In an article published by the Financial Times on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laid out the country’s proposed framework for bringing stability to the Middle East region.
“Isis displayed the darkest depths of human evil,” Zarif wrote. “Yet it also provided an opportunity to come together to battle an existential threat. The co-operative relationships forged in this fight can usher in a new era. We need new approaches and new terminology to make sense of a world which is transitioning to a post-western global order. Here are two concepts to shape the emerging paradigm in west Asia: the idea of a strong region, and security networking, whereby small and large countries — even those with historical rivalries — contribute to stability.”
It appears that Iran’s significant contribution to ISIS’ defeat and demise — coupled with its new injection as a major player to be reckoned with in the Middle East — has given the country newfound confidence. Iran is using its battlefield success to propose a new vision for the Middle East — one that would allegedly include open dialogue and cooperation.
“The objective of a strong region — as opposed to a quest for hegemony and the exclusion of other actors — is rooted in recognising the need to respect the interest of all stakeholders. Any domineering effort by one country is not only inappropriate but essentially impossible: those who insist on following that path create instability. The arms race in our region is an instance of this kind of destructive rivalry: siphoning vital resources into the coffers of arms manufacturers has contributed nothing to achieving peace and security. Militarism has only served to fuel disastrous adventurism.” [emphasis added]
Whether or not Zarif is genuine, taking his words at face value suggests he is proposing that countries in the region come together to form common interests and fight common enemies rather than focusing squarely on their differences.
Right now, countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran view each other as regional arch-rivals, and the two are locked in a current power struggle for dominance over the Middle East. So, what is Iran proposing as a solution to these differences of opinion — and can stability be achieved?
According to Zarif:
“Most of the usual modes of forming alliances have also become obsolete. Given our interconnected world, the idea of collective security is now defunct, especially in the Persian Gulf, for one basic reason: it assumes commonality of interests. Security networking is Iran’s innovation to address issues that range from divergence of interests to power and size disparities. Its parameters are simple but effective: rather than trying to ignore conflicts of interests, it accepts differences. Equally, being premised on inclusivity, it acts as a firewall against the emergence of an oligarchy among big states and allows smaller states to participate. The rules of this new order are straightforward: common standards, most significantly the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, such as sovereign equality of states; refraining from the threat or use of force; peaceful resolution of conflicts; respect for the territorial integrity of states; non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states; and respect for self-determination within states.” [emphasis added]
The problem with this proposal, however, is that Saudi Arabia and its Western allies routinely accuse Iran of interfering in and destabilizing the region. In reality, these countries ignore their own destructive behavior while they point fingers at Iran as a scapegoat for their own failures.
That being said, Zarif suggests that the reason for this instability is rooted in a “dialogue deficit.” Opening up such a dialogue could help countries understand that all nations have “similar concerns, fears, aspirations and hopes” and that this dialogue should replace the rampant propaganda that has plagued the region.
This proposed dialogue would be accompanied by “confidence-building measures: promoting tourism; joint task forces on issues ranging from nuclear safety to pollution to disaster management; joint military visits; pre-notification of military exercises; transparency measures in armament; reducing military expenditures; and all leading eventually to a non-aggression pact,” according to Zarif.
In proposing this newfound vision for the Middle East, Zarif is extending an olive branch to the rest of the region, stating that as a first step, “the Islamic Republic proposes establishing a Regional Dialogue Forum in the Persian Gulf. Our longstanding invitation to dialogue remains open, and we look forward to the day our neighbours will accept it, and their allies — in Europe and elsewhere in the west — will encourage it.”
Let’s hope first that Iran’s proposal is genuine, and second, that the rest of the world can manage to put their differences aside in order to coexist as peacefully as possible.