Foreign ministry officials from Iran, right, Afghanistan, left, and Pakistan, center, attend a meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, Jan. 16, 2010. They were meeting to discuss a range of issues: extremism, terrorism, & bilateral and regional security matters.
"Regionalism in Iran's Foreign Policy"
Op-Ed, Iran Review
February 8, 2010
Author: Kayhan Barzegar, Former Associate, Project on Managing the Atom/International Security Program, 2010–2011; Former Research Fellow, Project on Managing the Atom/international Security Program, 2007–2010
What role does "regionalism" have in Iran's foreign policy strategy? The prevailing view inside Iran asserts that due to different power and political structures, as well as cultural and social differences between Iran and regional countries, especially the Arab Middle East, it is either very difficult or of little benefit for Iran to focus on regionalism as a foreign policy strategy. While accepting such arguments, I maintain that a corollary of such a perspective is passivity in Iran's foreign policy and a weakening of its regional and international standing. The Middle East of the post–September 11 and Iraqi crises, is transforming into a new political and security order in which all regional players are trying to establish their "new roles." In order to institutionalize its regional role, and increase its strategic significance in the relations with great powers, Iran needs to expand cooperation, interactions, and building coalitions with states in the region.
Tilting the scales in favor of a regionalist approach in Iran's foreign policy will not only be beneficial, but is key to realizing Iran's national and security interests. Such a strategy, however, should be based on creating a "balance" in the various geographic-geopolitical, historical-civilizational, and political-security approaches of Iran's foreign policy. It should also be centered on establishing relations with various geographical regions and political-security and economic sub-systems. This argument has important policy-making implications for Iran. During the past decades, inattentiveness to regionalism in foreign policy has dealt irreparable blows to Iran's security and national interests. The most prominent examples are the empowerment of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the loss of economic, political and security opportunities in the region, and new security challenges posed by the presence of foreign powers, especially the United States, across Iran's national boundaries. In contrast, focusing on regionalism and expanding interactions with nations and states in the form of economic, political and security coalitions will provide Iran with opportunities to play its economic and political role in the region, prevent further threats, and increase Iran's bargaining power in the relations with the great powers.
Critical Viewpoints on Regionalism
Critics of such a regional focus in Iran maintain that the structure of power, politics and culture in Iran is such that they render any focus on regionalism in the country's foreign policy practically useless. These viewpoints can be summarized as follows: First, one perspective tends to agree on the impossibility of making any coalition with regional countries. This viewpoint maintains that the structure of power and politics in Iran and the ideological nature of the Iranian government, which gives priority to supporting Muslims and liberation movements, on the one hand, and the power structure in the Arab world, on the other hand, dash any hope of coalition-building and advanced cooperation in the region, especially with Arab countries.
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