CAATSA – Relief India Deserved

US administration had till now deliberately allowed to hang CAATSA sword over India's head since 2017 but Indian government continued to be defiant. The legislation was intended to punish Russia but India was becoming a collateral target by the US.

July 18, 2022 By Ranjit Kumar, Strategic Affairs Analyst Photo(s): By eng.mil.ru
S-400 ANTI-AIRCRAFT MISSILE SYSTEMS

The resolution by the US House of Representatives to grant India specific waiver under CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries through sanctions act) has come as a welcome relief in Indian diplomatic circles as it had the potential to adversely impact India-US strategic relations and cooperation. CAATSA was the major remaining thorn in deepening India US strategic relations, which is now finally expected to be taken out. The resolution for waiver provision proposed by the Indian origin US Congressman Ro Khanna, is only the first step towards its final approval. The Amendment bill for CAATSA, proposing India specific waiver will now have to win the approval of 100 member US Senate and then will be sent to US President for final signature. Since, there is bipartisan support for upgrading strategic relations with India, the India specific waiver CAATSA amendment bill is expected to be passed, without hindrance.

US administration had till now deliberately allowed to hang CAATSA sword over India's head since 2017. It was meant to browbeat India to succumb to US demands and non-implementation of CAATSA related sanctions on India was dubbed as big concession to India. However, critics say that in the backdrop of deepening strategic partnership between India and USA, the US administration should have taken the step of granting special India waiver under a Presidential proclamation. US President is entitled to grant special waiver to India in view of the warmth in relationship. It would have been better if White House had pre-empted the US Congress. But, US Administration under Donald Trump, and Joe Biden later, kept the sword of CAATSA hanging over India.

In view of deepening strategic cooperation between India and US, the US Presidents (Trump and Biden) should have on their own taken this unilateral step of granting Presidential waiver to India.

But Indian government continued to be defiant. India never recognised CAATSA as international law, hence India disregarded the threats by the US officials from time to time to impose CAATSA related sanctions, which is considered as domestic legislation of the US enacted in 2017. The legislation was intended to punish Russia but India was becoming a collateral target by the US, as India has been and will continue to be, in future dependent on Russian weapon systems. India refused to buckle under indirect threats by US officials. Such threats widen the trust deficit and cast doubts on the real nature of proximity between two strategic partners. In view of deepening strategic cooperation between India and US, the US Presidents (Trump and Biden) should have on their own taken this unilateral step of granting Presidential waiver to India.

The US side knew very well that imposition of CAATSA related sanctions on India would have a devastating impact on India US strategic partnerships. At a time when US needs India to advance its Indo-pacific policy to contain China, such step would have proved to be regressive. At the same time India clearly told the US officials that India would not kowtow to US demands to sever it's defence ties with Russia. At a time when India is facing a huge security challenge on the Ladakh borders with China, India would not have dared to snap its defence relations with Russia. More than two-third of weapon systems in Indian armoury are Russian. Even if India wants to gradually reduce its dependence on Russia, it would take decades to completely eliminate Russian weapon systems from Indian defence stores.

The US side knew very well that imposition of CAATSA related sanctions on India would have a devastating impact on India US strategic partnerships. At a time when US needs India to advance its Indo-pacific policy to contain China, such step would have proved to be regressive.

The bone in contention was the S-400 anti-missile systems. India has contracted to acquire five of such systems worth $ 5.5billion in 2018. US officials indirectly asked India to cancel the deal. But Indian government decided to go ahead ignoring US threats of sanctions. One of the S-400 anti-missile battery has already arrived in India and rest four are in pipeline. In fact, Russia has behaved as better strategic partner by supplying such sensitive high technology weapon systems. The US side had initially refused to part with such high-tech missile systems and offered to supply similar systems only when Russia started preparing for the Indian order.

India decided to go ahead with the S-400 missile deal in spite of application of US sanctions on Turkey, the NATO partner of USA. Indian officials told US authorities not to equate India with Turkey. This issue was unnecessarily widening the already prevailing trust deficit in bilateral relations. On this pretext, Congressman Khanna argued before the US House of Representatives that "United States must stand with India in the face of escalating aggression from China. As Vice Chair of the India caucus, I have been working to strengthen the partnership between our countries and to ensure that India can defend itself along the India China border."

The waiver provision, authored by Indian origin US Congressman Ro Khanna was passed by a voice vote (330-99) as part of an en bloc amendment during floor consideration of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). Seeking House support for the India specific amendment bill, Congressman Ro Khanna said that, "this is the most significant piece of legislation for US India relations since the US-India nuclear deal."

The waiver provision was passed by a voice vote (330-99) during floor consideration of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA). Seeking House support for the India specific amendment bill, Congressman Ro Khanna said that, "this is the most significant piece of legislation for US India relations since the US-India nuclear deal."

CAATSA legislation was enacted in 2017 in response to Russian annexation of Crimea and its alleged interference in 2016 US Presidential elections. It authorises US administration to impose sanctions on countries that purchases major defence systems from Russia. Since India is a major buyer of Russian defence systems and decision to acquire S-400 anti-missile systems were already announced, this became a major target of indirect US attacks on India. India was told in no uncertain terms in closed room discussions to cancel the S-400 deal and instead opt for a similar anti-missile system from US arms companies.

The last major pronouncement came from US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in April, when he indirectly threatened India, "US administration has not yet made any decision on potential sanctions or waivers to India under CAATSA law for its purchase of the S-400 missile systems from Russia."

However, after the waiver amendment bill is given final approval from Senate and White House puts its seal on the amended CAATSA legislation afterwards, US administration will find it difficult to admonish India over its continued defence imports from Russia. Removal of CAATSA will reduce the trust deficit between the two democracies.