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CAATSA | The spectre of U.S. sanctions

The ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA) was passed by a Republican-controlled U.S. Congress in July 2017, in part to tighten the screws on President Donald Trump’s ability to lift sanctions on Russia or alter the U.S.-Russia dynamic significantly without Congressional review. Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was at the time being scrutinised for any Russian links.

CAATSA’s stated purpose was to provide “congressional review and to counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea, and for other purposes”. Mr. Trump reluctantly signed CAATSA into law in August 2017, calling it “seriously flawed” because it “encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate”.

The sanctions against Russia, as per Congress, were for its interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, its military aggression against Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea, as well as for human rights violations. Section 231 of the law provides for secondary sanctions on persons that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian defence and intelligence sectors. In September 2018, the U.S. invoked secondary CAATSA sanctions on a Chinese military department and its head for the purchase of 10 SU-35 Russian combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 equipment in 2018.

CAATSA and India

India and the U.S. have had a growing defence relationship — from “near zero” in U.S. arms sales to India in 2008 to $15 billion in 2019, as per the State Department. India was designated a “Major Defence Partner” of the U.S. in 2016 and it was granted Strategic Trade Authorization tier 1 status in 2018. These designations allowed India easier access to sensitive U.S. defence technology.

With this context in mind, then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, joined by lawmakers from both parties who favoured a close U.S.-India relationship, made a strong case on Capitol Hill for a CAATSA waiver for countries like India (and also Vietnam and Indonesia), which had historically bought Russian arms but were now buying more U.S. arms. At a Congressional hearing in May 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked lawmakers to ensure “sanctions don’t hit folks that were not intended to be harmed by these sanctions”.

Consequently, in the summer of 2018, the U.S. Congress passed a CAATSA waiver as part of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019. For it to apply, Congress required the President to certify that the waiver was, among other things, in the U.S.’s national security interest, the entity in question was reducing its reliance on Russian weapons and that it was cooperating with the U.S. on security matters critical to America’s security interests.

In the months since then, the U.S. administration, across departments, has reiterated that CAATSA waiver language is not country-specific and that India should not rely on getting a waiver. These comments were made repeatedly in the context of India’s October 2018 decision to purchase a $5.4 billion long-range surface-to-air missile defence shield from Russia, the S-400. Last week, the U.S. put out the same message after the Defence Acquisition Council approved the procurement of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF), an upgrade for 59 of these and the acquisition of 12 Su-30 MKI jets — with an estimated bill of ₹18,148 crore.

Example of Turkey

CAATSA can be understood more by examining the case of Turkey. “You can look at the very serious conversation that’s taking place with our NATO partner Turkey. And the same concerns will apply should India proceed with an S- 400 purchase,” a State Department official told media in May 2019.

The U.S. had expelled Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme following Turkey’s receipt of the first shipments of the S-400 in July 2019, over American concerns that system might compromise its F-35 jets. Turkish pilots are no longer allowed to train on the F-35 and the NDAA for fiscal year 2020 prohibited the sale of these jets to Turkey. In December 2019, Chris Van Hollen, a Senate Democrat, and Senate Republican and Trump ally Lindsay Graham urged Mr. Pompeo to invoke CAATSA against Turkey. That has not happened yet.

While in Washington in the autumn of last year, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar asserted India’s right to direct its own defence relationships. “ We would not like any state to tell us what to buy or not to buy from Russia any more than we would like any state to tell us to buy or not buy from America,” he had said.

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 11:04:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/caatsa-the-spectre-of-us-sanctions/article32053452.ece

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