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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaTowards a non-Western Model of Security Assistance: How Iran Assists Militaries

Towards a non-Western Model of Security Assistance: How Iran Assists Militaries

Authors: Abdolrasool Divsallar & Hamidreza Azizi

Affiliation: Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore; Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik

Organization/Publisher Mediterranean Politics

Date/place: February 26, 2023/UK

Type of Literature: Research Paper

Word Count: 9917

Link: https://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2023.2183661

Keywords: Iran’s Security Policy, Security Reform, Security Assistance, Strategic Thinking, Deterrence

 

Brief:

This paper discusses a different perspective of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s approach to its national security and its Security Assistance program. The authors propose an analysis of Iran’s Security Assistance (SA) program as a distinct and non-western approach to security policy. According to the article, Iran’s Security Assistance program illuminates its distinctive character and strategic divergence from mainstream international practices. Based on a conceptual understanding of SA practices, the paper constructs an analytical framework that distinguishes between two categories of practices within international SA programs: vertical and horizontal. Vertical practices encompass a range of activities, statements, negotiations, provision of materials and equipment, and disputes between SA providers and recipients. On the other hand, horizontal practices involve both competitive and cooperative interactions between SA providers and recipients. The article highlights how, unlike Western and international SA strategies, which predominantly emphasize stabilization, post-conflict reconstruction, or auxiliary tools within broader foreign policy frameworks, Iran’s SA has evolved over four decades to constitute the linchpin of its military and regional policy. This profound difference in strategic objectives establishes a fundamental contradiction between Iran’s SA methodology and the prevailing Western paradigms.

At the heart of Iran’s SA strategy is a multi-dimensional construct that amalgamates narratives, networks, materiality, and institutional structures into a cohesive framework. While conventional international SA practices are often confined to technical considerations, procedural formalities, and institutional hierarchies, a paradigm encapsulated as ‘technicism’ by Young (2020), Iran’s approach transcends these boundaries. It interweaves religious narratives, personal loyalties, informal horizontal institutions, politico-economic interests, and a centralized policy-making apparatus with military-technical assistance. This holistic approach is deeply resonant with the intrinsic characteristics of Iran’s political system, notably the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reflecting the strategic culture and operational dynamics of its core institutions.

 

Central to Iran’s Security Assistance architecture is its Islamic revolutionary narrative, a departure from Western approaches that prioritize the dissemination of liberal democracy. Iran leverages revolutionary Islam as an ideological cornerstone to cultivate connections with global Muslim communities, positioning the global Islamic community or ‘Ummah’ at its ideological core. This distinct ideological orientation imbues Iran’s SA with an existential function under the purview of the Islamic Republic’s duties, shaping its involvements abroad and potentially fortifying its resilience against external pressures.

 

A salient feature of Iran’s SA calculus is its cost-effectiveness, approached with a unique logic compared to Western paradigms. While Western practices often aim to optimize outcomes with minimal resource expenditure, Iran’s cost-effectiveness metric is anchored in mitigating existential threats to national security and preserving the ideological integrity of the Islamic Republic. Despite economic constraints relative to its Persian Gulf counterparts, Iran demonstrates strategic selectivity in its expenditure, prioritizing areas of heightened strategic significance. The authors maintain that Iran’s substantial financial and political investments in Syria to support the Assad regime exemplify its willingness to bear the costs and endure resulting isolation to safeguard its regional interests.

 

The analysis also suggests that there exists a continuous learning trajectory within Iran’s SA program which is characterized by adaptive strategies informed by past failures and insights gleaned from the experiences of other SA providers. Iran’s strategic recalibration, exemplified by its focus on better-understood geographies like Yemen while refraining from interventions in less familiar terrains like Libya, illustrates its capacity to adapt based on operational knowledge and shifting geopolitical dynamics. Furthermore, the article contends that the parallels between Iran’s hybrid war strategy and Russian approaches in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya suggest a symbiotic learning relationship between Iran and other SA providers.

In other words, the authors believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s strategic recalibration is evident in its selective focus on better-understood geographies, such as Yemen, while exercising caution and restraint in involvements in less familiar terrains like Libya. This selective engagement strategy underscores Iran’s recognition of the importance of operational knowledge, contextual understanding, and informed decision-making in the success or failure of SA initiatives. By prioritizing engagements in regions where it possesses operational familiarity and strategic depth, Iran aims to mitigate risks, optimize resource allocation, and enhance the efficacy of its SA interventions.

Horizontal interactions with other SA constellations further enrich Iran’s SA landscape. In Syria, Iran’s multifaceted relationship with Russia extends beyond mutual learning, manifesting as a close security convergence. Despite occasional geopolitical tensions, the cooperative synergy between Tehran and Moscow, alongside their respective armed forces, remains instrumental in sustaining their shared ally, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This cooperative dynamic, characterized by a division of labor where Iran provides ground forces and Russia offers air support, underscores the pragmatic tenor inherent in Iran’s SA approach.

Similarly, the authors argue that Iran’s informal coordination with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria against ISIS serves as another testament to the pragmatic dimension of Iran’s SA. This pragmatic streak allows for cooperation with adversaries to counter shared threats, transcending traditional geopolitical animosities to focus on common strategic objectives.

However, Iran’s SA program is not devoid of challenges and constraints. The sustainability of Iran’s SA model remains precarious, given the mounting external pressures from global and regional powers that perceive Iranian activities as destabilizing regional security architectures. The paper claims that autonomy emerges as another pivotal challenge, with ambiguities surrounding Tehran’s actual control over its SA recipients. The divergent interests and activities among Iraqi popular resistance factions and Yemen’s resistance groups, which the authors describe as seemingly contrary to Iran’s strategic objectives, illustrate the inherent complexities and potential pitfalls associated with Iran’s Security Assistance approach.

 

In conclusion, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Security Assistance program epitomizes an idiosyncratic model that diverges significantly from Western practices, which the article describes as rooted deeply in its ideological imperatives and strategic necessities. While Iran’s SA endeavors have undeniably bolstered its regional influence and deterrence capabilities, their long-term sustainability remains a subject of conjecture. External pressures, inherent uncertainties regarding recipient control, and challenges in forging horizontal coordination with other SA providers collectively pose a formidable obstacle to Iran’s SA aspirations. The Iranian Security Assistance model, distinguished by its unique objectives and tools, presents a non-Western paradigm replete with complexities, uncertainties, and potentialities. As Iran continues to navigate this intricate SA landscape, developing efficacious methods to translate the outcomes of its practices into tangible political gains is poised to remain a critical and ongoing challenge in the geopolitical theater of the West Asian region and beyond.

 

By: Setareh Sadeqi, CIGA Non-resident Researcher

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