The UN Security Council has passed resolutions imposing four rounds of sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to halt nuclear activities that could support weapons development. Iran insists its atomic ambitions are peaceful. Iran has threatened to restrict shipping in the Persian Gulf in the event of further US-led sanctions. Iran certainly has the firepower to close the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Arabian Sea, to poke the US in the eye.
The Strait of Hormuz is the biggest global chokepoint for seaborne oil trade: about 35 percent of the world’s seaborne oil in 2011 passed through it. Iranian sabre-rattling about shutting down the Strait of Hormuz caused a 4.24 percent run-up in the price of oil to $103 a barrel on Tuesday. The US Navy has acknowledged that Iran has the ability to shut down the narrow Strait of Hormuz, but claims that the US Navy has the ability to unblock it. As Iran and the US move to a standoff in the Persian Gulf, will India be forced to pick sides?
“India will still avoid taking sides. The inherent caution that seems to characterise Indian foreign policy is most likely to prevail,” said South Asia expert Sumit Ganguly, who holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Ganguly, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about how India would walk a tightrope, but pursue a policy of studied neutrality even if a war breaks out in the Persian Gulf.
India's position has been that Iran is an old friend and has a right to develop nuclear energy, but it shouldn’t make a bomb as it has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran, one of India’s largest oil suppliers, has appreciated India’s stand at the UN on its nuclear program. But if the Iran-US situation deteriorates in the Gulf, will India be forced to take sides?
India will still avoid taking sides. The inherent caution that seems to characterise Indian foreign policy is most likely to prevail. The Indians will try to have it both ways. We will say peaceful resolution of this impending crisis is in the interest of all parties; we enjoin both the United States and Iran to avoid escalation which could contribute to violence. I can virtually write the press communiqué that will emanate from South Block.
If the US Navy moves to prevent Iran from shutting down the Strait of Hormuz, will it need, and ask for, India's help? Can India say no to a US request without jeopardising its ties with Washington?
The US Navy is perfectly capable of doing it single-handedly. There is much talk about the decline of American power, but I don’t underestimate the extraordinary reach of American military power despite the setbacks in Afghanistan and Iraq. I just hope it doesn’t devolve into a shooting war because that is the last thing the US or the world needs particularly from a partisan standpoint.
I think this could become an issue in the elections here in the US. Obama might be pushed by Republican candidates to adopt a more hawkish position that he himself might be comfortable with, simply because of the heat of the electoral process.
Since India’s ties with Iran are based on shared geopolitical interests and its quest for energy security what will be the fallout of siding with the US?
I really doubt it. I think India is going to pursue a policy of almost studied neutrality and avoid taking a stance for either side.
India has sought Iran's help in ensuring its interests in Afghanistan remain unaffected after the US pullout in 2014. Will Iran tilt towards Pakistan if India is seen to be siding with the US?
Quite frankly, I think India’s interests in Afghanistan will be determined by the bilateral dynamics of Indo-Afghan relations. If there is one country that remains enormously popular in Afghanistan, it is India.
Iran would be complete fools to tilt towards Pakistan. Pakistan is beset with virtually an existential crisis. The Pakistanis just don’t seem to realise that their county is besieged on so many fronts. It would be an axis of folly for Iran to form an alliance with Pakistan. As it is, Pakistan’s relations with the US are at a low ebb. The last thing Pakistan would need is to ally with Iran which would just infuriate the US so much more. So, even if the Iranians made overtures; you would think the Pakistanis would be smart enough not to endanger their relationship with the US, which is already strained.