U.S.-Iran conflict - Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad • Official Website
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Why Sanctions against Iran are Counterproductive: Conflict Resolution and State–Society Relations

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, “Why Sanctions against Iran are Counterproductive: Conflict Resolution and State–Society Relations“, International Journal, Vol. 69, No. 1 (March 2014), pp. 48–65.

International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis (IJ), published by the Canadian International Council (CIC) and the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History (CCIH), “is Canada’s pre-eminent journal of global policy analysis. It combines brief, policy-relevant articles with longer, peer-reviewed, scholarly assessments of interest to foreign policy-makers, analysts and academics in Canada and around the world.”

From the “Editors’ Introduction

“We began work on an issue that would offer global perspectives on the always vexed controversies over nuclear weapons months before the 24 November 2013 “interim agreement” between Iran and the P5 + 1 powers. The recent development on Iran—and, in particular, the hopes and fears it has highlighted in global public and political discourse—adds a certain urgency to the views expressed in the essays that follow. […] Ali Fathollah-Nejad examines the effect of Western sanctions designed to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, focusing on the gap between the ever-hopeful discourse of their proponents and the often counterproductive results for Iran’s foreign policy, society and economy.” (Prof. Mairi MacDonald, Director of the International Relations Program in Trinity College at the University of Toronto & Dr. Adam Chapnick, deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College and an associate professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.)

Article Abstract

This article critically examines the ramifications of the international sanctions regime against Iran on two fronts: the conflict pitting Iran against the West, and the impact of the sanctions on state–society relations. On both accounts, it finds the dominant narrative, according to which sanctions would facilitate conflict resolution while weakening the authoritarian state, to be misleading. Instead, it demonstrates, on the one hand, how sanctions have hardened the opposing fronts and therefore prolonged the conflict between Iran and the West, and on the other, how they have cemented the domestic power structure in the Islamic Republic and weakened Iran’s civil society.

Further Details

  • Article published in the peer-reviewed International Journal, Canada’s leading International Relations journal; plus epilogue discussing the reasons behind the November 2013 Geneva Agreement, where it is argued that U.S.-Iranian rapprochement is not primarily a result of the West’s sanctions policy, instead the emphasis is put on the significance of a re-ascendant foreign-policy school of thought in Tehran.

How Rouhani Could Change Iran [USA]


Hassan Rouhani, the incoming president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was the only cleric candidate and won more than 50 percent of the vote. He received enough votes to prevent conservative voices from gathering against him in the second round. The elections and transfer of power passed peacefully, demonstrating a possible consolidation of electoral democracy in Iran with respect to the electoral process.

Rouhani has assumed the role of president, constitutionally the second most important man in the country after the Supreme Leader, amid tense circumstances in the country. Iran today faces heavy international sanctions and chaotic domestic rivalry among three political factions: conservatives, reformists and hardliners.

The conservative wing is gathered around Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, and follows his cautious but sometimes pragmatic political path. The reformist movement connected with the presidency of Mohammad Khatami and his predecessor Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kerrubi, now under house arrest, voice assumed leadership within the Green Movement after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second presidential win assumed by.

Hardliners had power for the last eight years under Ahmadinejad and prominent clerical leader of the Guardian Council (sometimes called the Iranian Bilderberg group) Ahmad Jannati. Ahmadinejad was also a choice of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia.

Economic pressures

Revolutionary committees, militia forces (basij) and other mobilization structures during the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war are not disbanded but have evolved into interest cartels controlled by influential and elite Revolutionary Guards. These cartels are called bonyad and manage confiscated and nationalized enterprises, with the excuse that it helps the goals of the Islamic revolution and the development of Iran’s foreign relations. They became the main state contractors, especially for the defence industry and the Revolutionary Guard, thus creating an economic realm where they developed ties with members of the political elite and were influential in the country and abroad.

Bonyads control about 40 percent of Iran’s economy, and in 1994 some 58 percent of the national budget was allocated to them, at least according to data from Said Amir Arjomand, an expert in Iranian domestic politics. Leaders of bonyads are not responsible to the state but directly to Khamenei. They gain special profits obtained from an annuity military-industrial-commercial complex and have a special license to import and export goods. Together with the Revolutionary Guards they control the Mehrabad airport in Tehran and seaports in the Persian Bay. They receive support from clerical families and their friends, as well as donors from economic foundations.

Nepotism blossoms through a new political-economic elite named aghazadehgan (master’s sons), composed of upper level clerical families. Power of the Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia throughbonyads was seriously regarded when Ahmadinejad, their preferred candidate, was elected.

Given these complex dynamics, it is illusory to expect Rouhani to achieve greater progress in the economy unless international sanctions were lifted to re-open the oil market and prevent further inflation of the rial.

The Rouhani administration will have difficult times ahead, as he explained in a statement to the media: “A multitude of problems and issues face us today. I have come forward with full knowledge of all the problems and have stepped into this position despite the unparalleled issues facing the nation which I will share them with the nation later. No government in the history of Iran has faced the problems that this new administration faces,”, Rouhani said.

Change is coming

Rouhani will have to balance these forces in order to fulfil his mission. Ghoncheh Tazmini, a political analyst and research director at the Ravand Institute for Economic and International Studies in Iran, a think tank, strongly believes Iran will experience change as Rouhani breathes new life into the Islamic republic. She based her optimism on two main reasons:

“”The first is that his moderate inclination will bring about the same subtle yet tangible results Mohammad Khatami’s presidency brought. These are qualitative and conceptual changes rather than quantitative. These are palpable, substantive changes that will reverberate within Iranian society. At the state level, he will bring about a ‘politics of normalcy.’”

“The second reason stems from the fact that he is as much a conservative, establishment figure as he is a moderate figure. Thus, he will have more political ‘purchasing power’ and elicit piecemeal results because he is cut from the same cloth as establishment figures.”

Tazmini compares Rouhani with the experience of Khatami’s rule. “Khatami tried to move Iranian politics beyond tumultuous times towards a regular politics. In the context of Khatami’s reform campaign, the ‘politics of normalcy’ reflected the state of a country that had endured years of turbulent social and revolutionary change” she said. Tazmini believes Rouhani’s presidency will represent the explicit project of a return to normalcy wherein Iran would avoid diplomatic isolation and seek to eliminate revolutionary-style politics, self-reliant economic policies and rigid social mores.

It is a shift towards more pragmatic politics characterized by an effort to define Iran’s politics by repudiating revolutionary politics, Tazmini said, and that Rouhani’s Iran will produce a revival of the politics of normalcy where ideological radicalism will give way to broader interests of a 21st- century Iran.

Rouhani’s message to clerics July 3 conveyed this direction: “A strong government does not mean a government that interferes and intervenes in all affairs. It is not a government that limits the lives of people. This is not a strong government”. And instead of strong government, his speeches are full of government of moderation.

Rouhani might well succeed, but if we reconsider Khatami’s efforts, some worries persist. Khatami was even more connected to the conservative establishment, both clerically and through family ties. Rouhani has an advantage of not being part of any faction while still preserving an image of established cleric. Tazmini calls it the Rouhani brand: “He is the reconciliation of the contending and competing ideological tension between reformist/pragmatist and conservative-traditionalist camps – a compromise of sorts.”

In fact, the Supreme Leader refused to share his favorite candidate with the public. On various occasions, the Leader emphasized the necessity of holding healthy elections, noting that even his family members did not know for whom he would vote.

Moderation in foreign policy

Another big question that remains is Iran’s foreign policy. Rouhani has a great deal of experience in this area. He presided over the Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005 and served as the National Security Advisor to Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami. From 1991 until the elections he led the Political, Defense and Security committee in the Expediency council. He has extensive experience in diplomatic negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the subject of his book of memoirs.

At his first press conference, after the election, Rouhani set key determinants for Iranian foreign policy. Among them is a clear attitude about nuclear energy. Iran will not stop uranium enrichment, said Rouhani, but will increase transparency and show the world that Iran’s nuclear program is fully in line with international standards. This could mean that Rouhani will draw on his old connections and relationships in the IAEA and re-enable inspectors from this agency to inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, which would at least partially reduce international tension and possibly eliminate sanctions that heavily burden Iran’s economy.

Reuters reported earlier in July that diplomats in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based, believe there will be an IAEA-Iran meeting in mid-August, shortly before the Agency issues its next quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program and ahead of a week-long session of the United Nations agency’s 35-nation governing board in September.

Rouhani seeks “a constructive relationship with the world” and advocates moderation, which is reminiscent Khatami program “Dialogue among Civilizations.” The program’s tenets could help re-employ Iranian diplomacy through cultural centers.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iranian-German political scientist and expert on Iranian sanctions and the Iran-West stalemate, discussed this turn in Iranian foreign policy with The Atlantic Post. “In accordance with the desire expressed by the bulk of Iranians, Rouhani has indeed promised a foreign policy geared towards the reduction of tensions and the pursuit of national interests equally cognizant of the country’s sovereignty and the population’s well-being that is closely linked to the heavy burden of sanctions. This will be a prerequisite towards settling the now decade-old so-called nuclear crisis.”

Regarding sanctions, “the responsibility for their desperately needed removal will remain with those who have imposed them in the first place,” said Fathollah-Nejad. “This entails that during the next rounds of negotiations between Iran and the great powers, in response to Iranian concessions the United States and the European Union will have to offer a substantive relief of sanctions.” Fathollah-Nejad believes financial relief should be first priority and that the West should “immediately start preparing the political room for that” and decide how to remove institutional obstacles towards that end.

Rouhani also touched on the topic of Syria, saying that the future of the Syrian authorities must be in the hands of the Syrian people. This statement brings up two sensitive topics. First, Rouhani stated that Iran does not believe that anyone other than the Syrian people should decide on the situation in the country, including international forces. Second, Iran’s ties with Syria are long and complex. The Alawite Syrian leadership is closely connected with the Shi’a Hezbollah, the pro-Syrian Lebanese opposition. Iran directly funds Hezbollah is directly funded by the Iranian government. Hezbollah in Lebanon was created by radical Iranian cleric Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, whose forces are trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Finally, Rouhani said that old wounds need to heal between Iran and the United States, opening the possibility of re-announcing talks with Washington. This statement interpreted as bold, is a continuation of Khamenei policy.

The 444 days following the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the Iran-Contra affair in 1986 strained relations between the two countries. But we should not forget that Iran has played a constructive role in the Middle East in the past. The pragmatic alliance of Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khamenei controlled Iran’s foreign policy with revolutionary rhetoric. Iran quietly cooperated in the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait in the Gulf War, despite Saddam Hussein’s offer to return to the border agreement of 1975.

Iran has improved its relations with all Muslim countries, successfully hosted several summits of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and worked with Caspian Sea nations. Historically, while Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Khatami repeatedly tried to open ties with Washington, personal differences were insurmountable. The powerful American-Israeli Public Affairs (AIPAC) and former Secretary of State Warren Christopher bolstered the diplomatic blockade between the two countries.

When former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wanted to meet with Iran’s chief diplomat in 1998, Khamenei blocked the meeting. When he later decided to send his commissioner Larijani to the White House, George Bush was not interesting in talking to the Iranians. During President Barack Obama’s first term, Ahmadinejad stood defiant on the Iranian side. Perhaps Obama and Rouhani, with the consent of Khamenei, could really begin talks at foreign policy level.

Fathollah-Nejad confirms this possibility, calling Rouhani “a pragmatic realist.” “Rouhani will offer a unique opportunity for reducing tensions with the U.S. An improvement in Iran-U.S. relations will, however, also be dependent on Washington, where it remains to be seen if the pro-engagement camp can seize upon this historical opportunity offered by Rouhani’s election to effectively force back the confrontational camp there.” The consequences could be dire if this opportunity is missed, he said.

Rouhani may potentially be more influential in foreign policy than Khatami, to whom he is often compared. Rouhani [has], in addition, [been the] head of Iran’s major think-tank and bastion of its realist school of thought, the Center for Strategic Research, and more learned and experienced than Khatami, Fathollah-Nejad said.

“More than anyone else, Rouhani will be qualified in communicating and explaining Tehran’s foreign-policy stances to a domestic audience in need of a balanced account on foreign-policy issues ranging from nuclear diplomacy to the Syrian crisis,” he said.

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations recently assessed the election outcome, saying, “The actual result of presidential polls in the Islamic Republic was undoubtedly an analytical shock to those who believed that there is no election in Iran, but selection.”

These forecasts suggest four years of a more moderate and open Iran resembling the Khatami era. Yet Rouhani will contend with Khamenei and the status quo organization of the Islamic republic,bonyads and a resolute attitude in foreign policy. At the same time, he has an opportunity to relax the tension in Iranian society and try to break the country’s international isolation.


Vedran Obućina is an Atlantic Post contributor in Rijeka, Croatia.



Vedran Obućina (2013) “How Rouhani Could Change Iran“, The Atlantic Post (Washington, DC), 6 August.

Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions


This article is based on a talk the author gave at the first-ever expert conference on Iran sanctions to have taken place in Europe. Organized by the Paris Academy of Geopolitics (PAG) at the French Senate on 3 June 2013, the conference assembled legal and economic experts as well as three former European ambassadors to Iran and former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. The passages on Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani have been added in retrospect.

The article has been originally published by the New York-based World Policy Institute, and republished by the Moscow-based Oriental Review. A version of this article has been published in its French original on Le Huffington Post (France and Canadian Quebec editions), Mondialisation.ca (Canada) and in the current issue of the PAG journal Géostratégiques. A German translation will appear in the upcoming issue of the Vienna-based international-politics journal International: Die Zeitschrift für internationale Politik.

The article demonstrates that on various grounds (socio-economic, politico-diplomatic, geopolitical and geo-economic) that the sanctions regime against Iran has been counterproductive. Crucially for Western policymakers and contrary to officially stated goals, the rapid escalation of economic sanctions during the past few years has been accompanied by the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program. The article concludes by urging the sanctions imposers to prepare the political and institutional grounds for meaningful sanctions relief – a prospect the bulk of Iranians wish for and their new President Hassan Rohani is predestined to deliver if the West reciprocates with goodwill.

Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, has promised to ease the tensions surrounding the international relations of his country. In line with the will of the majority of Iranians, the issue of economic sanctions – weighing heavily on the latter’s day-to-day life – will be a key to that end.

In general, the purpose of sanctions is to force a political opponent to do what she would not do otherwise. In the case of the sanctions imposed on Iran – during the course of what is commonly but simplistically referred to as the “nuclear crisis” – the stated goal has been to force a reversal of Tehran’s nuclear calculus toward slowing down or even halting its nuclear program. This goal has clearly not been met. Instead this period has witnessed ever more crippling sanctions – a form of “structural violence” exerted upon an entire country and its people.

On the politico-diplomatic level: Hardening the fronts

Economic sanctions are one of the most preferred instruments of Western foreign policy. The immediate Western reaction to the Syrian crisis is the most recent evidence of this. In the Iranian case, sanctions have been an integral part of the transatlantic strategy pursued against Tehran, code-named “coercive diplomacy” in Diplomatic Studies. There, sanctions are usually presented as a quasi-peaceful means and as such inherently part of a purely diplomatic approach geared towards avoiding a military confrontation. However, as the Iraqi case demonstrates, sanctions are the last step before military action. In other words, “smart sanctions” are likely to be succeeded by “smart bombs.”

Apart from this worst-case scenario, sanctions have not proven to facilitate the resolution of conflicts; on the contrary, they rather tend to harden the opposing fronts. Frequently, opposing sides view sanctions through fundamentally different prisms. In this case, while the West conceives of sanctions in a cost–benefit framework – the heavier the costs imposed on the targeted country by way of sanctions, the more willing the sanctioned state will be to offer concessions. Iran on its part sees them as a means of illegitimate pressure against which she ought to resist. This explains why in the last couple of years the escalation of sanctions was accompanied by that of the nuclear program. For example, in 2006 – before the Iran sanctions were elevated to an undoubtedly crippling dimension by the United States and the European Union – Iran had a thousand centrifuges; the number today is much more than tenfold. This reality of the nuclear dynamics in the wake of sanctions remains largely ignored in Western capitals.

Moreover, it should be stressed that policymakers in the West have so far devoted much more time and energy to identifying which new set of sanctions to impose rather than to committedly and creatively finding a diplomatic solution of the decade-old stalemate.

On the socio-economic level: Widening the power gap between the state and society

The popular rhetoric of sanctions incorrectly characterizes the nature of the socio-economic effects imposed on the target country. Contrary to what is commonly claimed, sanctions actually weaken the lower and middle classes, particularly affecting the most vulnerable in society – workerswomen andthe youth. As a result, the power gap between the state and society widens. All this, as a matter of fact, actually dampens the prospect of popular uprising. A person struggling for economic survival barely has the luxury of engaging as a citoyen in the struggle for democracy. This explains the firm renunciation of sanctions by Iran’s civil society – voices that the West has largely chosen to ignore.

In political-economic terms, sanctions have largely paralyzed Iran’s civilian economy while state and semi-state economic entities – especially those associated with the Revolutionary Guards – have been able to benefit inter alia by monopolizing imports of various goods via “black channels.” State resources have buoyed those companies that have access to them, leaving others to drown in the tide of rising costs. Sanctions have also prompted enormous growth in the volume of bilateral trade between Iran and China (still about $ 40 billion according to the Iran–China Chamber of Commerce and Industries which is closely related to the regime) – to the detriment of producers and jobs in Iran. The reality of sanctions is that they have cemented the politico-economic power configuration in Iran.

On geopolitical and geo-economic levels: Putting a brake on Iran’s development

Sanctions produce far-reaching effects at the geopolitical and geo-economic levels. Corresponding with the implicit geopolitical rationale for sanctions – that if you cannot control or influence a country, you will resort to weakening it – these restrictions have indeed stunted Iran’s  development trajectory. This inflicted damage has not, however, produced the ultimate goal of reversing Iran’s nuclear and regional policies and has in fact damaged Western interests by boosting the clout of countries like China, Russia, and other regional states.

In the wake of the U.S.-pressured withdrawal of the Europeans from the Iranian market, Iran was virtually handed over to China on a silver plate – something Beijing is indeed quite appreciative of. China’s economic presence in Iran can be witnessed all across the board: from the construction of the Tehran Metro to the exploration of Persian Gulf oil and gas fields.

Iran’s technocrats – a prime victim of the sanctions – observe this development with great concern. Among other things, they have seen that a healthy competition between different foreign competitors is sorely missing, and that the lack of high-tech (formerly delivered by the West) has reduced the quality of domestic production. All of this has a negative impact (mid- and long-term) on Iran’s economic and technological development. If the situation remains unchanged, such damage can hardly be compensated. As another case in point, the sale of Iranian oil to large customers such as China or India has turned into barter – a de facto “junk for oil” program has emerged. In addition, during the past couple of years China has been given preferential rates by Iran for its oil imports.

Finally, some of Iran’s neighboring countries also benefit from the sanctions. Most significantly, due to the energy sanctions against Iran, Russia can safeguard its quasi-monopoly on Europe’s energy supply – a strategic interest held by Moscow which is unlikely to be reversed easily. To a much lesser degree but still noteworthy, Turkey – which has turned into the sole land trade corridor reaching Iran from the West – has seen its profits in its dealings with Iran risen sharply. Not surprisingly, its business press has been cheering the Iran sanctions as providing Ankara with a competitive trade advantage. Also off the radar, Qatar which in the Persian Gulf is sharing the world’s largest gas field with Iran, has been able to exploit South Pars much more rapidly than Iran given the latter’s lack of access to advanced technologies. This has resulted in a tremendous gap of revenues between the two countries of many several billion dollars.

Conclusion: Time for Abandoning Coercive Diplomacy

Ultimately, the policy of sanctions is counter-productive on multiple levels, most sensitively on diplomatic and socio-economic grounds. The sanctions – whether called “crippling” or “targeted” – disproportionately affect the civilian population. “Smart sanctions” are very much an oxymoron as “smart bombs” which allegedly function in surgical precision. And like their military counterparts, “targeted sanctions” inflict extensive “collateral damage.”

Despite the political need to seriously reconsider sanctions as a tool for a judicious and solution-oriented foreign policy, there are many political and institutional barriers to overcome before the extremely dense web of Iran sanctions can be dissolved – which remains not only a huge political challenge but also a moral one. The first step in this direction will be the sober realization among policymakers that while sanctions do have effects, these are not the ones officially proclaimed or desired – neither in socio-economic terms nor in the sphere of Realpolitik when it comes to altering Tehran’s nuclear calculation. Leaving the sanctions against Iran in place advances the specter of an Iraqization of Iran – with all its adverse effects internally (destruction of society) as well as externally (war and destabilization of an already too fragile regional balance).

To pave the way for a new chapter in Iran’s relations with the West, Rohani has already proved his wisdom by his choice of foreign minister. Mohammad-Javad Zarif, Iran’s former ambassador to the UN, has already been labeled as “Tehran’s leading connoisseur of the U.S. political elite”. All this undoubtedly presents the most suited prerequisite towards the aim of alleviating the multi-level liability that sanctions constitute. But at the end, it is the responsibility of those who have imposed the sanctions to initiate the process of their removal. The ball is now in the West’s court. It would truly be the “height of irresponsibility” if one missed this opportunity offered by the Iranian people who have already paid dearly for an utterly miscalculated transatlantic “coercive diplomacy.”



Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2013) “Fallouts of Iran Sanctions“, World Policy Journal (online), New York: World Policy Institute, 31 July;

▪ republished on Oriental Review (Moscow), 1 August;

published as “Nefarious Fallouts of Iran Sanctions” on:

Global Research, Montreal: Centre for Research on Globalization, 5 August;

Payvand Iran News, 5 August;

Iranian.com, 5 August;

Fair Observer, 9 August.

Asfar: The Middle Eastern Journal, No. 3 (August 2013).





“a must-read” — Action Coalition Against Sanctions on Iran.

Iran in the Eye of Storm


»absolutely fascinating«

Professor Anoushiravan Ehteshami (Dean of the »School of Government and International Affairs«, Durham University, United Kingdom), 11 April 2007

»The study is of great interest«

Professor Michel Chossudovsky (Department of Economics, University of Ottawa, and Director »Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG)«, Montreal, Canada), 5 April 2007


Professor Emeritus Hans-Jürgen Krysmanski (Institute of Sociology, University of Münster, Germany), 11 October 2007

»Highly interesting«

Professor Albert A. Stahel (Director of the »Institute for Strategic Studies«, Zurich, Switzerland), 13 March 2008

»umfassende und sehr lesenswerte Studie«

Informationsstelle Militarisierung (IMI), Tübingen, 13. April 2007


Abstracts in English, German and French

English | The Iran crisis has become a synonym for escalation dangerously tending towards confrontation. Tehran therein is accused by the U.S.-led West of developing nuclear weapons. This in fact is an alerting highlight in the tense history of U.S.-Iranian relations since World War Two, as we clearly hear the war bells ring. What lies behind that present Irano-Western conflict has to be seen in a broader historical and political context: Beginning with the 1953 coup d’état against Iran’s democratically elected Mossadegh government till recent wars in the Iranian periphery, American interventionist foreign policy in the world economy’s most crucial region, the Middle East, proves a great deal of bitter continuity in its push for controlling this part of the world for the sake of global hegemony. The new U.S. preventive war doctrine provides the political legitimacy for such an agenda. The major battlefield of this militaristic agenda of America’s grand strategy seems to be focused on the ‘Greater Middle East.’ Besides having to cope with a considerable security dilemma due to tremendous trembles in her environment, Iran now sees herself targeted as an exclusive member of the ‘Axis of Evil.’ This paper will attempt to clarify the interests at stake for the sole remaining superpower. It will thus argue that the only meaningful way to perceive the present conflict is through considering its politico-strategic background and implications. The Iran crisis is indeed a significant symptom of a unilateral world order on the verge of collapse. To prevent a catastrophic conflagration, an unbiased engagement by the European Union is indispensable in order to decrease the regional security dilemma by ultimately establishing a nuclear-free Near and Middle East zone. Europe should assume responsibility vis-à-vis her neighboring region, for surrendering to New Order fantasies à l’Américaine will heavily harm her own interests.

Français | La crise iranienne est devenue un synonyme pour une escalade dangereusement menant à la confrontation. Téhéran est accusé par l’Occident, mené par les Etats-Unis, de vouloir développer l’arme nucléaire. Ceci est en fait une culmination alarmante des relations américano-iraniennes depuis la Seconde Guerre mondiale, comme nous entendons clairement les cloches de guerre sonner. Ce qui est derrière ce présent conflit irano-occidental doit être considéré en prenant en compte le contexte historique et politique : Commençant par le coup d’état de 1953 contre le gouvernement iranien démocratiquement élu de Mossadegh jusqu’aux guerres récentes dans la périphérie iranienne, la politique étrangère interventionniste des Américains dans la région la plus prépondérante pour l’économie mondiale, le Moyen-Orient, atteste une continuité amère dans sa volonté de contrôler cette part du monde. Désormais, la nouvelle doctrine de guerres préventives des Etats-Unis offre la légitimité politique pour un tel agenda visé à sauvegarder son hégémonie mondiale vis-à-vis ses rivaux. Le champ de bataille majeur de cet agenda militariste de la politique mondiale des Etats-Unis semble se concentrer sur le « Grand Moyen-Orient ». Face à un considérable dilemme sécuritaire, l’Iran se voit dorénavant ciblé en tant que membre exclusif de l’« Axe du Mal ». Cette étude veut clarifier les intérêts en jeu pour l’hyper-puissance. Elle veut ainsi argumenter que la seule manière significative de percevoir le conflit présent se fait par la considération des éléments de base au niveau politico-stratégique. Afin de réduire le dilemme sécuritaire régional, un engagement sérieux par l’Union européenne est indispensable qui devrait viser l’établissement d’une Conférence sur la sécurité et la coopération dans un Proche- et Moyen-Orient complètement dépourvu d’armes nucléaires. L’Europe devrait assumer ses responsabilités face à sa région voisine, car en cédant à des fantaisies d’un « New Order » à l’Américaine ses propres intérêts seront terriblement nuis.

Deutsch | Die Iran-Krise ist zum Synonym einer gefahrenvollen Eskalation, die gen Konfrontation tendiert, geworden. Der von den Vereinigten Staaten geführte Westen wirft Teheran vor, die Atomwaffe entwickeln zu wollen. Dies ist in der Tat ein alarmierender Höhepunkt in den iranisch-amerikanischen Beziehungen seit Ende des Zweiten Weltkriegs, zumal die Zeichen unverkennbar auf Krieg weisen. Um die Hintergründe dieses Konfliktes zu verstehen, darf ein Blick auf den historischen sowie politischen Kontext nicht außer Acht bleiben: Beginnend mit dem 1953 erfolgten Staatsstreich gegen Irans demokratisch gewählte Mossadegh-Regierung bis hin zu Kriegen neueren Datums in Irans Peripherie, zeugt die interventionistische US-Außenpolitik in der für die Weltwirtschaft ausschlaggebendsten Region, dem Mittleren Osten, von der bitteren Kontinuität diesen Teil der Welt beherrschen zu wollen. Die Präventivkriegs-Doktrin der USA stellt die politische Legitimation solch eines Unternehmens dar, dessen Anspruch es ist ihre weltumspannende Hegemonie aufrechtzuerhalten. Der dafür identifizierte Hauptkampfschauplatz scheint unverkennbar der „Größere Mittlere Osten“ zu sein. Einem existentiellen Sicherheitsdilemma ausgesetzt, sieht sich Iran derweil als exklusives Mitglied der „Achse des Bösen“ im unmittelbaren Schussfeld. Die vorliegende Studie beabsichtigt die auf dem Spiel stehenden Interessen der einzig verbliebenen Supermacht zu verdeutlichen. So argumentiert sie, dass die einzig konstruktive Weise diesen Konflikt zu betrachten eine sein muss, die den politisch-strategischen Implikationen bezüglichen des internationalen Systems Rechnung trägt. Um das regionale Sicherheitsdilemma zu verringern, ist ein ehrliches Engagement der Europäischen Union für eine nuklearfreie Zone unerlässlich. Europa sollte sich gegenüber seiner immens bedeutsamen Nachbarregion seiner Verantwortung stellen. Sich stattdessen amerikanischen Neuordnungsfantasien zu beugen, würde ihr großen Schaden zufügen.





1. Geoeconomic Centers: The Stage of Empire

1) The Middle East’s Centrality for the World

2) Iran’s Centrality in the Middle East

2. Geostrategic Hot Spot: The Age of Gulf Wars

1) Oil and Democracy

2) Iran and Great Powers Rivalry


1. 21st Century U.S. Grand Strategy

1) On How to Designate American Supremacy

2) The ‘Cheney Report’ on Energy Policy (May 2001): On Securing Oil

3) The 2002 National Security Strategy: The ‘Preemptive’ Strike Doctrine

4) The ‘Greater Middle East Initiative’: America’s Restructuring Offensive

5) The 2006 National Security Strategy: Putting Iran in Crosshairs

6) A Carefully Prepared Highly Explosive Mixture

2. Iran and America’s Wars

1) Iranian Détente as Response to U.S. Containment and Peripheral Wars

2) Iran’s Security Dilemma: U.S. Militarization of the Middle East

3) Forced Modus Vivendi: ‘Axis of Evil’ as Reward for Cooperation

4) The Neocons in the Corridors of PowerŽ


1. On Iran’s Nuclear Program?

1) The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and Its Erosion

2) Historical Outline of Iran’s Nuclear Program

3) Dilemmas of Double-Standard and Dual-Use                            

2. On How Diplomacy Can Pave the Way for War

1) Negotiations over Iran’s Nuclear Program: Escalating Diplomacy

2) Why the Talks’ Failure was Foreseeable

3) Tackling the Real Issues: How Diplomacy Can Finally Succeed


1. Who is the International Community? On Global Fissures

1) The West’s Sole Agency Claim

2) Southern Objection

2. The Global Hegemon’s Decisive Battle

1) Stranglehold on its Rivals: America’s ‘Oil Weapon’

2) Feeling the Hegemon’s Squeeze: Asian Great Powers and Iran

3) Consequences of an Iran War

4) Who Would Benefit from an Iran War and Who Not?

5) The War Bells Ring: America and the World at the Crossroads

Concluding Remarks




Ali Fathollah-Nejad (2007) Iran in the Eye of Storm, 2nd fully revised version, April, 95 pages | 3rd updated version, May, 103 pages, German Power Structure Research, Peace and Conflict Studies, Institute of Sociology, University of Münster (Germany) [over 8,000 downloads until 1 May 2007];

republished by the Institute for Strategic Studies, Zurich, 3rd updated version, 2007;

documented by the Informationsstelle Militarisierung [Information Agency Militarization] (IMI), Tübingen (Germany), 13 April 2007;

reprinted as Report by Nathan Hale Institute for Intelligence and Military Affairs (Boise, ID: Liberty Park, USA™ Foundation).