The Iran Deal: Explanation Based on Realist School of International Relations Discipline

Sunday, August 30, 2015

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

From an Iranian viewpoint and based on the science of international relations, after announcement of the conclusion of Iran's nuclear deal on July 14, 2015, most analyses have been focused on the contents, processes and future outlook of this deal. Few analyses have been found to be focused on theoretical explanation of the reasons that led to this agreement.

It is very important, however, to explain the reasons that led to this agreement from the viewpoint of various theories of international relations in first, second, third and fourth debates on the theorization of this science, and on the basis of such theoretical approaches as realism, idealism, liberalism, Marxism, and constructivism.

Of course, every one of the above theories provides its own argument as to how the deal was achieved and also about its possible effectiveness under present and future conditions. Explaining how the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was achieved on the basis of common theoretical fundaments of realist theoreticians, including such scholars as Hans Morgenthau, Kenneth Neal Waltz, Stephen Martin Walt, Barry Buzan, John J. Mearsheimer, Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, Samuel Huntington, Hedley Bull, Gary Sick, Paul Kennedy, George Friedman, Nicholas Burns, Robert Jervis, Graham Allison, Richard Haas, and Fareed Zakaria, could be helpful for future study of adoption and implementation of the Iran deal.

According to teachings and viewpoints of the majority of the aforementioned theorists, when explaining the Iran deal, attention should be paid to special items and keywords. These items and keywords include national interests, statism, relations among big powers, the concept of reconciliation, the diplomacy institution, and the strategic influence. Such terms as militarism; superpowers; balance of power; anarchy; society; desecuritization and securitization; negotiation; purposes; convergence and conflict of interests; divergence; international, regional and national power structure; levels of analysis; self-help and survival; context and special trends can be also added to the above list.

More extensive and solid explanation of the above terms can be discussed based on the six principles of political realism as emphasized by Morgenthau in order to expound the reasons behind the achievement of the nuclear agreement, the existing and potential trends of the agreement, and its future study. These principles include the difference between political and personal ethics, proclivities of humans as main decision-makers in international relations, politics as an independent field, the conflict of interests, central role of government, as well as national interests as the signpost of foreign policy, which should be taken into account when explaining the reasons behind the achievement of the Iran deal.

The human nature: Governments as representatives of the general will of nations are made up of people. Therefore, the pessimism of governments in international arena and their distrust in one another’s intents are rooted in the human nature of decision-makers. The effect of the human nature of decision-makers on Iran's nuclear deal with the P5+1 group can be seen in Iran's suspicion of the intentions, goals, measures and proposals of the member states of the P5+1 group. Iran saw all the above items in conflict with its own structure, nature and goals and, of course, member states of the P5+1 had already provided grounds for the imposition of all kinds of sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, the P5+1 group was doubtful about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program.

The conflict of interests: In the run-up to the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, Iran and the group pursued totally different interests, because Iran sought to enrich uranium on its soil and the P5+1 group sought to guarantee lack of deviation in Iran's nuclear program toward production of nuclear weapons. Therefore, this agreement could reduce this conflict of interests and lead to relative convergence between the two sides’ interests and demands.

Importance of power and national interests in international relations: National interests are the guiding light of a country’s foreign policy. Definition of national interests differs in relation to persons, personalities and governments in every country, but this item is at any rate the guiding light of the foreign policy. During nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries, each side moved along the lines of its own national interests, so that, Iran sought to have its right to enrich uranium on its soil recognized by the P5+1 group, have sanctions removed, and secure the right to go on with its nuclear activities. On the other hand, the P5+1 group sought to work out powerful and serious supervisory mechanisms to oversee Iran's nuclear program in order to make sure about lack of any diversion in that program toward production of nuclear weapons.

Politics as an independent field where moral codes cannot be enforced on governments’ actions: Given the fact that negotiations as well as scientific and convincement methods are part of the politics, the Iran deal as an independent field of diplomacy can be a suitable model in this areas, which regardless of moral debates and despite some domestic opposition inside Iran and the United States as two main sides of the nuclear negotiations, can continue and bear fruit due to ethical reasons.

About the difference among personal, political and international conducts: The difference in terms of ethical rules among three personal, governmental and international levels is evident in the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group in that despite abundant domestic criticism of the role played by the United States in Iran's contemporary history, and although the United States is accused of disregard for ethical issues in the field of foreign policy, the foreign ministers of Iran and the United States managed to negotiate for long hours before achieving the agreement.

The issue of state-centrism in the light of the real and important difference between political realism and other schools of thought: National governments with sovereign rights and negotiating teams are embodiment of sovereignty in international system. During talks over nuclear agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 group, all participants, save for Ms. Federica Mogherini, who represented the European Union, represented their respective governments and acted in the name of their governments.

Any future study on the Iran deal from the viewpoint of realism in international relations would need attention to special tools of this theoretical discipline in order to pave the way for the implementation of the nuclear deal. Diplomacy, national power, balance of power, international ethics, global public opinion, international law and so forth are among those tools. Correct, timely, fair and professional application or non-application of these tools can determine success or lack of success of the Iran deal following possible approval of this agreement by domestic political structures of Iran and the United States.

The fact that future outlook of the Iran deal depends on mutual respect and purposive actions by involved governments, which will use these tools on the basis of a realistic explanation of the reasons and future of the Iran deal, is only one of the existing narrations under the current non-polar international system. From an Iranian viewpoint, there are other narrations beyond realistic, materialistic and mainstream theoretical current of international relations with respect to the Iran deal, which can be constructivist, emancipatory and hope-inspiring. Constructivism, feminism, and the critical school are just a few examples of these schools of thought.

Key Words: Iran Deal, International Relations, Realism, Idealism, Liberalism, Marxism, Constructivism, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Conflict of Interests, National Interests, Khoshandam

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*Photo Credit: E-IR.Info