Iran and Davos-Style Solution of Liberalism

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

Active ImageThere has been considerable debate on the best way to manage the relationship among big powers, on the one hand, and between big powers and emerging powers, on the other hand, at international level. Huntington maintained that the relationship is characterized by confrontation while Fukuyama called it homogeneous.

Mearsheimer described it “tragic” and people like Richard K. Betts maintained that there needed to be a “fourth vision;” one that integrates the compatible elements of the above three views in a form that penetrates the American political mainstream. Under current international interactions and regardless of the existing relationship between big powers and other power poles, the relationship of big powers with a country like Iran can serve as a litmus test for global management system. What the international system can do to make the most of the capacities of a country like Iran which would be in line with Richard K. Betts’ proposal in November and December 2010 issue of the Foreign Affairs magazine? He proposes a Davos-Style solution which would be based on engagement through international institutions.

To answer that question, one should first take a historical approach to Iran’s interactions with such institutions in the past 120 years. Based on this approach, just in the same way that liberalistic ideas form John Locke to Woodrow Wilson form the bedrock of the American foreign policy, international organizations and institutions should turn into a constituent of Iran’s foreign policy ideas.

Such institutions and organizations have been very influential on international developments in the past century, especially the United Nations in which the Iranian nation has invested great hopes.

Iran’s interactions with international institutions date back to the early 19th century. Iran’s representatives, for the first time, attended Aix-la-Chapelle conference in 1818 which was an early instance of Iran’s engagement with the global management system.

Iran’s participation in 1899 conference in The Hague was the first official presence of Tehran in a general international conference and served as a start point for the country to know the secrets of multilateral diplomacy. Iran was among 26 countries which had been invited to the conference and signed all its decisions unconditionally on September 4, 1900. Iran’s presence in other international events like The Hague Conference in 1907 and Paris Peace Conference (1919) as well as the country’s membership in the League of Nations (1920-1945) are other examples of Iran’s engagement with multilateral diplomacy in the first half of the 20th century.

Following the World War II and under international aegis of the United Nations, Iranians have been very optimistic about the impact of measures taken by the United Nations.

Therefore, history of Iran’s interaction with international bodies in the past 120 years attests to the fact that Iran’s contribution to those institutions, both before and after the World War I, has had its root in the country’s national and international concerns, its strategic situation, Tehran’s influence on global distribution of power, and negative memories of foreign interventions which are still vivid in the minds of the Iranian people and politicians.

Iran’s membership in those institutions and the country’s views were based on Tehran’s international concerns up to the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Following the Islamic Revolution, due to double standards applied to Iran by international organizations, especially in recent years after international focus on Iran’s nuclear program (2003-10), the country has had to deal with conflicting behavior of international organizations.

To restore the situation back to normal on the basis of a Davos-Style solution, the international community can find ways to recognize Iran’s part in international decision-making hierarchy and avoid of confrontation with the country.

Let’s not forget that, as put by Stephen Walt, Iran’s defense spending does not exceed about 2 percent of the United States’ defense budget. In addition, the new generation of the Iranian elites is optimistic, farsighted and pragmatic and expects the international system, especially the United Nations, to opt for cooperation, rather than hostility and confrontation, when dealing with Iran.

Under current circumstances when international system is at loggerheads with Iran, the most plausible option is to engage Iran in further development of international organizations, instead of nuclear proliferation, by adopting the aforementioned model.

Sovereignty, development, justice, renovation, and mutual cooperation are major concerns of Iran which can be addressed by a Davos-Style model that can be realized best through cooperation not conflict.

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