Donald Trump between the anvil and the Hammer he himself forged: CAATSA

Enacted on July 24, 2017, the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, is one of President Trump's first major actions on the international scene after his election to the White House. This law authorizes the United States to implement economic and technological sanctions against a country that purchases defense equipment from nations deemed “enemies of the United States,” such as Russia, North Korea or Iran. . This threat has since been regularly brandished by the State Department when a country considered acquiring aircraft, warships or armored vehicles from Russia. But today, the inconsistencies specific to this law, very poorly calibrated to apply in the finesse of international relations, are causing political tensions in the United States, and diplomatic tensions between Washington and its allies.

If the CAATSA has been, on several occasions, used to threaten a country attempting to acquire Russian equipment, it has, in fact, been applied only once, and in a limited manner, against People's China, regarding the acquisition by Beijing of the second tranche of Su-35 fighters (10 aircraft), and S-400 systems. Concretely, these sanctions have gone unnoticed in the environment of economic tensions which oppose the two countries, with the help of customs taxes on hundreds of billions of dollars of goods exchanged. On the other hand, while India has ordered from Russia, since 2017, Frigates of the Grigorovich class, missiles of different types, Kalashnikov assault rifles, helicopters, S400 batteries and, more recently, 490 T90 battle tanks, no sanctions have been implemented against New Delhi, the country representing a partner far too valuable for Washington to contain the rise of Chinese power, as well as an important outlet for its Defense industry (Apache helicopters, Maritime Patrol aircraft P8, F16V and F18 E/F in competition for the IAF and the Indian Navy, etc.).

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Two weeks ago, India placed an order for 490 Russian T90 battle tanks, which should logically be sanctioned by CAATSA

In 2019, Moscow expects a total volume ofexport of its defense equipment worth $13,2 billion, i.e. approximately the same amount as in 2018 and 2017, covering more than forty international clients. Logically, all of these countries should be covered by CAATSA legislation. In fact, none have been, with the exception of China, as we have seen. Among these countries, in addition to China and India, are the Persian Gulf monarchy, Egypt, Vietnam, Algeria, Morocco, many African countries, and even European countries, such as Serbia. Moscow has also implemented, since this year, new methods allowing payment international orders without going through the SWIFT interbank system of American origin, nor using the US dollar as the reference currency.

It is true that the unqualified application of these sanctions would, without the slightest doubt, lead to much worse consequences than those resulting from the purchase of Russian equipment. Thus, Donald Trump finds himself today between the Hammer that CAATSA represents, and the anvil of President RT Erdogan's Turkey, which acquired 4 batteries of S400 systems from Russia, systems having been delivered by Moscow between July and November 2019. After threatening to ruin the Turkish economy, and having excluded the country from the F35 program, President Trump sees himself today pressed by its parliament, and in particular by the American Senate yet with a Republican majority, to apply CAATSA against Ankara. However, and President Erdogan has echoed this on several occasions, if Turkey were to be targeted by CAATSA, it would immediately turn towards other partners, including Russia and China, in particular to continue its own Defense equipment programs. And even if the threat has never been formulated by Ankara, the White House fears that Turkey will leave NATO to get closer to the Sino-Russian couple, which we know is closer to President Erdogan's ideas of government than its present European allies.

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A fine tactician, RT Erdogan knows how to play on the antagonisms between Russia, China, the United States and Europeans to try to elevate Turkey to the ranks of the world's great nations.

Donald Trump therefore finds himself without any acceptable solution in this matter : either it “gives in” to Ankara, immediately sending a message of weakness or arbitrary legislation to all the countries currently threatened by CAATSA, or it applies sanctions, at the risk of pushing Turkey into the “opposing” camp. Aware of this impossible equation, as a fine politician, President Erdogan simultaneously mimes perfect devotion to NATO, while not hesitating to threaten the Alliance with blockage, the latter not giving in to his demands in Syria, notably by refusing to classify the YPG, the Syrian Kurds alongside whom French and American forces have fought Daesh since 2015, in the list of terrorist organizations, while at the same time carrying out new purges against soldiers suspected of having collaborated in the 2016 coup attempt.

The solution would obviously be to remove this law resulting from a very poor understanding of the mechanisms at work in international relations. But given what President Trump has shown about his approach to international politics, it is unlikely that such a challenge will be considered. The inconsistencies and sudden and arbitrary reversals are therefore likely to persist in the coming years, ultimately only consolidating the link between Moscow and Beijing, and the military, economic and international power that this new global power pole represents. The only alternative would be, as the French president proposed, toinitiate a direct, frank and voluntary discussion between Europeans, or some of them, and Moscow, so as to maintain an alternative to the bipolar world in perpetual tension that is emerging today.

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