Smart Power, Iran's New Brand

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mehrdad Pahlevani
Asia Analyst

Although Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s smiles were sometimes described artificial at the start of the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries and after a while, they were described as “smile diplomacy,” now, nobody considers his smiles as artificial, but the result of a major victory in history of diplomacy.

“Smile diplomacy,” “making the most of cyberspace, including by posting video or Twitter messages,” “taking part in interviews in order to show the truth of the Islamic Republic’s activities,” “publication of multiple articles,” “intense consultations, which were not limited to any time of day or night,” “facing six countries, which at times caused the work done in bilateral consultations by Iranian negotiators to be heavier than the combination of what other six teams did,” and other instances were all part of the capabilities of Mohammad Javad Zarif and the Iranian negotiating team. Just in the same way that measures taken by the United States Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cannot be attributed to Kerry and Fabius alone, the agreement reached in Vienna is the outcome of a combination of personal abilities of negotiators and the roles designed at the highest levels of Iranian officials, which were then played by members of the Iranian negotiating team.

These issues, and especially the final conclusion of the nuclear talks in Vienna, have been among the most important achievements of Iran's diplomatic endeavors in the past 22 months. There is no doubt that Iran's diplomatic achievements, along with achievements, which have been or are being gained in areas other than diplomacy, will boost smart power capacity of Iran. The smart power, which has come into play after the inefficiency of the hard power (both economic and military) and soft power (both cultural and diplomatic) was proven, is a smart combination of hard and soft powers with the purpose of realizing large-scale goals of countries and promoting their international standing. Therefore, combination and upliftment of hard and soft powers in Iran, which has taken place in the past months, can be explained in the following way.

1. Soft power

Here, Iran managed to bring those powers that adopted resolutions and delivered unfriendly speeches against Iran around a table as a result of which these countries will be actually apologizing to Iran through a forthcoming resolution that the United Nations Security Council is supposed to adopt through which all previous sanctions resolutions against Iran will be rendered null and void. During these negotiations, unlike all other nuclear interactions that have been already taken place in the world, Iran's “power of logic” overcame the “logic of world powers” that enjoy the veto right at the Security Council.

In all previous nuclear interactions that had been experienced previously, like those of North Korea, Libya, and Pakistan, issues in discussion were often resolved unilaterally and the outcomes are still fraught with ambiguities. Even India, which has signed a nuclear agreement with the United States is not a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) yet while various dimensions of military nuclear activities of Israel are still a cause of concern for the Middle Eastern countries. In the meantime, Iran has been the first country, which has resolved its nuclear issue through an even equation and has scored a major victory in this field. One can claim that the most important achievement of the Vienna agreement was not resolution of the nuclear issue or even removal of sanctions. However, the most important outcome of that agreement was to change Iran's image from a rogue actor, which was described as a threat to international security or supporter of extremist groups, to an actor that is “open to interaction,” “trustworthy,” and “wise.”

All the above instances are supported by the Iranian culture, which is essentially peaceful and despises war and bloodshed. In the Iranian culture, wisdom has been always at the helm and historical studies on Persians show that more than relying on the power of sword, their rich culture and civilization has been shown off to other nations.

2. Hard power

During recent months, Iran's military consultations succeeded to save the Syrian government, which had come out of sound elections. If extremist elements had overcome the Syrian government, the scope of their future activities would have been unknown and would have undoubtedly surpassed the borders of the Middle East. Iran's military consultations also saved Iraq from crisis. This issue has been always met with admiration and praise of Iran by Iraqi officials. In Iraq, Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, offered a powerful and victorious defense diplomacy, not only to Iran, but also to the entire world. In fact, Soleimani had turned into a brand in Iraq whose mere name struck fear in the hearts of all extremist elements and his name was intertwined with absolute victory in any region where he launched military operations. Photos showing Soleimani’s smiles in the battlefield, like Zarif’s smiles in the arena of diplomacy, showed the world another aspect of Iran's power capacities.

Now, the military option against Iran has been reduced to a propaganda ploy and Iran's military might, which is totally indigenized, has emerged as the most important deterrent factor in the face of the country’s enemies. As a result, the Islamic Republic is now known as one of the balancing powers in the Middle East region.

When efforts were made to isolate Iran through imposition of economic sanctions, many regional countries exploited this opportunity and achieved remarkable economic growth rates. Iran's market and resources, in comparison to other regional countries, are so considerable that are coveted by European and American companies, which are now standing in line behind Iran's borders like veteran soldiers. It goes without saying that if Iran played the role of an ordinary economic actor, it would be able to soon turn into an economic giant in the region.

In conclusion, the skillful process of combining Iran's hard and soft powers, which has taken up more speed in recent months, has totally changed assessments of other global actors regarding Iran. Unlike the past, a maximum degree of national consensus exists in the country in support of nuclear activities as well as Iran's military operations against international extremist groups. The result will be breakout and rapid spread of Iran's power in such a way that the country will no longer be a power to be ignored in any regional and international equation.

Key Words: Smart Power, Iran, New Brand, Soft Power, Hard Power, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Smile Diplomacy, Nuclear Talks, Vienna, United Nations Security Council, Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), International Security, Iran's Military Might, Military Option, Pahlevani  

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*Photo Credit: ISNA

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