As the New World Order casts shadows on the actors of the international community, actions have gone beyond geographic boundaries and cultures to achieve the primary goals of establishing global engagement, maintaining international peace and security, developing cordial relations among nations, and international cooperation in resolving economic, cultural, social, and humanitarian crises. In addition, they aim to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples of the world, to curb and eradicate global threats, and to strengthen international laws and principles of justice, and adjustment or resolution of international disputes.
Through this new order, some political systems act illegitimately to impose certain agendas on surrounding nations. Sometimes, these systems seek to impose their character and influence through the introduction of a raft of positive policies to the extent of forming an alliance. However, there is a detrimental policy pursued by systems that only seek influence and penetration of other countries under the pretext of protecting a group of people with similar characteristics in these countries.
For instance, over the past four decades, many countries have considered the Islamic Republic of Iran as a challenge to their national security due to its needlessly harmful policies pursued in its region and the globe. Iran’s system has sought to position itself as a key player in linking the Middle East and Asia. In recent years, changes in Iran due to the rise of Reformists to the presidency and the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal, have put the country under the spotlight globally, making it a major issue on other nations’ national security agendas.
Following the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal after doubts arose about Iran’s full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), US President, Donald Trump said that Iran was violating the “spirit” of the nuclear deal, mostly because Iran continues to work against American interests in the Middle East.
Given the latest domestic crises within the Iranian society, specifically, the spiraling economic crisis that has worsened after the recent US sanctions imposed in November 2018, Iran’s leadership is obliged to disable its harmful policies before it can assume any role as an actor among the international community.
Iran’s Foreign Policy: Regionally and Internationally
According to Article 9 of the Iranian constitution, the political system aims to protect its sovereignty from any attacks by other, neighbouring countries and to wield a strong influence over the newly formed governments in the Middle East.
Many parties within Iran influence the state’s foreign policy, regional behaviour, and status among the countries of the world. While foreign policy is being formulated, it passes through a number of governing bodies for approval, including the parliament that approves all international agreements, contracts, and treaties. However, the Guardian Council, a highly influential body of six clerics and six conservative jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader, has the power of Veto over all decisions made by the Iranian Parliament. Another body, the Expediency Council, arbitrates between the Parliament and the Guardian Council and consults the Supreme Leader when these two bodies fail to reach an agreement. Recently, the Iran Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei has expanded the powers of the Expediency Council. Finally, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) play an increasingly important role in setting the Iranian foreign policy.
Given Iran’s multiple interests and ambitions in the region, it has pursued circuitous routes to extend its influence through damaging foreign policy with its neighbours, especially the GCC countries. Rather than having a defensive character, this policy has been characterised by aggressive rivalry, with Tehran seeking to position itself as the custodian of the Islamic world and Middle Eastern countries. Indeed, Iran has gone beyond that, using its influence with the Shiite population in these countries to gain more regional leverage and to attain the status of a global player among other powers, with the leadership in Tehran exerting great efforts to maintain a leading position as the largest Shia majority country globally to offset the Saudi influence across the region. In light of the many contentious issues causing tension between Iran and some GCC countries, the combative Iranian policy towards these nations and regional security issues generally has not resulted in any positive changes since the signing of the JCPOA in 2015.
In light of the latest state of sanctions-related isolation, Iran must positively re-engage with the international community to escape this situation, having recently lost more than half of its oil buyers, gravely impacting its domestic economy and leading to widespread social unrest.
Iran’s leadership can once again establish friendly diplomatic relations if it shows positive intentions towards helping to establish a regional system of stability, cooperating with neighbouring countries, and abandoning its current harmful policies in the Middle East. By contrast, Gulf States have declared their acceptance of such a system of stability and their readiness to help establish such a system so that the region’s nations can coexist in a peaceful environment.
Defensive or Offensive Policy
Iran’s defence policy has always driven the Iranian system to waste billions of dollars on military equipment, non-state groups, and proxies to wage every type of war imaginable to destabilise the region. Rather than being defensive as Iran claims, this policy has always seemed to be offensive since all these wars are being waged outside Iran’s borders; neither regional states nor the international community finds such actions acceptable and considers these hostile actions to be illegitimate intervention in the internal affairs of other countries.
Had Iran pursued a strategy of reengagement and abandoned these aggressive policies, it would have saved its economy, greatly reduced its expenditures, satisfied the Iranian people and benefited from a positive regional environment on every level.
Iran’s leaders urgently need to pursue a policy of reconciliation that would eliminate conflict in the Arabian Gulf and facilitate Iran’s return to the international community. If such rapprochement materialises, Tehran is likely to play a far more constructive role in the region and beyond and to maintain some form of prudent cooperation with Washington and Riyadh. These possibilities can be realized only if all parties deliberately choose the path of peaceful coexistence.
Domestic Disputes and Challenges to Re-engagement
Iran’s leadership currently veers between two broad political denominations – Reformists and Conservative – both of which are centred on confrontational principles. The Reformist camp has tried, over the past twenty years, to separate the theocratic dogmas that underpin the Conservative camp’s political worldview from Iranian foreign policy, succeeding in achieving greater international engagement and most notably in bringing about the signing of the JCPOA in 2015. Since this, however, Conservatives have seized back the political power in the country and exploited the deal to serve their ideological interests and external ambitions.
This regressive step by Conservatives has undermined all the Reformists’ efforts and destroyed the international community’s confidence in any future understandings with Tehran. Moreover, the infighting amongst Iran’s political elites has weakened the system’s standing in the region. Most importantly, the US-led coalition against Iran and the resultant sanctions have contributed to changing Iran’s regional status. Iran must revise its strife-torn political system, and ensure that its Reformist and Conservative camps can reach some mutually satisfactory compromise and attain consensus on their conflicting approaches to deal effectively with affairs of state.
Iran as a Normal State
To re-engage with the international community, Iran must practically demonstrate its willingness to adopt international norms. It must firstly abide by the US demands, as well as providing a full account of the previous military dimensions of its nuclear program to the IAEA and ending uranium enrichment. Moreover, it must provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country, end its proliferation of ballistic missiles, halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems, end support to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government, and permit the disarming, demobilization, and reintegration of its Shiite militias.
In addition, Tehran must cease its military support to Houthi rebels in Yemen and work towards a peaceful political settlement in this country. It also needs to end the IRGC’s support to terrorists and militants around the world and to cease its threatening behaviour to its neighbours – many of whom are U.S. allies.
In conclusion, Iran’s leadership is fully capable of achieving all the above, and needs to realise that it must start thinking about its own internal affairs rather than other countries’ affairs and to pay more attention to its own people who have suffered for years from deteriorating social and economic conditions that have worsened further after the latest US sanctions, despite Iranian effort to find other routes to evade the new sanctions. In fact, Iran could easily escape this pariah status through abandoning its harmful policies in the region and the other countries of the world.