In a relief to India, US Senate passes defence spending bill
Bill seeks to amend law that threatened curbs on countries buying arms from Russia
New Delhi: The US Senate late on Wednesday passed a defence spending bill that sought to amend a law threatening secondary sanctions against American strategic partners, such as India, who conduct “significant” business with Russia.
The move, which is being seen as a major relief to India, paves the way for it to purchase the Russian S400 Triumf.
Regarded as one of the world’s most advanced air defence missile systems, it has the ability to simultaneously track several incoming objects, including fighter aircraft, missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, in a radius of a few hundred kilometres, and launch appropriate air defence systems to neutralize them.
Analysts in India were of the view that if the US did not provide the waiver from sanctions, it had the potential to be an irritant in US-India strategic ties.
The National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA), 2019, has been passed in the House of Representatives and is now awaiting US President Donald Trump’s signature.
The NDAA amended sections in the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed by the US Congress exactly a year ago on 2 August 2017.
CAATSA, if implemented, had the potential to adversely affect India’s defence purchases from its traditional partner, Russia.
Given that a majority of India’s defence hardware is of Russian origin, the implementation of CAATSA would have also affected the purchase of spares to maintain existing equipment, besides new equipment.
Under the provisions of NDAA 2019, India can buy Russian equipment provided it fulfils certain conditions, which, most American and Indian officials say, New Delhi adheres to, including a reduction of fresh orders placed with Russia.
Former Indian ambassador to the US Arun Singh welcomed the passage of the NDAA saying that “this would enable the US to exercise the waiver” vis-a-vis India.
Over the past decade, India has been diversifying its weapons purchases with countries such as France and Israel, and the US, with almost $15 billion worth of orders, emerged as the top source for defence equipment.
The waiver for India comes weeks ahead of the first ever “2+2” dialogue that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman are to have with their US counterparts, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and defence secretary James Mattis.
Twice postponed, the dialogue is scheduled to be held in New Delhi on 6 September.
“I am grateful for the strong commitment of members on both sides of the aisle to pass this year’s NDAA in record time. Together, they have demonstrated the deep and abiding bipartisan support our military enjoys,” Mattis said. “It is now our duty to implement these policies responsibly and ensure a culture of performance and accountability.”
The statement by Mattis also noted that the amendment “provides waiver relief to key US partners and allies from certain Russian-related sanctions” under CAATSA.
CAATSA was enacted to punish Russia for its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. It aims to forbid third countries from doing “significant transactions” with Russia in military and intelligence sectors through the threat of secondary sanctions. Though India enjoys considerable bipartisan support in the US Senate, New Delhi was concerned that the CAATSA waiver could get caught in political crossfire between the Democrats and the Republicans.
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