Vol. XLII No. 22 June 03, 2018

Vice-Like Grip of India-US Relations

Prakash Karat

THE real consequences of the strategic alliance with the United States have begun unfolding. Not in the way the Modi government wanted to project it, but in a manner counterproductive to India’s national interests and security concerns. 

Two recent developments highlight how India’s military and strategic ties with the US are rebounding and harming our vital interests. 


President Trump has unilaterally announced America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran. This was an agreement which was arrived at after protracted negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (USA, Russia, China, France and UK) and Germany.  Against the wishes of the five other countries which entered into the agreement with Iran, the USA has now reneged on the agreement. The Trump administration has announced that it will re-impose earlier sanctions on Iran and also additional sanctions.

This would mean that any country which has trade and commercial dealings with Iran and its enterprises would also attract sanctions and penalties. 

Iran is a major oil producer and, at present, it is the third largest supplier of oil to India. Before UN sanctions were imposed in 2007, Iran was the second largest supplier of oil to India.  In the past two years, after the agremment, sanctions were relaxed, and our oil imports from Iran had begun to increase again. There are advantages in buying oil from Iran.  Firstly, the sweet crude oil is of better quality for our refineries.  Secondly, the cost of transportation is less from Iran to India than from other sources.  As everyone knows, India imports over 80 per cent of its oil requirements and it is a huge burden on our budget.  It is, therefore, in India’s interests to maximise oil imports from Iran. 

But with American sanctions looming ahead, India will come under pressure again  not to buy oil from Iran.Though Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has recently stated that India will accept sanctions only by the United Nations and not by any individual country, past experience shows how India caved into arm-twisting by the United States.

During the UPA-I government headed by Manmohan Singh, India in its eagerness to sign the nuclear deal with the United States, succumbed to US pressure and voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency.  This is what paved the way for sanctions being imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council. India was also forced to cut back its oil imports from Iran and give up other investments by Indian companies in Iran.

Now too, the stakes are high. India has invested heavily in developing the Chabahar port on the south-eastern coast of Iran. This port would give access to Afghanistan and to Central Asia. India is also planning to invest in the Farzad B gas field to access the gas produced from there. All these projects will be in jeopardy if the United States goes ahead with imposing sanctions on third countries who have economic and commercial ties with Iran.

India can expect no leniency from the United States on the matter of Iran. After all, when the Indo-US nuclear deal was being negotiated, one of the guidelines set out in the Hyde Act adopted by the US Congress to facilitate the deal was that India should cooperate with the United States in its efforts to isolate Iran. 


The second issue has more serious implications for India’s security and national interests. That is, the legislation passed by the US Congress titled “Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA).  This law which was passed in August 2017 is directed against Russia.  By this law, Americans will impose sanctions against countries that engage in “significant transactions” with Russian defence and intelligence enterprises and agencies.  Such an Act against Russia has been adopted by the US in its ongoing confrontation with Russia. 

This sanctions law will have a direct and adverse impact on India’s defence preparedness. As is well-known, the erstwhile Soviet Union and the successor state, Russia, have been traditionally the biggest supplier of defence equipment to India since the 1970s.  Ever since the strategic alliance was forged with the United States by the Manmohan Singh government in 2005, India has begun purchasing more and more weaponry from the United States and Israel. However, Russia continues to be a key supplier of advanced weaponry. 


The US has been working to replace Russia as the main supplier of defence equipment to India. This has been a key element in making India a strategic ally.  The Indo-US nuclear deal was offered to India as a quid-pro-quo for forging a military collaboration with the United States. 

According to the latest report of Standing Committee on Defence, Demands for Grants 2017-18, the contracts  signed with the United States for defence equipment from 2013-14 to 2015-16 shot up to Rs 28,895 crore, while those with Russia for the same period total only Rs 8,374 crore. 

It is in India’s interest that arms supply remains diversified and not become dependent on any one country. The Indian government had negotiated with Russia to purchase advanced missile defence systems called the S-400 Triumf system. This contract is estimated to be worth Rs 40,000 crores. India is also proposing to buy 200 Kamov helicopters and lease a nuclear submarine from Russia.

Leading members of the US Congress and some US government figures have expressed concern at the purchase of S-400 missile systems by India. There is talk of sanctions being imposed against India for this purchase. If India is, thus, prevented from buying advanced weaponry for its armed forces, this will have a direct  bearing on our security and defence preparedness.


After going along with the US strategy to pit India against China and joining the quadrilateral alliance sponsored by the US for the Asia-Pacific region, Modi is now finding that this relationship is one-sided and weighted to serve US interests.

With CAATSA in action, Modi finds himself in an invidious position. The Modi government is now pleading with the United States for a waiver to buy Russian missiles.

This explains the two recent initiatives taken by Modi – the “informal summit” meetings with President Xi Jinping in Wuhan and President Putin in Sochi. These outreaches are an admission that India’s strategic autonomy has been vastly shrunk by the strategic embrace with the United States. 

After getting into the vice-like grip of the US strategic alliance, the realities of this subordinate relationship are now becoming evident.  India is expected to fall in line with the strategic interests of the senior partner. 

The acid test will come if the United States is not prepared to exempt the S-400 missile deal from sanctions. Any succumbing to US pressure would mean jeopardising the tried and tested relations with Russia.

Any self-respecting government which cares for national interests would take a firm stand that whether it is Russia or Iran, India will conduct its relations with these countries as per its interests. India’s strategic autonomy and independent foreign policy cannot be circumscribed by an imperialist country. But this is too much to expect from the BJP-led Modi government.