Iran and the new East-West strategic polarization

By: Dr Assad Homayoun

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The following is the text of the author's address to the Strategy2005 conference in Washington DC., May 25-27.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as saying in 1951 that there is no region in the world which was geopolitically more important than the Middle East. It was true in 1951 and is even more truly profound today. The outcome of the War on terrorism and the efforts at preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction particularly nuclear weapons are key elements which will determine the success or failure of the US policy in the Middle East. The future security of the region is dependent on its successful outcome, and the stability of the region and international order is crucial to the flow of energy which is vital not only for the US but for Europe and Japan as well.

The region was dominated by Great Britain for nearly three centuries. The core of British policy was to keep other foreign powers as well as local forces from changing the balance of power or sharing in the domination. This lasted until World War II when the US gradually and steadily replaced Great Britain as the dominant force in the Middle East, and continued essentially the same policy, with Great Britain as complementary player. The geopolitical importance of the Middle East emanates from the fact that:

It is the heartland of Eurasia and the repository of most of the world's energy resources.

The region is the cross-roads of the international lines of communications and controls four of the seven choke points of the world's most important sea lanes: the Straits of Hormuz, Bab Al-Mandeb, The Suez Canal and the Turkish Straits. (To highlight the importance of this factor. It should be noted that about 17-million barrels of oil or 40 percent of the world's oil exports pass through the Straits of Hormuz every day.)

The area has been and is the center of rivalry of various ethnic groups and religions.

It has become fountainhead of international terrorism and the center of the advancement and proliferation of fundamentalist Islam, the center of an accelerating conventional and WMD arms race and the hotbed of terrorism.

Over the past 26 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been one of the foremost promoters of international terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. From the beginning of the Islamic revolution, the ruling clerics appointed themselves as the leaders of revolutionary Islam and made its export a central factor in their foreign policy and undermining US interest in the region. At the time, Ayatollah Khomeini the leader of revolution, directly threatened Arab Leaders such as President Anwar as-Sadat of Egypt, King Hussein of Jordan and the Saudi Arabian King as lackeys of US and infidels. Iran vigorously advande its Shi'ite brand of fundamentalism. It was indeed against the Saudi leadership and Saudi Arabia's Wahabbi Sunni brand of fundamentalism. And Saudi Arabia, to compete with revolutionary Iran, advanced its own version of Wahabbi foundamentalism. This started an unending cycle of unholy competition in the international arena, one result of which was attack on the two symbols of military and economic power in Washington, DC, and New York on September 11, 2001.

Increasingly isolated from its neighbors and the Free World, Iran sought technical assistance from the East. Pakistan helped it with nuclear technology, the People's Republic of China and North Korea with long-range ballistic missile technology. Today it has reached a stage in the domestic development of both technologies that it is a de facto nuclear power and has in its arsenal, long-range missiles capable of delivering warheads, nuclear or conventional, at targets more than 1,500 miles away.

Iran's role, with its history and strong cultural identity, has always been decisive in the region and beyond. It is one of the most if not the most important player, and could just as easily be a dominant force for good as it is for evil today.

It borders 15 countries, and has historically influenced the entire region including Central Asia culturally and economically.

Geographically it dominates the northern shores of the Persian Gulf, with command of the Strait of Hormuz, the most important chokepoint in the globe.

It is within easy striking distance of about 50 percent of the world's oilfields: those in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Iran itself has enormous proven energy reserves: 12 percent of the world's oil and 20 percent of the world's natural gas reserves. Today we know that oil revenue and its supply are important political and economic weapons.

It also is a bridge between two very important energy zones of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

Iran not only actively engaged in terrorism and fundamentalism as fundamental weapons of state, but in all aspects of nuclear research and weapons development. With these tools of irregular and strategic warfare, coupled with its substantial and educated population, its pivotal geographic location, and its energy resources, Iran is the leading country in the Middle East. According to Oil and Gas Journal Iran holds the second-largest reserves of petroleum in the world, so at the very least, any assessment of Iran's geopolitical importance must take into account its role in global energy.

More than this, Iran is a nation-state and civilization of ancient identity and cohesiveness, the fundamental tenets of which found their way into the core of Western civilization over the past three millennia.

It is critical, then, to realize that Iran is a power which ? although it has been isolated somewhat, and rendered less capable than its resources, history and people could make it ? is in every respect a major factor in global politics. The fact that a great and geostrategically pivotal state has been hijacked by fanatical pseudo-ideologues does not mean that it should be disregarded or under-estimated.


The United States has vital interests in the Middle East. The Middle East is the center of gravity of international politics. Iran is the center of gravity of the Middle East. None of the current problems in the Middle East and the Islamic World can be resolved unless there is change in Iran.


Iran, with its economic and geo-strategic wealth in the hands of an undemocratic, irresponsible theocracy, represents a formidable problem for global stability and a serious threat to world order. That is why Iran must change from theocracy to secular Democracy to contribute to peace and stability of the region and the world's equilibrium.
I strongly believe that it is imperative for Iranians and the international community to help them to get rid of this limited number of rabid ruling clerics before creating a catastrophe which would be detrimental to world peace as well as unity and integrity of Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran almost brought over three centuries of Western domination of the Persian Gulf to an end by opening its doors to the People's Republic of China. It has signed extensive commercial, military and strategic agreements with the PRC. After the second inauguration of US President George W. Bush, Chinese Prime Minister Li Zhaoxing flew to Tehran to sign a $100-billion oil and gas deal between China' state owned oil company, Sinopec, and the Iranian Oil Ministry. The Chinese need for oil is increasing every year. Presently China imports two-million barrels of oil every day. In less than two decades China must import more than 10-million barrels daily. That is why China is paying unprecedented attention to the Persian Gulf and cultivating its ties more aggressively with the Persian Gulf states. Despite US sanctions, Chinese companies continue to export military technology for Iran's development of an intermediate-range ballistic missile program.

China is also has completed its new naval port in Gwadar [see, May 3 edition: Pakistan admits defense role of China-built Gwadar port, on the Pakistan-Iran border in the Pakistani area of Baluchistan, adjacent to the Strait of Hormuz. This is at the mouth of the Gulf of Oman and creates the opportunity for a Chinese-Iranian stranglehold for the sea lanes of the area. The alliance between Iran and China could have a decisive impact on the balance of power, particularly in the future rivalry between China and the US. It can be said that second cold war has already started between China and US in this region.

Whether for expediency or rivalry, Saudi Arabia is also cultivating closer relations with the PRC. China has sold the CSS-2S intermediate range ballistic missiles to the Saudis. Recently the Saudis have been negotiating the purchased of the CSS-6S, a more advanced ballistic missile system with longer range. This is happening because of the US' involvement and engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11.

The international community and most of the Iranian people had hoped that the politics and the policies of Islamic Republic would mature and moderate with time. But the direction the clerics have taken 26 years after the revolution is to the contrary. Their policies and actions have made them a major threat to the future stability and security of the Middle East.

It seems inevitable that Iran will become a fully-fledged and comprehensive military nuclear power. According to many accounts, it has reached the point-of-no-return, even though it might not test a nuclear weapon in the near future. The international community can do little except to try to keep the lines of communications open. There are neither the means nor the will to tackle this question head on.

It is important to note that Iran now has a sophisticated National Command Authority for the conduct of strategic warfare. Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily reported on September 27, 2004: "Iran has demonstrated a substantial upgrading of its strategic weapons, doctrine and national command authority capabilities, which have profound implications for the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. While reports in the open media about new Iranian missiles systems having the range to reach London were both incorrect and missed the point, it was clear that the live-fire test of a Shahab-3D intermediate-range ballistic missile on September 18, 2004, during Exercise Ashura-5 reflected a totally new Iranian capability and intent.

"Ashura-5, the 12th major military exercise by Iran in 18 months, began on September 12, 2004, in the western provinces of Hamedan, Kurdistan and Zanjan, and involved some 12 infantry and mechanized divisions, and included the first operational test of Iran's T-72 tanks. The exercise was commanded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, responsible for Iran's missile and nuclear weapons programs, and also included the Basij Islamist paramilitary force. IRGC commander Gen. Yahya Rahim-Safavi said Ashura-5 would include the firing of surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft batteries. The commander did not identify the missiles but said they would be used for what he termed deep-strike warfare."

Other reports have indicated the strength of the nuclear, missile, and strategic policy coordination between Iran and North Korea, a coordination which, because of the interrelationships, must also include China.

What must be done is to push for a political change in Iran by promoting democracy and democratic institutions. Today, the Islamic Republic is a major supporter of terrorism, is the main enemy of the US and Israel, and is emerging as a major ally perhaps the pivotal ally of the PRC. A democratic Iran will definitely have the tendency to be pro-Western, progressive, and a stabilizing factor for the entire region.

Azadegan Organization was founded about 25 years ago by a group of Iranian ex-patriots in the US and Western Europe. It is well known in Iran among the intellectuals and the politically active, young and old. From the beginning we have had a very clear view of Iranian politics. We have always maintained that the ruling clerics seem to be inherently evil and are the enemies of the Iranian people. Domestically, they have managed to ruin the economy, lower the standard of living, increase poverty and unemployment to astronomical levels. Torture and corruption are the hallmarks of the regime. Internationally, they have marginalized Iran and isolated it from the world. They have been and are a major destabilizing factor in the region.

Without seriously addressing the issue of the Islamic Administration ruling Iran, it would be very difficult I dare say almost impossible to find a sustainable long-term resolution for many of the problems and situations in the Middle East today. Iran plays a direct or indirect role in the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arab-Israeli conflict, in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in the export of fundamentalist and radical Islam, and in the financial, logistical, training, planning, and moral support for international terrorism.

The solution in our view is neither diplomacy, as being tried by the EU, nor armed attack, which was reported as one of the options being contemplated by the US and Israel. The only solution in our view is to rely on the people of Iran themselves. The population of Iran is more than 70-million, 52-million of whom is under the age of 25 years. Dire economic conditions have made the youth increasingly restless, insecure and unhappy. Jobless rates are estimated to be upwards of 30 percent and there are no plans in the works to stabilize the conditions. I believe that given leadership, the youth will rise and create a human tsunami which will sweep the corrupt clerical establishment from power and return them to their mosques once and for all.

The President of the United States has repeatedly confirmed his commitment to the freedom of the Iranian people. World public opinion is also against the Islamists now in power, and in favor of the Iranian people. At this time it is vitally important for an Iranian leadership to emerge so that the Iranian people can rise to regain their inherent rights.

As Sun-tzu noted, the acme of skill is to achieve victory without conflict. And the transformation of Iran from being a disruptive factor on the world stage, to being a positive, moderate, and economically powerful player will require the acme of skill.

The Azadegan Foundation is in a unique position to provide a sound ground for the concerted and unified effort which is necessary for emergence of the leadership needed to help bring about the transformation of Iran. It is respected and accepted by many. It has the vision, background, experience, knowledge, with untainted record and also contacts both inside and outside Iran ? which will enable it to play a decisive role.