Alireza Noori

Iran, the Middle East and Eurasia: the Need to Balance Foreign Policy

Date of publication : June 23, 2017 18:09 pm
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) speaks to his deputy Abbas Araqchi during the opening session of a two-day ministerial conference of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which groups 10 Asian and Eurasian countries, in Tehran on November 26, 2013
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) speaks to his deputy Abbas Araqchi during the opening session of a two-day ministerial conference of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), which groups 10 Asian and Eurasian countries, in Tehran on November 26, 2013

Though trans-regional powers have taken, and will take their share of the rising multi-layered tensions in the Middle East, these tensions will lead to no consequences for the countries of the region, except for the loss of human and material resources. Any pause or delay in the developmental policies of these countries or that these policies become asymmetric are considered as one of the medium and long term damages to the unfinished round of tensions. This damage is caused by the over-concentration of resources in the specific security and military fields and in the specific geography of the Middle East and being involved in the mental or objective cycle of threats, security and insecurity, falling into militarism and arms race, then escalating the security dilemma and consequently further strengthening the military, building costly external coalitions, and even taking symmetrical and asymmetrical actions against each other.
Although the need for the investment in the security enhancement in the current tumultuous environment of the Middle East which is full of threats is justified, the focus on security and military resources naturally leads to a reduced focus on resources in other areas, including human and infrastructure areas. The result of this shortcoming is the incidence of defects and the emergence of asymmetries in development strategies that damage the countries in the regions in different proportions. Iraq and Syria will suffer for years, and others, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, will not be immune to this damage as well.
One of the strategies that can reduce the further damage derived from this field is to adopt a balanced and multi-vector policy in the development policymaking with an emphasis on strengthening and applying a wide variety of tools and partners, both domestic and foreign, in different subject and geographical areas to meet the goals. In this way, along with the emphasis on military and security issues, the development policy will be balanced by diffusing the focus on different subject and geographic areas.
This approach, while not distracting from the principle of endogenous development, considers the need for paying attention to the dynamic components of the peripheral environment. The central assumption is that, in the long run and in a changing regional and international environment, only a balanced and dynamic development can guarantee the sustainable human, social, state, territorial and regional stability and security, and, in contrast, if such a development does not exist, the long-term stability and security will face problems at these four levels.
From this perspective, along with paying attention to the security and military vector in the Middle East, it is necessary to consider other subject and geographic vectors as well. Therefore, although the current tensions in the Middle East have prevented many countries in the region, including Iran, from seriously and practically addressing this necessity, a more balanced approach and strategy must be put in place to prevent the medium and long term damages. Although the cost of neglecting this matter has been compensated for many times by petrodollars, it is more than ever necessary to balance the subject and geographic vectors in the face of the probability and objectivity of exacerbating pressures and sanctions against Tehran.
Given the focus of the present article is on the foreign field, its emphasis on balancing foreign policy and strategy is associated with a greater attention being paid to the Eurasian vector which has its own negative and positive requirements for national interests. The dynamics of this region, which is far from the tensions of the Middle East, is obvious for everyone. In various sources, there has been much talk about the many capacities of this vector in the economic, transit, social, cultural, security and political fields, and this article does not intend to repeat them. The trends show that Iran has paid no practical attention to this vector over the last years due to its insufficient knowledge, on the one hand, and, due to being involved in the Middle East issues, on the other hand.
An obvious example of this is the fact that Tehran had no active presence at several recent meetings held in Eurasia, including the New Silk Road Forum in China, the Economic Forum of St. Petersburg and the Shanghai Summit. Although Iran had a technocratic presence in these meetings, comparing this presence with the type of activity of countries such as India and Turkey in Eurasia, which, unlike Iran, do not have geographic ties with Central Asia, but actively participated and will participate in these meetings with a long-term perspective and decision-making authorities indicates that they follow different approaches.
Naturally, this article does not mean that the situation is like this just in these specific meetings, but its purpose is to refer to the lack of a clear strategy and a necessary strategic approach to capacities of the great Eurasia for securing Iran’s national interests over the past years. Obviously, staying out of the dynamic trends of this area not only will make Tehran more vulnerable to the rising pressures of the West, and will continue to maintain asymmetry in foreign policy, but also will prevent Iran from having its own necessary share of the geo-economic and geopolitical map of Eurasia, especially in the areas of transit, trade and energy.
It is clear that “self-importance” and relying only on “capacities”, including using stereotypes such as “Iran’s geostrategic position in the region”, will not guarantee a place for Tehran in the great Eurasia. A prerequisite for realizing this is, first of all, to formulate a specific strategy, and then operationalize it with environmentally adaptable tools, so that capacities become “outcomes”, and can be relied upon as a source in the domestic and foreign policy.
The lack of a clear strategy on the Iranian side is certainly one of the main reasons that this country is ignored in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Therefore, in the current situation, one should expect that Tajikistan would become an assumed or a real obstacle to “raising” the issue of Iran’s membership in this organization. Obviously, this problem will not be solved by the “purely theoretical” emphasis of Iran or members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on the effective “capacities” of Tehran in this area, and this requires a change in the approach and a practical solution.
In designing a new Eurasian policy, along with other requirements, it is necessary to avoid the damages of the last few years, meaning the theoretical and, to some extent, practical excessive reliance on Russia. Tehran’s Syrian and Middle East policy should not be regulated entirely by relying on Moscow as well - in practice, it has not been so. Tehran’s approach to Moscow in Iran’s Eurasian policy should be balanced, and far from the incorrect exaggerations, such as saying that relations between the two countries are “strategic”.
As trends, including the Kremlin’s insistence on India’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to balance China, show Moscow is not the only active force in the great Eurasia, and even in the Central Eurasia. Therefore, Iran’s Eurasian policy should be reset based on a more major framework and with a regional approach, while having a realistic approach towards Russia. Moscow is considered as a part of this region, and not all of it, and any unnecessary emphasis on this country not only will unbalance Tehran’s policy in this area, but also will cause damages, including the unnecessary entry of Iran into equations and balances built among Russia, China and the West.

Alireza Nouri, an analyst of Russian politics, is the fellow at IRAS.

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