US- INDIA and The CAATSA Conundrum: Politics of waivers and sanctions


As per CAATSA the US can impose sanctions on every state that indulges in arms trade with its adversaries. The question isn’t whether or not the US has the capacity to impose sanctions on India on basis of CAATSA; rather the pertinent point to consider is that does the US have the will and intention to do so.  The answer is no. The US lost its credibility after ignoring the Missile deal between India and Russia which is against its own law. The US sees itself as the policeman of the world but it has lost its moral standing after not imposing its CAATSA law on India. Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is an American law to impose new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea and other states who purchase or sell weapons with these countries. It is a public law of America that was imposed on August 2, 2017. CAATSA has imposed sanctions on Iran, Russia, North Korea, China, Ukraine and even Turkey.

On 12 September 2017, Turkish President Recep Erdogan brokered a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the S-400 mobile surface-to-air missile system. According to the US, the S-400 system is said to pose a risk to the NATO alliance as well as the F-35, America’s most expensive weapons platform. Despite warnings from the United States and other NATO allies, Turkey accepted the first of four missile batteries in July 2019. The United States cut off Turkey, a financial and manufacturing partner, from the F-35 program.

Similarly, India has made a deal for acquiring the S400 system with Russia of 5.43-bn dollars in 2018. But when it comes to the Indian purchase of the Russian S400; one witness an evident deviation in US conduct is different. To impose sanctions on India is not too easy for the US. President Joe Biden’s administration is unlikely to sanction India under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for procuring the Russian S-400 air defense systems.

India is trying to convince the US administration that it would go ahead with the S-400 deal. The CAATSA issue has been discussed between India and the US at multiple levels on several occasions on diplomatic levels. But the US has been unable to stop India. On one side India has its flimsy excuses regarding its S400 deal that this deal predates CAATSA but also highlighted that this was an “American law” and not of the UN. India knows that it has committed a crime.  Securing the S400 deal is a threat for South Asia. India sees the S-400s as a critical national security requirement that will disturb the balance of power in South Asia. Pakistan and China are peaceful states and they have missile systems only for their defence but India is gaining it to disturb the balance of power.

An additional angle is that there is a strong US-India strategic partnership, which stops it from sanctions on India. Till today the US has not made any official statement on imposing CAATSA sanctions on India because the US administration does not want to jeopardize this strategic partnership with such a move. Instead of imposing sanctions, the US is dealing with a $3 billion deal for armed drones and new fighters for both the Indian Air Force and the Navy. The role of the administration of the US is highly biased in case of India.

Additionally, Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) Director Dmitry Shugaev is proceeding with the S400 deal on their schedule. The two states are expected to sign a 10-year military-technical agreement. The Reciprocal Exchange of Logistics Agreement is also ready to be inked, which are all red flags for Washington. At the same time, the US has continued its strategic partnership with India.

US Senators and India Caucus Co-Chairs Mark Warner and John Cornyn sent a letter to President Joe Biden encouraging him to waive CAATSA sanctions against India for buying military arms from Russia. It is clear that the U.S. will not respond to India’s receipt of Russia-made S-400 air defense systems. The main question is that has CAATSA failed in the Indian case? It is the right time for the US to prove its credibility by imposing sanctions on India.

The US can impose sanctions on India easily but it is a herculean task for it. S-400 ushers a path to a diplomatic crisis for the Biden administration. Applying CAATSA on India will dilute the strategic coherence of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue QUAD in the Indo Pacific undermining U.S. diplomatic ties with India in the containment of China. The US is fully cognizant that if sanctions are imposed it will alienate India resulting in losing the Indian arms market damaging the U.S. military-industrial complex. Why does the US have different behavior with India and different with the rest of the states? Practically India is not able to deliver the US narrative as it doesn’t have that capacity. There is also an important question as to why other European powers and great powers have not forced the US to impose sanctions on India. The US claims to work for peace and stability and minimizing the weaponizing world but it is responsible for disturbing the balance of power in South Asia.

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