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When it comes to discussing the qualitative aspects of a particular country’s currently deployed foreign policy, it represents the matter of crucial importance to understand that it is specifically the Realist paradigm of IR (International Relations), which provides such a discussion with the discursively adequate framework. After all, the very objective laws of history validate this paradigm’s assumption that it is namely the never-ending process of states competing for natural/human/territorial resources, which defines the essence of the observable dynamics in the arena of international politics. As Sterling-Folker pointed out, “Based on implicit biological context, realism’s overarching narrative tells what evolutionary biologists refer to as ‘just-so stories’ about the behaviors and institutions that are anticipated in a context of ongoing competition” (2002, p. 78). Hence, this paradigm’s conceptualization of what accounts for the de facto purpose of just about every country’s existence: a) political/economic expansion, b) maintenance of political stability within, c) destabilization of competing states. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, in regards to what can be defined as the contemporary challenges and chances of Iranian diplomacy.
The geopolitical positioning of Iran
Before proceeding to expose the objective reasons why Iranian diplomacy addresses the country’s foreign challenges in the matter it does, we will have to define the main characteristics of Iran’s geopolitical positioning. These characteristics can be outlined as follows:
- Iran is one of the world’s most resource-rich countries. The country’s share in the discovered oil-deposits on the planet accounts for 10% and in the natural gas-deposits for 16% (Esfandiary, Fakhro & Wasser, 2011). This, of course, creates objective preconditions for Iran to influence the geopolitical developments in the area rather substantially and to remain the focus of the most powerful international players’ attention.
- Being an Islamic country, Iran features the world’s largest population of Shiites. Because Shiites represent a considerable population-portion in the neighboring Arab countries (in the countries of GCC alone, the population of Shiites is estimated to account for 14 million), Iran has a significant number of the ‘agents of foreign influence’ in just about every Muslim state in the area.
- Iranian army is considered one of the world’s strongest. According to Cordesman, “Iran’s army has a total manpower of more than 540,000, compared to a combined GCC total of 176,500” (2009, p. 15). The country’s army is adequately equipped – along with modern tanks, artillery pieces, and aircraft, it deploys the Russian most advanced ground-to-air defense system C-300, capable of taking out targets at a distance of 2000 km. Given the fact that, as of today, Iran positions itself as the only de facto independent Muslim country, entrusted with the mission of protecting the values of a traditional Islamic living, it naturally causes the GCC states to perceive this country, as such that poses an acute threat to their continued existence of the US-puppets. The same can be said about the US itself, which regards Iran as the main obstacle on the way of ensuring its undisputed dominance in the Persian Gulf.
- Iran has the capability to develop nuclear weapons. As of today, there is no proof that the Iranian nuclear program may be concerned with serving military purposes. According to Chintamani and Tourangbam, “No intelligence analysis could produce any conclusive evidence to suggest that Iran was at work to develop nuclear weapons” (2011, p. 230). However, given the country’s population of 80 million and its GNP of $420, such a scenario is not utterly unlikely. This, of course, causes Israel and the countries of GCC to consider Iran an acute threat to their national security.
The Iranian current approach to conducting foreign affairs cannot be discussed outside of the qualitative implications of the Islamic Revolution, which took place in this country in 1979, as such that set up an entirely new standard for Iran’s positioning on the international arena. As Ehteshami and Zweiri pointed out, “According to the IRI’s constitution, Iranian foreign policy is crafted according to three fundamental principles: first, rejection of all forms of external domination; second, preservation of Iran’s independence and territorial integrity; third, defence of the rights of all Muslims without allying with hegemonic powers” (2008, p. xiii). In the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution, Iran had effectively ceased being one of the Western outposts in the region, which in turn drastically affected the geopolitical situation in the Gulf. While not willing to accept the newly formed geopolitical status quo in the area, the US and its Western allies invested heavily in the outbreak of the 1980 war between Iraq and Iran. Nevertheless, contrary to the Western powers’ expectations, this war did not result in the deposition of the Iran’s revolutionary government, headed by Ayatollah Khomeini. In fact, it reinforced even further the strength of Iranian people’s resolution to oppose the Western powers’ attempts to meddle in the country’s internal affairs. Consequently, throughout the course of the eighties, Iranian diplomacy used to face a number of challenges, on the way of trying to ensure the Islamic government’s legitimization in the eyes of the world.
Nevertheless, throughout the nineties, the government headed by President Khatami did succeed in improving the country’s international reputation. In its turn, this allowed Iran to re-establish diplomatic relations with the countries of the EU and to assure its status, as one of the world’s largest oil suppliers. Partially, such an eventual development was predetermined by the fact that, during this time, the geopolitical situation on the planet has undergone a substantial transformation, which in turn came as a result of the world having effectively ceased being unipolar. The very fact that throughout the course of the nineties, China has attained the status of a major geopolitical power, on the one hand, and that the same historical period saw the emergence of an ideological split between the US and its European allies, on the other, created objective preconditions for Iran to benefit from the situation. It is needless to mention, of course, that the US government rightly perceived Iran’s rising influence, as such that threatened its geopolitical agenda in the Gulf.
This explains the actual reason why the US and its allies decided to impose economic sanctions upon Iran, with the formal justification for such an action being the country’s unwillingness to cease investing in its nuclear program. Even though that the official rationale for this action served the assumption that the Iranian nuclear program poses a threat to the ‘world’s peace’ and that the country’s government does not adhere to the ‘ideals of democracy’, the actual motivation behind these sanctions is best discussed within the framework of the Realist paradigm of IR. First, the earlier mentioned sanctions are meant to strengthen the factor of uncertainty in the Persian Gulf – hence, preventing the region’s oil-rich countries from indulging in economic cooperation with each other, without taking into consideration the US geopolitical interests. Second, the US-backed sanctions are expected to weaken the Iranian economy, which should eventually lead to the rise of an anti-governmental sentiment among Iranians, and possibly to the overthrow of the Iranian legitimate government, by the mean of ‘people’s uprising’, sponsored by the CIA – just as it happened in Tunisia, Lybia, and Egypt.
While understanding it perfectly well, the Iranian government decided in favor of adopting the principle of an ‘operational flexibility’, within the context of how it now goes about designing the country’s foreign policy (Chintamani & Tourangbam, 2011). For example, the Iranian government does admit the legitimacy of Western concerns about Iran’s newly emerged nuclear capacity, while trying to cooperate with the UN, in this respect, whenever it proves possible. Simultaneously, Iran strives to improve its relations with the GCC countries, on the one hand, and with Russia and China, on the other. At the same time, however, Iran continues to strengthen its army – hence, demonstrating to the whole world that just about any foreign power’s interference in its internal affairs will not be tolerated. In light of what has been said earlier, we will outline what can be considered the challenges and opportunities that Iranian diplomacy currently faces.
Challenges and opportunities
The major challenge to Iranian diplomacy can well be deemed the fact that, as of today, even such countries as Russia and China do formally support the imposition of economic sanctions upon the IRI. These sanctions do negatively affect the pace of the country’s socio-economic development while validating the opposition’s claims that Iran should cease being an ‘Islamic state’. Nevertheless, as time goes on, this particular challenge is likely to grow progressively less acute, due to the earlier mentioned decline of America’s geopolitical influence in the world, which in turn is being predetermined dialectically. This is exactly the reason why, contrary to what happened to be their official stance on the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, China and Russia continue to increase the scope of their economic/military cooperation with Iran (Lounnas, 2011).
Another challenge that Iranian diplomats currently address, is trying to thwart the threat of America’s military invasion. After all, during the course of the last five years, many of this country’s high-ranking officials have repeatedly proclaimed that there can be only one military solution to Iran’s unwillingness to adhere to the UN’s demands to put away with its nuclear program. However, just as it is being the case with the one mentioned earlier, this particular challenge cannot be considered particularly critical. After all, the US will never be able to ensure that the UN Security Council (due to the veto-powers of China and Russia) supports the military attack against Iran (Yazdani & Hussain, 2006). Given the fact that both of these countries have repeatedly expressed their strong disagreement with the US tendency to act as the ‘world’s gendarme’, America’s unilateral attack on Iran may well result in Russia and China adopting an active stance on the matter – something that the US cannot afford allowing to happen. Besides, no ground-assault on Iran will prove possible, unless the government of Bashar al-Assad is being overthrown in Syria, because the U.S. Army will not be in a position to carry out military operations against Iran, without enjoying the freedom of operational deployment. Yet, it is being only a matter of time, before Syrian troops expel the Saudi and Qatar-based ‘fighters for freedom’ out of the country. The recent diplomatic fiasco, sustained by the US in Syria, illustrates the full validity of this suggestion.
Finally, we can well make mentioning the diplomatic challenge, concerned with Iran’s strive to gain more influence within the OPEC. As of today, Iran’s strive is being strongly opposed by the US-allied countries of the GCC. Nevertheless, during the course of recent years, Iran did succeed in convincing many of these countries to adopt a more ‘liberal’ stance, in this respect. The soundness of this suggestion can be shown in regards to the fact that, as of recent, many of the GCC countries have refrained from demanding the unconditional stall of the Iranian nuclear program. Instead, they now grow ever more comfortable with the idea that for as long as the Iranian government proves to the world that the program’s purpose is thoroughly peaceful; Iran should be allowed to proceed with it.
There is, of course, a number of opportunities that Iranian diplomats can take practical advantage of, as well. The foremost of these opportunities is being concerned with the fact that, as of today, the UN is being increasingly perceived as such that only formally influences the dynamics in the arena of international politics. After all, the American government itself never ceases to criticize this organization’s uselessness, especially when the UN does not back up the intended military attacks against independent but ‘undemocratic’ countries, on the part of the US army – just as it happened a few weeks ago when prior to Russia’s intervention, the US army was about to strike Syria with cruise-missiles. What it means is that, as time goes on, the UN-backed sanctions against Iran will be deemed progressively unjustified. Consequently, this should create a situation when Russia and China will no longer be willing to adhere to these sanctions even formally. In other words, America’s intention to continue dominating the world militarily, at the expense of violating the international law’s basic provisions, does empower Iranian diplomacy rather substantially. The Iranian government understands it perfectly well while trying to end the country’s international isolation.
What also strengthens Iranian diplomacy is that, as of today, China grows increasingly dependent on Iran, as the only large supplier of oil, which does not bow to America’s geopolitical pressure. This provides Iranian diplomats with yet another opportunity to succeed in ensuring their country’s complete legitimization, as one of the world’s greatest economic/military powers, allied with the countries that the US is being in no position to declare ‘evil’ (China and Russia) and to consequently subject to ‘humanitarian bombings’.
I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, as to what can be considered the Iranian diplomacy’s main challenges and opportunities, and what accounts for their discursive significance, fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis. After all, as it was shown earlier, it is specifically the ongoing struggle between the world’s most powerful countries to take control of as many natural/human resources, as possible, which defines the qualitative aspects of Iran’s international reputation – pure and simple. Due to the earlier mentioned fact that America’s geopolitical influence continues to weaken rapidly, it would only be logical to expect the country’s international reputation to improve dramatically in the near future, which in turn will provide Iranian diplomats with more ‘aces’ up their sleeves, in the allegorical sense of this word.
Chintamani, M. & Tourangbam, M. (2011). Iran’s quest for nuclear weapon status. India Quarterly, 67 (3), 229-244.
Cordesman, A. (2009). Iranian weapons of mass destruction: The broader strategic context. Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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Ehteshami, A. & Zweiri, M. (2008). Iran’s foreign policy: From Khatami to Ahmadinejad. Reading: Ithaca Press.
Esfandiary, D., Fakhro, E. & Wasser, B. (2011). Obstacles for the Gulf States. Arms Control Today, 41 (7), 22-25.
Lounnas, D. (2011). China and the Iranian nuclear crisis: Between ambiguities and interests. European Journal of East Asian Studies, 10 (2), 227-253.
Sterling-Folker, J. (2002). Realism and the constructivist challenge: Rejecting, reconstructing, or rereading. International Studies Review, 4 (1), 73-97.
Yazdani, E. & Hussain, R. (2006). United States’ policy towards Iran after the Islamic Revolution: An Iranian perspective. International Studies, 43 (3), 267-289.