India’s seat on Security Council and the Iranian dilemma

The country’s recognition as a nuclear state demands greater responsibility on matters of nuclear proliferation in the region.

By SIDDHARTH RAMANA
January 11, 2011 23:33
3 minute read.
UN Security Council

UN Security Council 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

India’s recent electoral victory in winning a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council will bring greater international scrutiny vis-à-vis its response to the Iranian nuclear program.

For India, Iran is a vital country – a traditional counterweight to Saudi influence in the region. With Saudi-backed Wahhabism being the backbone of Islamic terrorism against India, and with increasing reliance on Saudi oil, India was basically pushed toward Iran. International dynamics, however, increasingly favor alignment with the Arab states against Iran. An element of this would be the nuclear dynamics.

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Iran’s nuclear program brings Pakistani duplicity to the fore in terms of engaging two rival camps.

For instance, it is reported that Pakistan’s disgraced A.Q. Khan helped develop the Iranian nuclear program, with support from Chinese companies. This occurred while Pakistan is purported to have offered Saudi Arabia nuclear technology in exchange for financial support to overcome the sanctions it faced in 1998.

Speculations of an extended Pakistani nuclear deterrence involving West Asia have therefore added to Indian fears of growing Pakistani influence. India will seek to use its greater international standing in bridging the differences with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, not only as a means of slowing Pakistan’s influence but also of gaining energy security in the event of a military attack on Iran by the US or Israel.

India’s neighbors, China and Pakistan, have played a role in furthering Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and adding to regional volatility. India would be deeply concerned over the possibility of this nuclear diplomacy becoming an alliance, especially when seen in context of Chinese proliferation to Pakistan.

Pakistan has publicly declared its intention to support an Iran-Pakistan-China energy alliance, even though it has publicly opposed Iran’s nuclear program; its intentions on nonproliferation are suspect. Meanwhile, Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponization has seen strident statements against India and in support of Pakistan.


INDIA’S DE facto recognition as a nuclear state demands greater responsibility on matters such as nuclear proliferation, given its desire to seek membership of export control groups such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group. With documented evidence of proliferation between Iran, North Korea and Pakistan, the role of India in advancing nonproliferation in South Asia becomes greater. Acceptance into export control regimes will require strong posturing, and the Iranian nuclear program offers India such an opportunity.

India’s opposition to Iran would be to return the favor in kind, since Iran has repeatedly condemned India and condoned Pakistan’s nuclear program. For example, India’s 1998 nuclear tests were condemned by Iran as contributing to regional instability, while Iran justified Pakistan’s retaliatory tests on grounds of national security.

Furthermore, India’s pointed arguments against the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and the Indo- US nuclear agreement were opposed by Iran. India’s opposition to Iran is, however, also based on documented Iranian violations of the NPT, which Iran purports to defend.

India’s relationship with the US would also be a significant factor in its dealings with Iran. While India has repeatedly claimed complete autonomy in its foreign policy, its burgeoning relationship with the US, with intimations of a strategic alliance, would definitely play a role in India’s opposition to Iran.

As a significant other, Israel (now India’s second largest defense supplier) faces an existential threat from Iran, and would therefore also seek to influence India’s view of West Asian geopolitics. Previous fears of being openly allied with the West against Iran would not be a hindering factor, especially in light of the widespread Arab opposition to Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program requires India to revamp its role in West Asia; however, it cannot push for stringent options on Iran, because of its dependence on it for energy requirements and geostrategic relations, which includes, importantly, access to Central Asia and Afghanistan. Thus, India’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear program will likely not be strident, and its efforts to be nuanced will dictate tying it to the Asian roots of nonproliferation. Proactive measures by India would also indicate its active interest in a region where its interests are significant and growing.

The writer is a research officer at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.


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