THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 09 October 2018 (India’s S-400 balancing act)

India’s S-400 balancing act

Mains Paper: 3 | Internal Security 
Prelims level: S 400 
Mains level: While the India-Russia relationship is no longer what it was, the current transactionalism suits both countries for now


  • India last week saw the long-overdue materialization of the S-400 deal. Despite the threat of sanctions by the US under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), India is likely to get a waiver. 
  • This signifies how strategically important India is, for both Russia and the US.

Why the deal is so significant?

  • The deal is being projected in some quarters as India daring the US and displaying strategic autonomy. 
  • It even betrays a touch of the Cold War-style non-aligned movement (NAM) mindset. 
  • India needs the S-400 to plug the gaps in its air defence, especially against China.
  • India had been pursuing this deal since 2015, well before Donald Trump became the US president and CAATSA was legislated.
  • India has spent a lot of political capital to get a waiver. It was one of the main talking points during the 2+2 dialogue between India and the US. 
  • Both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have supported waivers for India for its weapon deals with Russia. 
  • India enjoys bipartisan support in the US, the anger at Russia over its meddling in the US elections along with the domestic political partisanship could make it tricky for India. 

Russia has come out as the clear winner 

  • Despite India and Russia sharing a strong defence relationship, the ties between the two countries have been drifting as India slowly started becoming an important partner to the US. Sanctions could cool relations.
  • Russia is opposed to India’s policy in the Indo-Pacific. It does not want India to be a counterbalance against China.
  • Russia itself is dependent on China for arms and energy sales and investments, and disregards India’s concerns about its northern neighbour. 
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi had an informal summit with Putin in Sochi before he delivered a tempered speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue on India’s policy in the Indo-Pacific. 
  • The ‘Quad’ grouping is focussed on China’s expansionism, it is possible that Russia conveyed to India its sensitivities in joining a US-led security grouping in the Indo-Pacific. 

Impacts on India U.S. relations 

  • The S-400 deal does, however, shows the gaps in Indo-US defence relations. 
  • Despite the close defence ties and the countries staging a large number of bilateral military exercises in recent years, shortcomings in defence trade remain. 
  • The Defence Framework and Defense Technology and Trade Initiative to pursue joint development and co-production of defence equipment has failed to address India’s needs. 
  • It has also failed to estimate what the US can deliver and how far India will go in trusting the US for critical weapons systems.
  • Indian decisionmakers still seem to be saddled with the legacy of the Cold War and non-alignment.
  • On the other hand, in comparison to Russia which has helped India with strategic technologies like leasing and developing nuclear-powered submarines.
  • The US is still not open to supplying India with advanced weapons platforms and military technologies.


  • With the S-400, India has achieved what it wanted. But it underscores the transactional relations between India and Russia. 
  • Indo-Russian trade is largely defence driven, and India continues to be Russia’s biggest weapons buyer. 
  • India will keep Russia engaged with defence deals amid Russia’s growing relations with Pakistan.
  • Russia is no longer coy about selling weapons to Pakistan. 
  • There is a definite sense of realism in India, Russia and the US. Transactionalism is suiting both India and Russia. 
  • India gets the advanced weapons it needs and Russia charges top dollar for it. It does not give “friendship prices” to India anymore. 
  • Russia is not going to help India in its strategic competition with China, nor is it as committed as it once was to India in its case against Pakistan.
  • Indian interests will be served as long as Russia meets its strategic weapons needs and doesn’t make any moves that compromise India’s security. 
  • The US not reacting too sensitively to India’s weapons purchase will be pivotal for India-US economic and defence ties as well. 

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UPSC Prelims Questions: 

Q.1)  Which of the following is true about "CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act)", recently in news ?
A.    The act is passed by USA for countries having significant defence relations with North Korea. 
B.    It would be tough for India to carry on defence deals with USA if the act is not diluted on case to case basis.
C.    Both 1 and 2
D.    Neither 1 nor 2
Answer:  B

UPSC Mains Questions:
Q.1) Why S 400 the deal is so significant for India Russia relations?