Realism, Iranophobia and the Theory of Iran’s Strategic Influence

Monday, January 21, 2013

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Candidate in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

As the theory of Iran's strategic influence has been brought up and accepted at various Eastern and Western academic and executive circles in the past decades, parallel efforts have been also going on by certain international actors in order to introduce Iran as a global issue. (1)

Meanwhile, politicians in some powerful countries have been of the opinion that by pursuing the policy of sanctions, pressure, threat, and containment against the Islamic Republic, the country’s foreign policy ambitions, orientations, and goals at international level will undergo drastic changes.

In spite of this situation, prominent theorists of the realist school of thought, whose theory has been a linchpin in international relations during the past years, have made remarkable efforts to criticize the big power’s approach to condemning Iran. They have also pointed out to the necessity of serious adoption of a diplomatic approach to Iran.

Written and oral efforts made by such famous theorists as Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Richard Haas, Barry Buzan, and Fareed Zakaria have been among major views offered in the past decade of international developments on the necessity of serious interaction, instead of confrontation, with Iran by big powers and global power poles.

The common denominator of all the efforts made in these years by the aforesaid realist theorists is that according to the core teachings and premises of realism, the approach taken by big powers and global power poles to Iran during the past decades has been at odds with Iran's potential and active capabilities as well as its actual foreign policy intents. Most of the above theorists have believed that supporting a diplomatic option vis-à-vis Iran, basic rejection of the big powers’ approach to promoting Iranophobia, and finally, recognizing Iran's strategic influence at regional and international levels are good steps to be taken in order to ensure relative security for most political players involved in regional and international equations.

There are many arguments and evidence which can be posited in favor of the realistic theorists who negate and condemn measures taken by some international players to promote “Iranophobia,” and who believe in a diplomatic option for interaction with Iran. However, the main question which should be asked here is this: “Has the behavior of big powers toward Iran played any role in weakening or strengthening regional and international influence and status of the Islamic Republic during the past 34 years, and how this issue can be analyzed on the basis of the teachings and premises of realism?”

To answer the above question, more serious attention should be paid to important variables which are taken into account by realists, including Iran's position in the existing international system, as well as relative power, balance of terror, different views, domestic developments, and bureaucratic structure of Iran.

In the light of these variables, it seems that the approach taken to Iran by big powers in the past few decades has caused relative limitations for Iran's regional and international interactions. In parallel to variables mentioned by realists, misunderstandings and incorrect policies made by big powers have also caused relatively serious limitations for Iran's relations with certain regional and international players.

Examples of these restrictions during the past 34 years included imposition of eight-year war with Iraq on Iran by some big global powers, creating obstacles for the expansion of Iran's relations with the European Union under the pretext of Iran's nuclear energy program, the fluctuating relations between Iran and some regional players including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as adoption of unfair decisions against Iran by the United Nations Security Council which have been implemented through the Security Council’s anti-Iran resolutions. The latest instance of the impact of anti-Iran efforts made by the international political system has been a paradigmatic change in the nature of Iran's regional policy (2) toward maximum cooperation with its neighbors following the emergence of Arab Spring developments which have left their mark on the regional security complex in the Middle East.

However, which one of those ideas should be taken more seriously if we wanted to have a more profound analysis of the growing regional and international influence of Iran on the basis of realistic arguments and in line with the viewpoints of major theorists of this theoretical school of thought in international relations?

Some indices which should be taken into consideration in this regard include Iran's geopolitical position; importance and role of rationalist elites; the self-help variable; Iran's bureaucratic institutions; importance of soft power as well as ideological and Shiites teachings and the regional lobbying power of this political system; the effort made by Iran for powerful and lawful participation in the establishment of regional balance; in addition to pacifist, governance-oriented, anti-war, security-based, and peaceful nature of the Iranian government and nation. These indices are of such high significance in delineating Iran's influence in international system that they easily overshadow other indices which are related to importance of Iran in international power structure and equations, and are good as a tool to verify the theory of Iran's strategic influence at international level.

According to realistic premises, ideas, and arguments, the strategy of big powers against Iran which is based on “Iranophobic” policies of sanctions, threats and pressure will certainly have negative effects on the utmost success of Iran in achieving its foreign policy goals. However, from another viewpoint, in addition to its remarkable consequences for international system (3), the aforesaid strategy will certainly fail to destroy Iran's major strategic capabilities and capacities in foreseeable future and within framework of international and regional strategic equations.

In the future outlook, according to realist ideas and premises, Iran will remain a country with high strategic influence on an anarchic international power structure and will help international community and the global political system to achieve a maximum degree of their goals through diplomacy and constructive interaction, instead of warmongering options. Let’s not forget that Iran is already an internationalized country by nature and, according to arguments of the realist school of thought, its influence on regional and international issues will continue far into the future.

Key Words: Realism, Iranophobia, Iran’s Strategic Influence, Global Power Poles, Khoshandam





More By Behzad Khoshandam:

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