Iran: From Survival Struggle to Sphere of Influence


Cristina Cabrejas-Artola – TRANSCEND Media Service

30 Sep 2019 – Iran has been a victim of foreign invasions throughout history, and protecting its sovereignty continues to be the highest priority in securing the state survival. The defensive approach to shield its borders and gain independence from Western powers, through the Islamic Revolution in 1979, was interpreted as a threat to the monarchies of the Gulf States and the autocracy of Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The Islamic Revolution was intended to defend the universal principles of freedom, dignity and independence against Western dominance, yet Iran has been misinterpreted ever since as a major threat to regional and Western values.

While Iran’s rivals are threatened by nearly two and half millennia of imperial supremacy, they ignore Iran’s historical impact in the world on political, religious, scientific, cultural and philosophical developments that can hardly be interpreted as enemies of the “free world”.

Such an international misinterpretation has forced Iran to adopt an offensive foreign policy approach, which offers a theoretical framework for the validation of offensive realism against other realist and neoliberal theories.

Moreover, as the Westphalia system in the Middle East fails, state-actors continuing to disrespect each other’s borders highlight the security dilemma that drives the race for regional hegemony. The threatening certainty of Iran’s growing capability to achieve regional hegemony despite hostile sanctions imposed by Western powers poses a major new concern in international relations.

In fact, whilst Iran’s regional and Western adversaries howl war its regional and Eastern allies are closing diplomatic and economic relations. This is in fact a remarkable achievement that slips the rationale of Western politics. As a consequence, Iran could bridge Europe and Asia with the Persian/Arab Gulf to benefit from commercial trade. An initiative that although favourable to boost the economies of all regions, it is dismissed by Iranian rivals hindering the prosperity of not only Iran but of Central Asian and European state actors too.

Therefore, the economic prosperity of Iran, being a democracy where the president is elected by universal suffrage, has been forced by international powers, once again, to adopt an offensive foreign policy. This contradicts neoliberal theories, which although they have a significant impact in Western states fail to explain the Iranian phenomenon, an unusual and unique state that combines theocracy with democracy.

By recognising the anarchic structure in the region, it is important to highlight the oppressive policies from international state actors imposed on Iran, which paradoxically are having the opposite effect. Hostile sanctions have forced Iran’s state behaviour to become increasingly more aggressive and so the distribution of power in the Middle East is becoming bipolar – Iran versus its adversaries, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Israel, all supported by USA.

Moreover, offensive realism would agree that the Cold War example of a bipolar system in the Middle East could in fact be the first solution to dissipate the violent tensions. Yet, following the audacious attack Saudi Arenco oil processing facilities affecting not only Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production but the entire world’s oil capacity, it has become even more evident that Saudi Arabia is only beginning to develop its economic, social, political and military state capacity. Its role as a superpower in the Middle East might take a few more years.

In the meantime, Iran has maneuvered political strategies behind the international structure defying Western oppression and gaining regional influence. Therefore, it is not surprising to expect Iran attaining, once again, regional hegemony. Iran’s rivals might delay the process but with the strength of its human capital, the Islamic Republic has a clear long-term competitive advantage against its regional neighbours where populations are less than half of Iran’s.

This is particularly relevant considering a new emerging style of diplomatic and economic co-operation in Asia, where Iran is already reviving a positive presence.

Iran has progressed from a feared isolated state to a feared power state tilting not only the balance of power in the Middle East but also most likely in the international arena defending its borders from foreign powers.


Cristina Cabrejas-Artola is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. She holds a Master’s degree in International Relations by Middlesex University in Dubai. Her career priorities include engaging in community programs and improving the Arab identity through sports and cultural events. She previously served as a business conflict mediator in the Middle East.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Sep 2019.

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