wants to ban China, Russia, or both, it is necessary for other countries to do the least hard work – on land. The US Indo-Pacific strategy is essentially maritime, and as the United States reduces its presence in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that significant US ground forces will ever return to the Asian continent as the 8th Army still holds South Korea. Is posted in . A solid Russian-Indian relationship is the best guarantee that China will not undue influence on the relatively weak countries of Central Asia. This is the most likely path to a stable future for Afghanistan, a country where India has a strong diplomatic presence.
A rich relationship between India and Russia is also preferable to an alternative scenario in which India becomes a strong US ally, while a desperate Russia is forced to become a junior partner in the renewed Russia – Russia alliance. The most important value of India in the United States is in itself as an independent force; Washington is not interested in entering new security commitments in Kashmir or the Himalayas. Meanwhile, Russia’s relatively equal relations with India promise a stable partnership that can maintain peace with any country without gaining the upper hand.
Biden cannot claim in good faith that India’s Russian arms acquisition is not ‘significant’ – the main criteria for the application of sanctions. To enforce the law, he must appeal to CAATSA. But once he starts the process, he should avoid enforcing the restrictions under the national security exception created in law. This exception is narrow, and will likely require the creation of a creative label to implement the exception. That said, America’s extreme interest in keeping India on its side is so strong that a small executive handle will go a long way in preventing serious security flaws against it.