Gen BK Sharma in a conversation with Sputnik on Iran’s nuclear deal

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US President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally abrogate the multilateral Iran nuclear deal has garnered tremendous criticism at home and abroad.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — In conversation with Sputnik, Indian analyst Major General B. K. Sharma (Retired), who heads the Centre for Strategic Studies at the United Service Institution in New Delhi says the event is a disruptive moment in international geopolitics, as it has drawn a wedge in the US-led coalition system and threatens to perpetuate conflicts in West Asia and scuttle the denuclearization dialogue on the Korean Peninsula.
Sputnik: How do you see the announcement and its impact on international geopolitics?

Gen. B. K. Sharma: This was part of Trump’s election manifesto and since then he spared no opportunity to call it a “decaying, rotten, horrible and disastrous” deal. He has accused Iran of continuing with developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, besides supporting its terrorist proxies in West Asia. He ignored IAEC certifications and confirmation from his own intelligence agencies that Iran was in compliance with JCPOA or pleas from other signatory states to honor the deal.

Rescinding from the deal will have wide ramifications at the regional and global level. First, it reinforces the impression that the US has become an unreliable ally and irresponsible international stakeholder, since earlier too, Trump had abruptly walked out of the Paris climate deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Second, the world is now uncertain about the fate of other treaties and agreements and whether America can provide leadership in maintaining a rules-based international order.

Third, Trump has put US diplomacy on a collision course with its closest allies; it will drive a wedge in the US-led alliance system. With the resumption of economic sanctions, the business prospects of Western companies will get hampered and give rise to disputes at the WTO. Foreign companies have been asked to wind up business transactions with Tehran within six months; this will have an adverse impact on the process of globalization.

Fourth, Iran could resume its nuclear weapons program and that, in turn, will trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.

Fifth, it will perpetuate conflicts in West Asia and scuttle denuclearization dialogue on the Korean Peninsula.

To sum it up, it will seriously impinge on the global economy and international security. Trump’s action has come under sharp criticism both from within and outside the US. Obama called it a misguided step. In a strongly worded joint statement, the UK, France, and Germany rejected Trump’s conclusions and vowed to honor the deal. The UN secretary-general also has expressed his concerns over Trump’s action. Putin has put the US in a retrograde mode. It will take future US leadership decades to redeem the image and credibility of their country.

Sputnik: India has a major stake in Iran, whether it is the Chabahar port development project or energy relations. What kind of approach do you foresee from the Indian side with Iran following this development?

Gen. B. K. Sharma: The Indian prime minister in 2015 had hailed the deal describing it as a “triumph of sagacious diplomacy.” New Delhi supports Iran’s right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. India is neither a signatory to the deal nor has the leverage to make president Trump change his decision on the deal. India strongly favors continuation of the deal and resolution of differences through dialogue. Any adversarial US-Iran relation does not augur well for India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and West Asia or for its energy security. With the re-imposition of economic sanctions, India will find it difficult to make payments to Iran for energy imports. Iran is India’s third-largest oil supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. With the sanctions in place, Indian private companies and international enterprises will be reluctant to participate in infrastructure development in Chabahar or trade along the International North-South Transit Corridor, or for that matter, along Chabahar transit route.

It is doubtful whether; Trump will exempt investments in Chabahar port from US sanctions. India, together with similarly affected foreign players, who stand by the deal, will have to find a way to work around the sanctions — like using the Rupee — Riyal barter system or payments through the UCO bank, as was done in the past. Of course, Iran’s propensity to open doors for China and seek better alignment with Pakistan; as has already been hinted at by Tehran, will be of concern to India. New Delhi will have to display deft diplomatic skills and patience to navigate through choppy waters.

Sputnik: Of late, Iran has been pursuing China and Pakistan to participate in its development projects. With this development, would we see a new axis in central Asia?

Gen. B. K. Sharma: These developments do not augur well for India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan and Eurasia. Considering that in the foreseeable future, Pakistan will not provide India access to Afghanistan, connectivity through Iran becomes extremely crucial for India to access the region. Central Asia is the center of gravity of continental economic corridors of Belt and Road projects. China has already captured the economic space in Central Asia, whereas India remains a peripheral player. If the alternate transit corridors are not operationalized, then the landlocked Central Asia countries will have to rely on the Karakoram Highway to access the Arabian Sea. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the strategic interests of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan are already aligned vis a vis the US and India. India faces a daunting task to sustain its engagement in Afghanistan.

Sputnik: What kind of role could Russia play in such a scenario, considering it has good relations with both China and India?

Gen. B. K. Sharma: Russia is India’s time-tested friend and the two countries enjoy a special and privileged strategic partnership. India deeply appreciates Russia’s help in developing our strategic and defense sectors, sponsoring our candidature at the SCO and UNSC. India, Russia and China are members of RIC, BRICS and the SCO. Russia strongly favors a multipolar world and would therefore like India to play the role of balancer in Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific. While there may be some tactical difference creeping into the Indo-Russian relations; our long-term strategic interests are fundamentally aligned. Russia can play a significant role in nudging New Delhi and Beijing to formulate a new “modus vivendi” and become partners of choice in ushering sustainable peace, security and development in Eurasia, particularly Afghanistan.

Maj Gen B K Sharma (Retd) is Head of Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation at the United Service Institution of India, based in New Delhi. This article has been posted with the author’s permission.

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Maj Gen BK Sharma
Maj Gen BK Sharma is the Deputy Director (Research) and Heads Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation at the United Service Institution of India (USI), India’s oldest ‘Think Tank’ established by the Britishers in 1870. He was commissioned in the SIKHLIGHT Infantry in 1976 and superannuated in Apr 2012, after being approved for the rank of Lt Gen in the prestigious command stream. He is a recipient of national awards of Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM), Sena Medal (SM) (twice) from the President of India for rendering distinguished national service of exceptional order and for display of courage and devotion to duty. He was warded the Chief of Army Staff Commendation Card for a high- risk strategic mission in the Sichen Glacier. In a span of 38 years of military service he has contributed a great deal in furtherance of national security and strategic culture. The General Officer commanded a mountain division on the China border. He was Senior Faculty Member at the prestigious National Defense College, Director at the Military Wing at the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Ministry of Defense, Principal Director at the Directorate of Net Assessment, HQ Integrated Defense Staff, Ministry of Defense and Brigadier General Staff of a Corps deployed on China- Bangladesh- Nepal -Bhutan borders. His foreign assignments include Defense Attaché in Embassy of India in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. He participated in demobilization and disarming of Contras guerillas in Nicaragua in Central America in 1990 as part of UN Peacekeeping Mission. The officer is endowed with brilliant civil and military academic achievements. He is a graduate of Defence Services Staff College, Higher Command course and National Defense College. He attended a course in International Peacekeeping in Santiago (Chile) in the year 2000. He was awarded M Phil twice in Defense Management and Defense Strategy and is pursuing PhD in Geopolitics in Central Asia The General Officer has made outstanding contribution in the field of civil and military education. He has travelled to about 33 countries in his official capacity and has presented academic papers on strategic affairs at several international seminars. He has delivered lectures at the premium military education establishments and universities in India and abroad. He has conducted a series of workshops and training capsules on strategy and national and international security for military officers, Indian and foreign diplomats and university students. He has guided a large number of senior policy makers and research scholars in writing thesis and academic papers. He has edited four books namely “Indian Ocean Region: Emerging Strategic Cooperation, Competition and Conflict Scenarios”, “Geopolitics, Security and Bilateral Relations- Perspectives from India and South Korea”, “China’s Belt & Road Initiative, Challenges and Prospects” and Developments in Central Asia India-Kyrgyzstan Relation besides authoring Monographs titled, “Analysis of China’s Military Organization and “India’s SCO Membership”-Challenges and Opportunities. He edits Strategic Perspective, the USI digital magazine and the prestigious USI Strategic Yearbook. He participates in TV panel discussions on the Indian and foreign TV shows. His contribution in promoting awareness in strategic affairs among the policymakers and academic cum strategic community and security has been of exceptionally high order.