OPINION | The Geopolitics of JCPOA
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OPINION | The Geopolitics of JCPOA

By Kayhan Barzegar
(via Iran Review)

OPINION | The Geopolitics of JCPOA

Iran’s Foreign Policy after the Nuclear Deal

The implementation of the deal over Iran’s nuclear program, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14, 2015 will in the light of Iran’s relations with the world powers provide a new geopolitical potential for Iranian foreign policy that can be used at the service of Iran’s economic development, as well as regional stability.

There are two perspectives in Iran in regard to Iran’s foreign policy conduct in the post-JCPOA era: The first perspective focuses on a developmental approach stressing on the economic benefits of the JCPOA. The second perspective focuses more on a political-security approach stressing on the geopolitical benefits of the nuclear deal.

The development approach is based on the logic that the nuclear deal with six world powers, reached due to the country’s economic urgency, resulted from the international sanctions. Withdrawing from the current economic constraints requires attracting foreign investment and especially from the Western countries, increased energy exports and generally integrating Iran’s economy with that of the world. From this perspective, fostering the country’s economic development and progress is dependent on increased interaction and cooperation with world economic powers and international institutions such as WTO, the World Bank, etc.

The geopolitical approach is more based on the necessity of institutionalizing Iran’s role and status in the regional political-security equations. From this perspective, Iran’s defense and security strategy, and especially in fields that have a direct connection with the national security threat domain in the region (like that of other countries  such as the U.S., Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia), is the priority of  foreign policy conduct. To this end, the nuclear deal has created a new potential in the region’s geopolitical equations and Iran should take advantage of this situation and solve its strategic discrepancies with Western countries especially with the United States.

In reality, both the above-mentioned approaches are related to the sole traditional concept in Iranian foreign policy conduct, which is that the country’s best interest is to act in favor of increased stability in the region. In this respect, the expectation of the Rouhani government, as mentioned several times by the President, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani and the President’s Chief of Staff Mohammad Nahavandian, is that the JCPOA should bring about both economic and geopolitical benefits for Iran. In other words, Iran’s foreign policy conduct is trying to somehow balance between international economic interactions and regional geopolitical equations.

Now, the main challenge is the regional opposition, and especially from Saudi Arabia and to some degree from Turkey, which is more or less focusing on the negative geopolitical aspects of the JCPOA on regional equations. Their main concern is that the improved Iran-West relations will increase Iran’s regional role, thereby unbalancing the regional equations at their expense, and especially in regard to the Syrian crisis.

These two countries are also concerned about the expanded Iran-Russia relations resulting more from the Russians’ new understanding that the JCPOA has given a new potential to Iran’s foreign policy which ultimately favors Russian interests. With the international sanctions lifted, Russia can restore its traditional weapons trade and economic exchanges with Iran. Russia also believes that Iran’s economic progress can bring about more stability in the region, keeping the status quo, which is in a way Russia’s priority in its relations with Iran.

For this reason, the Saudis, who have had to officially accept the JCPOA, with an obvious change of strategy are trying to limit the positive effects of the nuclear deal on Iran’s regional status, mostly through increasing political pressures on the U.S. Congress to adopt new sanctions or block further economic incentives to Iran. Indeed, in a recent report, the Christian Science Monitor reveals that the Saudis allocated 11 million dollars for lobbying against Iran. In this respect, President Erdogan’s government in Turkey is also cautious of the geopolitical consequences of the JCOPA as equivalent to Iran’s increased regional role and especially initiating possible cooperation with Western countries in introducing  a new peace plan for Syria that might not favor Turkey. He talks of a prospective coalition with Saudi Arabia in handling the regional issues.

The underlying reality on the other hand is that increased geopolitical tensions in the region will not benefit Iran in the post-JCPOA era. Attracting foreign investment and fostering economic improvement require establishing stability in the region and this in turn needs removing tensions in regional relations, and  especially with Saudi Arabia in the Syrian and Iraqi crises which involve solving the ISIS  issue. At the same time, the real value of Iran to Western countries is its strong state, which is able to simultaneously preserve its stability while playing an appropriate regional role for solving the current regional issues.

In this respect, one can argue that the growing regional problems put the Western countries on the path of reaching the nuclear deal with Iran. Lack of interaction with Iran in past years created some strategic constraints for the West to find workable solutions for regional problems and properly battling terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda and their affiliates who are now endangering Western security by perpetrating attacks in France and the United States. This development has convinced the West, as Federica Mogherini puts it, that Iran’s role in the broader regional map cannot be ignored. This view is also accepted by President Obama and Secretary John Kerry.

In such circumstances, the legitimacy of the Saudis’ opposition to the JCPOA is faced with a serious challenge by the West. While the Saudis have adopted an aggressive regional policy, combined with the sabotaging of the Syrian peace process in obvious contrast with present field equations and realities, opposition against the Saudis’ regional polices, and especially the continued bombing of Yemen, is taking root in the West, i.e. among the Germans and other Europeans.  At present, world powers are against any further warmongering policies in the region, as they perceive them to be in favor of spreading terrorist activities and regional insecurity and instability.

The geopolitics of the JCPOA has even changed the equation of Iran’s relations with Russia, China, India, Japan and other economic powers in favor of Iran. In a situation of improved relations with the West, these countries have sharply sought to develop comprehensive political-economic relations to enhance their traditional relations with Iran. Lifting the international sanctions has also removed the main obstacle for conducting trade with Iran. Moreover, with the solving of the strategic discrepancy of the nuclear issue, Iran’s subsequent participation in efforts to solve regional issues has increased Iran’s geopolitical value for such states.

In sum, the JCPOA has been implemented in the light of the new understanding of Western countries, which accepts Iran’s regional role in preserving peace and security in the region and especially battling terrorism. Iran’s foreign policy should benefit from the new geopolitical potential created in the post-JCPOA era and balanced relations with world powers for removing the regional tensions. This will allow Iran to press ahead with the developmental approach and economic advancement.

About The Author:

Kayhan Barzegar is the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran and a former research fellow at Harvard University. He also chairs the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Islamic Azad University in Tehran.

An earlier version of this article was first published in Turkish and in Analist on March 1, 2016 

This article was originally published at IranReview.org.

All rights reserved by the original publisher. Reprinted with permission.

Source: The Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies