Constructive Cooperation or Playing with Iran’s Geopolitical Trump?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ebrahim Mottaqi
Faculty Member, University of Tehran

Russia’s role in Iran’s nuclear activities has been explained in different ways. Those explanations are usually based on diplomatic positions, proclaimed policies and bilateral contracts between Iran and Russia on the nuclear case and other strategic matters. Although Iran has shown no direct reaction to Russia’s practical policies, there are many signs to prove that public opinion and Iranian executives are growing suspicious of the Russian policies.

This may be attributed to “delay strategy” which is applied by Russia to its nuclear and other strategic policies. On the one side, Russian officials try to attune their approaches to those of the Western countries. On the other side, they claim to be a strategic partner of Iran and conclude various treaties with Tehran to prove that claim. Of course, many of those contracts have never seriously entered into force and have had no effect on the balance of Iran’s regional power.

Perhaps the main reason for this is geopolitical concern of Russia about future outlooks of Iran. Other analysts maintain that delay policy is a strategy to restrict Iran through constructive cooperation. It should be noted that constructive cooperation does not always lead to promotion of strategic capabilities of countries like Iran. There is also another pessimistic approach to Russia’s nuclear and strategic policies toward Iran.

This attitude is reminiscent of “big game” thinking. The idea of big game was part of Russian and British security policies toward Iran during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That game could be considered a logical effort by two major global players to control a country like Iran. Traces of that policy can be seen in relation with the launch of Bushehr nuclear power plant by Russian specialists and selling S-300 missile system to Iran. All those contracts have increased Iran’s expenses for unreal reasons.

Although there are different reasons why Russia applies that delay policy to Iran, the most important reasons are related to normative spiritualism of Iran’s security policy and the need for regional balance in Russia’s security policy. Those two components cannot make way for constructive cooperation. So, although Tehran and Moscow talked about constructive cooperation in a recent visit to Iran by the Russian secretary of National Security, or despite Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi’s remarks on Russia’s goodwill in cooperation with Iran, none of that rhetoric can make up for damages resulting from delaying tactics that are inherent to Russia’s nuclear policy toward Iran.

1. Role of Iran’s normative spiritualism in Russia’s delay policy

Although this approach was introduced in the 1980s on the basis of a constructivist approach, it was further developed following the Cold War by theorists of this critical school of thought. When the Islamic Revolution triumphed in Iran, a new form of political and identity-based spiritualism rose in the Middle East. The content of discourse-based Islamic awakening is just a reflection of normative components of the Iranian revolution.

As a result, Iran’s foreign policy has been depicted as a collection of ideological norms. This phenomenon has left its mark on securitization process in the region. Political radicalism and opposition to expansionist policies of big powers are outcomes of Iran’s normative and spiritualistic foreign policy; a policy which can have consequences for Russia’s regional environment. Foreign policymakers of Russia believe that countries capable of promoting political norms can change regional balance if they get their hands on effective tools of power.

Indices that defined Iran’s regional security discourse in the first decade following the Islamic Revolution were of a radical nature. They were faced with normative resistance from Arab countries of the Persian Gulf. Their support for Iraq during its imposed war against Iran was a symbol of Arab nationalism under conditions of security crisis. As a result of Iran’s normative approach, big powers also flocked to support Iraq. The Soviet Union, as an ally of Iraq, aimed to restrict Iran’s regional power and its normative policies. The present-day Russia is following the same security policy which was introduced by the Soviet Union.

In parallel to Russia’s regional policy, existential and epistemological conflicts are expanding in Arab countries against Iran’s nuclear policies. This shows that instead of being based on strategic cooperation with Iran, Russia’s regional policy is meant to expand security cooperation with the United States, Europe, and littoral states of the Persian Gulf. Perhaps, multilateral cooperation of Russia with powerful countries of 5+1 is aimed at maintaining Israel’s relative advantages and those of the member states of (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council. So, geopolitical agreement is common denominator of these countries.

This is why Russia’s security approach to nuclear cooperation with Iran can be analyzed within a constructivist security framework. Constructivists put high emphasis on such indices as identity as well as spiritual and normative frameworks in parallel to materialistic components of foreign policy. Each of those components can be considered as a reality of Russia’s security policy in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. It should be noted that when identity frameworks are of axial importance, regional securitization will be based on such indices. The correlation between spiritual – normative frameworks is the pivotal topic of Russia’s security policy in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.

2. Geopolitical restriction of Iran through constructive cooperation with Russia

Faced with Iran, Western countries have resorted to containment policy and strategic restriction. Russia is pursuing another variety of that restriction policy. This process is evident in Moscow’s delay policy which is the cornerstone of its strategic cooperation with Iran.

The main goal of Russia, US, UK, France, as well as conservative states of the Persian Gulf and Arab Middle East is to restrict increase in Iran’s national power sources. Therefore, they have no plan to engage in constructive cooperation in order to help Iran achieve its national security goals. They are also not willing to recognize Iran’s share in regional stability and balance of power.

As put by David Dessler, material sources are part of realities which make up strategic policies of different countries under constructivist analytical conditions. From the Dessler’s viewpoint, foreign policies of countries are usually affected by two types of sources. The first type are material sources which include military structure, physical characteristics as well as hardware power of countries. Material sources shape the “balance of power” in a regional security environment.

The second type of foreign policy sources are related to beliefs, ideas, norms and procedures. Détente in foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran lies in this area. Therefore, theoretical, normative, spiritual and analytical factors play their role in foreign policy only when there are conditions under which the country’s goals can be achieved through immaterial models. Therefore, in parallel to material sources, spiritual and conceptual components will be able to affect the models of Iran’s strategic policies. This is in line with establishment of “balance of power” and “normative balance.”

Constructivists believe that the international community is based on special norms and regulations. This school of thought considers norms and regulations as the main criteria to determine logical interests of governments. Based on this viewpoint, norms and regulations form the basis of countries’ national interests. Therefore, one may emphasize that norms and regulations are the cornerstone of international games in a constructivist approach. These components determine which players and what rules lead to desirable results in the process of international securitization. Russia, along with other big powers, stress on rules which are not possible to increase Iran’s regional capabilities. Therefore, such countries cannot get engaged in any kind of real constructive cooperation which would lead to the realization of Iran’s strategic goals.


The goal of studying Russia’s regional policies in relation to Iran’s nuclear activities and based on a constructivist approach is to find out how political elites think and how their thoughts help to reproduce security and power in a regional system.

Such indices are considered in foreign policy approaches of Russia, the United States, European states and member states of (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council. Based on this understanding, the more homogeneous is normative approaches of regional players and social groups in regional countries, the more it will be possible to realize regional security under an amicable atmosphere.

From a constructivist viewpoint, norms guide foreign policy actions of various countries. This means that common expectations about foreign policy behaviors may arise. This forms the infrastructure of regional security in the Persian Gulf. National security and regional decision-makers base their decisions on norms and regulations that shape social structures of countries.

Those norms are, in turn, founded on a background of mental factors as well as historical and cultural experiences. The aforesaid components have taken shape on their historical background in a gradual manner and constitute the main factor behind decisions. In this approach, norms determine suitable behavior in regional security matters and foreign policies of various countries.

The first important existentialistic proposition in constructivism is that theoretical and normative structures should receive the same degree of importance as material structures (which are focus of attention for neo-realists). This is because meaningful orders are those which determine how actors should interpret their material environments. Identities constitute the second proposition which shape interests and actions.

To understand how interests are shaped, one should first explain a wide spectrum of international phenomena which have not been understood correctly or have been largely ignored. According to the third proposition, there is a kind of interactive relationship between agents and structures. Therefore, Russia is an agent which is pursuing its strategic goal; that is, restricting Iran in multilateral regional and international rivalries.

Unlike European countries and the United States, Russia resorts to indirect restriction models. Therefore, under such circumstances the inevitable outcome for Iran’s security policy is phased surprise. This will be a good response to Russia’s delay policy which it applies to nuclear and other strategic agreements with Iran.

This process shows that any form of securitization needs its own conceptual, analytical and strategic frameworks. Many existing conflicts between Western states and the Islamic Republic of Iran can be considered within this framework. Securitization in the region will be only possible when countries coordinate their conceptual approaches, mental norms and foreign policy behaviors.

Source: International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC)
Translated By: Iran Review

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*Will Enrichment Continue in Iran’s Nuclear Policy?:’s_Nuclear_Policy_.htm

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