CAATSA curbs waiver to wean nations off Russian weapons

Washington: After India formally signs the mega $5.4 billion S-400 missile defence deal with Russia, which places it in the bracket of a potential American sanction, the Trump administration said the presidential waiver granted by the Congress in this regard is narrow and intended to wean countries off Russian equipment. “The (CAATSA presidential) waiver is narrow, intended to wean countries off Russian equipment and allow for things such as spare parts for previously-purchased equipment,” a White House National Security Council Spokesperson said on Friday.

 The S-400 missile defence system would give India’s defence a cutting-edge security against any missile attack by its enemies. “India lives in a very turbulent and nuclear-powered region. S-400 provides that assurance and is compatible with its current platform. Friends understa­nd these discussions with Russia started several years ago hence I do not believe US will impose sanction on India,” Mukesh Aghi, chief of US India Strategic and Partnership Forum said.

But for the presidential waiver, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA sanctions kicks in in the event of a major purchase like S-400 missile defence system. Ahead of the deal, the US had urged India not to purchase S-400. It reiterated on Friday. “The Administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability – including the S-400 air and missile defence system,” the White House NSC spokesperson said.

Last month, the US had imposed sanctions on China for the purchase of S-400 from Russia. “Our recent action to sanction a Chinese government entity for an S-400 delivery underscores the seriousness of our resolve on this issue,” the spokesperson said, adding, “The waiver authority is not country-specific. There are strict criteria for considering a waiver.”

The State Department, tasked with reviewing the deal and initiated the pro­c­ess of sanctions or waiver under CAATSAA, and then recommend to the president, did not respond to the question on the time frame and the process. However, one industry source told PTI the law is ambiguous about “when a waiver is necessary so this can be avoided for years.” The National Defence Authorisation ACT (NDDA) 2019 gives President the power to waive of the CAATSA sanctions if it is national security interest.

It also lists out several other options for presidential waiver, prominent among which is the purchase country – India in this case –is taking or will take steps to reduce its inventory of major defence equipment and advanced conventional weapons produced by the defense sector of the Russian Federation as a share of its total inventory of major defense equipment and advanced conventional wea­pons over a specified period.

In fact, over the last decade, India the top arms purchaser of the world, has gradually reduced its dependence on Russian arms. It now stands at about 60%, which is much lower than it was a decade ago. The US has been its major beneficiary.

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