PAKISTAN said on Friday that India’s decision to buy S-400 missile defence system from Russia will further destabilise the region and lead to renew the arms race. In a statement, the Foreign Office said the Indian purchase was part of its efforts to acquire a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) System through multiple sources. However, it expressed doubts about BMD’s efficacy noting that Pakistan had developed capabilities that could defeat India’s planned Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) System. India and Russia had earlier this month signed a $5.43 billion deal for five S-400 ‘Triumf’ missile systems, which is said to be one of the biggest defence deals recently signed by India. Russia would begin deliveries of the missile systems to India by the end of 2020. India has been working on the development of a multi-layer ballistic missile defence system for a few years and has large-scale cooperation with Israel for BMD development.
Analysts, however, believe that despite heavy investments in developing anti-ballistic missile systems, India may not be able to fully defend itself from strikes by Pakistani missiles in a conflict, and it could be a morale booster for India. But at the same time it can give false sense of feeling to Indian leadership that India can get away with any surgical strike. They are of the view that with the short missile flight time between India and Pakistan, it will be impossible for intercepting incoming missiles. Pakistan’s National Command Authority had last year specially pointed out the development of Ababeel Missile System that is equipped with ‘Mirv’ capability to defeat BMD. The NCA had described the attainment of Mirv capability as “technological sophistication of Pakistan’s strategic capabilities”. It means that Pakistan would continue to work on development of system to make BMD ineffective.
A day before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was poised to host Russian President Vladimir Putin, the US had expressed its displeasure over India’s planned purchase of Russia’s S-400 air-defence missile systems, and asked India to abandon the proposed deal. Washington is targeting Russia’s defence industry and those who do business with the country using a sanctions power mandated by Congress last year. Last month, the Treasury and State Departments sanctioned China’s Equipment Development Department for its recent purchases of Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters and S-400 missiles from Russia. At this point in time, granting India a sanctions waiver for a more-than $5 billion deal involving one of Russia’s most advanced weapons systems could undermine Washington’s campaign against Moscow. Officials said the move was intended to send a message to other countries considering similar Russian arms deals, but to no avail.
India had declined to back out of the deal with the Kremlin, and a signing ceremony was held during Mr Putin’s trip. Russia has long been the biggest source of New Delhi’s military equipment, and its supply of spare parts and maintenance services remains crucial to India’s defence needs. Anyhow, Indian military planners see the S-400 surface-to-air missile system – capable of tracking and taking down aircraft hundreds of miles away – as an important asset against Pakistan and China. The Indian market remains crucial to Russia’s arms industry, which was the world’s second-largest exporter last year. There is a perception that in view of India’s huge market and the fact that Washington is pushing for new security arrangements in Asia that hinge on bringing India, Japan and Australia together in response to China’s increasingly assertive stance in the region, it will not slap sanction against India.
India’s purchases of US military equipment during the 2013-17 period rose by more than 500% from the previous five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Richard M Rossow, an expert in U.S.-India policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the U.S. would likely give India a waiver because of longer-term security objectives. The U.S. has tried, so far without success, to persuade NATO ally Turkey to abandon a deal to procure the S-400 system from Russia; and it was expected that India would continue with the deal despite America’s persuasion. In a recent analysis on the planned Russia-India deal, Ashley Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Trump administration sees purchases of the S-400 by either rivals or allies as “a conspicuous danger to U.S. military operations,” largely because the systems help to constrain the deployment of forces and their freedom to manoeuvre.
Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in April cited the U.S.’s relations with India and Vietnam when he asked Congress to give the U.S. government the power to waive Russia-related sanctions. In August, Assistant Defense Secretary for Asia Randall Schriver, had said: “The impression that we are going to completely protect the India relationship, insulate India from any fallout from this legislation no matter what they do was a bit misleading.” Anyhow, the cabinet committee for security (CCS) had cleared the purchase of the five S-400 regiments on September 26, ten days before signing of a sales contract at a summit meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 5. The issue is not that Russia is supplying sophisticated weaponry to India, but the real issue is that India is arming to the teeth to the detriment of the smaller countries of the region.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.