Sense of Retrenchment in the Strategic Thinking of Iran’s Foreign Policy

Friday, August 12, 2016

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

Iran’s foreign policy behavior in the tumultuous environment of the Middle East in 2016 can be explored with an eye to its sense of belonging to peripheral security complexes. According to this sense of belonging, taking wise action with regard to the ongoing trends, threats and emerging discourses is the main condition for remaining stable and carrying out a balance creating and security creating mission for a country like Iran in the course of the emerging regional order. A recent documented report by the World Atlas institute shows that at least 10 out of a total of 30 important countries of the world, which are exposed to terrorist threats, are located in the immediate periphery and within traditional and legitimate spheres of influence of Iran. Under these conditions, the situation in its peripheral environment and its spheres of influence, especially in view of some discriminatory measures taken by effective regional and transregional powers against Iran, has pushed the country toward a sense of retrenchment in its peripheral regions. Almost all effective global powers are present in the security environment and spheres of influence of this regional actor as a result of the nature and consequences of global crises in 2016. Some discriminatory actions taken by global international powers and actors toward this regional actor have encouraged Iran to feel the need to revisit its foreign policy strategy with regard to its northern, southern, eastern and western peripheral regions and also with respect to this actor’s course of action within other security complexes around it, the details of which are given below.

Iran’s northern security complex, which is part of Eurasia, includes Central Asia and Caucasus as two effective centers of such global crises as NATO’s eastward expansion, radicalism, ethnic tendencies, secessionism and interference by big powers, whose main goal is to reduce Russia's strategic influence in global system. Developments in this Eurasian region are moving toward confrontation with steps taken by the Western front and NATO, especially through efforts made to boost productivity of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). On the other hand, the possible spillover of crises in Russia's near abroad and also spillover of crises that result from extremism and secessionism in this region into Iran’s security environment has been among the Islamic Republic’s main security concern in its bid to put its sense of retrenchment into practical use.

Afghanistan and Pakistan, as part of Iran’s eastern security complex, are two niduses of crisis and important centers for terrorist crimes and drug trafficking in the world. On the other hand, Taliban’s extremism has been an important source of insecurity for Iran in the past few decades. Mohammad Javad Larijani, a high-ranking Iranian official, announced in August 2016 that “due to presence of NATO generals in Afghanistan, poppy culture has increased 40-fold in this country.” This comes while in view of Iran’s need to retrenchment, the support it has offered the Afghan government and nation, both with regard to the country’s domestic trends and through accepting large number of Afghan refugees, has led to global appreciation of Iran’s measures.

Turkey and Iraq, as two important regional powers, are located on Iran’s west and both of them have been cradles of major security threats to world order in the face of Iran’s interests and values during the past decades. Of course, as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey has enjoyed the military alliance’s remarkable support in the face of security threats around it during the past decades. The failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, revealed Turkey’s capacity to create tension in regional and global security equations as a result of the country’s regional positions and coalitions it has formed with other regional and transregional actors.

Iraq, as part of Iran’s civilizational, identity-related and religious backdrop, has been a source of various crises in Iran’s western periphery during past decades, especially after the invasion of Iran by Iraq’s former dictator, Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, western and eastern extremist actors operating in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon all the way to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean have been posing one of the most important threats to Iran’s regional foreign policy in its western environment. On the other hand, despite the costs it has inflicted on the United States according to analyses offered by John J. Mearsherimer and Stephen M. Walt, Israel continues to enjoy Washington’s increasing support. The United States recently announced that it will give Israel an unprecedented sum of billions in aid during the next 10 years.

Under these conditions, littoral countries along the southern rim of the Persian Gulf, whose behavior is affected by Saudi Arabia’s hostile approach to Iran within the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, have practically put Riyadh on course for a historical confrontation with Tehran. The high military costs incurred by Saudi Arabia in the past years are also remarkable. Measures taken against the human rights and the rights of children by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and presence of transregional forces have made Iran suffer high costs to guarantee security of global energy flow and manage the ongoing crisis in its southern periphery.

Soft power, historical and traditional influence, public diplomacy and the approach taken to bolstering friendship among regional countries by the nation-state of Iran, which is based on teachings of modern politics and in line with principles of good neighborliness, are among the most important factors strengthening Iran’s sense of retrenchment under critical global conditions in 2016. Good knowledge of and a sense of responsibility toward its peripheral environment in addition to Iran’s unprecedented experiences, have increased the country’s sense of retrenchment in order to meet its strategic national security needs in the field of international politics in 2016 and without a doubt, its final output would be more stability and balance in the emerging regional order of the Middle East.

Key WordsSense of Retrenchment, Strategic Thinking, Iran’s Foreign Policy, Sense of Belonging, Peripheral Security Complexes, Regional Powers, Transregional Powers, Middle East, Stability, Regional Order, Khoshandam

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