Wednesday, November 17, 2004

* The Dilemma of Nation-Building and State Formation in Post-Saddam Iraq


1- Introduction
2- The process and Concept of Nation-Building and State Formation
3- Unitary versus Federalist Political Structure in Iraq
4- Competing Forces and Conflicting Aims in Iraq’s Political Arena
5- The U.S. Plan for Transfer of Iraq’s Sovereignty:
The Paradox of Democracy
6- The Wider Ramification of Democratic Iraq for the Middle East
7- Conclusions
Post Scriptum

1- Introduction

Whatever the reasons behind the American military intervention in Iraq and the collapse of the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein, the truth of the matter now is that with the downfall of the Baathist regime, history of the Middle East has turned an unprecedented bloody page, which will have widespread ramifications for the whole region.
Indeed, the importance of the second phase of the American intervention in Iraq, (i.e. the reconstruction phase) is much more vital than the collapse of the Baath Regime. Because, if the Americans fail to establish a viable democratic government, and if law and order is not restored and the bloodshed is not stopped, then this will create a negative precedent for the American strategy in the Middle East.
Given the fact that a long lived brutal regime has suddenly fallen apart and was ousted from the political scene in Iraq, we should expect that a power vacuum will be created during the transition period, until a new legitimate and viable power structure is established. But, the lack of democratic culture and a civil society in Iraq , will make it most difficult for whoever intends to embark on creating new democratic institutions with a view to establishing law and order in this terror-ridden country.
* Professor Kazemi holds Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford: Massachusetts U.S.A. He is author of many books and articles. He is legal advisor on matters of International Law of the Sea. Currently, he is Dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus). For more detail please consult Academic Site of Dr. Kazemi:

In other words, at the outset, we face the problem of “ Nation-Building” and “State Formation.” Since, with the collapse of the old regime, all the social, political, economic and military institutions vanished overnight with the people who used to run them under the dictatorial rule of Saddam Hussein.
The much intriguing question now is, who actually should be charged with the responsibility of rebuilding this disintegrated war-torn nation and bring together the peoples from various ethnic and religious background as a whole, and induce them a new national identity while establishing an appropriate governmental apparatus, in order to respond to the wishes and democratic aspirations of the peoples.
A unitary versus federal political structure, meaning a direct democratic election (one man one vote), or a sort of regional autonomous government, for certain ethnic population such as Kurds Shiites or Sunnis, for instance, may change the whole picture of new Iraq. These are the main issues now facing the American policy makers and their allies on the one hand, and the Governing Council on the other. Of course, there are other interested players who should be taken into account. The United Nations and its various subsidiary bodies and the role that they should play in the whole affairs, the regional actors neighboring Iraq, and most importantly the various religious and ethnic leaders and groupings inside Iraq, each of which pursuing its own objectives and wishes. The immediate question now before the Americans is what is to be replaced by the old regime and how it shall be established in order to respond simultaneously to the following preoccupations:
1-The overall American strategy to establish a democratic government in Iraq;
2-The true expectations of Iraqi peoples with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds and objectives;
3- An adequate political structure and governmental institutions in order to maintain internal peace and security and establish friendly relations with other States;
4-A viable democratic regime, which could serve as a model for other countries in the region.
This paper shall endeavor to address briefly the above questions with a view to find a path through the existing bottlenecks and to describe the appropriate means and ends for achieving the objective of nation-building and State formation future Iraq.

2- The Process and Concept of Nation-Building and State Formation
“State” and “nation” are two distinct concepts in political and legal writings; yet, they might be used interchangeably in common journalistic jargon. The term “nation” denotes a community of people bound together by a general sense of belonging owing to common sharing of certain historical memories, traditions, language, religion, culture and common political aspirations1. Though, in some cases, not all of these elements are necessarily present in order to build or create a nation . Therefore, a nation, which is territorial in nature, does not involve territorial sovereignty and, unlike State, is not an organized government.2 The key element here is the existence of a strong sense of belonging together of a group of people in order for a nation to become into being. Furthermore, the individual members of this group shall place a certain loyalty to the group as a whole over any conflicting loyalties. However, it should be noted that although a nation implies common culture, symbols and world views, what makes it different from other social, cultural and ethnic groups , is the territorial and geographical unity of the nation. For this reason, most writers in the field believe that the concept of “nation” is primarily a geographical or spatial one. 3 While, there are others who contend that as the people move forward to acquire maturity in political experience in a civil society, their feeling of belonging together becomes less dependent on language, ethnic or religious ties, and more on adherence to particular values associated with political concepts, democratic ideals and institutions. This however, may happen only when the people learn to devote their ultimate loyalty to the State, which materialize their ideals and wishes in institutions and the legitimate authority.
On the other hand, a State must own to certain characteristics without which a fully sovereign and independent political entity may not materialize. It must, first of all occupy a fixed territory over which it exercises exclusive jurisdiction (to use a legal terminology). And within this territory, stability of organization and administration must prevail; and the entity must be able to fulfill its international duties and obligations. The two other prerequisites of a state are: population on the one side, and a government, which insures internal stability and fulfills international obligations of the State.4 The presence of all three factors would not, however, necessarily guarantee the existence of a State in the legal sense.5 A State that has lost its status as a sovereign entity and a legal person under international law - either through normal disintegration or occupation and absorption by other State, which is the case of Iraq-, may regain that status only when it is again able to carry on its own internal and external affairs.6
Thus, the concept of nation-building may be viewed as the process through which a legitimate authority is established for the purpose of maintaining law and order and achieving political stability within sovereign nation-State, created by the common will people. In other words, nation-building require political integration in the context of nation-State, by bringing together diverse cultural, and social discrete groups into an organic functional system with a unique strong national identity.
The process of nation-building has four dimensions:
a) progressive development among members of political community of a sense of identity with the State and its political philosophy and ideals;
b) Broadening of social communication among the constituent communities, subgroups and subcultures spread out in various regions;
c) Gradual erosion of the old social, economic and psychological commitments and acquisition of new patterns of socialization and behavior attuned with new values ;
d) Improvement of infrastructure facilities, lines of communication and rules for greater flow of goods and services between various regions of the State.7

Nation-building is therefore a process which paves the way for inducing a sense of political identity and creating a sentiment of territorial nationality, which helps to gradual elimination of subordinate parochial attachment to particular values, and establishing a democratic State, emanating from the common will of the people. Once the nation succeeds to maintain its cohesion and integration throughout the territory, the people can then embark on the difficult process of State formation, which is a complementary step in gaining sovereignty for the purpose of execution of legitimate power and authority. We shall examine below the process for the particular case of Iraq.

3- Unitary versus Federalist Political System for Future Iraq
Broadly speaking, States that have the legitimate supreme and permanent authority in a country may be organized either as a unitary body, in which the power is centralized, or as a federal, where authority and power are distributed among several regional entities. Usually, in both cases we have the same branches of government, but their actual work, functions and structure are quite different.
Since its independence from the British mandate under the League of Nations in 1932, until the collapse of the Baath regime by the American military intervention in the year 2003, Iraq has been ruled by undemocratic and dictatorial regimes. This is to mean the people of Iraq have never had the experience of a civic culture- as it is understood by Western standards and democratic values. During this long interval, Iraq has experienced many coups, civil and foreign wars and permanent unrest among various religious and ethnic groups. In the latter part of the recent history of Iraq, it was ruled supposedly by Revolutionary Command Council, but in fact by Saddam Hussein reign of terror. This proves that the people of Iraq never had the chance to express their free will and loyalty to a representative political system or a “nation” as a whole. Thus, they preferred to keep their loyalty to their ethnic or religious particular values and not an all-encompassing entity called “ nation-State”. Therefore, the first and foremost important problem now, is to find ways and means to educate Iraqi people with the rudimentary norms and practice of nationhood and democratic values. This is of course a difficult task that cannot be achieved overnight.

4- Competing Forces and Conflicting Aims in Iraq’s Political Arena

The ethnic composition and population distribution in Iraq have always mired the formation of a unitary system in this country. Arabs constitute about 75% of the population; Kurds are estimated about 20%, and the remaining 5% is composed of various minorities. Historically, Kurds have always been in quarrel with the central government, because of their arduous desire to be independent or otherwise to gain some sort of regional autonomy. The militant Kurdish minority in the north has log been hostile to Iraqi central authority. After years of sporadic guerrilla warfare, they have finally succeeded in acquiring a degree of internal autonomy in 19748. But even this did not satisfy the expectations of Kurdish leaders (PUK, and KDP). Thus, the fighting and resistance continued on large scales even during the final phases of Iran-Iraq war and until the last days of the Ba’ath regime.9
About 95% of the population in Iraq is Moslem. However, a much larger number, and at any account, the majority of them, are Shi’a.10 Historically, the Sunnis, who maintained the power by the inner core of the Ba’ath Party, have always subjugated Shi’a Moslems of Iraq, despite their majority.11 In fact, now that the Shi’a Moslems have found this golden opportunity to express their wishes, they do not seem to be prepared to forego their majority rights to form a democratically elected government in Iraq. This is indeed a source of major preoccupation, not only for the Americans, but also more seriously for the Kurds and Sunnis. Since, as we mentioned above, the Kurdish population had long fought for its autonomy even during Saddam’s reign of terror in Iraq; and very probably they would not concede to a unitary system of government under the majority leadership of the Shiites12. For the Sunnis also, who have always been embedded with political power in Iraq, it would be very hard to compromise on the issue of power distribution.
This is indeed the hard part of the process of nation-building and State formation on the basis of democratic criteria. In fact, this is the paradox of the current situation in Iraq. While the international community arduously tries to promote democratic values throughout the world, in this particular case, the process does not seem to be of any appeal to anybody. Since, most observers fear that a direct democratic election, on the basis of one man one vote, will end up with the emergence of a fundamentalist anti-Western Islamic regime in Iraq. Furthermore, the apprehension of the Kurdish movements to resume hostilities and fight for independence or autonomy against a centralized unitary government puts the future of a stable Iraq into serious doubt.
Those who suggest federalist system of government in Iraq, in fact, have a close eye on the potential troubles that may occur by a majority rule. In practice, federalism requires a consensus by all the factions on democratic principles and tolerance between diversities of regional and local values. For this reason, the necessity of balancing between unity and multiplicity makes a federal system very difficult to operate effectively. Nonetheless, in the particular case of Iraq, one has to make a delicate calculation as to the benefits and vices of each system. Although federalist institutions require a fully democratic system-which is lacking in present Iraq, there seem to exist no other practical solution which could restore order and stability in this war-torn country.
We have to bear in mind that too much freedom for a country that has suddenly fallen on the path of democracy, may well end up to chaos and instability, as we are witnessing now in Iraq. The power vacuum after the collapse of the Ba’ath regime and the lootings of hospitals, museums and government offices under the eyes of occupying forces, are good examples of the limits to freedom and democracy. Too much democracy or too much concentration of power can result to stalemate. However, neither solution may guarantee to handle the problem of daily violence in Iraq.
The alternative is to induce promotion of more opportunities at a level so great as to effect a net increase in the satisfaction of all contending parties in Iraq. However, all these ideals shall depend on the future constitution of Iraq, which is to be drafted by an elected convention no later than March 15, 2005.13

5- The U.S. Plan for Transfer of Iraq’s Sovereignty:
The Paradox of Democracy

The continued violence in Iraq after the capture of Saddam Hussein, who was supposed to conduct resistance against the American occupation, forced the United States to request help from the United Nations14. This was in line with the American created Iraqi Governing Council’s position for a transfer of sovereignty under the supervision of the UN. At the core of the idea of the American plan is that assemblies of notable regional and religious representatives – something alike caucuses- would select a parliament with a number of delegates (of course friendly to Americans.) The parliament then would elect the provisional government to which State power would be handed over by June 30, 2004. The Shiites however, did not go along with the plan, and protested against it on the demand of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a prominent religious leader of Iranian origin.15 Ayatollah Sistani has demanded that a direct election should be carried in Iraq and supervised by the United Nations. The Bush administration had no other choice than to call upon the UN Secretary General to intervene in the affair before the violence and bloody attacks on American and allied forces get out of control and affect president Bush’s campaign in this election year.
The present US appointed Iraqi Governing Council has 24 members and its main task is to draft before February 28 a “ fundamental law” or a “Provisional Constitution” to govern a transitional period running from July 1 until the end of 2005. This period starts with the handover of political power from the US led coalition to an Iraqi transitional government. This body shall cease to function with the establishment of an elected government on the basis of a new constitution, which shall be drafted by an elected convention by March 15, 2005.16
The most important feature of the constitution would be about the rational and practical distribution of power among various regions and groups. As a basic document, the constitution shall have the last word. It is the essential embodiment of State legitimacy. In the special case of Iraq, which has little democratic experience, the future constitution shall spell out all rules, which directly or indirectly affect the distribution or exercise of the sovereign power. This may include all rules, which define relations among regional governments, as well as their representative members in the central government, and the pattern in which sovereign power of the State is executed.
We should bear in mind that no single institutional or constitutional model, no matter how much democratic, from a theoretical or practical point of view, can be logically imprinted from outside and applied to the case of Iraq. This is to mean that a sui-generis type of constitutional document shall be tailored for Iraq, taking into consideration many indigenous factors, including ethnic and religious diversities, social, cultural, political, economic and strategic concern. This constitution must not only specify the division of legitimate authority between branches of government, but also it shall indicate relationship between the people and the State, between their freedom, or autonomy and the overall conditions of local and central governments on their behalf.17
Of course, it is not possible here to explain the detail of the operating principles that should be included in a plausible Iraqi constitution. But, some of the essential lines can be briefly alluded to. One major point that should be rigorously taken into account is the strict separation of State and religion. This means the principle of secular State, where the legitimate power emanates from the people. Otherwise, in a country like Iraq, we should expect upheaval and turmoil in future. This is actually the main reason behind the argument that only a federalist democratic system can reasonably respond to the expectation of a stable Iraq in the years to come. As we mentioned earlier, a direct mass democracy in Iraq will end up to the situation where the Shiite majority may embark on creating some sort of religious State, which is the worst alternative that can be visualized.
The idea of secularism is not interpreted the same way in the West and among the traditional Moslem countries of the Middle East. In some places, secularism is considered as the residue of Western influence and imperialism; thus a return to religious ideas is perceived synonymous to anti-imperialistic movement. In other cases, religion is gaining momentum as an ideological drive for salvation, independence, freedom, social justice and other ideals normally attributed to Western democracy.18 This is exactly the trend that we witnessed during the rule of Taliban in Afghanistan and their peers (Al-Qaeda), and is still spreading throughout the world.19
It is true that religion - in this particular case Islam, has always attracted hopeless people and has given hope and fear to competing and opponent political factions in traditional societies. But, we are not quite sure how much it is capable in helping to alleviate the burden of the new challenge and respond to the demands of modern world of the 21st century. The vision of a unified Moslem world (Ummah) to which the new revolutionary generation of religious leaders in Iraq and elsewhere in the Islamic world adheres, is a system presumably independent from the existing world order, plagued by the September 11 events. Their strategic objectives are inherently incompatible with the established norms and structure of the existing international system and in total disaccord with democratic principles. Few of them may give lip service to the demands of the average Moslem believers for the sake of acquiring political power, but once they get it, they will not be accountable to anybody.
For these reasons, the United Nations, the Americans and their allies must be very careful of the paradox of mass democracy and the vices of eventual direct elections in war-torn Iraq. This is the case where democracy decays either because of the stupidity of leaders or because of the cupidity of the masses.20 Indeed, nobody wishes to see in future the Iraqi people regret the times when Saddam Hussein, the so-called butcher of Baghdad, was in power. There are of course a handful of ill wishers in the region, who feel quite happy with the present chaotic situation in Iraq. They are those who fear the wider implications of a stable and democratic State in their contiguity.

6-The Wider Ramification of Democratic Iraq for the Middle East

There seems to be little doubt that achieving a stable and democratic Iraq is a sublime objective that the international community as a whole should logically pursue. But unfortunately, a number of authoritarian States in the region are not very fond of such event. The reason for that apathy is more or less comprehensible. We may well remember that after September 11, which led to the collapse of Talibans in Afghanistan and then the Ba’ath regime in Iraq, many dictatorial regimes in the Middle East anxiously asked who is the next on the list? In those days the massage to undemocratic rogue States was rather clear: “you are with us or with the terrorists!” Countries that disagreed with U.S, intervention or one way or another cooperated with terrorists, became alarmed and voiced protests about the U.S. president harsh warning.
Some others believed that the only solution to cope with terrorism is to attack at its roots, which are the fertile ground that helps the creation of such phenomenon. It was argued that dictatorial regimes in the region should go through a forced democratization process as a preventive measure to terrorism. Here we do not intend to pass judgment on the rationale of either of these arguments. In a separate paper I explained the legality of American military interventions in the region.21
Thus, those who had some dubious connection with the terrorists became very nervous and for a while kept quiet waiting the development of the matter. But soon after the stalemate in Iraq’s affairs, they regain their nerves and joyfully claimed that the United States was trapped in another Vietnam.
With the mounting daily challenge against the U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, the situation indeed became unbearable22. In fact, one of the reasons for the American requesting a more serious involvement of the United Nations in Iraq was to alleviate the burden of the U.S. unilateralism that had even deranged its close allies in the NATO. Unfortunately, this world organization was not prepared to further pay the price of Iraq’s insecurity, after the decisive blast on UN Headquarters in Baghdad, which claimed the life of many innocent people, including UN representative in Iraq.23
Although the authors behind these seemingly organized violence are not quite known, but with a bit of imagination, one could see the hands of those who get most advantage from these misdeeds. It is certain that the Iraqi people, even those who used to claim resistance against the occupying forces before Saddam’s capture, no longer have any incentive and benefit in these bloodsheds and atrocities. Since, as we are witnessing these days, the main objective of troublemakers is to inhibit the smooth transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi people, who are the main target and victim of violence.
Countries, who are anxious to be on the list of American neo-conservative hawks for the next round of U.S. offensive, are the ones who are wishful to see the United States entangled in Iraq’s muddy ground. Because they think, as long as this superpower’s forces are busy in Iraq, they can breathe freely and be safe from an eventual assault. Therefore, common sense logic dictates that they would do all they have in their capacity to keep the Americans busy in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
Therefore, one of the most urgent tasks of American strategists would be the quick round up of the situation in Iraq, not for the purpose of opening another front in the Middle East, but in order to have free hands for handling other crises in this turbulent and unstable region. In fact, there are a number of trouble spots in the Middle East that need to be managed quickly; otherwise, they will emerge suddenly as a volcano that may threaten the regional and world order as a whole.
On the agenda of outstanding critical issues in the Middle East, which have direct impact on the current situation of Iraq, are problems of democracy, human rights, terrorism of all kinds, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the plague of despotic regimes. The question of Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of those that is susceptible to overshadow the management of other crises in the region, thus needs special attention and has to be settled once for all. The much-debated problem of nuclear proliferation may also be included in the priority list.24 Other marginal issues, such as water, famine, diseases, narcotics substances, organized crimes, money laundering, human and natural environment, ethnic and religious divergence, can too lead to instability and conflicts in the region. This means that terrorism is a multifaceted phenomenon, deep rooted in a variety of causes and factors that have to be recognized and dealt with appropriately. The dilemma of nation-building and State formation in Iraq, after the sudden downfall of the brutal regime of Iraq to the Hobbesian condition of “state of nature,” is an important impediments, in the process of transfer of sovereignty to this war torn country.

7- Conclusions
The road to peace, democracy and stability in Iraq has many turnings beyond which it is difficult to see. Last February 2004, foreign ministers of neighboring States of Iraq, including that of Iraq itself, gathered for an urgent meeting in Kuwait in order to stress their position on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of this country.25 They also reaffirmed the importance of enhancing the role of UN so that it can assume its central responsibilities throughout the transition process in Iraq. This is indeed a good gesture provided it is backed with good intention. Since as we well know, most of the troubles inside Iraq are planed and executed by outsiders (Al-Qaeda or other fundamentalist groups). Some neighboring States pretend that they are not capable of controlling their borders to prevent illegal infiltrators and terrorist groups from sneaking into Iraq. But, how much truth lays in their alleged reason is subject to query.
The United States, as the predominant occupying State, should manage its strategy in a manner to achieve the following objectives in Iraq:
1) Transfer of sovereignty on the scheduled point in time, i.e. June 30, 2004. Because, any temptation to postpone this date would have negative impact on the whole process. It is worth mentioning that some ill wishers prefer that the US stay there for a longer period and to be pushed out of Iraq by forceful means. To them, this will cause US to loose credibility, which will deter it from eventual future interventions in the region;
2) Establish a secular system of State in which political power remains aloof of spiritual authority;
3) Draw up a constitution, which reflects the legitimate demands and wishes of all ethnic and religious interests groups in Iraq;
4) Form a federal system of government, by taking into account the historical, regional and ethnic diversities and population distribution as well as potential political tendency and background of each region;
5) Avoid dealing secretly with or giving any unfair advantage to any faction who is more vocal than the other. We have to bear in mind that things may not remain on the sly and soon will be revealed and may damage the whole situation. This is especially true with the majority Shi’a Moslems who have long been subjugated by their Sunni peers;
6) Insure that countries neighboring Iraq effectively control and block all illegal infiltration into Iraq, and deter eventual deliberate penetration, through bilateral arrangements or UN sanctions;
7) Give primary role to the UN for the preparation of the draft of the new constitution and the supervision on its implementation;
8) Rely more and more on indigenous forces for the maintenance of internal law and order during the transition period. UN forces backed by allied military and intelligence capabilities should secure borders for the prevention of illegal infiltration. In other words, foreign forces should be kept away from public eyes in major cities and towns;
9) Insure that major oil facilities are protected against terrorist attacks and sabotage, conducted by inside mischievous or outside intruders;

To achieve the above objectives, the United States shall draw a long-term plan with the cooperation of all parties involved, including UN, allied, and neighboring States of Iraq.
Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the course of action for democratic change in traditional countries with a long history of authoritarian culture, repressive regimes and tyrannical leaders is not an easy process. The United States, the UN and whoever in charge of this vital task, should bear in mind the fact that the democratization process is very difficult and time-consuming. Those who lack patience may soon get disappointed and discouraged. This is something that should be avoided like pest. Any over-zeal to open the society too quick too soon, as the radicals may claim, might end up to disaster. Those opportunists who instigate emotional masses to take to the streets of major cities in Iraq, to demand a variety of things that usually emanate from a free democratic society, should not necessarily be listened to. Because first, they may not be familiar with democratic process and second, they may not have good intention and third, others who might not seek the true interests of Iraqi people may manipulate them.
One thing that Iraq does not need at this critical juncture of history is that political and democratic process be left to the hands of sloppy masses in the streets. The U.S. and its allies should not be intimidated by such mass protests. This means that they ought to do what is rational and legitimate and which best serve the long-term interests of Iraqi people, the Middle East and the international community as a whole.


Post Scriptum:
After the completion of the first draft of this paper in mid February 2004, a number of important developments took place in Iraq tumultuous political scene. The first was the simultaneous fatal explosions on March 2nd 2004 (which coincide with the Shiite most venerated day of Ashura, the anniversary of Imam Hussein’s martyrdom), in various cities of Iraq, including Karbala, Kazemein and Baghdad. The number of casualties was too high (about 181 killed and many hundreds injured), almost all of them were Shiites from Iraq and Iran.
The second event was the termination of the official deadline for the promulgation of the provisional Constitutional Draft, which would govern the provisional Iraqi State during the transitional period, i.e. until December 2005. Apparently, the Shiite members of the Iraq’s Governing Council still have some differences with the others about some provisions of the Provisional Constitution. It seems that there is a dispute over two elements of the draft document - named the Transitional Administrative Law -, which, until now, had not seemed to be at issue:
a-Shia members of the IGC are ostensibly calling for a collective presidency that includes three Shias, one Kurd and one Sunni Muslim. The draft stipulates a president and two deputies.
b-It is believed Shias also want to change the mechanisms by which a permanent constitution could be ratified, removing safeguards that would give minority groups a veto.
c-Clauses in the draft reportedly say two-thirds of voters in any three provinces can veto the permanent charter in a referendum.
d-The Kurds' self-rule region includes three provinces - and reports suggest the Shias may have now gone back on a pledge to give Kurds constitutional guarantees.26
Nonetheless, the main lines of vital interests included in the Draft are the followings, which are expected to remain unchanged:
1-The draft charter will recognize Islam as one source of legislation rather than the only source. However, it is also said no legislation should be passed that was deemed to contravene Islam. This seems to be an attempt to "strikes a balance between the role of Islam and the bill of individual rights and democratic principles".27
2-The Draft gives autonomy to the Kurdish minority for now .The issue of the Iraqi Kurds' future was essentially deferred. They are to remain autonomous, but a permanent constitution will at a later date determine the exact nature of their self-government.
3-Women can now hope for 25% of seats in a new national assembly, although this is a goal, not a specific quota.
4-The document also stipulates that Iraq will have a president, two deputies, a prime minister and a cabinet. (As mentioned above, the Shias seems to differ on this point.)
5-The bill of rights includes protections for free speech and religious expression.
After several delays due to the consultations of the Shiite members of the Governing Council with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the Draft of the Provisional Constitution for the interim government of Iraq was officially signed on 8 March 2004.

* * * *

1 – See e.g. R. D. Dikshit, Political Geography, A Contemporary Perspective, Tata McGraw- Hill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi, 1982,pp.160-161

2 – John Stuart Mill(1861) has once given one of the best definition of nation. He defined it as “ A portion of mankind united among themselves by common sympathies which do not exist between them and any other – which makes them cooperate with each other more willingly than other people; desire to be under the same government and the desire that it should be governed by themselves exclusively” ibid. p.161

3 – Reinhold Niebuhr enumerated the following elements as the forces of cohesion for a community to become a nation: common language and a sense of ethnic kinship, geographic unity and continuity, a common historical experience and frame of political thought, a common area of economic mutuality, and sometimes, the fear of a common enemy. According to Niebhur, any of these forces may be defective, but they can not be all defective if the unity of a nation is to be preserved . A common religion was usually regarded as an equally important prerequisite until religiously pluralistic nations refuted the theory. cf. idem

4 – The main characteristics of a State are the ones exposed briefly above. However, the interested reader may refer to any book on international relations or international law in order to find complementary explanations about the term.

5 – There are some entities that have territory, population, and even a government, but are not considered as State in legal term and have no international personality. Such as, for instance, Puerto Rico, which under the United State sovereign control. Some writers believe that the element of recognition of a State by other States and the international community as a whole is also a sine-qua-non for the formation of a sovereign entity.

6 – This is the case of Germany after the Second World War and its occupation by allied forces, which later became a fully sovereign State.

7- Cf. e.g. Dikshit. Op.cit. P.163

8- In 1975 after the conclusion of a reconciliation treaty with Iran, Iraq abandoned its claim over the Shatt al Arab, and Iran also ended its support of Kurdish rebellion. Thereafter, the Kurdish resistance and war against Baghdad also gradually attenuated.

9 -The barbaric attack of Iraqi forces on the people of Halabja with chemical weapons in 1986 is an n example of such atrocities against Kurds.
10- Statistics on the number of Shi’a differs from 65-75 % depending on the sources. Under Saddam’s rule the Kurds, much smaller than the Shia and Sunnis, for a decade, occupied the northern region of Iraq, and had a status close to independence. Although amongst the Sunni, Shia and Kurd triangle, the Kurds had backed an American long term occupation, which allows the Americans to move safely through Iraqi Kurdistan into Iraq, however, just recently the US proposed a plan for the Kurds to have little control in this northern region, but the Kurds rejected US proposal. The Kurds insists on retaining the power they gained under Saddam’s rule. Last year, while the attack on Iraq by America continued, the Kurds had captured the oil province, Kirkuk that is located in the northern region. The question is, will the Americans now betray the Kurds who have supported them all along? Let's follow what happens next. See: A:\Cariwave - Iraq's situation.h
11 – The Ba’ath Party was essentially an ultra-nationalist, left wing, Pan-Arab group, a rival faction of that which still controls Syria.

12 – Mass protests by Shiites in several major cities of Iraq to support the demand of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for direct elections even before the schedule set out by the Americans for transfer of power to Iraqi people, appear to be a vivid indication that they intend to seize the opportunity for a Shiite majority rule. The religious leader even refused to meet with Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq in order to discuss the matter. This indicates that the plan proposed by Washington relating to regional caucus system, otherwise meant a federal political structure, is not acceptable to the Shiite majority. However, Ayatollah Sistani did not rule out the possibility that the issue of popular vote before the American deadline for transfer of power (30 June 2004) must be studied by the United Nations.

13- One of the Shiite leader Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim, who is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, and who heads the largest Shiite organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), recently expressed the view that during the dictatorial regime of Saddam both Kurds and Shiites suffered from injustice, and naturally the Sunnis who were part of Saddam’s circles now fear their retaliation, and think that in a Shiite majority government they might be subjugated of disfavored. He reassured that such thing shall not happen and all the parties will receive adequate treatment in the distribution of power and official posts in future.
14 – It has to be remembered that the United Nations office in Baghdad ceased to function and closed down after a fatal bomb attack which claimed the life of many, including UN representative in Iraq.
15 See supra, note 12. It is noteworthy to remind that the Shiite population in Iraq have the bitter memories of being twice summoned to rebellion and mass protests- by the Nixon and first Bush administrations, where in both cases they were not supported and left to the mercy of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. They were murdered by hundreds and put in mass graves, found all over Iraq after the collapse of Saddam.

16 See Iran Daily, February 5, 2004, p.9. According to US plan, the constitutionalprocess and timeline will ultimately be included in the Fundamental Law, but need to be agreed in advance, as detailed below:. · A permanent constitution for Iraq will be prepared by a constitutional convention directly elected by the Iraqi people.· Elections for the convention will be held no later than March 15, 2005.· A draft of the constitution will be circulated for public comment and debate.· A final draft of the constitution will be presented to the public, and a popular referendum will be held to ratify the constitution.· Elections for a new Iraqi government will be held by Dec. 31, 2005, at which point the Fundamental Law will expire and a new government will take power. See: A:\[casi] Agreement on formation of Iraq's new government.htm
The United States and Britain have said Iraq must first have a constitution and hold elections before they relinquish sovereignty. France, Germany and Russia are seeking a quick transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government and want the United Nations to get the major role in overseeing the country's political transition to a democracy. The new U.S. draft does not set a deadline for the hand over of power, which France had said it wanted by the end of the year. But it does ask the United Nations to help the Iraqi people during the political transition and provide its "unique expertise" when the Governing Council holds a constitutional conference and in its preparations for elections. The United States, which holds the council's rotating presidency for October, circulated the draft informally. According to the draft, co-sponsored by Britain and Spain, the Governing Council must submit to the Security Council by Dec. 15 "a timetable and a program for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under the constitution." See: A:\U_S_ Draft Sets Iraq Election Timetable.htm

17 The "Fundamental Law," or the Provisional Constitution to be drafted by the Governing Council in close consultation with the Coalition Provisional Authority. Will be approved by both the GC and CPA, and will formally set forth the scope and structure of the sovereign Iraqi transitional administration. Elements of the "Fundamental Law":* Bill of rights, to include freedom of speech, legislature, religion; statement of equal rights of all Iraqis, regardless of gender, sect, and ethnicity; and guarantees of due process. * Federal arrangement for Iraq, to include governorates and the separation and specification of powers to be exercised by central and local entities. * Statement of the independence of the judiciary, and a mechanism for judicial review.
* Statement of civilian political control over Iraqi armed and security forces. See: A:\[casi] Agreement on formation of Iraq's new government.htm
18 – For detail see: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, Religion and Politics: In Search of Compatibility and Compromise (Monograph, Tehran: 1985), p.122

19 In fact, the September 11, 2001 events, which finally brought the United States and its allies to Afghanistan and Iraq, are the product of such fundamentalist beliefs that secularism and Western style democracy are nothing but a major conspiracy to devoid the Moslems of their religious principles.

20 There are two schools of thought in this context: One, the skeptics who maintain that human frailties make mass participation in politics both impractical and undesirable. To these, ordinary people simply lack the requisite knowledge, skills, and motivations to act responsibly. The opposing view ( optimists) puts the blame on political leaders. In both cases the paradox of democracy is present. See “ Democracy and Public Opinion: Two Views,”

21 – See my paper on “The Legality of U.S. Armed Interventions and Prospects for Peace and Democracy in the Middle-East” Presented to: The Regional Security Conference UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and The Foreign Ministry of Greece , 2-5 August 2003

22 – See my paper “Mounting Challenges to U.S. Military Presence in Iraq and the Rising Costs of Occupation,” presented to the Middle East Regional Security Conference, December 2003, Athens –Greece.

23 – Similar dubious explosions took place more recently in Kurdish region, which also killed many Kurds, including a number of prominent Kurdish leaders and officials.
24 – On the question of nuclear proliferation see my paper: “ Shifting U.S. Threat Perception after September 11 and the Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat,” Presented the Regional Security Conference, Athens-Greece, December 2003

25 – Ministers from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt and Bahrain agreed in this meeting to “ re-emphasize the territorial integrity of Iraq together with respecting the sovereignty, independence and unity of Iraq , in addition to complying with the principles of non-interference in its internal affairs.” See: Iran Daily, February 16, 2004. p.1
26 –See: A:\BBC NEWS World Middle East Iraqis put constitution on hold.htm – 5 March 2004

27 – Cf. A:\BBC NEWS Middle East Iraq's draft constitution hailed.htm - March 1,2004

Monday, November 15, 2004

* Bush Reelection and the Middle East:Iran in Focus

[First Draft]

Bush Reelection and the Middle East:
Iran in Focus!

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
November 2004

Keywords: Middle East, U.S. elections, Iran’s nuclear project, Iraq situation, Democratization process, Terrorism, Conservative agenda, EU talks with Iran…


The much-debated November 2, 2004 presidential elections in the United States has finally come to an end with an unprecedented victory for the republican candidate, George W. Bush. Bush reelection for a second term as United States president was interpreted and received variously both inside and outside the U.S. Although many Americans expected this triumph for the conservative president, but the perplexing polls shed a lot of confusion on the results until the last minutes. The reason for this perplexity was that many Americans were not quite sure as to whether they should vote for a warrior president who consistently maintained that USA was in a state of war against terrorism at home and abroad.

While Bush reelection into office for a second term came not as a surprise and many people around the world welcomed the event, some others, including heads of states and politicians, got severely disappointed. Now the question at this juncture is what would be the implication of Bush’s reelection for the world at large and the Middle East in particular? This paper shall try to examine the question especially from the vantage point of Iran which, at the midst of its nuclear ambition, seems to be caught between the “devil and the deep sea.” However, it will be argued that the fate of peace and order in the Middle East appears to be very much tied up to the policy that the United States will pursue with respect to Iran.
* Professor Ali-Asghar Kazemi holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. He is the author of many books and articles, and a legal advisor on matters concerning the international law of the sea. Currently, he is dean of the Graduate School of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus) Tehran-Iran. For more information please consult:

Mixed Reactions to Bush Reelection in the Middle East

US entanglement in Iraq and to some extent in Afghanistan, and the ominous news of daily casualties of US soldiers, had scared many people inside and outside the US, to the extent that about 75% of foreigners around the world wished that John Kerry would be elected as US president. In the Middle East it was received with mixed reaction. Some traditional undemocratic rulers feared the “democratization” plan as a de-stabilizing force threatening their very survival. While some peace hungry people expressed joy for reinstating the peace process in Arab-Israeli relations and re-establishing law and order in Iraq.

In the Middle East the situation was much more confusing, since the US presidential elections coincided with Yasser Arafat’s aggravating health condition, which resulted to the emergency evacuation of the Palestinian leader to France for treatment. The day the results of the elections were announced, Arafat was declared clinically dead, and therefore he would never know the outcome of this election, so important and critical for the Palestinian cause.[i]

In Iran there was a split between the leaders and the people. While Iranian officials abstained to formally take either side, because of harsh position of the two candidates during the election campaign on Iran’s nuclear issue, in the back of their mind they preferred democrats to replace the much dangerous “war president.” On the other hand, a large majority of Iranian people rejoiced Bush reelection on various grounds. Average people and those who had fought during the Iran-Iraq war or lost members of their families and beloved, looked at Bush as a “knight in shining armor” who miraculously fulfilled the Iranian dream of defeating Saddam Hussein and his cruel regime. The intellectuals and opposition groups saw a promising outlook in their vision of a democratic Iran in the years ahead.[ii]
On the other hand, Israel[iii] and the US-backed interim leaders of Iraq were confident a second term for Bush would signal more of the same policies. Before the election result was announced, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi expressed hope that "Whoever is the winner will be our friend. The United States has liberated us from a dictator and a very long period of war and agony.”[iv]
Elsewhere in the world, many politicians, officials and heads of states did not hide their sentiment against Bush’s reelection. In Europe, while many countries, which opposed United States military intervention in Iraq, tried to walk on the borderline in their remarks, awaiting for the results. Indeed, if Bush reelection means that the conservative agenda will continue its previous course with more rigor and resolve, this would be bad new for EU and the rest of perplexing world.

Below we shall examine some of the most critical issues that the new Bush administration will be facing in the years ahead and with particular reference to the Middle East and Iran.

Pending Critical Issues on the Middle East Agenda

President Bush’s reelection for a second term into office with an unprecedented majority, legitimately gives him the mandate to pursue his plans and to achieve the strategy he has followed in the past years throughout the world, including the crises-ridden Middle East. Since the second US military intervention in Iraq, which brought down Saddam Hussein and his cruel regime, the new conservatives in Washington became subject of a number of accusations both from inside and outside the United States.

Much has been said about the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and lack of clear evidence for their existence and relations between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, on which basis apparently Iraq was target of US military intervention. Many US allies in Europe, such as France and Germany, objected to American unilateralism and abstained to endorse US strategy in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. It goes without saying that these countries did not wish to see Bush reelected. But now they have no other choice than to go along with the Americans who by their votes endorsed their president for another four years. Indeed, the years ahead could be very critical for the fate of the Middle East and as a consequence, the world as a whole.

It is safe to say that now, more than anytime in the past, the people of the greater Middle East look towards Washington for their hopes and wishes. They are aware that now the US president has a much better position inside (vis a vis the Congress) and outside, with respect to American allies, who once were hesitant in dealing with the United States ventures around the world. But, this does not necessarily means that the tasks before the US president, with a fresh mandate, are easy to achieve. Furthermore, the neo-conservative hawks in the US administration should be warned against the temptation that they can solve all the outstanding issues in the world by military might and hard power. This is especially true with regard to new genre of terrorism religious radicalism around the world.

A number of urgent problems would have to be included in the agenda of the US president that can be classified as follows disregard of their priorities:

· The lingering issues of Arab-Israeli situation, including the Palestinian problem in the wake of Yasser Arafat disappearance from the Middle East political scene,
· The Iraqi situation and the necessity for a quick round up of the ongoing entanglement,
· The issue of nuclear proliferation and the condition created by Iran’s nuclear ambition,
· The problem of Islamic radicalism and the growing threats of international terrorism,
· The issue of democratization of the greater Middle East as a solution to contain terrorism,
· Other situations susceptible to emerge as crises endangering US interests in the region.

It goes without saying that peace and order in the Middle East are severely geared to the timely and appropriate management of those critical issues, which could otherwise be a heavy burden on the way of American policy and strategy in the years ahead. Indeed, George W. Bush would have difficult times in his second term in office to properly carry out his stated plans to unravel these critical issues. However, if he chooses to go it alone and to continue to persist on unilateralist actions, as he did in the past, the chances for a quick way out of the impending problems would be very meager.

Perhaps one of the main handicaps of Bush and his neo-cons advisers around him is his reductionism approach to political realm. That is to say, that he tends sees everything in a dual manner: black and white, good and evil, etc. Whether we like it or not, this approach is susceptible to increase animosity against Americans around the world, not only in the Middle East but also among Europeans, who are demonstrating more and more dissatisfaction against U.S. policy in the region.

Considering the fact that this short paper lacks enough space to address all of the above issues, it would only focus on the recurring problem of nuclear proliferation and the U.S. policy toward Iran. Of course, it could be argued that Iran’s nuclear ambition is somehow geared to other critical problems such as Islamic radicalism and democratization in the region. One can go even further to contend that Iran’s position with respect to the Palestinian problem and the unfortunate condition in Iraq has direct bearing upon U.S. policy towards Iran. Since, from the beginning of the American intervention in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, after the 9/11, Iran has shown that it can play a crucial role in the region with respect to the success or failure of American policy in the whole Middle East.

Iran’s Nuclear Venture in the wake of Bush Reelection

While U.S. elections were underway, Iranian and EU3 (French, British and German), diplomats were in the process of negotiating on the nuclear issue[v]. The talks had started in the midst of the hot debates between the two candidates for U.S. president. Interestingly, both contenders voiced their position with much concern about Iranian attempt to become a nuclear actor. Whereas Iranian hardliners did not hide their preference for the Democrat’s candidate, the average people and intellectuals favored Bush to be reelected into office.

The second round of EU negotiations with Iran came as a result of a split between Europe and the United States as to how they should tackle with Iran’s nuclear ambition. Then emerged the “stick and carrot” policy, with the EU accepting the task of continuing to encourage Iran with a package of incentives to abandon its nuclear project, including the immediate termination of nuclear enrichment for an undetermined period in the future. Before the results of U.S. elections were released, Iranian negotiators showed intransigent attitude towards their European counterparts. Meanwhile the conservative hardliners in the Islamic Parliament in Tehran ventured to pass a resolution requiring the government to resume the nuclear enrichment process, with a view to influence Iran-EU negotiations underway.

Claiming that Iran would not allow itself to forego its legitimate rights to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, Iranian diplomats took a hard position vis-à-vis Europe and occasionally threaten to leave the negotiation table. However, when the outcome of the elections became known and Bush prevailed, this had immediate impact upon the atmosphere and Iranians clearly softened their attitude. Meanwhile Iran had attempted to attract Russian and Chinese attention to the problem and succeeded to obtain some kind of verbal assurance from them with respect to the eventual hand over of the case to the United Nations Security Council[vi]. Iran is conscious of the fact that these two countries, as permanent members of the SC, can use their veto right to block an eventual resolution against it in this important organ. But, it is not quite sure whether Russia and China would do so for the mere fact of pleasing Iran against the discontent Western powers.

European Union leaders while showing the “carrots” dangled the prospect of important trade pact to Iran, provided that this country suspends its nuclear program[vii]. However, the United States, which implicitly assumed the role of “bad guy” with the “stick,” does not seem to be happy with the formula and calls for a permanent halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment project. It is being speculated that if until the next meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog on November 25, 2004 the negotiation does not succeed to convince Iran on a full and sustained suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, then the chances of the case being submitted to the SC are very high.

Considering the fact that Iranians thus far seem very uncompromising on the matter of “perpetual cessation” or “indefinite suspension” of their nuclear program, and might only temporarily suspend this activity on a “voluntary basis,” as a measure of confidence building, the following points could be speculated:

· Iranians are not so much worried about their case being submitted to the Security Council, because they seem to have some other kinds of assurance,

· They may be counting upon the support of Russia and China, as two important permanent members of this UN body, to block any eventual resolution,

· By prolonging the negotiation process, Iranians may be buying time to reach to a stage in their nuclear program, which put them in an un-returnable path and then, they will withdraw from the NPT altogether in order to proceed their way to nuclear option!

· Iranians may be on the verge of reaching to a nuclear deterrence position, which permits them to negotiate on an equal footing with their nuclear rivals in the West,

· Iranians may be merely caught between “the devil and the deep sea,” not knowing what to do with the current situation, fearing that any move might further endanger the overall survival of the Islamic regime.

We cannot be quite sure which of the above speculations may be true. But, from the face value of Iran’s rather bold diplomatic undertakings, it is safe to suggest that the Islamic regime is actually using all the leverages at hand, both economic, political and even military[viii], to come clean out of this muddle. The recent deal on liquefied gas with China, which amounts to an overall value of $200 billion, is one such undertaking which would tie Iran’s political fate to China’s growing needs for energy over the next 25 years. Russians on the other hand, are very happy about the current nuclear plant in Bushehr and the prospective other nuclear plant deals with Iran and seem not to be ready to forego this lucrative business just for the sake of giving a hand to American plan to contain Iran’s ambition to use nuclear technology, which in their view, is not harmful.

Iran may even try to lure Europeans in giving out concessions on oil and other business of mutual interests, which could deflect American pressure. On the other hand, Europeans well know that any attempt to pass a UN Security Council resolution under chapter 7 of the Charter, with the effect of preventing Iran’s oil export, would have a disastrous impact upon the market price, already unbearable by them. Thus, they might not be ready to go along with eventual economic sanctions against Iran.

Furthermore, an eventual preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities or oil installations on land or offshore, either directly by the United States or through Israel, will not be supported by EU or the international community as a whole. On the other side, one should recognize that if Iran perceives a real threat in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere in its land territory, it has the capacity to make the whole region insecure. Indeed, these impediments make it very difficult for the U.S. president and his entourage to carry out a strategy in the Middle East, which would threaten Iran’s survival or undermine its regional interests. Since, as we said before, Iran has already shown in other occasions that it is capable to frustrate any such plans throughout the region. Therefore, the fate of peace and order in the Middle East seems to be very much tied up to the policy that the United States will pursue with respect to Iran. This will bring us to a tentative conclusion that follows.

Looking to the Future

Considering recent development in the Middle East, the future of this region seems not to be very promising at this juncture. However, with the passing away of Yasser Arafat, some observers who regarded him as the main bottleneck in the peace process are now very optimistic on the matter. All would depend on the course of action that Arafat’s successors will choose to fulfill the long-awaited cause of Palestine. Current fluid situation does not permit to pass a realistic judgment on other impending issues issues. We have to wait and see how the future course of events may progress.

As to role that the new Bush administration may assume with respect to other outstanding issues on the Middle East agenda, we may come to the following concluding remarks, based on the information that we now have at hand:

· -Given that, according to official statements, no substantive change may take place in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, it does not appear that we should expect any immediate breakthrough in many respects, including the Palestinian problem,
· -The absence of Yasser Arafat from the political scene of the Middle East may open new horizon for a durable peace solution, but it is not quite sure whether Bush’s road map can be revitalized in the foreseeable future,
· -Recognizing that President Bush and his neo-conservative entourage have a definite propensity to solve problems of terrorism and related issue by using hard power and force, the prospects for eradicating this unusual phenomenon do not seem bright,
· -Notwithstanding the result of the upcoming elections in Iraq, that might take place next January 2005, the fluid situation in this country might not bring an end to Iraq’s chaos in near future,
· -Considering the fact that many traditional states in the Middle East are fearful of the Bush’s vision of “democratization” of the region, it does not seem that this controversial course of action will succeed to any considerable degree in the near future,
· -Iran might continue to remain evasive on the nuclear issue and the United States may not be able to put rein on this country’s ambition to acquire the nuclear technology with dual purposes of hostile and pacific ends,
· -It is not quite sure whether the United States can convince EU and two important permanent member of the UN Security Council (Russia and China) to submit Iran’s nuclear case to this organ for eventual sanctions,
· -Perhaps the only way out of this embarrassing situation for the United States is to open direct dialogue with Iran in order to put an end to all problems of mutual interests, including the nuclear issue.

. _______________________


[i] Most countries in the region opted for caution after the White House claimed victory for the incumbent and challenger John Kerry conceded defeat. The Palestinian Authority's envoy to France admitted that veteran leader Yasser Arafat, who is being treated in Paris for a serious but undiagnosed illness, was "worried". Arafat "hopes the second mandate will be different" if Bush is confirmed the winner of Tuesday's election, Laila Shahid said. Echoing a generally negative Palestinian stand towards Bush, deputy parliament speaker Hasan Khraishah said "neither Bush nor Kerry spoke about the Palestinian question during their campaign.” ”Bush has only served to isolate the Palestinian leadership and block the peace process," he said. Cf., “Middle East concern over Bush Victory”, Aljazeera.Net, November 3, 2004.
[ii] On November 2, 2004 in Iran, thousands of demonstrators chanting "Death to America" marked the 25th anniversary of the US hostage crisis at the former American embassy in Tehran. One hard-line member of the parliament observed that America was headed for "international and economic ruin unless Bush is more careful in his second term” Iran student news agency ISNA
[iii] Before the election results, Israel was confident it would preserve its special relationship with Washington whoever will be elected to the White House. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he did not expect Israel to come under any heightened US pressure over the dormant peace process. "So far we have cooperated with all American administrations and we will continue to do so. I don't think pressure will be necessary, Israel wants to advance on the road to peace," he said. Aljazeera.Net, ibid, Nov. 3, 2004.
[iv] Aljazeera.Net ibid.
[v] Iran had previously agreed in the final Statement by the Iranian Government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers of 21 October 2003 in Tehran, in order to promote mutual confidence with a view to removing barriers for cooperation in the nuclear field, “… to suspend voluntarily all Uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA.” See my paper on the subject presented to the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, “Iran’s Nuclear Venture: Legal Obligation and Political Temptation,” May 2004.
[vi] Chinese foreign minister visiting Tehran on November 6, 2004, stressed the necessity of long-run cooperation between the two countries and referring to Iran’s nuclear project said “ we support the continuation of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and also negotiation with the three European countries.” He expressed hope that the ongoing negotiation could lead to positive outcome and added that peaceful use of nuclear energy is a legitimate right of all countries. He further said that through more flexibility and cooperation, Iran can avoid the case being sent to the UN Security Council. Cf. Iran Daily, November 8, 2004, p.1
[vii] For example, the United Kingdom offered Iran to build a light nuclear reactor provided it discontinued it nuclear activities. British representatives presented the proposal during the November negotiation with Iranian diplomats in Paris, France. Based on this proposal, Iran should stop all of its ambiguous nuclear activities, including the enrichment process, which is essentially aimed at preventing Iran from making an “Islamic bomb.” Cf. : Iran Daily, November 8, 2004 . P.1

[viii] During the negotiation of Iranian and EU diplomats on nuclear issue, Iran’s conservative media have expounded various statements from high-ranking officials, including the leader and other military authorities warning against any pressure or blackmail unto Iran. At the same time it was announced by Iran’s Defense Minister that Iran is now in the process of mass production of its long-range missiles (Shahab 3). The commander of the Iranian ground forces also announced that the biggest military exercise in Iran’s history would soon be carried in Iran’s western frontiers bordering Iraq.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

* Iran's Quest for Regional Hegemony

[First Draft, Please do not Quote without permission]

Iran’s Quest for Regional Hegemony:
Old Strategy and New Challenges

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
June 2004

Keywords: Middle East, Persian Gulf, new strategic environment, Iran’s geo-strategic position, nuclear proliferation, Additional Protocol to the NPT, Iran’s military build-up, US strategy


Because of its special geo-strategic position in the Middle East, Iran has always been keen to assume a pivotal role in the region. However, as opposed to the old regime, the present one, while pursuing the same vision, is facing unbearable challenges in its strategy. The main argument of this paper is that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s endeavor to buildup a credible force structure is neither directed toward any power projection against any particular state in the Middle East, nor designed to threaten the presence of any extra-regional powers deployed in the region. Rather, it is mainly devised to ensure its very existence and to deter any potential contender to encroach against its territorial integrity and the survival of the revolutionary regime, and to prove the capacity of Islamic governance to run effectively and in an efficient way the business of a nation-state, with the requisites of the 21st century. Iran’s nuclear undertaking, if ever directed toward unconventional aims and objectives, should be viewed from this perspective.


Iran’s geo-strategic position in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region has always dictated its political and security posture vis a vis its neighbors and outside powers. Throughout the long history of this ancient country, from the Old Persian empires to the present time, Iran has always identified itself differently from other nations of the region, in spite of religious binds, which presumably should narrow the gap between the Persian and Arab civilizations. The geopolitical necessities have remained almost untouched and even more sagacious after the revolution and the Iraq-Iran war, which lasted near a decade. The end of cold war has strengthen Iran’s strategic position, and as a consequence, pushed the Islamic government in power to continue the same path and political vision and aspiration in the region as the old regime.

Thus, in setting up its defense and security goals and interests, we witness that many of the old projects in various domains are being pursued even with more fervor than before.
Once the Shah had the ambition to assume the role of gendarme in the Persian Gulf region; but he did not survive to achieve his dreams. Now, the Islamic Republic is putting its feet in the same shoes, of course with a big difference. That is, while the old regime had access almost to all and every kind of Western weapons and technology, the new revolutionary regime is banned from such sources and is compelled to rely on international black markets to procure what it believes necessary for building a credible power to be reckoned with. Iran’s nuclear ambition, that has created lots of attention in the past months in the world, seems to fit this grandiose objective.

The main argument of this paper is that the Islamic regime in power in Tehran will pursue the strategy of a hegemonistic power in the region for a dual purposes: a) to counter any eventual threat and challenge to the very existence and survival of the revolutionary regime and, b) to show the efficiency and viability of the Islamic governance to respond to the needs of 21st century, as a successful model to be followed in the region.

Old Ambitions in a New Strategic Environment

Almost a quarter of a century has elapsed since the Shah’s regime has been toppled through a series of unprecedented events, stemming from internal social unrests and, as some prefer to believe, external political games and conspiracy that led to the 1979 revolution. During the final years of the old regime, Iran was on the verge of becoming a virtual superpower of the region, thanks to the god-given oil revenues, Shah’s ambition for power, and, of course, western technological and political support, without which it was impossible to think of such ostentatious venture. In those days, the Shah was given almost a carte blanche for all kinds of state of art weapon systems and major defense hardware to build-up a very sophisticated and efficient military power. Ships, aircrafts, tanks and other components of the latest production of the West, swiftly appeared in the inventory of the Imperial Navy, Army and the Air Force, backed by all-out logistical and training support, from all over the world.[1]

With the downfall of the Shah regime and the subsequent events that occurred in Iran, many of the weapon contracts were cancelled and most of the well-trained and educated cadres were purged from the armed forces or preferred voluntary premature retirement. With the outbreak of war with Iraq, some of them came back to do their duty for their homeland. Many young American-trained pilots were among those who fought the enemy courageously and some never came back from their sacred mission. The Navy easily established its sea supremacy in the Persian Gulf in initial phase of the war. The Army, which suffered most from the revolutionary wash out, had a different story. Nonetheless, poor-equipped and disorganized army soldiers and officers fought bravely and courageously until the end of the 8-year war.

Iran-Iraq armed hostilities left many thousands of casualties and extensive material and moral damages from both sides. But the war was a blessing for the fragile revolutionary regime to solidify itself by containing people’s demand for social and political development. Instead, the war induced earnest attempt to rely more than ever on indigenous initiatives and schemes to tackle with Iraq military threats. That was the beginning of the arduous challenge the Islamic regime faced during the war in procuring and producing the much needed weapon systems and equipments to sustain combat capability.

The termination of war between Iran and Iraq brought a new sense of identity and drive for the Islamic regime to embark upon a series of projects initiated during the hostilities.
Missile assembly line, construction of small fast boats, armored vehicles, tanks and other light weapons for use at sea, on land and in the air, were among the many projects which gradually pave the way for relatively self-sufficient and autonomous logistical support in the defense and military industrial complex. In the field of the missile industry a very decisive jump has taken place in recent years, which has become a source of annoy to many in and outside the region.

Against this brief background, and with the more recent suspicions of Iran’s nuclear project, many specialists in the field of defense question the logic and true intention behind Iran’s military build-up in the region.

Iran’s Military Build-up: Facts and Allegations

In the late 1990’s, military observers in the West believed that Iran has embarked on a major modernization and buildup of its forces; that includes selective acquisition of conventional new advanced weapons as well as an ambitious nuclear weapons program.
In the views of American military experts who follow Iran’s development in the field of defense, the current military buildup began in 1989, not long after the conclusion of the 1980-88 war with Iraq. Iran, with a Gross Domestic Product of only about $80 billion in 1990, spent $3.1 billion on its military that same year. The next year, the defense budget rose to $3.8 billion.[2] It is believed that this sum has gradually augmented with the relative increase in oil revenue in the following years.
Washington officials and nongovernmental analysts report that Iran has been active on the arms procurement front. Statistics show that during the period 1989-95, Iran acquired 184 new battle tanks, eighty infantry fighting vehicles, 106 artillery pieces, fifty-seven combat aircraft, and twelve warships. According to this report, the purchases have expanded Iran’s current arsenal to about 1,200 tanks, 1,000 armored personnel carriers, 2,000 artillery pieces, 265 aircraft, and twenty-eight warships.[3]
With a population of about 70 million, Iran maintains an armed force totaling about 513,000 active troops--including its most elite force, the 120,000-strong Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another 350,000 are reservists. Most of the Guards are ground forces, but they have also developed a parallel armed forces system alongside with the regular army, navy, and air force; a heavy burden that the revolutionary regime has been affording all along, due to some unknown sense of mistrust .
According to Pentagon officials, the revolutionary regime in Iran will “be in a position to construct a crude but workable nuclear device at the turn of the century.” In their view, “the development of a ‘Persian bomb’ is Iran's top priority, and Tehran receives technology and aid from both Russia and China.” [4]
The US Defense Department expert further speculated "we're talking about something the size of a boxcar," he explained, "but with the Iranians, a truck or a merchant ship can be a weapon-delivery system."[5]
In view of the US officials, in the field of conventional power, “Iranian military planners are taking steps to bolster their naval forces, in particular with purchases of Chinese advanced cruise missiles.” Moreover, Tehran has purchased new and upgraded surface warships, including five new "Houdong" Chinese fast-attack craft delivered to the port at Bandar Abbas.[6]
The assumption is that ships, submarines and cruise missiles, along with other recent deployments of missiles on tiny islands in the Strait of Hormuz, form the outline of a developing challenge to US interests in the region.
Iran appears to be using its naval forces mainly as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. But this does not mean that an eventual power projection against an actual or potential hostile who might challenge Iran’s presence in the Persian Gulf, the strait of Hormoz and the Sea of Oman, might not trigger the operation of these forces.[7] Prior to delivery in 1995 of 10 Hudong patrol boats equipped with C-802 missiles, Iran was without a ship-mounted ASCM capability. With the refitting of Iran's Kaman class fast-attack boats, they will have 20 craft carrying this missile and forty C-802 missiles are reported to have been sold. [8]
It is believed that the C-802 missiles are less accurate than the Chinese Silkworm, but the number of missile sites along the Persian Gulf coast, especially near the Strait of Hormuz, could pose a potential threat to whoever that might encroach the waters under Iranian sovereignty.
Iran also processes surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missile batteries on Qeshm and Sirri islands, and on Abu Musa; the island whose sovereignty has long been disputed between Iran and the United Arab Emirates.[9]
Observers believe that the delivery and commissioning of three Russian Kilo-class submarines will confirm the Iranian intention to dominate the Persian Gulf. Each submarine has the capability of carrying 18 torpedoes and at the same time, they can be used as mines-layers. Thus far, Iran is the only coastal state of the Persian Gulf to possess under water capability. Regular naval exercises that take place several times a year by the Iranian Navy, alongside the other forces, are seen by observers as a clear sign that Iran intends to show its undisputable supremacy in the Persian Gulf.[10]
The objective of the Iranian naval buildup, in the view of the American military experts who track the development of Iran’s military build-up, is "to develop the capability to choke us off, at least temporarily, at the Strait of Hormuz, or if they can't choke us off, at least make it very difficult for us to get in. This perception of course has led to a number of preoccupations for the American defense planners, since many of the oil-producing sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf region rely on American military protection to resist the presumed Iranian pressure and influence in the Persian Gulf.[11]
With respect to the Iranian Air Force, it is believed that while Iran processes a relatively small number of combat aircrafts, but it has improved its air capability with Soviet-made MiG-29 "Fulcrums" and Su-24 "Fencers" as its primary air defense forces. With a newly installed in-flight refueling capability, Iran's MiG-29s have been given greater range. Furthermore, it is being speculated that Iran has the capability of air-based delivery of a nuclear weapons (if ever acquired) with the Fencers, supposed to be Iran's main strike aircraft.[12]
As for missile capability, experts believe that Iran has been developing its own Soviet-designed Scud B and Scud C missiles, having ranges of about 300 kilometers and 500 kilometers, respectively. In addition to possessing some 200 to 300 Scuds, Iran also has expressed interest in purchasing No Dong medium-range ballistic missiles from North Korea.
Beside that, in the past few years, Iran has been working on new brand of missile called “ Shihab.” According to defense sources, Iran has already successfully test-fired the Shihab-3 missile, which has a range of 800 miles[13], and is now on the verge of testing a more sophisticated Shihab-4, which will have a range of some 1,250 miles and be capable of carrying a non-conventional payload.[14] It is being speculated that Shahab-5 is the newest missile, which will enter Iranian defense inventory in near future, with a range of about 2500 miles. It is believed that while the Shihab-3 is based on North Korean know-how, the new missile will be based exclusively on Russian technology.
This latter undertaking is indeed a major source of anxiety and threat not only for the region but also for countries located far beyond the Middle East. While Iran’s defense minister, vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani has pledged that Iran's military power will not be directed at any Arab state, Israeli experts interpreted this statement as suggesting that Iran’s military build-up is intended to confront Israel.[15]
As concerned the source of Iranian military acquisition, in his interview with al-Wasat, admiral Shamkhani denied any secret military cooperation or arms-purchase agreements between Iran and Russia: "We cooperate with Russia in the open and there are no secret agreements between us," he further stressed:"We have had to turn East because of the Western arms embargo and our need to develop our defensive systems...But we do not seek to acquire any of the non-conventional weapons." [16]
Nevertheless, Iran's ballistic missile manufacturing program is supposed to lack the capability to produce some parts that are essential for the total production of some types of systems. Presumably, Iran hopes to eventually have complete manufacturing capabilities for its Scuds. Iran also produces short-range missiles similar to the Soviet FROG-7.
With respect to the limitations constraints faced by Iran in its military build-up, Western observers have rightly pointed that the process has been tempered somewhat by its economic woes, which include a US embargo, a cash shortage because of fluctuating oil prices worldwide, rapid population growth, and an external debt.[17] The latter problem has made it difficult for Tehran to gain the international credit needed to finance weapons procurement. In 1996 and 1997, Iran was expected to spend roughly $3.4 billion on weapons. However, it is worthwhile to remember that Iran’s total defense expenditure lagged much behind the total arms acquisitions of the Persian Gulf states, during the past years.[18]
Iran's plan for development of its conventional forces obviously calls for creating units and force capability that are more maneuverable at sea, on land and in the air and have more advanced weapons for specific purposes and outside threats emanating essentially from forward-deployed US forces in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense analysts in the West, however, seem not to be much troubled with Iran’s conventional arms build-up, rather they have been focusing at Iran as a source of nuclear and biological threat.[19]
The main assertion of American defense experts is that "Iran's priorities [are related to] weapons of mass destruction--their nuclear program, their chemical program, which is pretty well advanced, their biological program, and their missile program, which also is pretty well advanced."[20]
On the other hand, the IAEA’s key findings about Iran are in reports released in March 2004 and November 2003, with the next important one due this June 2004. In November, the IAEA concluded that Iran's nuclear program consists of practically everything needed to fuel a reactor or in effect to produce materials for bombs, "including uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, and heavy water production."[21]
These allegations are indeed so serious that needs a much closer look. Thus, I have included below a tiny portion of two previous papers, which I prepared for the UCLA Persian Gulf Security Conferences, held successively in Athens- Greece (December 2003), and in Amman-Jordan (May 2004) and seem relevant to this analysis.[22]

Iran’s Nuclear Option:
How much realistic, How far Credible?

Is Iran’s desire to acquire nuclear technology potentially harmful to world order and peace? It depends on whose lens we use to view the issue. The IAEA Board of Governor’s decision to pass a resolution on 12 September 2003 for the implementation of the NPT Safeguards has been interpreted differently inside Iran from at the international level.[23] Preoccupation with the danger of Iran’s nuclear capability is now an alarming issue throughout the world. Iran’s decision to start negotiations for the conclusion of the Additional Protocol, and the IAEA request that Iran should promptly and unconditionally sign and implement it while stopping all nuclear enrichment programs, may bring a modicum of relief to all those who feel threatened by Iran’s undertaking. Since we are now in the midst of this process, it is very hard to pass judgment on the outcome of the ongoing negotiations.

Controversies between Iranian authorities and the IAEA on the one hand and the rest of the world, especially the United States and the EU, on the true intention of Iran’s nuclear activities, have been at its height during the past months. The latest IAEA resolution adopted after lengthily negotiation in mid June 2004, gives Iran one last chance to cooperate fully and in a transparent manner with this world body in charge of nuclear activities of member states.[24]

Iran claims that it is merely using the basic and inalienable right of all NPT member states to develop atomic energy for peaceful purposes and is ready to assure the international community that it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons. Some critics would also argue that the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1 July 1968 is not an endeavor designed to protect mankind from the danger of devastation and annihilation, but rather to preserve the monopoly status of a handful of powers in possession of such technology.

Iran claims that it’s undertaking is legitimate and just. We know well that justice, equity, and fairness have never been highest aim of dealings between states, yet they have served as useful caveats in political discourse for the promotion of national interests. In fact, one of the causes of war and hostility is the frustration of the less fortunate over unsatisfactory conditions allegedly created by the powerful nations. To them, slogans such as rendering justice to the powerless, saving humanity from the plague of hunger and disease, securing the world from the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, atomic bombs and so on are wonderful words that only tickle ears and minds. Indeed, international norms and principles are always coated with some kind of noble and human overtone that merely serves as ground to promote one’s own policy or interests.

Some contend that the main objectives of owning nuclear weapons have always been their deterrent capabilities and use as leverage in political dealings. The argument against this is that nuclear capability in the hands of undemocratic and irresponsible regimes is too dangerous and should be contained at any cost. There seems to be a consensus on this latter point between the United States and many European powers. Realistically looking at the matter, even if we assume that Iran is trying to acquire a handful of nuclear weapons, it would have little operational or deterrent value. On the contrary, such an endeavor would increase Iran’s vulnerability vis-à-vis its potential adversaries.[25]
Digging into the intention of political leaders is a difficult task. Iranian leaders are no excption to this.Therefore on has to make a number of assumptions at different levels of strategic planning and decision-making process.
On doctrinal level, it is safe to suggest that Iran’s national interests, objectives and strategies are shaped by its regional political aspirations, threat perceptions, and the need to preserve its Islamic government.[26] But, the problem is that most of the time the term “national interests” is not quite lucid and those who decide about them are not quite apt for such vital task. Thus, in seeking to explain the behavior of a State, such as Iran, in the international or regional scene, we have to read into the minds of men and individuals at the higher echellon of decision making apparatus. This indeed is not an easy job and requires some imagination and speculation.
Assuming that men are rather deliberate and self-conscious about what they do, thus, they should know their own motives and give reasons for their behavior. But this does’t seem to be often true. Because, sometimes people do not want to confess their real motives, or at least not all of them, and so they may knowingly lie or distort or conceal the facts. Sometimes even, they may base their motives and behavior on false assumptions about themselves, their true aims and objectives, their threats, their capabilites and opportunities, or their political and strategic enviroment. This may prove to be very dangerous, not only for them but also for others who interact with them.
One may argue safely that in present day Iran, we are facing with this latter kind of decision-making, that is, we are concened with factors affecting choice other than the entirely conscious and rational criteria that usually come into play in the determination of “national interests.” Political expediencies sometimes overshadow factors related with optimum and rational choices. Perhaps,the reason behind the very risky and high political costs of Iran’s nuclear venture, may find its rationale in such argument which goes beyond the regular calculation of risk or cost-benefit analysis.
With respect to the true intention and objective of Iran’s nuclear activities, the official answer is that this country it merely using its basic and inalienable right of all member States of the NPT to develop atomic energy for peaceful purpose. To this end, Iran claims that it is ready to ensure the international community that it have no intention to produce nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the upper echelon decision-making ladder in Iran has rightfully and in several occasions recognized that Iran does not consider nuclear weapon as a viable and rational useful strategy for defense purposes. The official reading of such statement is that nuclear option may render the country more vulnerable to risks outside threats[27] But, most critiques and specialists in the field believe that these claims are mere rhetoric that is neither supported by factual evidence, nor accepted by the IAEA and the international community as a whole. They refer to recent (February 2004) revelations about international nuclear black market and specific findings of the IAEA during its last inspection in Iran.[28]
How then shall we explain the present situation and the earnest attempt by Iran to pursue its long-standing nuclear policy? In fact, as we know, the project goes back to the 1980s, that is the period in which Iran was engaged in an all out war with its neighboring hostile State, Iraq. The optimistic view would go along with the argument advanced by Iran about its peaceful intention of developing nuclear technology. The pessimists however, have more ground to argue against the peaceful aims of such undertaking. They would eventually base their argument on the following facts and factors:

1) Iran as an important and rich country in oil and gas, having extensive reserves of fossil fuel inland and offshore, does not need to embark on a more costly and risky nuclear project in order to produce energy,

2) Enrichment facilities and related components that are being used or developed by Iranians, do not seem to be for support of civilian nuclear energy plants in Bushehr (considering the fact that the Russians are supposed to supply the necessary fuel for Bushehr plants and the Iranian party is obligated to return the depleted uranium that could be used in nuclear bomb),

3) Iran may be enthusiastic in obtaining nuclear capability with the objective of deterring any potential aggressor that might threaten the very existence of the Islamic regime,

4) Iran may contend that the West is using a double-standard policy with respect to the nuclear proliferation (Pakistan, India and Israel are the ones who have been left out of the black list),

5) Iran might be tempted to acquire nuclear technology for the mere sake of national pride and prestige with a view to boost its regional position vis a vis its potential opponents and contenders,

6) Being a nuclear power for a revolutionary Islamic State may be an indication of the regime efficiency and viability despite the mounting pressure from the world political environment,

Pessimists have a tendency to believe that Iran is pursuing the North Korean tactics by lingering the legal process of ratifying the safeguard measures related to the NPT additional Protocol. In other words, Iran is trying to buy time for enrichment of enough uranium to build a number of nukes before it officially declares to withdraw from the NPT obligations. This will put the IAEA and the world as a whole before a fait accompli,
For them, Iranian leaders would prefer running the risk of being target of an eventual preemptive strike than to give up the power altogether. Since, they believe they can capitalize on such event to consolidate the people while tightening the rope around the opposition neck,

Optimists and pessimists would both admit that strategic thinking; rationality, national interests and optimum choice do not have the same meanings among the Iranian leaders and the Western political thought. This indeed makes a lot of difference when the two sides face each other in a peaceful dialogue or in a hostile confrontation.[29]

Iran hopes to expedite the winding up of the case before the IAEA, using the leverage and influence of the EU members. But the United States authorities appear not satisfied with the idea and wish to pave the way to send the case to the UN Security Council. We have to wait some more time before passing the final judgment on the matter.

New Challenges in the Persian Gulf:
Iran and the US Strategy

The Persian Gulf, which has always been an area of strategic interests for the American foreign policy since World War II, has become the cornerstone of the U.S. strategy after the end of cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Unions. The September 11 events, which led to the military interventions of the United States and Coalition forces in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, created a very vulnerable situation in the Persian Gulf. Iran, as the main power of the region, who has always claimed that the security of this strategic semi-enclosed body of water should be left to local powers, now feels encircled by the United States and is quite apprehensive of this presence. During the past months, the United States did not hesitate to show anger and discontent on various occasions against Iranian authorities. This has made the situation, already very tense between the two countries, even more unbearable.

Iranian decision makers are quite aware of the gravity of the situation and are contemplating ways and means to attenuate the sensitive atmosphere overshadowing the security of the Persian Gulf region. To understand Iranian view on the matter of the Persian Gulf security, one should comprehend the very basic tenure of the revolution, which has brought the present regime into power in 1979, and circumstances that led to the rise of fundamental differences between the two countries.

Of course, the historical background of Iran-US relations go beyond the purpose and objective of this short comment, since many books and articles exist on the matter. My aim here is only to examine a tiny portion of the spectrum of problems dealing with the future security prospects in the Persian Gulf and the appropriate policy recommendations with a view to project a fair and balanced solution for all the regional and international actors.

Let’s first see what is the force arrangement in the Persian Gulf. The United States, which historically had a low profile military and naval presence in the region for many years, at the beginning of the 1990’s, right after the so-called second Persian Gulf crisis (i.e. after the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq), started to build-up its forces in the region. Though it was for temporary missions, yet, from that time up to now, the U.S. presence became more visible and therefore more annoying for Iranian authorities and other Persian Gulf States.

Whereas Iran had tried the policy of confidence building towards littoral States of the Persian Gulf during the past 5-6 year period (i.e. during the Khatami’s administration), and to some extent it was successful, the United States did nothing to promote the situation, and even in some cases aggravated the security environment susceptible to leading to hostilities. One example is the seizure of an Iranian merchant ship not long ago, under the pretext of ‘ search for hostile destination. Other petty incidents in the Persian Gulf between Iran and U.S. created a situation of threat and denial, which could not but aggravate the tense relations between the two State, and consequently to undermine Iran’s policy of confidence-building towards other States of the Persian Gulf, presumably in line with American presence.

The recent experience of force projection in Iraq, clarified a number of security bottlenecks, thus far hidden behind some sort of diplomatic shyness between the United States and the Arab nations of the Middle East. Saudi-Arabia, as the most important traditional ally of the U.S., expressing loudly discontent against American intervention in Iraq, became a vocal critique of this country, while approaching toward Iran. As we witnessed in recent months, the United States changed its stance towards the Saudis, (especially after the disclosure of some kind of doubtful ties between the AlQaeda group and the Saudi officials) and plan to evacuate their forces from there.

With respect to other U.S. allies in the region, we are not quite sure of the trends. But one thing is certain, that is the fact that the traditional regimes of the Persian Gulf, which once the fear of the Islamic revolution in Iran pushed them towards the Americans for protection, now feel much more insecure by the policy of “forceful democratization”, which could end-up to disaster for the internal security and their very existence.

Although the Iranian policy of rapprochement with the Persian Gulf littoral States, has so far not reached to the point of building a true “security community,” but based on the present trends, it does not seem to be a far-fetched strategy that could lead to the following plausible consequences:

a) Inhibiting more and more the U.S. presence in the region;
b) Making the future American interventions in the region much more difficult and costly;
c) Building an anti-American shield against the United States policy of “forceful democratization” in the region;
d) Narrowing down the gap between the Iranian regime and the conservative Arab States;
e) Pushing the Persian Gulf States, especially Iran, toward European Community, and other world great powers, such as Russia and China, while limiting economic interaction with the U.S.
f) Making the strategic environment much more difficult for the United States force deployment in crisis situations.

Based on the above plausible outcome, it would indeed be hard for the United States to bear the consequences, unless the American policy in the Persian Gulf changes its contents and context. That is to say, the American objectives and therefore ways and means to reach them should be adapted to the new emerging environment. The new environment is not necessarily in favor of the American military presence in the region. Especially, the fact that the United States are leaning toward the use of force to achieve their objectives, in spite of world objection, heighten the tense situation among regional States. This in turn may lead to the rise of anti-American sentiments and further push the once hostile attitude of littoral States towards Iran, to a more tolerant policy of accommodation ant entente.

There are multiple ways that Iran could interact positively with the Persian Gulf States. The followings are among the most probable course of action that can lead to amicable relations in the Persian Gulf, which could promote the security of the region for the littoral States as well as third extra-regional parties, provided that these latter abstain to intervene in the internal affairs of the region. The most suitable areas of cooperation seem to be the followings:

a) Regional coordination and cooperation on the matters of maritime environment, sea pollution, through strengthening the ROPME Convention and its relevant protocols;
b) Mutual entente on matter of maritime boundary delimitations (Given the fact that a number of unresolved issues still remain to be negotiated)
c) Cooperation on matter related to sea lines of communication and traffic separation schemes, within the purview of IMO functions;
d) Confidence building through gradual strengthening social, cultural, economic and strategic ties among the regional States
e) Cooperation on matter pertaining illegitimate traffic of narcotic substance, and other illegal trade and contraband.

Through achieving the above objectives, the ground would be ready to embark on more serious business of security cooperation among regional States, with the support and endorsement of other non-regional interested powers.

The United States, as an equal partner and the de facto transitional Power in charge of Iraq, until this latter regains its full sovereign rights to enter into international relations, can help the steady progress of the above course of action. This may expedite the long awaited security arrangement in the Persian Gulf, provided of course, that mutual confidence and good intention from all parts prevail. It is the humble contention of this author that this process is capable to best serves the interests of the United States, as well as the littoral States of the Persian Gulf, the Middle East and the wider world.


Whatever conclusion that may be derived from this short analysis, it can be safely stated that Iran’s endeavor to acquire technological know-how and hardware in the field of defense and nuclear activities, does not seem to be a threat to peace and stability in the region. However, Iran’s recent behavior in the Persian Gulf may be interpreted differently by outside observers. In the wake of a number of incidents that took place during the current month in this region, one may argue against the above proposition.

In fact, the month of June 2004 appears to be a decisive moment in time with regard to Iran’s assertion of sovereign right in the Persian Gulf and the Shat-al-Arab waterway, which forms boundary River between Iran and Iraq. Few days after the IAEA resolution was adopted in June 2004 with respect to Iran’s nuclear activities, Iranian authorities, while voicing their discontent with the three EU members who had sponsored the resolution, they arrested three British gunboats and their crews in the Shatt-al-Arab River. Though Iran categorically denied any link between the two events, the incident was regarded in the international media as a harsh response to UK’s role in the IAEA Governing Council in preparing the draft resolution along with France and Germany.[30]

Although the incident was rather quickly settled through diplomatic channels[31], nevertheless it can be considered as a real indication that Iran would not hesitate to use similar incidents as a pretext to challenge and humiliate even an important EU power, such as the United Kingdom in the area of its dominion in the region. Interestingly, the incident occurred about a week after another confrontation that took place in the Persian Gulf between Iranian Navy and the Qatari and UAE fishing boats.[32]

How shall we construe such behavior at a critical time when Iran is almost totally encircled by foreign forces, not quite friendly to it? Does this mean that Iran is in fact using its mussels to show its real intention of pursuing an independent hegemonistic policy in the region? The followings are mere speculations about the actual trend of Iran’s posture in the region:

· Recent reemergence of hardliners in Iranian political scene (for the time being in the Parliament), which is the result of a serious rebuff of progressive elements, is gradually showing its products in political arena. This means that the conservative front is preparing to take over almost all the elements of national power in Iran,

· The conservative faction who always had the military instrument under its control, is using Iranian armed forces to consolidate its political power, while shaping Iran’s hegemonistic strategy in the region,

· The true aim of the new emerging conservative government, which would very likely succeed the reformist one in power, is to show that it is more efficient, independent, and enough strong to contain any internal unrest or opposition challenge, and to deter any external pressure or threat that are susceptible to change the prevailing situation in Iran,

· After the new conservative government is established in Tehran, we may gradually witness signs of rapprochement with the United States, if assured that the continuity of the Islamic regime is not challenged or threatened.


* Professor Ali-Asghar Kazemi holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. He is the author of many books and articles, and a legal advisor on matters concerning the international law of the sea. Currently, he is dean of the Faculty of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus) Tehran-Iran.
[1] See for example, Amy Truesdell, “Iran plans Gulf trip, projecting a Powerful Military Force.” In this paper it is suggested that “ The Iranian government's key objective in building up its armed forces is the same now as it was before the revolution in 1979: to secure regional military superiority.” A:\Global Defence Review Iran plans Gulf trip.htm
[2] See: Bill Gerts, “Iran’s Regional Powerhouse,” in: Air Force, Journal of Air Force Association, Magazine Online, June 1996 Vol. 79, No.06.
[3] Ibid.
[4] See e.g. Bill Gerts, “Iran’s Regional Powerhouse,” ibid.
[5] ibid
[6] Idem
[7] Recent incidents ( June 2004) in the Persian Gulf, which began with the attack of a Qatari gunship on an Iranian fishing boat, that triggered a series of retaliatory operations by Iranian naval forces as well as harsh diplomatic protest to Qatari government, is a vivid example of such kind.
[8] To this we should add offensive mines that are believed to be deployed in the Persian Gulf. The EM-52 rising mines are part of a 3,000-weapon stockpile of anti-ship mines. This purchase is significant because, unlike most other mines, the EM-52 is operational in deep water such as the Persian Gulf. When the hull of a ship passes over the device the mine is triggered and a rocket is fired at the hull. Placed in choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, this device could be devastating. See Amy Truesdell, “Iran plans Gulf trip, projecting a Powerful Military Force.” Ibid.
[9] It is interesting to note that every time when the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council has some kind of meeting, the UAE ‘s claim on the three Islands ( Lesser and Greater Tombs and Abu Mussa) is raised and endorsed by the Arabs and obviously rejected by Iran.
[10] This view is apparently supported by the types of exercises carried by the Iranian Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, such as: sabotaging ports and attacking oil platforms and coastal targets. Cf. A:\Global Defence Review Iran plans Gulf trip.htm
[11] It is interesting to note that about ninety percent of Japan's oil and sixty percent of Europe's oil pass through the strategic region. Cf. ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] See e.g. Douglas Davis, “ Iran's missile buildup seems aimed at Israel,” The Jewish Weekly of Northern California, Friday August 7, 1998
[14] According to experts,” with the Scud Bs and Cs, Iran can bring every capital in the [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] within range," Furthermore, one Pentagon official suggested that Iran “ can bring debarkation ports within range, and, if they do not already have a chemical warhead, they will probably have one very soon." See Bill Gerts, Ibid.
[15] In an interview with the Saudi-owned weekly al-Wasat, Shamkhani said that Iran's military power is "part of the capabilities of the Arab and Islamic worlds." He further said:
"It is certainly not directed against the interests of the Arab states," he added. "On the contrary, it adds to the strength of the Islamic world in facing the enemies of the Arab and Islamic nations."
Asked why Iran was building up its military muscle, increasing its arms procurements, deploying three Russian-built submarines and developing its missile program, Shamkhani replied: "You would notice that no other country has been as bullied or threatened as Iran. Israel, for instance, menaces Iran more than it menaces any other country." See Douglas Davis, ibid.
[16] Ibid
[17] At the time the report was written, i.e. 1998, total debt of Iran amounted to an estimated $ 35 billion. See Gerts, ibid.
[18] “ In terms of the regional military balance, Iran is, in fact, lagging behind considerably, a fact well documented by the various authoritative studies on arms transfers, including the annual reports by the Congressional Research Service and various editions of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers. These studies show that, for example, the total arms acquisitions by the six countries of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during the period 1987-1998 was in excess of 52 billion dollars, compared to 2.5 billion dollars for Iran. To give another example, during 1995-1998 period, whereas the Saudis purchased close to 8 billion dollars of arms, Iran’s figure stood at 1.4 billions.” See Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Iran’s Military Modernization and the Regional Arms Race. A:\Iran’s Military Modernization and the Regional Arms Race.htm
[19] This came in the speech he made at the second session for "The Region and Future Conference" entitled "Iran and the Future of Gulf Security." By Anthony Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman said that Iran's new arms agreements signed since the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war are not enough to modernize or sustain its current forces, but that this leaves the standing issue of weapons of mass destruction. He added that in light of Iran's declaration of programs of these weapons, and its import of biological equipment and chemical weapons, one has to wonder at the reasons behind acquiring them. See; A:\IranExpert Iran's WMD critical issue to region -- Cordesman.htm Date: 06/05/2004
[20] Cf. Bill Gerts, ibid
[21] Cf. Iran's Nuclear Program Reaches Critical Juncture,” IEEE Spectrum online June, 2004
[22] See my papers: “Shifting U.S. Threat Perception After September 11and the Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat” December 2003; and, “ Iran’s Nuclear Venture: Legal Obligation and Political Temptation,” May 2004, both presented to the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations.

[23] The IAEA stated that Iran had not lived up to its reporting obligations under the terms of its Safeguard Agreement. Iran’s IAEA Safeguard Agreement requires the country to provide the agency with information “concerning nuclear material subject to safeguards under the Agreement and the features of facilities relevant to safeguarding such material.” Technically, Iran is still in compliance with its Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, but as the IAEA stated, “it is the number of failures of Iran to report the material facilities and activities in question” that is “a matter of concern.” Going back over a ten-year period, Iran has followed a pattern of obfuscation that raises well-founded international suspicions about Iran’s nuclear program.
[24] It is worthwhile to note that the new resolution has been prepared and sponsored by three leading EU powers; France, Germany and the United Kingdom, who initiated an accord with Iran last year on the issue of nuclear project. For detail see my paper: “Iran Nuclear Venture, Legal Obligation and Political Temptation.” May 2004, Presented to the Regional Security Conference, UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, www.
[25] This fact has been even recognized by two important personalities directly responsible for Iran’s national defense and security. The leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, once said to his followers that the Islamic Republic’s strength does not lie in obtaining or the domestic manufacture of an atomic bomb, but it is “the power of the faith that can deter our enemy” (Washington Post, 17 November 1992). More recently, Iran’s Defense minister, Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani, recognized in a February 2002 statement: “ The existence of nuclear weapons will turn us into a threat to others that could be exploited in a dangerous way to harm our relations with the countries of the region.” See the Guardian, 6 Feb. 2002. See also George Perkovich, “Dealing With Iran’s Nuclear Challenge,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 April 2003.

[26] According to the analysis presented in the Global Security, “Tehran strives to be a leader in the Islamic world and seeks to be the dominant power in the Persian Gulf. The latter goal brings it into conflict with the United States. Tehran would like to diminish Washington’s political and military influence in the region. Within the framework of its national goals, Iran continues to give high priority to expanding its NBC weapons and missile programs.” See: - Last updated, December 13,2002

[27] Cf. my paper presented December 2003 to the Regional Security Conference in Athens- Greece, on
“The Shifting U.S. Threat Perception after September 11 and Fear of Iran’s Nuclear Threat.”
[28] See my paper of last May 2004, presented to the Regional Security Conference in Amman-Jordan.
[29] Mr. Hassan Rohani, secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, who was in charge of nuclear issue negotiation with the three EU foreign ministers last year, in an interview with the media, after the adoption of the new resolution in June 2004 by the IAEA, said that Iran will revise its position with respect to the uranium enrichment, which it had voluntarily suspended upon the signing of the accord with the EU states (France, Germany and UK). He argued that since these latter countries have not lived up to their commitment, Iran sees itself relief of the obligation created by the agreement.
[30] British navy personnel (two officers and six sailors) were blindfolded and directed to the shore for further investigation. Iranian authorities claimed that they would be prosecuted if proven that they had willfully entered Iranian internal waters. The problem was finally settled through diplomatic channels.
[31] By releasing the arrested crewmembers of the British gunboats, after three days on June 26, Iranian authorities announced that it was found out through investigation that they had mistakenly entered in the internal waters of Iran. But, it seems hard to believe that a gunboat even without navigational aid could loose its way in the rather narrow and shallow waters of the Shat-al-Arab River. Interestingly, few days after their release, the British Navy personnel claimed that Iranian revolutionary guard forced them to Iranian waters while they were passing their normal route. The matter was later endorsed by the UK Defense Secretary and protested against Iranian government.
[32] See supra on the question of UAE claim on the three Iranian islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and Iran’s reaction on the matter.