Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, coupled with its incipient nuclear program, is a serious concern and currently one of the most pressing problems in international politics and diplomacy. This article focuses briefly on Iran’s international standing and the origins of the tension between this country and the western world. In the end, it gives some personal remarks on how the conflict might be solved.
Iran is a country of special geostrategic importance due to its central location in Eurasia. In addition, the country has large reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Despite the advantages gleaned from its location and energy stores, Iran faces difficult internal problems (e.g. a high unemployment rate and inflation) and enormous diplomatic conflicts with the western world. Even though political relations between the West and Iran have been tense since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, these relations have significantly worsened in recent years. One cause of the increased tension is the renewal of a Shiite radicalism in Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader is developing intermediate range missiles that have the ability to strike Israel, and he is a strong proponent of the nuclear program. Ahmadinejad continues to call for Israel’s destruction, proclaiming that a nuclear war with Israel will bring the return of the last Shiite Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, to earth. Teheran is sharply critical of the US invasion of Iran’s former chief rival, Iraq, as the state is worried about US hegemony in the region.
Iran’s Nuclear Program
Iran has moved ahead rapidly with its nuclear program. The Persian nation has been steadily increasing the number of centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants, which according to Teheran officials, will solely be used for peaceful purposes. Iran is insisting on its inalienable right to enrich uranium and build centrifuges for peaceful power generation. In opposition to this declaration, the West is accusing Teheran of seeking to enrich uranium to levels high enough for use in nuclear weapons. In particular, Israel sees the nuclear ambitions of Iran as a threat to their existence and fear that Teheran’s program could drive other states in the Middle East to pursue nuclear power for armament and weapons.
Various diplomatic incentives have failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program, which is currently under surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, the means of the IAEA have shown to be inadequate for detecting countries that have clandestine enrichment programs, such as Algeria, Libya and Syria.
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Equally ineffective are the sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. Recently, a United Nations Security Council resolution imposed a series of sanctions on Iran after the state declined an international offer that would require the suspension of its nuclear activity in exchange. Russia’s role is important here because this country has veto power in the UN Security Council, where sanctions need to be approved unanimously by the five permanent members. Oftentimes, Russia has threatened to boycott the decision due to recent tensions with the United States. Russia is a nuclear supplier and it supports Tehran's nuclear program for constructing the Bushehr reactor and selling its nuclear expertise. Furthermore, Moscow sees Iran as a strategic partner against an American presence in the Middle East, and is supportive of like-minded forces such as Hamas, Shiite Hezbollah, and Syria. If Russia is further willing to deepen ties with Iran, ( e.g. within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); a military alliance, seen as a counterbalance to NATO, between Russia, China, and several Central Asian former Soviet states in which Iran has observer status) there could be a dangerous redistribution of power in international politics.
How to Deal with Iran?
What are the options for dealing with Iran? Should we accept a nuclear-armed Iran and live in a more insecure world where Israel’s existence is endangered? Should we bomb the country and have a “second Iraq”? There are different suggestions about how to react to Iran’s aggressive foreign policy. Israel is willing to attack Iran’s nuclear installations. The Bush administration oftentimes discussed using force to stop the rapidly expanding Iranian nuclear program, but there is hope that Barack Obama will attempt to solve the crisis diplomatically. Obama is generally inclined towards a worldwide nuclear disarmament.
Admittedly, diplomatic activities with Iran have not been a great success, thus far. However, military action should not be the preferred means of dealing with Iran. The western world has to pull out all the stops to prevent an armed conflict or even another invasion in the region. The European Union (EU) should strengthen its “soft power” agenda in the case of Iran. The EU could be effective because of its good reputation for international diplomacy and its good relationship with Russia. A security community that involves the EU, US, and Russia as equal partners could be the key solution to the current friction. With the committed support of the European states, Obama could be empowered to reinitiate direct diplomatic policy with the Persian state. A common strategy of a mix of “carrots and sticks” is most appropriate. Offering economic incentive packages and permitting a nuclear program under control of the international society could persuade Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. If direct talks and “carrots” will not halt Iran obtaining nuclear material, Europe and the US must act in concert to put international pressure on the Iranian economy to prevent Ahmadinejad’s next win in the polls; Ahmadinejad will most likely win the 2009 Iranian presidential election, mainly because of the support of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The western states have to make it clear to the Iranian people that a moderate policy towards Israel and the rest of the world is necessary and more beneficial for themselves. Another victory of Ahmadinejad would make productive policy changes regarding Iran’s nuclear program nearly impossible.