Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Oct 2018 12:06:11

BY inking the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system deal worth USD 5 billion with Russia, a bold start has been made in India’s foreign policy. The key defence deal risks sanctions from the United States that is vehemently persuading countries against buying Russian defence equipment and has invoked a legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Despite the US stare on the S-400 Triumf deal, India has made its intentions clear that its own security is of paramount importance in a growingly aggressive neighbourhood. This is another triumph for Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s sharp foreign policy that seeks strategic autonomy for India by striking a balance between big powers while holding its own edge.

The sophisticated S-400 missile system was a strategic imperative for India’s military. It plugs critical gaps in defence capabilities, especially in view of China’s rise and constant threat from Pakistan. The long-range mobile missile system gives India a big cover that was available only with China. India was keen to procure the system to tighten its air defence mechanism, particularly along the 4,000-km-long Sino-Indian border.

India has played a smart strategy by leveraging its key geopolitical position in the region. New Delhi has already made its position on procuring defence equipment from Russia clear to the United States. It is seeking a waiver from CAATSA with a belief that Washington will understand its position and long-standing relations with Moscow. That the US is coming up with different voices over the S-400 deal shows its willingness to accommodate India’s own security concerns.

India has had an age-old relationship of trust with Russia. The military relationship has also evolved over the years and though it saw a sort of cold period in the recent years due to India’s decision to diversify its defence purchases, Mr. Modi has been successful in cultivating closer diplomatic and economic ties with Russia. Both Mr. Modi and Russian President Mr. Vladimir Putin enjoy a good personal rapport. Their summit in Sochi was a new reset of Indo-Russian ties.

Carrying forward the Sochi spirit, both leaders are now reinforcing military relations between the two countries. Along with the S-400 missile system, Russia will also enter into agreement to boost cooperation in key sectors such as defence, space, trade and energy. The combination of defence and energy is an assuring security a country seeks.
Washington is well aware of New Delhi’s warm relations with Moscow. Though the Trump administration is targeting Russia’s defence industry, it is also awake to the fact that sanctioning India for its deal with Russia would disrupt US efforts towards grooming India as a key security partner to counterbalance the rise of China.

India is central to United States’ Indo-Pacific and South Asian policies. Washington is pushing for a new security axis in Asia that depends on bringing together India, Japan and Australia to counter China’s increasingly aggressive stance in the region. It also realises that India cannot be pushed around by legislations like CAATSA. All this diplomatic, military and strategic arithmetic puts India in a rare vantage position where it can balance its traditional relations with Moscow and newly-formed warm defence ties with Washington.

As Defence Minister Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman asserted, India has maintained its sovereignty as regards to its relationship with countries and will maintain it in all earnestness. This position is not lost on the US which has kept the door open for a waiver to allies of strategic importance. The signing of Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA) last month has firmly installed India in the US security policy.

While the defiance to CAATSA may not be a big issue, India should also have a safeguard ready in case Mr. Donald Trump decides to use it to corner New Delhi on trade deficit. It would need another smart art of deal which the Modi Government seems to have mastered really well.