S-400 Crisis in US-India Relations

Planning to buy S-400 Air Defense Systems from Russia, India faced the threat of sanctions from the United States of America (USA). The U.S. warned India that it is not exempt from the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).” Thus, the Ministry of External Affairs of India stated that there is a comprehensive global strategic partnership between New Delhi and Washington. It was also emphasized that India has a special and privileged partnership with Russia and that India is an independent state. Therefore, the developments caused the S-400 Crisis on the Washington-New Delhi line to reignite.

Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM) presents the opinions of prominent experts and academicians in their fields to interpret the reflections of the crisis in the US-India relations.

Prof. Sencer İMER (ANKASAM Head Consultant)

Prof. Sencer İmer, stating that the U.S. is killing the goose that lays golden egg said: “It has tried to establish the QUAD Alliance with Japan, India and Australia against China. Being among these countries, India is extremely important for the Washington administration. However, India is a sovereign state and can buy any weapon from any country it desires. In other words, the U.S. cannot intervene in this decision. Otherwise, he will kill the goose that lays golden egg and damage the cooperation it is trying to establish. On the other hand, it has been observed that the U.S. has been making this mistake in its relations with its allies for a long time.”

Reminding that the sanctions imposed on Iran are a similar mistake, İmer said, “This kind of sanction is inconsistent. Washington is trying to correct its inconsistency on Iran. The only thing that can be said to them would be “Good morning!” If it had tried to amend its relationship with Iran before, perhaps a 400 billion dollars’ worth 25-year agreement would not have been signed between Iran and China. Another point to remember is that the dollar is no longer a global currency. The currency used in the agreement signed between Tehran and Beijing was the domestic currencies of the countries. Here, too, it is seen that the Washington administration has killed the goose laying golden egg. The U.S. thinks that the international system after 1945 continues. However, today the U.S. has begun to lose its position of being the dominant power. In other words, the Cold War is a thing of the past and they have to get used to it. The U.S. will no longer have its way. Therefore, India will continue to advance in line with its own national interests, and with this trend, the losing party will be the U.S.”

Prof. Mesut Hakkı CAŞIN (Yeditepe University-Faculty of Law)

Emphasizing that the American arms industry is in great trouble, Prof. Mesut Hakkı Caşın said, “The symptoms of this distress were first experienced in the F-35 issue. The return of Russia and China to the world arms market also puts the American arms industry in trouble at the global level. At this point, it should be emphasized that the pressure by the Washington administration on China is also wrong. On the other hand, India perceives a serious threat from China as it can be seen from the tension in the Himalayan Mountains.”

Stating that India will not yield to the pressures by the US, Caşın said, “The main weapon systems of India are Soviet made. Although this state has bought some weapon systems from the U.S. before, its ammunition consists of Soviet-made equipment. In this regard, it is normal for the New Delhi administration to turn to the S-400s. Washington’s pressure will cause the USA’s own arms market to shrink. Thus, it is unrealistic to prevent a country from acquiring a weapon system through pressure. The U.S., with the CAATSA sanctions through its domestic law, tries to punish the states in violation of international law. This situation will cause difficulties for the U.S. in the medium and long term.”

Stressing that the U.S. insisted NATO ally Turkey the similar pressures and yet the results of this these would be futile, Caşın stated, “Turkey has clearly indicated that they will continue defending its air defense with the S-400 system. However, the door of negotiation was left open for this issue between Ankara and Washington. Therefore, Turkey did not yield to the pressure. It is important to emphasize that the U.S. sanctions of the CAATS on Turkey is against to the international law and Article 5 of NATO. Moreover, it would not benefit the U.S. to lose a market like Turkey.”

Dr. Cengiz Topel MERMER (Retired Military Officer)

Stating that there is no crisis between the U.S. and India caused by CAATSA, Dr. Cengiz Topel Mermer said, “When the issue is viewed from India’s approach, there is no problem that has the potential to threaten the country’s security. However, there is a problem on the US side. If there were a crisis, it would be reasonable to look at the U.S. In fact, the CAATSA sanctions imposed by the Washington administration are somehow getting around the U.S. In other words, the statements made by the U.S. to deter India from buying S-400 do not have a concrete ground. On the contrary, the will of the New Delhi administration is riveted and India is trying to get the S-400s before the scheduled date. For instance, Minister of External Affairs of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who went to Russia following the clashes with China in the Galwan Valley in Ladak on June 15, 2020, tried hard to bring the S-400 delivery schedule forward but Moscow did not accept it. Therefore, India is turning to S-400s due to the threat it perceives from China. In this sense, it is seen that the priorities of Washington and New Delhi are different.”

Mermer said, “Approximately 70% of India’s existing weapon systems are already Russian originated. Currently, India is increasing its cooperation in the defense industry for the production of Russian weapons within the country, meaning that it is negotiating with Russia for the technology transfer. Therefore, India is not concerned about US sanctions. India is aware that the U.S. needs it in its policy of balancing China. That is why the US imposing sanctions on India would mean shooting itself in the foot. The realization of this small possibility will be a great blow to the US policy of bringing India to its side, which it has been following for about 25 years. India also knows this very well and does not take the statements of the U.S. very seriously. Thus, the U.S. is thinking about how it can overcome the problem and ignore India’s acquisition of S-400s. In short, if there is a problem, it is within the U.S.”

Finally, expressing that the US attitude against India on S-400 and the pressure on Turkey could not be compared, Mermer said, “India is not an allied country of the United States nor a member of NATO. The U.S. considered CAATSA to keep its allies under control or not to lose the countries under its influence to its adversaries. At this point, the equation diverges. Washington needs New Delhi because India is the only country that will balance China, which threatens the global hegemony of the U.S. States like Japan and Australia are co-actors in this game. India is also a country that comes from the tradition of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the feeling of distrust towards the U.S. from the past is still alive in the Indian public.”

Aydın NURHAN (Ambassador, Retired)

Expressing that the S-400 Crisis between the U.S. and India is important in two aspects, Ambassador Aydın Nurhan said, “The first issue that matters is commercial interests. Both the U.S. and Russia are countries that make huge amount of money thanks to their arms sales all over the world. Therefore, the U.S. does not want these arms sales monopoly to be transferred to other countries. Just like the steps it took to avoid losing the top position in information technologies to anyone.”

Saying that the second important issue is security, Nurhan stated, “The U.S. wants to prevent countries that buy weapons from purchasing these weapons from other states and from losing their control over it. It is following a way similar to Turkey on the S-400. Thus, trade and security play an important role in the S-400 tension between the U.S and India.”

Reminding that the U.S. defines Russia as an enemy and China as a rival, Nurhan said, “Although it is stated here as a rival, the real enemy is China. The only reason declaring Russia an enemy is to hide the steps it will take against China. If China is the real enemy, it must keep New Delhi and Beijing separate as per its “divide-and-rule” policy. To keep the two countries separate, it should not be constructive; destructive, not support pro-stabilizing but destabilizing. In fact, the U.S. has entered a period of destabilizing activities. It will also have to engage in activities that will destabilize in this region. For instance, when the articles published recently in Foreign Affairs are analyzed, it is seen that China has begun to complicate things in India with different methods. The more problems there are between the two countries, the better it will be for the United States.”

Reminding that India’s position is not entirely oriented towards the West despite its problems with China, Nurhan said, “India was the main actor of the Non-Aligned Movement back then. So there is non-aligned part of it and it has not lost it completely. That is why it has not yet fully sided with the West. It still maintains its ‘wildcard’ position. Indeed, Washington also takes into account this position of New Delhi. In fact, the failure to supply S-400s alone does not cause any harm to the U.S. India is not exactly a US ally. However, the Washington administration does not want to lose its monopoly position in arms sales to anyone. It executes this by making some excuses. It also makes various warnings to India not to go beyond this monopoly.”

Cenk ÖZKÖMÜR (Journalist)

Stating that Washington administration’s policy towards Russia and China is continuous regardless of who the US President is, Journalist Cenk Özkömür said, “Although the method is different, the nature is the same. We see this both in the use of CAATSA as an instrument to limit alliances with Russia and in criticizing China for human rights. The most prominent of the differences is that US President Joe Biden tries to rein in China and Russia, his two major rivals, by rebuilding the alliances that were disrupted by former President Donald Trump.”

Özkömür added, “The critical East Asia visit of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the meetings of US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in India indicates their efforts to repair and revitalize alliances. We know that the Biden administration has formed a discourse on “protecting allies.” We have seen this clearly in Alaska talks as well.”

Claiming that India is not of the same importance to the US as Japan and South Korea, Özkömür said, “When considered in the context of containment and balancing China, the U.S. is likely to continue its efforts to have India by its side. On the other hand, it can be suggested that New Delhi would also want to balance the power of China and would get closer to the U.S. However, it is also a fact that India has been suspicious of the United States for a long time. The first reason for this is India’s tradition of “non-alignment.” The second reason is that the U.S. does not want India to confront with its neighbor, China, even though it provides support in matters such as weapons and equipment.” In this regard, Özkömür also added that the Biden administration would use the threat of sanctions from the S-400 issue and the human rights and democracy of India, which has become the subject of criticism in the West, and need India for containment and balancing China, so it could not easily risk this relationship.

Finally, Özkömür said, “Although there was a brief rapprochement in the relations between New Delhi and Beijing, thanks to the mutual visits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We witness that the border conflicts increased the tension and turn the relations of the two giant populated countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) into a permanent conflict. It cannot be denied that the boundary tension is about to ignite at any moment, and it is difficult to be sure that this tension would end without generating greater sparks in the event of fatal conflicts again. In a possible Pakistan-India tension, there is no doubt that China would take sides with Pakistan, its ‘friend in all conditions’ without thinking.”

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Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2017 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nü kazandı. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir.