Iran and the United Nations Security Council: Reciprocal Strategies and Viewpoints

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Candidate in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

The United Nations Security Council is both legally and politically the most important institutional pillar of an international organization which is missioned to protect and promote international peace and security. Now, in view of the important role of the Security Council as a significant international institution, and the importance of Iran as a major international player, the question is what approaches and viewpoints will these two international actors adopt toward each other in view of the developments of the past few decades and how their future relations can be explained through a futuristic approach?

The UN Security Council’s Strategy toward Iran

The Security Council’s strategy toward Iran in the past 67 years can be described and explained through the “profit-seeking approach of big powers.” To understand this strategy, one must first pay due attention to various types of interactions among big powers with veto right as well as their interaction with Iran during the past six decades.

The Security Council’s strategy toward Iran has been closely related to international power blocs and power poles, expediencies as well as strategic give-and-take among big powers, Iran's position in strategic equations of big powers, as well as special relations between Israel and the United States during the past six decades.

In view of the above facts, the Security Council’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran over the past 67 years can be divided into three distinct periods: before the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979; from 1979 up to the end of Iraq’s imposed war against Iran; and from the end of the war up to the end of 2012.

Before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, the most important cases which were related to Iran's national interests and were raised at the Security Council included occupation of some northern parts of Iran by the former Soviet Union, the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, Iran's sovereignty over three Iranian islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Mousa in the Persian Gulf, as well as the independence of Bahrain. Due to amicable relations between Iran and the United States as a superpower before the Islamic Revolution, decisions made by this international institution with regard to Iran during the first of the aforesaid periods left the least negative impact on the large-scale national interests of Iran.

Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a different set of issues related to the Islamic Republic were discussed on the floor of the Security Council which, inter alia, included the occupation of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iraq’s imposed war on Iran, the use of chemical weapons by the former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein against Iranian civilians and nonmilitary targets, as well as downing of an Iranian Airbus passenger plane by an American warship.

The most important international challenge facing Iran following the victory of the Islamic Revolution which has also found its way into the UN Security Council is the issue of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program. In fact resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1887 (2009), 1929 (2010), and 1984 (2011) which were adopted by the Security Council on Iran's nuclear energy program, have greatly served to pave the way for making interactions between Iran and the international system more challenging following the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States. Meanwhile, it should not be forgotten that before Iran's nuclear case was referred to the Security Council, reactions shown by that council to political developments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel, had remarkable effects on the national interests of Iran.

Although Iran's nuclear case has been the most important issue taken into account when analyzing future relations between Tehran and the UN Security Council, it should be noted that there are other important issues which should be also taken into consideration in any analysis of Iran’s relations with the Security Council.

The evolving new order in the Middle East as a result of the “Arab Spring” which has deeply touched Iran's peripheral countries and its strategic partners is one of those issues.

Therefore, it seems that at the end of 2012 and in new conditions, relations between Iran and the Security Council have been greatly affected by new political developments in the Arab countries in the periphery of Iran, especially developments in such countries as Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tunisia, and Turkey.

The main feature of the existing conditions governing Iran's relations with the UN Security Council in the final months of 2012 is that the Council, influenced by big powers which enjoy the veto power, has been facing major setbacks for achieving its goals with regard to Iran through sanctions policy and intensification of international bans against Iran.

Given the current state of relations between Iran and the Security Council one can claim that a systematic current inside the Council, which is also supported by certain big and regional powers, is doing its best to elicit a consolidated and purposive reaction from such important international institutions as the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) against Iran's national interests.

Eliminating strategic capacities and potentials of one of the most important sides of the anti-Israeli “resistance axis” in the region and application of issue linkage policy to Iran are among the most important goals of this systematic international current.

According to the above facts, the UN Security Council’s strategy toward and reactions with Iran in the past six decades has been a function of power poles, power blocs, as well as strategic and tactical give-and-take among major power which enjoy the right of veto at the Security Council. If the existing regional equations and the current positions that Iran and big powers are taking against each other, continue into future, this kind of interaction and strategy toward Iran will most probably continue to exist. However, the important point which cannot be easily overlooked is the growing strategic influence of Iran on regional and international issues and the country’s resistance against double standards and unfair behavior of the Council and its few members which wield the veto right.

Given the above conditions, the important point now is to what extent the future performance and influence of the Security Council in the face of important regional and international issues related to Iran will be affected by reactions, influence and effective initiatives of Iran in the face of important emerging global issues and trends.

There is also a more important question here: Will constructive and effective initiatives offered by Iran and other important international players possibly modify the future conduct of the Security Council toward resistance-based viewpoints and approaches which are part of the regional equations? The third question is “will the Security Council repeat its interventionist and discriminatory treatment of such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria in the case of Iran as well?”

Iran's Strategy toward the UN Security Council

Iran's strategy toward the UN Security Council is based on the large-scale approach of “purposive interactionism” which has governed the foreign policy of Iran over the past six decades and has seen many ups and downs in line with developments inside Iran's political system as well as varying viewpoints of the country’s political elite.

As a result, the type and orientation of Iran's strategy with regard to the UN Security Council over the past six decades has been influenced by the country’s important geopolitical position, the general structure of the international system, the degree of influence and type of interactions between the Security Council and big powers, as well as Iran's vital interests.

According to a primary division, Iran's strategy toward the Security Council over the past six decades can be studied within the framework of three distinct historical junctures: before the victory of the Islamic Revolution; from the victory of the Islamic Revolution to 2001; and from 2001 up to the end of 2012.

Before the Islamic Revolution and under the rule of Pahlavi regime, Iran's approach to the UN Security Council was based on maximum interaction with this institution in order to meet the national interests of Iran through participation in international organizations in line with the policy of “unity and coalition” which governed Iran's pre-revolution foreign policy. The biggest advantage that Iran took of the UN Security Council before the revolution was categorical support of the council for immediate withdrawal of the former Soviet Union forces from the Iranian soil through adoption of the Security Council resolutions 2, 3, and 5 in 1946.

During all the post-revolution years, Iran's approach to the Security Council has remained almost unchanged and the Islamic Republic has had the highest degree of interaction with this international institution. The highest degree of Iran's participation at the Security Council was before the Islamic Revolution when Iran was member of the Security Council for two years from 1955 to 1956. The green light was given by the big powers wielding the veto right for Iran's non-permanent membership at the Security Council just a few years after the military coup d’état against the national and popular government of the Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq on August 19, 1953. Since that time, no Iranian government has had a second opportunity for presence and non-permanent membership at the Security Council.

From the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 up to 2001, “purposive interactionism” has formed the basis of Iran's large-scale strategy toward the Security Council which has been heavily affected by discriminatory, dual-track, and unfair approaches of the Security Council, especially its position on Iraq’s military invasion of Iran (1980-88). However, the political system in Iran finally opted for “peaceful coexistence” with the Security Council and big powers with the right of veto by accepting the Security Council Resolution 598.

Since the termination of Iraq’s imposed war against Iran up to 9/11 terror attacks in the United States, there were no major developments in Iran's relations with the Security Council. However, following the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and the Security Council’s resolute reaction to those attacks, Iran once more put its large-scale policy of “purposive interactionism” with the Security Council into gear by offering serious and constructive support for the Security Council’s decisions to condemn international terrorism.

The acme of Iran's alignment with the decisions of the Security Council following the 9/11 was Tehran’s support for the Security Council’s resolutions for the condemnation of terrorist attacks and all other measures which would amount to a threat or violation of international peace and security.

When faced with the Security Council’s position on the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the United States and also due to domestic considerations and foreign policy objectives, Iran decided to remain neutral and continue with its policy of “purposive interactionism” toward the Security Council. In addition, since the beginning of the third millennium, Iran has frequently voiced its support for proposed reforms in the Security Council structure, describing the veto right granted to its permanent members as unfair and incorrect. Tehran has also called for veto right to be given to certain Islamic countries or the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in view of the big population and high influence of the Muslim states across the world.

In parallel to the Security Council’s approach to Iran’s nuclear issue after 2006, the large-scale historical strategy that governed Iran's interactions with the Council has been also changed and Iran's relations with the Security Council have, thus, moved toward confrontation as a result of the Council’s measures against Tehran.

Despite the Security Council’s double-standard and unfair treatment of Iran after 2006, Iran has not only avoided limiting its interactions with the Security Council since that date, but has in some instances even promoted them. In line with its national concerns and participatory approach to international institutions and organizations, Iran made its second effort in 2008 to become a non-permanent member of the Security Council for 2009 and 2010. However, Iran's effort was thwarted due to obstructionism by the coalition of the Western states.

Although serious and basic limitations in Iran's relations with the Security Council mostly emanate from the Council’s discriminatory, double-standard and unfair approach to Iran's nuclear issue, there is no doubt that any possible future interaction between Iran and the Security Council will be, due to many reasons, based on the Islamic Republic’s vital national interests. In future perspective, Iran is sure to use its capacity for “constructive interaction,” which has been mentioned in the country’s strategic instruments, as the roadmap for its interactions with international issues, institutions and currents. By doing so, Iran will be able to foil purposive violent and warmongering currents which have been mobilized against it at international level through such important political and legal channels as the UN Security Council.

In conclusion, any futuristic scenario with regard to Iran's relations with the Security Council as well as their future interactions or confrontation should be based on three key points. The first point is that such a scenario should be based on and pay due attention to the nature of the Security Council and developments related to Iran's relations with big powers having the veto right at the Council as well as relevant historical developments. The second point is that such a scenario should also take domestic considerations of Iran's foreign policy into account in addition to the give-and-take and strategic reconciliation inside the Security Council. And the third point is that the above scenario should certainly make a comparison between the behavior of the Security Council toward Iran and its treatment of other international players similar to Iran during the past six decades. In doing so, the scenario should take into account the possible double-standard, discriminatory, illegal, and unfair approach of the Security Council to such important international issues as “resistance” against the West and Israel.