Besides harming US-India strategic cooperation, the S-400 is part and parcel of an inferior suite of defence technologies made by a fading Russian power.


India and the United States have come a long way in building a comprehensive partnership with the potential to define the 21st century for the better. Nonetheless, convergence between the two countries seems to be taking place in fits and starts, rather than as a consistent and coordinated plan of action with the purpose of shaping geopolitical realities as opposed to simply reacting to them.

Washington and Delhi must take care to institutionalise the progress that’s been made and to foster informed public support for it, not least because other powers are dedicating resources with the intent of scuttling Indo-American partnership. If grander interests are not kept foremost, the policy differences and minor tiffs which inevitably arise between the two democracies may have bigger consequences, which both nations will regret.

India may be able to work around the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to withhold waivers for the purchase of oil from Iran by buying its energy elsewhere. The US, which wants to empower India as an ally to confront shared security challenges, must do all it can to facilitate this. However, the US’ penalisation of countries which choose to procure military armaments from Russia is likely to remain a far thornier issue for Indian and American diplomacy to work out.

New Delhi’s decision to buy the S-400 missile system from long-time defence supplier Russia could inflict serious harm on future Indo-American military ties, if only because Washington is not in the business of selling advanced US-made defence technologies to countries where the agents of Russian military power are also welcome.

In good faith, both Washington and New Delhi have patiently strived to deconflict the issue. A special US waiver for India is always possible, but the Russian deal could also hamper the blossoming of defence cooperation in other, far more consequential, domains. Regrettably, New Delhi’s S-400 decision has also lent credence to those in Washington who question the merits of India as a long-range strategic partner. At the same time, however, the Indo-American partnership has yet to come up with an alternative to India’s military dependence on Russia.

From almost no defence relationship a few decades ago, the US is today one of the top three suppliers of defence equipment to India. However, what Washington has sold Delhi comprises primarily one-off items, instead of multi-year, big ticket platforms. The US would probably like to become India’s exclusive supplier of defence equipment on the basis of a formal alliance treaty, but this is not yet feasible for security and political reasons on both sides.

Americans sympathetic to India’s many security needs know the peace and good order of the Indo-Pacific will be determined not just at sea, but in the Himalayas and along India’s continental borders. They also know the US does not manufacture a standalone equivalent to the S-400, only air defence capabilities engineered to work in conjunction with other American-made systems.

On its face, then, the S-400 may help India contend with immediate threats, but continued dependence on Russia poses long-term risks to Indian security. Besides harming US-India strategic cooperation, the S-400 is part and parcel of an inferior suite of defence technologies made by a fading Russian power whose own future, and fidelity as a military supplier to India, is in doubt.

Moscow may say it wants India to help balance against the People’s Republic of China—and preventing the PRC’s domination of Middle Eurasia, from Kazakhstan to the Caucasus, should be a US goal, too. But Putin’s nostalgia for empire and aggressions in Europe have succeeded in quarantining Russia from the West and making it ever more subordinate, economically and strategically, to the PRC and its geopolitical ambitions. Beijing will not be as eager as the Kremlin is now to sell Russian military wares to a rising India.

India and America must get ahead of this and ensure their partnership is well-launched. The challenge for our statecraft will be to shed the strategic pieties that kept us apart and to realise new cooperative modes and constructs in pursuit of shared geopolitical goals.

One possible way forward which must be explored would entail the joint development of an India-based defence industry, which would combine Indian expertise and manpower with technological know-how from the US and other friendly countries. By harmonising Indian industrial security and business governance practices with American ones, India could meet its immediate defence needs with Indian-made technology, and reduce its reliance on Russia, with transformative knock-on benefits for the Indian private sector, jobs creation, and innovation. More importantly, India could take its rightful place as a vital member of an emerging coalition of Asia’s advanced democracies whose aim is the maintenance of democratic leadership over the defensive and civilian technologies of the future, and the conservation of the rules-based order and peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eric Brown is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, and Aparna Pande is director of Hudson’s Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia.


Replies to “Buying Russian armaments could hurt India-US military ties”

  1. There’s no sense to much of this article. Sure, its a good thing if the U.S and India get along. But India has long had soviet and russian armaments. These haven’t come with strings attached as the american armaments have.
    Its also ridiculous to brand the S-400 as a inferior technology. It does a good job, especially for the price. There’s nothing comparable from the U.S either.
    The russians have been supplying reasonably good equipment in army tanks, fighter planes, etc to india for years. Even if they aren’t as great as the latest stealth fighters from the U.S. Remember the U.S is unwilling to sell F-35 or F-22 to india. In any case, the russian relationship is precious to india as was the soviet relationship.
    The fault lies with america to see the russians as a bogey even after the end of communism. America has not constructively engaged with Russia which is what it should be doing.
    Many things like free expression may not work so well in russia, but neither does it work so well in india. The NATO and the U.S ought to stop treating russia as a bogeyman, and seriously undertake initiatives and exercises to build a warm relationship. Russia has not been particularly hegemonic in its own neighborhood either. The ukraine/crimea issue is one between russia and ukraine and russia has some good arguments in its favor there too.

  2. The SrilankaTerrorism was yet another black operation by RAW…
    The terrorists were based and trained in India…were provided explosives and logistics from outside SL….finger prints of Hindu Zionists all over….
    Every country in the region suffer from Saffron terror… USA ISRAEL and India satanic alliance they are destroying muslim world through all means wars and genocide distruction of civil society and negative fertility rats

    1. Why do you promote such drivel, when you know that Islamic terror is very real and flourishing, thanks to the patronage that the United States extended to Pakistan when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The world must get together and inflict severe costs on Pakistan for being the epicentre of global terror.

    2. Don’t you dare demonize Sanatan Dharma by calling it saffron terror. If you knew an iota about history you would have restrained yourself from uttering such gibberish. Do you know Hinduism is the world’s most tolerant religion. It has welcomed Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zorastrians with open arms down the ages, when they were being hounded in Europe, Arabia and elsewhere by Christian and Muslim invaders.

  3. Great article. India is poised to exercise true world power status and will be a force for democracy over the next decades. India’s technology sector leads the way.

  4. Why is this piece so heavily loaded in favour of America, which has betrayed India time and again and propped up Pakistan as a counterweight to India. The article is bereft of merit and panders to US sentiments, whose think tanks and church groups use every opportunity to attack our cultural values and dismember India, by propping up Christianity as an alternative to the Sanatan Dharma. If terrorists rule the roost today it is squarely because of diabolical US policies. It created the mujahids with the help of the ISI to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Elements of the group mutated into the Taliban and Al Qaida, wrecking havoc in the region. Both have produced the most sinister offspring in the shape of the Daesh or the ISIS, whose horrific consequences both India and now Sri Lanka are bearing. Washington must be told to behave. If you recall the example of the ex Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff, she cancelled her visit to the US, when she learnt it had hacked her email and would not compromise with the honour and prestige of her country. Has Modi, whom you glorify so much, has shown such spine, even though he is the best bet for the country today. Pakistani generals and Indian babus have incestuous links with the US, where their offspring and their spouses settle with their stash of illegal wealth, looted from Indian tax payers.

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