What India can do to avoid US sanctions over Russia

While India may have to react and even retaliate, it can do so with dispassionate compulsion to contain fallout to a setback rather than a full-blown crisis.
South Asia
By Sameer Lalwani Author

Originally published in Hindustan Times

Even as President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are set to meet this week for the in-person Quad summit, they could face a devastating setback if the United States (US) sanctions India in the coming months. The US’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) could compel the Biden administration to impose sanctions on India when it takes delivery of the Russian S-400 air defence system at the end of 2021. This move could deal a blow to the relationship, and their Indo-Pacific strategies. But if Indian leaders can acknowledge the US’s ire with Russia, assume greater burden-sharing, and adopt realism in its dealings with DC, it might better position itself for a sanctions waiver.

The CAATSA legislation compels the US to impose secondary sanctions on any entity that does business with the Russian defence industrial complex. The S-400 delivery to India would constitute such a trigger. Most experts conclude that US sanctions on India would be self-defeating as it would damage defence relations, raise concerns about US unreliability, and harm India’s ability to shape a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. The US is counting on India to deter and defend against Chinese military aggression and to share the security burden of upholding a rules-based order in the Indian Ocean. India is counting on US partnership to abet its rise in Asia through defence technologies, market access, and political support. Sanctions would compromise critical US and Indian interests in the Indo-Pacific.

The Biden administration is not unaware of the stakes. It has prioritised China as its pacing challenge and the Indo-Pacific as the key theatre for competition. This should be evident in actions, from the Pentagon’s internal China Task Force to the withdrawal from Afghanistan to the nuclear submarine deal with Australia. Nevertheless, Indian strategists should appreciate the context animating the US sanctions.

Read the full-oped in The Hindustan Times.

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