Is ‘CAATSA’, a ‘bizarre’ legislation as regards its application on India (for purchase of Russian S-400 Triumf)? Part-II

Argument that CAATSA is a ‘Bizarre’ Legislation as Regards its Application on India.

India has diversified portfolio. Indian armed forces have a diversified portfolio and have been using Russian systems since 1950s.India’s consistent stand has been that the process for acquisition of the system began prior to CAATSA being introduced in 2017 by the Trump administration. It was in 2016 that India and Russia had signed an agreement on the ‘Triumf’ interceptor-based missile system, which can destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400 km. S-400 is known as Russia’s most advanced long-range surface-to-air missile defence system.

Secondly, India is emerging as a key US strategic partner. The two nations have made significant strides in defence cooperation through the signing of four foundational agreements, expanded joint military exercises, personnel exchanges, and a common strategic outlook toward containing the Chinese threat. US-India defence trade is today worth over $20 billion. This expanding level of cooperation will be seriously threatened if CAATSA sanctions are enforced when India takes possession of Russian-made S-400 Triumf missile defence systems, likely toward the end of this year or in 2022. The sanctions will come into place automatically unless the CAATSA waiver authority is utilized 30 days before sanctions are to take effect. Additionally, India is also procuring other defence items from Russia that could trigger a review.

The way out is to explore the eligibility of a waiver of this bizarre legislation, which actually weakens US allies. The changing geopolitics has now aligned India with US. In the earlier cold war period, China was being helped against then USSR. But now China is the arch rival. In fact this law of CAATSA be reviewed and amended to make it more China centric rather than punishing Russia alone. In fact, all countries buying defence systems from China should be penalised, especially Pakistan, who till today gets major US Supplies.

Further, India cannot be compared with Turkey, who may be a NATO ally but India is much more important today for the success of the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific. If that fails then China will come in direct military confrontation with the USA.

Resultantly, the US should reassess its geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic contours so as to re-align with the present global threats rather than continue to live in yester-years where the then USSR, had been the main focus. The NDAA 2021 has in fact tried to do that precisely. But the CAATSA conveys a different ‘Bizarre Sense’ limited only to Russia and that to it does not consider the emerging US alliances. Therefore CAATSA is not in ‘sync’ with the NDAA 2021.However, as per existing CAATSA laws, doing any defence business with Russia and their Intelligence networks disqualifies India for the CAATSA Waiver provisions. Therefore, in finality a call which is prudent and which does not miss the woods for the trees has to be taken by the US President. Otherwise, the US Indo-Pacific geostrategic anchorage based on India will not get operationalized. This is exactly what China will want and that is what they have been trying to leverage. The PLA’s LAC belligerence was probably to create this leverage to put a wedge between the USA and India and also between Russia and India. This zero sum game generated by China should be now countered by USA to realign and shift the focus of CAATSA more towards China, like it has been done in the NDAA-2021, which is covered below.

NDAA 2021

The third main factor is the formulation of the NDAA 2021, which targets China on multiple fronts, with $6.9 billion prescribed for a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) over two years. The Act as interpreted by the US Senate Armed Services Committee bill summary says “The PDI will send a strong signal to China and any potential adversaries, as well as to our allies and partners, that America is deeply committed to defending our interests in the region,” Starting with the PDI, this proposal aims to intensify the US containment policies in the broad region that it nowadays refers to as the “Indo-Pacific”. It thus seeks to optimize spending and improve the military’s positioning, as well as coordinate everything with America’s regional allies. This strongly implies that attempts will be made to ensure that the so-called “Quad” between itself, Australia, India and Japan remains a prominent fixture of regional geopolitics. All the above is only possible with India becoming the pivot and key enabler of US Defence Strategy. This ipso facto dictates that US should not take any action to weaken India. In fact, by allowing India to continue buying equipment from Russia will enable Russian economy to stand on its own and reducing dependency on Chinese largesse. In other words, it will indirectly dilute Russian-China partnership. Obviously, this again then gives a great geopolitical advantage to the Indo-US capabilities and partnership.

Big Power Rivalry

At this juncture of a global Coronavirus Pandemic there appears to be an evolving big power rivalry, which is manifesting into a geo-political power shift with China declaring claims all across from the South China Sea to the Himalayas and its new Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong policies. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the present Super Power, the USA to lay down its geographic priorities rather getting engaged all over the world. Should USA focus on China or Russia or Iran? Does it need to get involved with North Korea and Saudi Arabia? Or does it tackle all of them simultaneously, as it has been wrongly done under the Trump Presidency? Simple logic should lead you to the correct answer with these reiterations. Firstly, the new challenger is communist China. The focus of the US effort has to be on China, China and…China! Russia is too weak economically (although, militarily it is still Number 2 power in the world) and is intertwined with China for its minimum economic health. Russia cannot get into an open military conflict, either with USA or even with China. In the present configuration and inter-state relations, China by pairing up with Russia is leveraging the Russian military prowess as against America and the NATO alliance, so as to obtain an equal balance of power. Therefore, geopolitically, if Russia is weaned away or may be economically benefited by the West instead of sanctions, then it is likely to become lesser dependent on China. This then is advantage USA.

The Geopolitical Pivot of Peace: India

Finally, the Balance of Power, as a concept, is fast altering in favour of a communist China. This balance needs to be immediately tilted back in favour of nations following the rule-based International laws. There is immediate requirement of America restoring its primacy in the United Nations and promote the ‘Collective Security’ agenda for survival of the planet. India is holding along the ‘LAC’ against China at a huge cost. Thus, there is a case, for legitimising grants towards the costs of weapons and equipment, which is needed by India for this thankless job. In selecting its weapon systems, India should also be allowed autonomy off procuring S-400 system. All Developed Western nations need to chip in. This could be by giving one-time grants to India for the defence purchases as well initiate a new process of an “On Lease” method for hiring strategic assets like the Sixth Generation Fighters or other game-changing assets like B2 Stealth Bombers etc. The Indian pilots can be trained in peace time to operate the same. Because, India is not only serving as a ‘Pivot in Asia’ concept but actually is holding PLA’S 20-25 Divisions equivalent, which otherwise would have been available for overwhelming Taiwan or Japan. Thus, India’s position in the Himalayas, along the ‘LAC’ is a new “Geopolitical Pivot” of time. It can be actually coined and named as the ‘Pivot of World Peace’ (POWP) requiring global support. Thus CAATSA needs to be not only waived but reviewed and changed to meet realities.


Therefore, in totality, there is ‘NO’ case for America to apply ‘CAATSA’ on India for buying the Russian S-400 Air Defence systems. Instead both India & the USA need to work on a more flexible but robust partnership with mutual readjustments so as to allow India, its own geopolitical space and autonomy for India’s future growth. This will in turn enable India, to emerge as an independent and strong military power rather than becoming a puppet of the West, as that does not allow inclusive and independent growth. Mutually, both India and the USA have to reach out, to be able to knit a workable Strategic Partnership which gives enough confidence to India. Therefore, let not “CAATSA” impede this defining partnership of the 21st century and that India should get the necessary ‘waiver’ for continuing to buy the S-400 Air Defence systems from Russia.


Also read: Part 1



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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