Explained International

India got Liberated from Bi-polar Geopolitics – What the Sanctions on Iran & S-400 Episodes Tell us

sanctions on Iran

In a major international development, United States of America has re-imposed the sanctions against Iran on November 5, 2018. This created a tremor in the international circuit since many nations have a commercial interest in Iran, especially for importing oil. American sanctions on Iran means that all the countries will stop transacting with Iran. However, the most relieving element is that India has got concession not only for importing oil from Iran but also for its crucial strategic Chabahar Port in Iran. When it comes to oil import from Iran, India is one among the eight countries to get the concession from USA sanctions on Iran. This essentially speaks volume about India’s decision making power in diplomacy and foreign policy.

‘India First’ Foreign policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an interview with a news channel in June 2016 had explained the foreign policy pursued by his government. It was essentially coming out of binaries and putting India’s interest first. India under the Modi Government is no longer tilted towards any one particular world power, instead, it plays according to its own interest. The vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is duly reflected in his words when he said, “India was a little late in realizing that this bipolar situation was for namesake. Now the entire world, in changed circumstances, especially in the 21st century, it is more interdependent and interconnected.”

Then he explained further saying that “Today we are building relations with various countries across the world. The amount of respect with which I engage with Saudi Arabia, I engage with Iran also with the same amount of respect. The amount of respect with which I speak to America, I speak to Russia with the same amount of respect. So, we need to understand this. We also need to understand that we shouldn’t consider smaller countries insignificant.”

It is quite evident that this approach is giving us solid results when we look at the way how India got relief amidst tough American sanctions against Iran.

Trading the Complex Path of Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

It is obvious that a lot of parleys must have taken place behind the scene to get a temporary relief from the USA to continue importing oil from Iran. But, it was too crucial for India’s own interest as we are an oil importing nation and a sudden exit of Iran would have grossly increased the oil prices in the country, which would have again prove very costly to manage for any government. On the other hand, India invested a great deal in developing Iran’s Chabahar Port which enables us to reach Afghanistan without passing through Pakistan. It further enables India to trade with the European countries. When America re-imposed sanctions against Iran these two crucial elements of India’s interest faced a major threat. But by getting the concession for both the oil import and Chabahar Port development India has shown its diplomatic edge. Union Petroleum Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan attributed it to the dependable efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s in convincing the world leaders to take the decision in our favour on these issues.

Apart from this particular instance of American sanctions against Iran, there are many other examples which show the confidence and power play of India in bringing the balance in dealing with the world powers.

India and China

When it comes to the contentious South China Sea issue, India stands against China’s position that the whole area belongs to them. So, in this case, India’s stance is somehow aligned with that of the USA which has also been opposing China’s monopoly in the region. India stood against China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, of which ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ (CPEC) is also a part of. India has registered its protest to the road which passes through Pak occupied Jammu-Kashmir (PoJK).

India’s strategic dealing with China has been explained in detail in our piece, India’s Necklace of Diamonds – Garlanding China, in which we observed, “The Prime Minister appears to be not only engaging with China but also parallelly replying to one of its unofficial strategy of ‘String of Pearls’, through creation of an unofficial deterrence.”

At the same time, Indian is negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP) in which China also a major player. Here, India is trying the co-operative route with China without surrendering India’s interest, to emerge stronger in Asia’s polity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to ASEAN Summit from November 12, has RECP in its main agenda of discussion. Considering the fact that the RCEP is a multilateral free trade framework like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Trump administration has abandoned. So, India’s delicate play appears to be paramount here.

India and Russia

It was obvious that USA was not happy with India inking S-400 missile system deal with Russia. But India went ahead as it deemed fit to strengthen our defense apparatus in the current times.

The grand design of the International North-South Transport Corridor has been taking place with the co-operation of Russia. This new transport effort is expected to reduce the time and costs of shipping from Mumbai to Saint-Petersburg by up to 40 percent, as compared to the traditional route followed (as shown in the below graph). Transport time between Mumbai and Moscow will reportedly be reduced to 20 days. The corridor enables India to deliver cargoes directly to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. They will be further transported by land to Iran’s port, Bandar Anzali. Then they will be shipped to the Russian southern port of Astrakhan, from where they can move to Europe by rail.

Source: Alena Repkina

All the while, India has also diversified its defense procurement from different countries by not restricting it just to Russia. The Rafale Deal with France may be taken as an eminent example of this.

With Other Nations

The above instances emphasize upon the delicate balance that India has brought to diplomacy and foreign policy while dealing with the traditional global powers. As far as dealing with the other countries is concerned, you may refer to our earlier piece, India and BIMSTEC: Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, to understand how India brought new energy to an already existed platform, thereby speeding up various co-operative measures in connectivity, energy and fighting terrorism. India’s relationship with the ASEAN countries has also gained new momentum under the Modi government. When the American sanctions against Iran were progressing, India made sure that the oil supply remains steady irrespective of the American decision, by actively engaging with Saudi Arabia and getting a supply promise from them.


Thus, India’s foreign policy under the Modi government has come out of the bipolar approach that the country was trapped into since many years. Now, India is in a position to play the geo-politics according to its own interest devoid of any external pressure. It can openly disagree with the powerful nations on various contentious issues and still carry on a healthy relation forward.