Trump’s Executive Order Contravenes Five Major Theories of International Relations

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Ali Omidi
Associate Professor of International Relations; University of Isfahan

Mohsen Dehnavi is an Iranian youth, who had been invited to the United States by Harvard University and returned to Tehran at the midnight of Wednesday, July 12, 2017, after being deported from an airport in Boston. Dehnavi, who had traveled to the United States along with his wife and three small children, was forced to return to Tehran after being detained for about 30 hours at Boston Logan International Airport. Dehnavi said the US border police had kept them at a room for many hours and had treated him and his family very harshly to the extent that they were not even allowed to make a phone call. The treatment of Dehnavi by the US border police was so abhorrent that even John Kerry, the former US secretary of state, tweeted: “Tragic. A doctor comes to the US to save lives and this happens. This is not who we are.[1]

Before this development, Taraneh Alidousti, a superstar of the Iranian cinema and the actress of the Iranian Academy Award-winning film, The Salesman (2016), had noted that she would not take part in the Oscar ceremony even if she could, because “I am deeply suffering when I see my ordinary fellow countrypersons are being denied their natural right to meet their children or continue their studies in the United States.”

Asghar Farhadi, Iran’s world-famous filmmaker and director of The Salesman, which won him an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, also announced that he would not take part in that year’s Oscar ceremony. Farhadi asserted that the executive order issued by US President Donald Trump, which was also upheld by the US Supreme Court with certain provisions to ban entry of asylum seekers as well as passengers and migrants from Iran and six other countries to the United States, imposed “unfair conditions on legal entry” to America. He added that “radical” forces had divided the world into “us” and “others” in order to “present a horrific picture of others and cause their country’s people to be afraid of them.”

Trump’s executive order and theories of international relations

Under usual conditions, social science theories, including those related to international relations, are presented to explain, elucidate and analyze phenomena and delineate the final outcome of international trends. Theories of international relations have been also presented with an eye to two final outcomes of international trends, which include war and peace. The international relations discipline was established in 1919 and following the end of World War One at the University of Wales in the UK, with the goal of preventing future wars. As a result, major theories of international relations, and even such theories as realism and containment, were presented with the ultimate goal of establishing order and peace in the world. Five prominent theories have been presented in the literature of international relations whose goal is to bring about a state of peaceful coexistence at international level. However, Trump’s executive order and its conditional confirmation by US Supreme Court stand in contravention to those theories. Such theories are considered valid as far as they have not been refuted and, as common sense dictates, they reflect human history and experience.

Communications theory

From the viewpoint of Karl W. Deutsch, the pioneer international relations theorist, the human society is basically made up of a communication system. In other words, communication forms and gives identity to human societies. The more communication among humans and human societies, the more will be understanding among them and mutual grasp of common values, which will finally lead to the establishment of what Deutsch calls “security society,” “we-feeling,” and convergence. Deutsch believes that political, cultural and economic interactions force various institutions to bring about peaceful changes among those populations that are part of those interactions. As such, Trump’s executive order is an obstacle to further communication between people and elites from Iran and the United States and this issue widens the gap and differences between the two nations the result of which will be more hostility and perhaps war.

Theory of communicative rationality

From the viewpoint of Jürgen Habermas, who first came up with the theory of communicative rationality, the sole way of achieving a peaceful society is dialogue and communication among human beings. The more numerous are channels for this dialogue, we will see more rational behavior from all people in a society both at domestic and international levels. The concept of communicative action that Habermas puts forth is meant to do away with those impediments that distort communication. If what Trump does is considered as an example of instrumental rationality, still, from the viewpoint of Habermas, this measure can lead to weakening and even destruction of intellectual, cultural and spiritual life of humans. If we generalize the theory of Habermas to international level, we would see that just in the same way that we need the public sphere at domestic level, we also need a public sphere at international level, because it helps promote international peace and understanding and communication is the central nervous system of this international sphere. Disconnecting communications between people and elites from Iran and the United States would lead to blockage of relations and dialogue between the two sides, and its final result would be nothing but intensification of differences and misunderstandings. This is why Habermas considers such a course of action as being irrational.

Soft power theory

The soft power theory is used when a party is capable of making an effect on others in order to achieve desirable results through the ability to attract and co-opt rather than by coercion (hard power), using force, or giving money as a means of persuasion. This concept was first introduced and theorized by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in 1990 through his book, which is entitled “Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power,” and its goal was to reduce hatred of the United States in the world. Such Iranian movie stars as Taraneh Alidousti and Asghar Farhadi are internationally renowned and offending them will cause their fans to take offense, which in turn, increases hatred for the United States across the world. When such popular stars give negative views on the United States’ policies and behavior, ordinary people likewise will also accept the reason behind the animosity that exists between Iran and the United States in a better way.

Track II diplomacy

Track II diplomacy is nongovernmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between experts, retired diplomats and even official figures. This term was first coined by Joseph V. Montville, a former US State Department employee, in 1981. In Track II diplomacy, its agents use thinking, research and dialogue to find root causes of a given crisis and usually present mutually acceptable solutions. This form of diplomacy has been invented to help the official diplomacy and has demonstrated its effectiveness under various circumstances. By preventing entry of Iranian elites to its soil, the United States practically prevents implementation of this form of diplomacy and lets governments continue the vicious circle of their hostile policies.

Robert Jervis’ cognitive theory (perception and misperception in international politics)

Robert Jervis believes that differentiation must be made between two psychological and operational environments. The psychological environment is the mental format of leaders according to which they understand the world while the operational environment is the real world in which policies are implemented. Decisions made and policies adopted by politicians are affected by their personal ideas and perceptions, which may not be compatible with the reality. Any time that these misperceptions are combined with miscalculation, they may be ensued with irreparable damage to a country and political system. It was due to misperception of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein about reactions and behavior of other regional and international actors as well as due to his misperception of the country’s power that he decided to launch his ill-fated attack on Kuwait and this miscalculation spelled his doom. It was due to the same misperceptions that Adolf Hitler set the entire world on fire. At the present time, Iran and the United States are overcome with strong sense and perception of hostility toward each other and absence of official and unofficial channels of communication will further strengthen their misperceptions of each other. Trump’s order has been considered as just shoring up this environment of misperception, which also teems with misunderstanding.

Last but not least, the existing state of affairs has caused great concern among political, military and security experts in the United States as well. For example, 38 American generals and admirals have written an open letter to Trump, warning him about continuation of his hostile policies toward Iran. They have noted that they are concerned about the fact that Iran and the United States may be moving toward a full-fledged war. They wrote: “Without diplomatic connections [with Iran], minor conflicts can easily spiral out of control. Diplomacy is a vital tool for mitigating risk [of war].”[2]


*More by Ali Omidi:
*Why Saudi Arabia moved to cut ties with Qatar: Future Scenarios: 

*Five Fallacies in Netanyahu’s Remarks during Meeting with Putin about the Myth of Haman and Esther :
*What Must Iran's Reaction to Trump Be, Chicken Game or Bullfighting?:


*Photo Credit: Policyforum

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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