Tehran Security Conference: The US and Security Trends in the West Asia Region

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


Ja’afar Haqpanah
Visiting Professor of Regional Studies; University of Tehran

A review of the second Tehran Security Conference, which was themed “Regional Security in West Asia: Emerging Challenges and Trends,” will show that the event can be characterized with a number of steps, which were taken by Iran during the conference. The first step was to explain the meaning of and theorize the term “West Asia.” West Asia is a term coined by Iran and is supposed to take the place of those terms, which have no local origin, in the geopolitics of regional studies. In fact, the term “West Asia” represents an Iranian narrative and Iran’s view to this region. Therefore, during both editions of Tehran Security Conference, an effort has been made to conceptualize, generalize, and introduce this term and this is why we saw that it was also used by most guests of the conference. Of course, there was some resistance to its acceptance an example of which was the representative of Afghanistan who clearly asserted that he did not consider his county as part of West Asia. However, there were other speakers who frequently used this term.



The second step taken by Iran in addition to conceptualization of this term, was to expound its own viewpoint on security matters in this region through the conference. Such important keywords as existence of failed states, war, arms races, terrorist activities, regional environmental crises, absence of endogenous security arrangements and subsequent increased frequency of foreign interventions are used to denote those issues, which from Iran’s viewpoint, connect different parts of the region to one another. As a result, one can claim that the connection among these countries is not merely of a geographical nature, but security issues, examples of which were given above, also form a link among regional countries.

The third step taken by Iran through this conference was a practical effort made by the Islamic Republic to explain a security doctrine, which can be used to resolve security issues in West Asia. This was done in a speech by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who pointed out two ideas: a stronger region and networked security. The roles played by all regional actors can be explained in accordance with these two ideas. In networked security, actors are made up of a wide range of subnational groups, small states, regional powers, and even transregional powers, and the relationship among them is in the form of a network, not organizational or similar to a pyramid. This idea is based on the general notion that basically speaking, the doctrine of creating alliances or coalitions through self-established security approaches is not a good response to regional woes. As a result, there is no way but to move toward networked security while being aware that accepting networked security and its actors can affect everybody’s security. In this state, the law of “all or none” governs security. It is not like that any actor would be able to ensure its own security at the cost of making other actors insecure. The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that security cannot be bought in West Asia. The idea of a stronger region can be also pursued on this basis. From Iran’s viewpoint, the time is now ripe for a new starting point to be marked for the definition of a stronger region, because some issues, which had made the entire region insecure, including the threat of Daesh and severe weakening of central governments in countries like Syria and Iraq, have come to an end and the dangerous trend, which could have led to division of countries and bolstering of secessionist efforts has stopped. Of course, achieving this goal requires understanding and confidence building and governments cannot be expected to take the first step in line with this trend. However, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations can play an active role in this regard.

The next step, which was taken through Tehran Security Conference was to invite countries in other regions, which have a stake here, especially East Asian and European countries. This is important because West Asia is clearly a connecting bridge between the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region, and there is no doubt that any insecurity in West Asia can spread to the other two regions as well. Therefore, an effort was made in this conference to invite these countries to help restore security to this region as mediators or coordinators or even as partners to its costs. It seems that the role played by governments of China, Japan, and South Korea in the Asia-Pacific region and by the member states of the European Union in Europe is of utmost importance. The composition of the conference’s guests clearly indicated that it aimed to define these regions as interconnected security complexes.



In the meantime, the important point is the need to take into account both the United States and its role in this region, because it must finally turn into a party that would play a constructive and responsible role. No country is against legitimate interests of other countries in this region. However, it is for the United States to make it clear how it is going to deal with new developments and security dynamics in this region. It is a good thing that the United States is no more ready to pay a high cost in West Asia. However, it must not try to pursue the same goals that it pursued in the past through inciting proxy wars, as well as creating new balances outside and inside the region. If such measures are taken, sooner or later, the US allies as well as the United States itself will have to face many problems in this region. This was a major doubt, which was raised about the US policies during this conference and there was clearly some sort of criticism of the US policies going around among the participants. The main focus of this criticism was that the United States intends to undermine the main step that has been taken to reduce tensions in this region, namely, Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In case the United States succeeds to do this, it is not clear whether other actors would continue to have faith in diplomacy or other countries would be basically willing to follow such procedures, because they may think that this process is useless and they have to take other measures in order to make sure about sustainability of security arrangements in this region. At the end of the day, it appears that Tehran Security Conference has sent clear messages about the need to identify regional problems, Iran’s viewpoint on regional security and also Tehran's willingness to help regional and transregional countries in the effort to rebuild regional security arrangements. 


*More by Ja'far Haghpanah:
*The US and the Iraqi Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum: 

*Taliban and Daesh Cooperating in Afghanistan: Regional and International Threats and Opportunities: 
*Astana Conference on Syria, a Different Meeting: