Indo-Russian S-400 deal is yet again in focus. Many military experts and diplomats of India believed that the brouhaha created in 2018 has been forgotten/buried under the carpet by US administration. The issue was clearly and unambiguously enlivened by the outgoing US ambassador Kenneth Jester in New Delhi during a press conference. The same was highlighted in Washington DC by the Asst Secretary of State Clarke Cooper. Both statements were made in December, 2020.
Turkey opted for S-400 system in 2017; India followed suit in 2018. USA did not approve of either country going ahead with the deal. Outgoing Trump administration invoked CAATSA provisions on Turkey, a NATO ally, on 14th December, 2020 for the acquiring S-400, while granting ‘conditional’ waiver to India. Former US ambassador Kenneth Jester as well Asst Secretary of State for Political/Military affairs Clarke Cooper have unequivocally stressed the point that CAATSA waiver cannot be taken for granted in case of future deals with US adversaries; a veiled threat to India. It is not the statements of high ranking officials that might be of concern; it is the timing of the statement made in December, 2020; Joe Biden is due to take over as POTUS on 20th January, 2021.
As far back as mid 2018 Chairman of US House Armed Service Committee Mac Thrornberry, a Republican, had clearly stated that India should reconsider her decision to acquire S-400 system from Russia, if India wanted expansion of Indo-US Military co-operation with specific reference to acquisition of US weapon platforms. In spite of his reservations, the CAATSA provisions were not applied in case of India for purchase of S-400 from Russia. Current Chairman Adam smith, a Democrat, may not necessarily be in agreement, specially after imposition of US sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally. Yet another rarely mentioned fact about US-Turkey military cooperation is about USAF having its largest base outside US mainland in Incirlik. India has no such military linkage with USA of significance. USAF still maintains its base in Pakistan airfield ‘BADABER’ from where U-2 flights operated till 1st May, 1960.
Recent utterances of top US functionaries unequivocally point to unstated US „stand and advice‟ to Indian policy makers; it is time India chose, who to align with. Continued bonhomie with US adversaries is no longer acceptable to US. India finds itself in an unenviable position with nearly 75% top order military hardware being of Russian origin, India cannot delink/disassociate with Russia, both politically as well as militarily. On the other hand with latest Russian top order hardware viz aeroplanes, Radars, and other systems not meeting Indian aspirations, India has to look westwards e.g. Rafale deal and acquisition of numerous US platforms.
As on date deal formalized with Trump administration for sale of 24 MH-60 HELICOPTERS for Indian Navy is on the anvil. Will Biden administration reconsider going ahead with the deal? Delay/cancellation of the deal will hurt Indian Military enormously.
US administration has been in habit of making veiled statements on issues that are not in conformity with US thinking. Statement on S-400 acquisition and CAATSA in the prevailing geo-strategic scenario is keeping in tune with US practice.
Joe Biden’s views on India is a classic case of mixed bag conundrum. As Vice President during Obama’s first term, Joe Biden was supportive of India being considered a major defence partner, but that was in 2008.
Joe Biden was responsible for scuttling the Cryogenic Engine deal with Russia. Nearer times Joe Boden has been extremely critical of Indian policies viz Citizenship Amendment Act, issues related with Jammu & Kashmir, control of political freedom, human rights and so on. His Vice President Kamla Harris, though of Indian origin, has rarely expressed pride about her being an ‘Indian’. Democratic party campaign website contents are a clear and unequivocal proof of their luke warm approach (in fact condemnatory approach in few cases) towards India, notwithstanding the lunch hosted for PM Modi by Joe Biden during 2016. PM Modi’s alleged ill timed slogan ‘ABKI BAR TRUMP SARKAR’ during ‘HOWDY MODI’ rally in Houston may not have been forgotten by Biden/Kamla combine. Personal bonhomie among Biden and Modi, the top leaders, therefore, might be either missing or at best officious. However continued Sino-US stand-off might mitigate the problems for India, albeit temporarily and prevent USA from adopting a hardline approach towards India.
A proposal to remove Pakistan from the list of 17 non NATO allies is being considered by the Senate as I pen these words. Coincidentally it would perhaps become a litmus test for Joe Biden. Equally important would be the outcome of results in Georgia, which are due anytime. If Biden controls the Senate as well, his approach towards India might be at variance as compared with the Republican controlled Senate. Both issues would reach finality, hopefully before 10th January, but definitely before 20th January, the day Biden assumes the appointment of POTUS.
Indo-US relations under Biden’s presidency in the coming years will be governed more by Chinese hostility towards US rather than genuine Indo-US bonhomie as prevailed during Trump era. China’s continued ‘offensive’ against Taiwan, open support to North Korean regime and developing Sino-Russian cooperation might become USA’s Achilles heel and force USA to keep India in ‘Good Humour’. Pacts signed during Trump presidency viz LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA notwithstanding.
It may not be out of place to conclude the write up with views of FUTURE POTUS and VPOTUS;
Joe Biden said/did;
- Pakistan honoured Biden with second highest civilian award Hilal-e-Pakistan in 2008.
- Joe Biden in 2009 was instrumental in framing of Kerry-Luger bill, which allowed Pakistan to receive USD 1.5 Billion per year for five years as non military aid (2010-14). Was it a quid-pro-quo? How Pakistan used such huge amount of dole needs no elaboration.
- His entire campaign was critical of Indian government handling Kashmir issue. But as the wily politicians say ‘what we do when in power/government is quite different from what we say during election campaign’.
Kamala Harris said;
- She is vocal critic of India’s Kashmir policy.
- She openly backed international intervention in Kashmir, US intervention in particular.
- She said; I quote “we have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping track of the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands”. Unquote.
- She condemned CAA and revocation of Article 370.