Peter Korzun — Strategic Review June 1, 2018
The US does not shy away from openly threatening its allies and friends into submission. America’s major defense partners could face tough sanctions for purchases of Russian military equipment. Since January 29, the US has been imposing punitive measures under the CAATSA on foreign entities and individuals who cooperate with Russia in the field of defense or intelligence gathering. Congress is not inclined to give the administration the right of waiver to make an exception from the rule for some close allies. Despite that, many of them remain adamant in their intent to purchase the weapons they need from Russia.
Washington is exerting pressure on Turkey to make it abandon the plans to purchase Russia S-400 Triumf state-of-the-art air defense systems. So far, Ankara stood tall refusing to bow. US Congress is already considering the proposals on halting US arms sales to that country.
Unlike Turkey, India is not a NATO ally but its desire to acquire the Triumf triggers a negative reaction in the US. American lawmakers not only express concern over the planned deal but also issue warnings that sensitive American military technology may be banned from being shared with India in future. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, “There is a lot of concern in the US administration and Congress with the S-400.” India’s decision will be made final before the October Russia-India summit. During the informal talks in Sochi in May 2018, President Putin and Prime Minister Modi discussed the ways to get around the US potential sanctions when the deal goes through. Both countries have pledged to jointly create a plan to keep it out of CAATSA. New Delhi has just concluded price talks on the S-400 deal with Moscow, saying it will go ahead, no matter what the US says or does.
Those who follow the news on arms trade know well that India is interested in purchasing 22 American Predator Guardian drones for its Navy. It’s also willing to acquire the weapon the US has not sold anyone so far: 80-100 Avenger (Predator C) armed drones for the Air Force. The price may be as high as $8 billion. The F-16 production on Indian soil is also in doubt. All these projects are questioned as the US sticks to its guns implementing the “do it or else” policy. But it will hardly work with India, a nation known for its independent foreign policy. It has never bowed to any pressure from outside since its independence.
Iraq, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the countries threatened by sanctions if they go on with the plans to purchase Russian weapons. Many of them are particularly interested in the S-400. There is a catch here. If you make an exemption, others will feel humiliated and demand waivers too, but if you punish nobody then what is CAATSA for? Perhaps, the entire policy of punishing others in case of non-compliance with US laws is fundamentally wrong. It may not push Russia out of the international arms market but rather make its products a commercial success. After all, it’s an open secret that the S-400 is much more capable than the US Patriot air-defense system.
Turkey is told that if it buys Russia arms, the US won’t sell it F-35 aircraft. India may not get drones in case it purchases the S-400s. The essence is the same: sovereign countries are to be deprived of their right to have the best. They’d better be satisfied with what the US imposes or face punitive measures for daring not to comply. But many of them will not. For instance, there is little doubt that the pressure will make US-Indian relations hit a rough patch.
Defense Secretary James Mattis sought waivers for allies buying Russian weapons but failed to persuade Congress to give the administration this right. Besides, State Secretary Mike Pompeo holds a different view on the issue.
The “arms twisting” approach is prevalent in US foreign policy and even NATO allies are no exception. According to The Times, President Trump is expected to scale back America’s commitments or even issue an ultimatum over further American involvement in Europe.
No world leaders taking part in the St. Petersburg’s economic forum (SPIEF-2018) in May were happy about the US ultimatums as well as the sanctions against Russia, especially at a time it is leaving recession behind and oil prices are going up. The complains were made heard and concerns voiced at the conference held in the country, which is the prime target of American attacks. Nobody admired the trade wars the US has unleashed. May was the month the US stepped up its attacks on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline – the project Germany, Austria and some other European countries want to go through so much.
Israel was the only country to greet the US withdrawal from the Iran deal. Nobody endorsed the President Trump’s decision to cancel the meeting in Singapore with the North Korean leader (it may still take place, the talks are underway).
The US and its European allies appear to go separate ways on defense. On May 27, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a European operation in North Africa to stem the immigrants’ flows. Austria will take over the EU Presidency for six months starting in July. The idea has been being floated since a long time ago. Europe’s main security concern is the protection of its borders, not taking part in US ventures in faraway places or provoking Russia by deploying forces near its borders. The EU is gradually moving to its own deterrence and defense posture, which may not necessarily meet US interests.
The US policy of diktat will backlash, bringing together those who are threatened by US sanctions. The EU is about to fight back, Turkey sticks to its guns, India has refused to bow. American allies will have to work out their own approaches to international problems, using quite different instruments to achieve the desired goals. The US global standing will be weakened. By trying to isolate others America will isolate itself. But the addiction to teach, dictate and bark orders is too great to get easily rid of. It takes time to realize that the times have changed. What worked well yesterday has become counterproductive today.