Three US Congressmen have proposed various amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would strengthen defence ties with India, waive sanctions that might be brought about by India acquiring Russian weapons under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), strengthen the two countries’ energy cooperation, and work to lessen India’s reliance on Russian military hardware and energy sources in favour of US sources.
The NDAA is the overarching piece of legislation that establishes the organisations in charge of overseeing America’s defence, decides how much money will be allocated to them, especially the Department of Defense (DoD), and establishes the basic guidelines for how that money will be used. The act was overwhelmingly supported by both parties when it was approved by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) in June. If and when NDAA 2023 is passed, it will allocate more than $800 billion for US national defence.
The revisions pertaining to India have been offered by Congressman Ro Khanna, a HASC member, Andy Barr, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ronnie Jackson, a retired rear admiral and HASC member.
Progressive Indian-American Democrat Khanna of California has praised bilateral cooperation on new technology, emphasised the dangers posed by China’s aggressiveness against India, and asked for an India-specific exemptions under CAATSA. Barr, a Republican from Kentucky, has asked the administration for a report on measures to lessen India’s reliance on Russian energy sources as well as methods to expand collaboration on clean coal technologies and pinpoint advantages for the US in a strengthened energy partnership. Jackson, a Texas Republican, has asked for a report on how the US might assist India’s defence.
The House Committee on Rules received amendments, but this is just the beginning of a protracted legislative process. The committee will meet the following week to decide on a structured amendment process to be presented to the full House; the House will then vote on those amendments; the Senate will then pass its own version of the legislation; the White House will then issue a statement of administrative policy indicating support or opposition for the legislation and specific provisions; and finally, the Senate will vote on the legislation as well.
However, some who follow developments on the Hill think that the changes themselves show that there is bipartisan support in Congress for the strategic alliance between the US and India. The substantive defense-related amendments are being seen as a sign that there are powerful political constituencies on the Hill invested in the relationship with India at a time when two resolutions have been introduced in the House expressing concern over India’s human rights record. Both resolutions have little chance of being taken up or passing.
The amendments also represent the hope in American political and policy circles that the differences on Ukraine can be turned into an opportunity to strengthen the US-India defence partnership, in line with the US effort to encourage India to diversify its defence ties in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The suggested modifications’ emphasis on closer ties with India contrasts sharply with the dozens of amendments that focus primarily on putting pressure on China’s Communist Party and strengthening US support for Taiwan.
The Khanna amendment: CAATSA waiver
The robust defence alliance between the US and India, “based in shared democratic ideals,” is essential to advance US interests in the Indo-Pacific, according to a subsection Khanna has suggested in his amendment. In response to growing dangers in the Indo-Pacific area, the alliance needs to be strengthened “to convey a clear message that sovereignty and international law be respected.”
The US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), which was announced during the Tokyo summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Narendra Modi, is praised in Khanna’s amendment as a “welcome and essential step” toward forging closer partnerships between the two nations in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, aerospace, and semiconductor manufacturing. To ensure that the United States, India, and other democracies across the world nurture creativity and facilitate technological advancements that continue to far surpass Russian and Chinese technology, such collaborations between engineers and computer scientists are essential.
Khanna’s amendment requests that the Congress acknowledge that India faces “immediate and serious regional border threats from China, with continued military aggression by the Government of China along the India-China border” in a section titled “Border Threats from China and Reliance on Russian Weapons.” It continues by saying that the US should do more while vehemently supporting India’s immediate defence requirements to persuade India “to speed India’s transition off Russian-built weapons and defence systems.”
Khanna, however, makes his intervention in the last section of his amendment, which addresses a crucial topic that has garnered news coverage over the past several years as a result of India’s purchase of the S-400 missile system from Russia. It suggests that, despite the immediate necessity for India to keep its “heavily Russia-built military systems,” a waiver to CAATSA sanctions is best for the US and US-India defence cooperation in order “to deter aggressors” in light of Russia and China’s close cooperation. While the executive has the power to waive sanctions under CAATSA, support within the Congress for an exemption for India under a law will convey a political message.
The Barr amendment: Energy partnership
Representative Andy Barr’s amendment requests that the Secretary of State provide a report on the US-India energy partnership to the relevant committees of the Senate and the House within 90 days of the act’s adoption, after consulting with the US Trade Representative and the Secretary of Energy.
According to the amendment, this report should include a description of the following elements: opportunities for the US to reduce India’s reliance on Russian energy sources with US energy sources; opportunities for technology sharing “to foster cleaner processing of fossil fuels, including clean coal technology;” the potential advantages of an enhanced energy partnership with India for the US national security and economy; and potential non-governmental partners, including universities.
Barr’s interest in energy is believed to stem from a variety of factors, including the fact that the University of Kentucky, which is situated in his native state, is home to the Centre for Applied Energy Research, which conducts research on fossil fuels. The University of Kentucky’s carbon storage study is likewise supported and funded by a state law.
The Jackson amendment
Ronny Jackson requested a report from the DoD on three issues in his amendment.
These include the US industrial base’s capacity to support projects, activities, and programmes that Indian counterparts are likely to adopt; the platforms currently used by India that may obstruct US-Indian interoperability; and the ways in which US support can be a viable alternative to any support provided by Russia or China.
Jackson’s change is viewed as the government’s acknowledging its Make in India efforts. It also reflects the continued worry about India’s ties to Russia within the US system, along with a desire to do more to mitigate those ties.