Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Introductory Observations....


Triangular strategic configurations seem to be more of a feature of international strategic discourse on Asian security. It is a favorite theme for examination and discussion especially when the global security landscape becomes more fluid and uncertain.

As per international studies on this subject the search for triangular configurations have become more strategically marked in the post-Cold War period when either the United States assumes unquestioned global strategic dominance or when the United States global power is perceived to be declining.

In the later stages of the Cold War, it was former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who perceptibly introduced triangular configurations when he sought to balance Russia with US quasi-strategic alliance linkages with China.

Today one witnesses a lot of feasibility studies of the Russia-China-India Triangle, the Japan-China-United States Triangle, the United States-China-India Triangle and the United States-China-Pakistan Triangle and some have explored the possibility of the Untied States-European Union – China Triangle.

A globally strategic paradigm shift would have taken place in the global power balance had the Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle could have substantially materialized. This was examined in a couple of Papers on this website by this Author. The striking conclusion was that short of China re-casting its South Asia policy formulations and shedding its strategic hostility towards India the Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle was nor workable.

Similarly, an Asian strategic triangle of China-Japan-India would have been a formidable combination. This proposition cannot take off simply became China cannot strategically condescend to share Asian strategic space with Japan and India.

Significantly, to be noted is the fact that in all United States strategic discourse on triangular configurations, China is preferred as the strategic partner of the United States and then others. This rules out a fair number of triangular strategic configurations in Asia.

What has not come to notice in international strategic discussion on triangular strategic linkages is the attractiveness of a Russia- India-Iran Strategic Triangle to all these three countries for mutual strategic benefits.

The aim of this Paper is to examine the possibilities of a Russia- India-Iran Strategic Triangle emerging by dwelling on the following aspects:

Russia-India-Iran: Their Respective Strategic Significance
Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: Contextual Strategic Factors which may Prompt its Emergence
Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: The Impact on the United States and China
Russia-India-Iran: Their Respective Strategic Significance

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle in terms of comparative strategic analysis would far outweigh any triangular strategic configurations linking the United States and China with any third nation combination. This formidable strategic potential arises from the sum total of the respective strategic strengths and geo-strategic significance of Russia, India and Iran.

Russia’s striking geo-strategic and geo-political significance needs no introduction. Russia has shared the global strategic stage as the only other superpower other than the United States. Russia as discussed in many Papers of this Author since 2000 has been in a resurgent mode to reclaim its erstwhile status as a superpower and emerge as an independent center of global power. Russia’s strategic assets are intact and under active modernization.

Russia’s constant devaluation in United States strategic discourse and policy formulations is deliberate with psychological warfare component added to it. If the United States has global strategic fears, it is only from Russia. China can never provide the strategic ballast to the United States in its strategic tussles with Russia.

India’s strategic significance as an emergent global power with a resurgent economic growth, also needs no introduction. Like Russia, India is a nuclear weapons power and has a highly professional conventional military might.

India is the predominant regional power in the Indian Sub-continent and its contiguous regions, despite the United States and China’s strategic nexus with Pakistan and their assisted build-up of Pakistan’s military profile to checkmate India.

Iran’s geo-strategic and geo-political profile which is otherwise significant gets undervalued as a result of United States virtual demonization of Iran as an irresponsible and rogue nuclear power in the making. Iran undoubtedly is the predominant regional power in the Gulf Region. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf littoral Arab monarchies are no strategic match to Iran minus their military alliance linkages to the United States.

Russia as the apex or the pivotal head of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle has extremely good political relationships with both India and Iran. The Indian and Iranian military inventories are predominantly Russian in origin and provide military inter-operability between the three.

Russia and Iran, the two together, control significant oil and gas reserves of the world which plays an important role in India’s energy security plans..

There are no divisive political or other issues which divide Russia, India and Iran. This is highly significant as the US-China-third country strategic triangle suffers from the inherent distrust between United States and China. Their strategic getting together in any triangular combination is a shaky and artificial strategic contrivation to balance Russia.

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: Contextual Strategic Setting which may Prompt its Emergence

In the initial part of this Paper, the various strategic triangular configurations being discussed by the Western strategic community seem to focus largely on the combination of United States – China with third countries in Asia, to the exclusion of Russia.

This virtually amounts to a US-China Dyad in a new unfolding version of the Cold War. The United States advocacy of a G-2 combination of the United States and China is another indicator of US-China Dyad controlling the World Order.

Now let us examine the linkages of Russia, India and Iran with the United States and which briefly can be outlined as under:

US-Russia relations are contentious and strategically competing. All United States approaches to China, despite their own mutual mistrust are conditioned by the determinant of enlisting China as a quasi-ally against Russia.
US-India relations today can be termed as politically correct. The US-India Strategic Partnership may be attractive to the present Government, but it has lost its sheen to India’s strategic community because of the China-Pakistan predominance in US policy formulations in South Asia.
US-Iran relations are hostile with Iran under constant threat of US military intervention on the nuclear issue. The United Stated strategic hostility towards Iran is conditioned by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s fears of Iran.
The common thread that runs in the above strategic pattern is that the United States has chosen in its foreign policy formulations to ignore the global and regional strengths of Russia as a global power and India and Iran as the predominant regional powers in the region.

China’s relations with Russia, India and Iran as part of the US-China Dyad also deserve a brief look. The following picture emerges:

China-Russia so called strategic nexus is only in name. Russia mistrusts China’s strategic dalliance with USA. Russia has many other strategic fears arising from China.
China-India relations border on latent hostility if not in the open. Both are intense rivals to claim the Asian strategic space.
China-Iran relations despite Chinese eternal rhetoric are not without deep strategic misgivings. China's build-up of Pakistan as a nuclear weapons power probably is one of the determinants in addition to USA, of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, notwithstanding that Pakistan years ago had assisted Iran in its nuclear pursuit.
If anything in the past that drew Russia and Iran to China strategically, it was China’s hostile postures towards the United States. The reverse is true now today.

To deflect charges that the above examination is an over-simplification (necessitated by keeping the paper short) the strategic realities that need to be emphasized are:

The United States in some way or the other thwarts the superpower aspirations of Russia. The United States as part of its National Security Strategy does not accept the regional power status of India (despite recent rhetoric) and Iran. The United States strategic agenda can therefore be construed as at odds with the national aspirations of Russia, India and Iran.
China as an emergent global power for reasons of its global aspirations would logically not accept any accretions to the strategic profile and status of Russia, India and Iran as powers that dominate the strategic setting in Asia and globally too.
Russia, India and Iran prompted by factors dismissed above can logically be expected to move towards the evolution of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle relationship if the current trend towards a United States-China Dyad concretizes.

Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle: The Impact on the United States and China

The emergence or the prospects of emergence of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle leaves only one option for the United States. It is to pre-empt or wean away India from such a combination. The United States to succeed would have to pay a heavy strategic price for the same. It would have to jettison its China and Pakistan baggage from its strategic formulations in its approaches to India. The United States seems inclined not to do so.

In relation to Russia, the United States may not jettison China and thereby prompting India to bring about a value-added resurgence in its proven and tested Russia-India Strategic Partnership.

As far as impact on China is concurred, one can estimate that in the pursuance of its global power aspirations, China can be expected to jettison its current strategic linkages with Russia and Iran, in favor of United States.

The resultant fortified US-China Strategic Dyad would provide additional compelling reasons for India to move both towards a strong Russia-India Strategic Partnership and the Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle. The same reasons would compel both Russia and Iran to do likewise.

Concluding Observations

In the ensuing era where there is a global perception that US global power is declining and forcing the United States to harness China as an emerging global power, in a strategic United States-China Dyad, it would be strategically logical for countries which distrust United States and China singly or both together, to seek alternative strategic linkages.

The possible emergence of a Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle needs to be viewed in light of the above strategic trends which draw the United States and China together despite the deep cleavages that exist between them.

A possible Russia-India-Iran Strategic Triangle would be a formidable strategic combination to contend with, especially when no strategic cleavages exist between them. Such a combination could substantially alter the global balance of power and the Asian security landscape.