The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran: prospects for change and continuity
All Azimuth: A Journal of Foreign Policy and Peace
Center for Foreign Policy and Peace Research, İhsan Doğramacı Peace Foundation
93 - 102
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Over the past four decades, there have been a variety of trends and developments in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Within a framework of basic principles and fundamentals, the various administrations have shown different tactical behaviors in their approach to foreign policy. Conversely, despite critical shifts and developments in the domestic, regional, and international stages, some behaviors have basically remained unchanged. Since the 1979 revolution, despite major changes in the dynamics of domestic politics, structural developments in neighboring regions (especially the Middle East), and a shift in the global balance of power, Iranian foreign policy priorities have proven considerably consistent. Several Iranian administrations, from former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami to current President Hassan Rouhani, have sought different approaches, but they have failed to adapt a new vision; the main pillars of Iran’s foreign policy—Pan-Islamist, Pan-Shia, anti-Western, anti-Imperialist, anti-Zionist and proResistance Front—have remained stable. Many scholars believe that Iranian foreign policy principles and practices have remained stable because they emphasize self-sufficiency, indigenization, exceptionalism, and resistance.1 Taken together, these principles intensify Iran’s isolation in the international arena. There are four key forces that illuminate the lack of dynamism in Iran’s foreign policy. First, in the foreign policy decision-making process, there is a constitutional mandate that gives power to the office of the Iran’s supreme leader, while limiting presidential power. The supreme leader emphasizes the preservation of the religious and ideological foundations of the 1979 revolution, while the president focuses on the country’s internal and executive affairs; the constitution limits the president’s influence over foreign policy. The second force is the prioritization of national security over other strategic interests. National securities, and the perceived threats of the United States’ hostile policies, directly influence Iranian static foreign policy priorities. The third key force is Iran’s ongoing international blockage by the West, and its need to keep pushing back. Iran has a fear of regime change as posed by the regional containment policy of Western powers. This is the reason why Iran has maintained its anti-Western/anti-American ideological stance. Finally, maintaining the domestic political order remains a primary driving force of Iran’s ruling elite. ‘Revolutionism’ and pan-Shiism serve to continue Iran’s revolutionary domestic political order, constructed in opposition to capitalism and imperialism.2 Theoretically speaking, while the international system and structural conditions drive Iran’s foreign policy priorities, domestic political factors have also played a major role in shaping Iran’s foreign policy over the past four decades. In attempting to understand the nature of continuity and the possibility of change in Iran’s foreign policy, many questions emerge from the literature:3 To what extent has there been continuity and change in Iran’s foreign policy since the Islamic Revolution of 1979? What type of coalitions and geo-political logic would allow for shifts in Iran’s foreign policy? Have reformist presidents created meaningful foreign policy change in Iran? Is Iran’s new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, able to initiate structural foreign policy change? What are the prospects for change in Iranian foreign policy? These theoretical and practical concerns highlight the need for stronger academic contribution on the main drivers that underlie Iran’s foreign policy. This review article will focus on two frequently referenced books, both of which aim to provide answers from an Iranian viewpoint, to the previous questions.