The Iranian government does not need to be a pariah
The path that the Tehran government has taken over the past four decades has caused Iran to be regarded as an unpopular and pariah state domestically, regionally and globally. But the Islamic Republic does have other options and routes to take if it wishes to change.
In fact, the Iranian government has the opportunity to become a respected power on the regional and global stage, have good relationships with Arab countries — particularly the Gulf states — become more prosperous economically and bring the majority of its population out of poverty.
Imagine how much more revenue the Iranian leaders could bring to the nation through trade and investments if they had friendly ties with their neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Kuwait. Imagine how much more secure and peaceful the region would be if Tehran were to cooperate with the Arab states.
But this requires a strong political will, with the Iranian government having to take several steps. First and foremost, the Iranian leaders do not need nuclear weapons to be a powerful and respected state. There are many governments around the world that do not possess nuclear weapons but maintain an aura of power, economic strength and respect. These include Japan, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE.
Iran’s nuclear program has been one of the major sources of tensions in the region. This is due to the fact that the Islamic Republic has not been honest and forthright about its nuclear activities, despite being a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This treaty stipulates that each non-nuclear weapon state that is a party to the agreement “undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”
Unfortunately, the Iranian government’s nuclear program is filled with deception and secret activities, including revelations of its Natanz and Arak nuclear reactors by the oppositional group the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the detection of traces of radioactive uranium at an undeclared nuclear site, and attempts to secretly advance its nuclear program. According to a June report, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency was “able to identify a significant increase in the indications of proliferation-related procurement attempts by Iran for its nuclear program.”
Imagine how much more secure and peaceful the region would be if Tehran were to cooperate with the Arab states.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Secondly, the Iranian government can become a respected state actor on the regional and global stage — as well as most likely save billions of dollars every year — by ending its financial and weapons support for terror and militia groups. In the modern era, there is a much more efficient and cost-effective way for states to exert power and influence, which is through soft power and their economy, not via arming and funding extremist groups and creating hatred, animosity, wars and humanitarian tragedies.
The money that the regime hemorrhages on its proxies, such as the Houthis, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militia groups, can instead be spent on improving the country’s infrastructure, creating jobs for the youth, reducing inflation, increasing the value of the country’s currency and raising the nation’s living standards and purchasing power. It is worth noting that the Iranian regime spent more than $100 billion, between $15 billion and $20 billion a year, just on the Syrian conflict. This amount of money could have made a significant difference if it was spent inside the country, where half of the population lives below the poverty line.
If the Iranian leaders take this path and eliminate financial and political corruption, people’s anger and frustration with the establishment will be alleviated. This will also address the authorities’ fear of possible revolution. Many people in Iran are enraged that the nation’s wealth is being spent on terror and militia groups. This is why chants such as “Leave Syria alone, think about us instead,” “Death to Hezbollah,” “Forget Gaza, forget Lebanon; I’d give my life for Iran,” “Forget about Palestine, forget about Gaza, think about us,” and “The people live like beggars, (Supreme Leader Ali) Khamenei lives like a God,” have become popular in the recurring protests across Iran.
All these steps require a political will in Iran’s leadership to alter the establishment’s core mission, which is “ensuring the continuation of the revolution at home and abroad.”
The Tehran government has the opportunity not to be a pariah state and instead make Iran an economically prosperous country that has good relationships with other nations in the region and is respected worldwide. To do this, the regime needs to prioritize its nation and economy, rather than its ideological and revolutionary principles.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh