STA-1: Impact on India’s military build-up

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Dr Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

THE Trump administration has been improving its strategic ties with India to check the economically rising China in Asia. The predecessors of President Donald Trump also paved the way for a strong strategic partnership with India. Obama administration granted India the status of a Major Defence Partner of the United States—a status akin to that of a major non-NATO ally. It also facilitated India’s entry into the technological control regimes. Today, therefore, India can purchase sensitive defence technologies and military hardware in the same way that the Americans treaty allies such as NATO members, South Korea, and Japan do.
Recently, the strategic understanding between the New Delhi and Washington further improved. On July 30, 2018, the United States Department of Commerce granted Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status to India. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross stated: “India’s status as a Major Defence Partner led to its becoming a Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) Tier 1 country, comparable to our NATO allies, under the Department of Commerce’s Export Administration Regulations.” Even before the status of STA-1 the US military sales to India went from zero to $15 billion in the last one decade.
The STA-1 status is a logical extension of defence technology cooperation between New Delhi and Washington. Accordingly, the former buys highly advanced and cutting-edge sensitive civil and military technologies from the American companies. The US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross stated that the move to grant STA-1 status to India reflects its efforts to improve its own export-control regime, its adherence to multilateral export rules, and its growing status as a US defence partner. Ironically, he forgets India’s nuclear track record that reveals 152 theft cases of uranium that have taken place in India since 1984.
Earlier, the US designated with STA-1 status only those countries that were members of the four export control regimes: Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Wassenaar Arrangement (WA), Australia Group (AG) and the Nuclear Supplier Group. India is a member of the three export regimes, ie MTCR, WA, AG, but its application for the membership of the NSG has been pending before the Group since 2016. Despite being a non-member of the NSG, New Delhi, currently, realize the benefits of its Major Defence Partner status. Conversely, India’s new status will benefit the American manufacturers while continuing to protect their national security. The Indian defence and civil industry, especially nuclear and space programs are in the dire need of technological assistance. The STA-1 allows India for the license exception with regards to exports from the US. “This type of US government authorisation allows a certain item to be exported under defined conditions without a transaction-specific licence.” Thus, India gets easy access to the latest American defence technologies, with the reduction of the number of licenses needed for exports from the US.
Under the STA-1, the Indian civil and military industries have license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies. The India Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) can import sensitive sophisticated military use technologies to improve its indigenous weapons. Its because, the STA-1 makes India eligible to items those are under the control for national security, chemical or biological weapons, nuclear non-proliferation, regional stability, and crime control. The categories include electronics, lasers, and sensors, information security, computers and electronics, navigation, telecommunications, aerospace, etc. The STA-1 status eases the transfer of the American nuclear technology and material to India. It expedites the American firm Westinghouse Electric Company work, which planned to build six AP 1,000 nuclear reactors in India under an agreement announced in June 2016. In addition, India’s nuclear weapons program will be equally beneficiary of the STA-1. The Indians will improve their offensive and defensive missiles proficiency.
— The writer is Associate Professor, School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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