SOURCE: Fairfield Sun Times
The United States and India are vibrant democracies with diverse populations and a commitment to the free market. Faced with a rising China and an increasingly aggressive Iran, we also share common adversaries. Strengthening ties between the United States and India would greatly benefit the two countries economically and geopolitically. This alliance is also crucial for ensuring peace and security in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, there is a threat to this future partnership: India’s relationship with Russia. This hurdle must be overcome if there is hope for a strong partnership between the United States and India.
The relationship between the U.S. and India has grown closer over the last several years. At a 2019 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington, both nations reaffirmed India’s status as a major defense partner and agreed to deepen cooperation on maritime security, interoperability, and information sharing.
In 2021, the United States supported India’s bid to join the UN Security Council for a two-year term and has supported a reform that would allow India to join the Security Council as a permanent member. Economically, India and the U.S. also enjoy a strong trading relationship. Currently, India is the United States’ 9th largest goods trading partner. Our two countries exchanged $92.0 billion worth of goods in 2019 alone.
Yet Russia remains a threat to this burgeoning defense relationship. India’s decision to purchase the defense system known as S-400 from the Russian military threatens U.S.-India relations, given that Russia is still under U.S. sanctions due to its continued military aggression and its invasion of Ukraine back in 2014.
The purchase of a missile defense system from a NATO adversary is a nonstarter. Allowing countries who have access to our F-35 equipment to work with the Russian military could compromise our military technology. As the United States continues to unveil its F-35 fighter jet to foreign allies, there are legitimate concerns that the Indian government may test their newly purchased defense system on American fighter jets, potentially exposing the S-400’s capabilities against the American military to Russian military intelligence. This puts our national security secrets at risk.
If India insists on entering into a defensive partnership with Russia, this will force our hand. The United States will have to consider foregoing our intelligence sharing partnership with India and scrap plans for a strong defensive partnership. After multiple cyber attacks perpetrated by Russia, including one that recently shut down an entire pipeline, we cannot afford to give Russia any more ammunition against our country.
There are also legal questions. As per the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, signed by President Trump in 2017, any nation that buys military equipment from Russia is liable to economic sanctions by the U.S. government. This isn’t the first time the U.S. has had to forego what could have been a great partnership with another nation because of that country’s relationship with Russia.
The U.S. was poised to strengthen ties with Turkey when they decided to purchase four S-400 batteries from Russia in July 2019. The United States responded by removing Ankara from the F-35 program and freezing assets belonging to the Turkish president and several senior officers. In keeping with our policy, the U.S. would be likely to adopt a similar response to India should it go through with the purchase of such weapons systems from Russia.
The United States and India have a tremendous opportunity to develop a mutually beneficial defense relationship. But at minimum, India will have to agree not to purchase military equipment from Russia. This is non-negotiable. If India is thinking strategically, they will prioritize building a defense relationship with the United States instead of maintaining military ties with Russia—a nation that continues to act as an adversary toward the United States and NATO.
Developing a stronger defensive partnership with India is a worthy ambition, but not at the expense of allowing Russia to undermine American military capabilities—capabilities the U.S. freely shares with nations that act as friends.