Iran’s Ideological Foreign Policy

The author suggests that in the case of Iran, 1) ideology, deeply rooted in religion and the Constitution, occupies a hegemonic place in the formulation of Iranian foreign policy, 2) tension between “ideology” and the “interest” of the regime (as distinct from national interest) is low, 3) in a time of crisis, the Supreme Leader is the only regulative instance to re-establish an equilibrium between ideology and interest and 4) only when the regime faces great danger, the question of “interest/survival” comes to the surface as long as the threat lasts. 
The worldview of the Islamic Republic of Iran toward the outside world rests on four pillars: Its revolutionary character, totalitarian character, Non-Westphalian view, and imperialist ambition. Accordingly, the application of ordinary tools such as “national interests” and purely “materialist gains” has very limited explanatory capacity for rendering the political complexities of Iran fully understandable. Rather, taking ideology as the point of departure is a more appropriate method for grasping the real sense and orientation of Iranian foreign policy. The paper highlights Iranian matrices of capabilities and sensitivities (hard and soft). In this connection, elements such as the size and advantageous geographical position of the country, its human and formidable natural resources together with its impressive military capacities are noted. Iran’s soft power, which is primarily based on the sympathy accorded to the country by some fractions of Muslim and Arab populations (Sunni and Shi´a) due to the hard-line Iranian position vis-à-vis the USA are also noted. On the issue of sensitivities, Iran faces a number of serious challenges against their policy, reinforced by the economic sanctions decided by the UN Security Council as well as other restrictive measures taken by the USA, EU and others. 
These measures have seriously reduced Iran’s international credibility and its scope of movement. Adding to this Iran’s poor record on human rights and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere, we arrive at the conclusion that if Iran does not undertake a significant revision of its foreign policy, it risks severe trouble in the future. A revision in this domain cannot, however, take place without a revision of the ideological foundation of the Islamist regime. Until now, the Islamist ideology has served the interests of the Regime, or at least it has not put the survival of the regime in great danger. It therefore appears highly implausible that the Iranian regime will change its current behavior, unless it comes in such a situation that maintaining both ideology and power becomes unbearable.

مهدی مظفری*
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