The failure of us sanctions: the law CAATSA and curb Russian arms exports

Провал американских санкций: закон CAATSA и сдерживание российского экспорта вооружений

The threat of sanctions in accordance with section 231 of the Act 2017 on combating the enemies of America by sanctions (CAATSA) was back in the media spotlight. Section 231 CAATSA was designed to achieve ambitious goals: to prevent changes in the global environment in the field of security by creating additional costs for third countries that cooperate with the Russian defense industry.At the time of signing CAATSA and publication of the decree of the President of the United States No. 13849, adopted pursuant to the act, it was known that several countries have either signed agreements or were negotiating with Russia on major transactions in the military sector, which undoubtedly fall under the scope of section 231 CAATSA. And in that moment, when he was signed decree No. 13849, people’s Republic of China “deserved” the first sanctions in accordance with section 231. In different stages of the process of acquisition of Russian arms at the time of the imposition of sanctions against Chinese companies were Turkey, India, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Morocco and Algeria.CAATSA associated with its introduction, the policy still has not eliminated any of the problems threats. Moreover, the opposite has happened. The Turkish government is, apparently, inspired by the disunity and lack of clarity from Washington. Since then, in September 2018 sanctions were imposed against China, the government of Turkey has received the first of the regimental system s-400 (July 2019) and judging by the media reports, is currently testing radar systems using the trajectories of the flight of F-16 in Ankara. Egypt and India are still openly negotiating the purchase of this Russian system. Washington has publicly threatened sanctions Ankara, apparently referring to the measures laid down in section 231 CAATSA, but at each stage of this process, officials in the United States have postponed the introduction of sanctions until a later stage. First, punitive measures are expected immediately after purchase, then after activation, then started talking about negotiations, and each time it was used intentionally vague expressions such as “depending on circumstances” or “as needed”. Despite the introduction of sanctions against Turkish leaders and ministries after the invasion of the Northern part of Syria in October 2019, the law CAATSA was never put into effect as punishment for the widely publicized delivery of s-400 to Turkey.Section 231 CAATSA clearly could not have a deterrent effect on these countries, because the US government from the beginning has been unable to send a clear unified signal required in order to convincingly indicate what it cannot do under threat of sanctions, and what we need to do in order for them not to be. The signing of the statement of the President of trump was the first blow to the credibility of the law, followed by a nine-month postponement of the application to China of the penalties provided by law, the text of which has already exceeded 50 percent of the usual in such cases, the period of performance. The case of China created a precedent for the imposition of sanctions after delivery, not after the conclusion of the purchase agreement. And in the case of Turkey, it became clear that sanctions may be deferred at the discretion of the President of the United States.Deterrence has not been implemented because the U.S. government did not connect the threat of punishment compared to the alternative, which would encourage cooperation in the military sphere with the United States instead of Russia. Among the expected complex cases for CAATSA except Turkey and even India. These are the countries that traditionally seek to balance cooperation with the United States, and Russia. In other countries, such as UAE and Saudi Arabia, the authorities have complete freedom to dispose of the budget and can purchase multiple incompatible or conflicting weapons systems from both great powers as a luxury for the acquisition of political weight and influence.In these cases, the only incentive from Washington is negative. Their demand reads: “do Not buy large weapons systems from Russia, otherwise we probably will punish you”. However, Moscow has not put forward any such threats, and the lack of credibility of American threats, apparently, is pushing governments to take on risk to continue doing business with both great powers.The United States government faces a difficult choice regarding section 231 of the act CAATSA. The current situation is unacceptable and embarrassing as opponents and potential partners. The first option, to continue on the same path, means to finally turn the law into a cudgel to threaten her third countries for military-technical cooperation and arms purchases from Russia. But these threats to anyone is not credible, because the law does not provide for transparent decision-making process. Thus, sanctions appear arbitrary punitive measures. The second option is extreme: we should get rid of the section of the law that creates such an imperfect instrument of sanctions. In the end, because it is not working as intended, and the constitutional principle of separation of powers suggests that cooperation between them in this legislative scheme in the near future is unlikely. The third option is to reform section 231 CAATSA thus, to eliminate ambiguity and offer a real alternative to those countries that are or plan to cooperate with the military industry of Moscow.The problem is that the threat that involves the law, though weakened from their imperfection, corresponds to the foreign policy approach of “America first”, despite the consequential damage to the reputation of the United States arising out of the discussions. It will remain only an empty threat as long as Washington will not attempt to restore the deterrent effect and to persuade partners of the United States to cooperate with this program. Instead of trying to force Moscow to change its aggressive foreign policy by strangling the Russian military industry, section 231 CAATSA, unfortunately, focuses only on the punishment of partners in U.S. security, without offering attractive alternatives.

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