GP Insights # 62, 8 June 2019
The US has repeated its threat of sanctions in S-400 Truimf deal with Russia. Washington has made it clear that India should not assume it will get a waiver from the US sanctions if it goes ahead with its purchase of the S-400 Truimf missile shield from Russia.
What’s the background?
S-400 Triumf is one of the world’s most innovative air defence systems that can instantaneously track several incoming objects — all kinds of aircraft, missiles and UAVs — in a radius of a few hundred kilometres and launch suitable missiles to neutralize them. The sale of Russian S-400 systems has resulted in issues, as Turkey and China have come under criticism and restrictions from the US. Russia had also refused to sell its S-400 defence system to Iran amid the Mideast tensions.
Among the countries under pressure from the US not to buy this weapon is India. It had committed last October to purchase a Russian S-400 Triumf long-range missile defence shield for about $5 billion. The deal has run the risk of attracting sanctions from the US under a 2017 law- the countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) on countries buying Russian military equipment. The sanctions were part of actions to penalize Moscow for its efforts in Ukraine in 2014.
What does it mean?
India has been diversifying its weapon supply over the years. 60-70% of its hardware is of Russian origin, where S-400 plays the gap in the air defence against China. Washington is in a tricky position with India which wants to bolster ties with the Asian giant to counter China's assertiveness, but India buying Russian S-400 will have severe implications for defence ties with the US.
Firstly, the S-400 will strengthen Russia-India ties. Arms sales are usually foreign policy tools, where countries like the United States utilize to establish strong relationships. Since the US is attempting to deviate India from being partners with Russia, the S-400 is one of the top obstacles to the US plan. In a very short time, India has all chances to emerge as a staunch Russian ally, which the US considers as an arch enemy since the involvement of Russian hackers to manipulate presidential elections.
Once India acquires and deploys the S-400 system along the India- Pakistan Border, the balance of power equation in South Asia will change. It also implies, India daring the US and displaying strategic autonomy, by betraying its cold war standard non-alignment movement mindset. Despite the sanctions, if India gets waivers, it signifies how strategically important India is for the US. But if it happens the other way there will be a shift in the geopolitical scales in favour of Russia.
Also, by buying big-ticket purchases, India hopes to thwart Russia from selling any advanced weapons to Pakistan. On the broader perspective, it is a question of where are India’s military relations headed? And with whom it is going to share the highest technology and that operating environment. India should be cautious as certain choices preclude other choices.