The October summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin would be having multifaceted regional and international consequences. The summit supplemented India’s great power ambitions in the region and improved its position in the global realpolitik. It enhances New Delhi’s bargaining position with the U.S.-led Western powers and simultaneously consolidates its relations with the pro-Moscow governments. It cautions India’s strategic competitors and manifests New Delhi’s struggle to endure its strategic autonomy at the global strategic chessboard, and has a soothing impact on the Indian nationalists and distress bearings on the pro-Americans in India.
Prime Minister Modi and President Putin negotiated and concluded several agreements to further strengthen their economic cooperation during the Indo-Russia summit held at Delhi in October 2018. President Putin reiterated Russia’s support to India in defence acquisition, hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, space cooperation, trade and commerce, and science and technology.
The conclusion of the $5.43 billion S-400 surface-to-air missile deal stirred up the regional strategic environment and confused the Trump administration, especially the American defence contractors. On October 5, 2018, President Putin agreed to sell S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile system to India. “The S-400 is Russia’s fourth-generation air and missile defence system, accessing aerial targets up to 400 kilometres away, and has the potential to counter threats from ballistic missiles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and aircraft.” It was reported that Russia would begin deliveries of the missile systems to India by the end of 2020.
India’s $5.43 billion investment in the Russian defence system not only enhances the credibility of Russia’s military industrial complex but also generates an impression that S-400 is more accurate than its contemporary systems such as America’s Patriot system. Consequently, S-400 systems could attract more contracts, especially from the West Asian nations.
The Trump administration is puzzled because it had announced India as the centerpiece of its Indo-Pacific Strategy. The S-400 system deal exposes America’s influence over India. They failed to convince New Delhi to reduce its defence dependence on Moscow. The S-400 deal also dents the credibility of Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). On August 2, 2017, President Trump signed into law the CAATSA, which among other things imposes new sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea. It automatically sanctions persons engaged in business transactions with the Russian defence sector. For instance, on September 20, 2018, the U.S. imposed CAATSA sanctions on a Chinese entity, the Equipment Development Department (EDD) of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC), and on its Director because they purchased Su-35 aircraft and the S-400 system from Russia.
How does the CAATSA affect the recent Indo-Russian defence cooperation – S-400? According to the Saint Petersburg Declaration, issued after the June 2017 bilateral summit, India and Russia “do not accept the unilateral use of political and economic sanctions as a means of exerting pressure.” Hence, India concluded the deal with Russia despite the opposition of the U.S.
The Modi government seems confident that it would get an exemption from CAATSA because Washington has designated New Delhi as a major defence partner. India has a strong lobby in the Trump administration, especially in the Department of Defence. It was reported, “Some senior officials within the U.S. Department of Defence support exemptions to India, among other strategic partners, from the sanctions — permissible under specific conditions.”
They understand that the decline of waiver request and sanctions against Indian companies or departments and personalities would spoil/affect their military industrial complex and further improve Moscow and New Delhi’s military ties. Conversely, the exemption would serve both American and Russian interests. Importantly, the exemption or sanction will have an impact on other Indo-Russia defence deals expected to be finalized by the end of this year. It was reported that contracts for Kamov helicopters, Krivak/Talwar class frigates and license for the production of Kalashnikov rifles in India are expected to be finalized at the Inter-Governmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation scheduled to take place in December 2018.
Although, the relations between India and Russia were upgraded from “strategic partnership” to “special and privileged strategic partnership” in 2010, yet Moscow is apparently wary of the increasing maritime cooperation among India, United States, Japan, and Australia (Quad) in the Indo-Pacific region. America had declared India as a reliable partner in Asia-Pacific in the twenty-first century. The United States’ National Security Strategy document released on December 18, 2017, applauded India’s “leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.”
It further stated: “We welcome India’s emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defence partner. We will seek to increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.” India’s leadership role in the Indian Ocean has not been endorsed by Russian officialdom. Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov stated: “New security architecture in Asia-Pacific should be based on non-bloc principles, principles of open, equal and indivisible security.”
The Russians have been uneasy about India’s defence agreements with the U.S. such as Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for Geospatial Cooperation, etc. Due to these agreements, the U.S.’ military sales to India went from zero to $15 billion in the last one decade. These sales are expected to increase in the future. On July 30, 2018, the United States granted Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status to India.
The US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stated: “India’s status as a Major Defence Partner led to its becoming a Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) Tier 1 country, comparable to our NATO allies, under the Department of Commerce’s Export Administration Regulations.” Later they also signed Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). Hence, these agreements have surfaced as a cause of serious concern for Russia and thereby, it is ready to transfer sophisticated military technology and hardware to India.
The supply of S-400 to India would be having regional implications. The Western analysts opine that it would balance China. While China had already purchased S-400 systems from Russia and has been maintaining impressive missile strike capability, it is an open secret that the Indian military would deploy them to check the Pakistani missile or air strikes. Therefore, Pakistan’s response is natural despite its commitment to minimum deterrence policy. It exacerbates lethal arms race between the regional strategic competitors. India plans to use the S-400 systems to perfect its ballistic missile defence systems. The Pakistan Foreign Office stated: “The Indian purchase of S-400 missile system is a part of their efforts to acquire a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) System through multiple source.
This will further destabilize strategic stability in South Asia, besides leading to a renewed arms race.” Certainly, Pakistan increases its investment in its cruise and ballistic missiles inventories to improve its strike power and defy the defensive deployments of India. In this context, Pakistani military can use cruise missiles and multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) to perforate S-400 kind of defensive shield. Thus, the S-400 missiles neither destabilize Pakistan’s defensive fence nor make ineffective its offensive strikes due to its surface-to-surface and submarine-launched (Babur-III) cruise missiles and surface-to-surface ballistic missile Ababeel, which uses MIRV having the capability to deliver multiple conventional and nuclear warheads.
Pakistan is averse to an arms race in the region. Therefore, it has been endeavouring to sensitize the international community about India’s destabilizing arms buildup. On October 15, President Dr. Arif Alvi has said that the strategic stability in South Asia is being threatened by the offensive posture and induction of lethal weapons by India. He added: “Discriminatory exemptions by certain countries for the supply of nuclear technology and supply of advanced military hardware to our neighbour has further complicated the regional security and undermined the credibility of the non-proliferation regime.”
India’s advancement of nuclear weapons and craze for developing missile defence systems compel its strategic competitors, especially Pakistan, to invest in their military sector for sustaining the strategic stability in the region. In summary, India and Pakistan’s continuous development and testing of ballistic missiles appears to reflect a situation, which is widely regarded as a central problem in international relations, the so-called security dilemma. The security dilemma promotes a spiral of competition, which usually manifests itself in an arms race that, ultimately, leads to war.” Thus, the continuity of arms race between India and Pakistan could subvert the strategic equilibrium between them and undermine the strategic stability in South Asia.
Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in November 2018.