US lawmaker Ro Khanna pushes India’s name as sixth member of NATO Plus


United States Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA, 17th District) has said that adding India as the sixth country to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Plus would move New Delhi towards a Defense Security alignment with the United States.

This would allow India the same defense agreement approval process as other NATO allies such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Israel and South Korea with whom the US has a similar understanding.

“I have worked on trying to add India as the sixth country to that and that would facilitate and make it easier to have this growing defense partnership and make sure that we’re moving India towards more of a defense security alignment with the United States and Russia,” Khanna said. “I introduced that two years ago. I’m going to continue to work on it. Hopefully, we can get that amendment passed in subsequent congresses.”

This comes after the US House of Representatives on July 14 approved an amendment with an overwhelming majority to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that proposes the deepening of India-US defense ties. This amendment, too, was offered by Khanna.

Khanna described it as the most significant vote to strengthen the US-India relationship since the civilian nuclear deal passed in 2007 with overwhelmingly bipartisan votes.

The India-US nuclear cooperation agreement was later signed in 2008 under the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh, which boosted bilateral ties. A major aspect of the India-US nuclear deal was that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) gave a special waiver to India that enabled it to sign cooperation agreements with a dozen countries. It enabled India to separate its civilian and military programs and placed its civilian nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

“The reason it’s (the current partnership) in the interests of the United States is we need a strong partnership with India,” Khanna said. “Our defense partnership, a strategic partnership, especially because we are two democratic nations and with the rise of China and Putin, is critical for the United States.”

The NDAA amendment is politically significant and the overwhelming 300-plus bipartisan votes send a strong message to US President Joe Biden to give him the political support needed to waive the sanctions.

During an interview, Khanna said that the waiver to India of Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which penalizes countries that engage in significant defense transactions with Russia, is in the best national interest of the US and the US-India defense partnership.

However, the NDAA amendment needs to clear the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden to be termed as law. Only then India will avoid US sanctions for its weapons systems relationship with Russia.

Khanna said, “Remember, it goes beyond waving sanctions. It talks about the importance of strengthening the defense partnership that we have with India. The challenge is that right now, Russian weapons are cheaper. But Russian weapons are also inferior as we’re seeing in the war in Ukraine. The SU-57 in my view, just simply can’t compete with the F-22 or the F-35, or other US military equipment. It is in America’s interest to get the talent from the brilliant engineers and scientists in India so that we can make sure that we continue to lead the highest technology and ultimately, it’s India’s interest to an American technology which is superior to Russian technology.”

Talking about the Chinese threat to India that was underscored in the amendment, Khanna said, “You look at India as the threats that they face at the border. And you know the biggest guarantor of the security has been the United States. A few years ago, the United States assisted India with those border skirmishes. So the US-India alliance in my view is not just in the United States interest but also the security interests of India and that the United States will be a much more reliable and stronger partner.”