India likely to miss NATO+ grouping of US arms buyers
The US House of Representatives is scheduled to pass on Friday a defence budget legislation without a provision that would have put major defence purchases intended for India on the same fast-track mechanism that is now used for clearing arms deals for America’s NATO allies and a handful of other countries.
This will effectively end efforts to catapult India into that category in 2020, as the US Senate’s defence bill for the coming fiscal, passed late June, also did not contain that clause.
Multiple people involved in the framing and movement of the legislative provision through US Congress attributed the collapse of these efforts, in background interviews, to opposition from the state department and some to the Congress for India’s planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems.
“It’s disappointing,” said one of them, “but we will not give up and try again in 2020 (for the 2021 budget).”
If enacted, the provision would have speeded up the clearance of major defence purchases intended for India, by cutting the current 30-day period for US Congress to raise objections or block them under the Arms Export Control Act to 15 days, a privilege the United States extends only to its NATO allies and five other countries, together called the NATO+5. The reduced clearance period is aimed at “increasing efficiency” and reducing Congress’s blocking window, said a former official, “for sales that are effectively meant for allies”.
India’s inclusion in that list would have made it NATO+6. This is not the same as countries designated Major non-NATO allies, which New Delhi has rejected because the group also includes Pakistan. India will stay in the 30-day clearance category, for now, or until 2021, by which time both countries would have seen off issues surrounding India’s S-400 deal.
The Russian missile system proved in the end the chief reason for blocking India’s elevation into the NATO+ group. The National Defence Authorization Act, as the defence budget is called, also seeks to punish Turkey, a NATO ally, for purchasing the same Russian S-400 system. A person familiar with the deliberation said how could the same legislation oppose a NATO ally’s purchase of S-400 and move India to the NATO+ category, effectively rewarding it, for also buying those systems.
The administration is also understood to have argued that according that status to India might have sent it a wrong signal that a waiver from CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which applies to significant purchases from Russia) was coming.
“Being left out of the bill, however,” said a Congressional aide, who also spoke on background, “could work to India’s advantage as far as S-400s go.” The administration does not have to act as tough with a non-ally as it would feel compelled to with an ally who has crossed over to do business with a rival power. The Trump administration has threatened to cancel Turkey’s purchase orders for F-35’s, the military alliance’s newest fighter jets.