Wednesday September 5, 2018
India’s impending purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system has come to be the leitmotif of the “2+2” dialogue of the foreign and defence ministers of India and the United States due to take place in New Delhi on September 6. However, the issue here is not about a single defence transaction, either. There are far wider geopolitical ramifications.
The heart of the matter is that the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was signed into law by President Donald Trump in August 2017, endangers India’s long-standing defence relationship with Russia across the board for many defence goods. The cutting edge of the CAATSA lies in regard of Sections 231 and 235 of the law. Section 231 requires the US president to impose sanctions on any entity that “engages in a significant transaction” with Russia’s intelligence or defence sectors. Section 235 provides for prohibiting transactions in US dollar (which is the currency used in India-Russia arms deals.)
Now, the US Congress has given waiver authority to the president under certain highly constraining conditions – that is, if he can certify that the waiver is fundamentally in US national security interests, that the country concerned is taking “demonstrable steps” to reduce its defence dependence on Russia and that it is cooperating with the US in advancing critical strategic interests. In effect, the CAATSA provides an underpinning for the US’ global hegemony, which is far beyond its stated purpose of sanctioning Russia over the Crimea.