Iran as a Rule Shaper not a Rule Taker

Iran is mostly perceived as a revisionist country not supporting rules-based international and regional orders. Based on my understanding we do not have any problem with a rules-based international order. The Question is: whose rules?
21 January 2024
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Nabi Sonboli

Iran is mostly perceived as a revisionist country not supporting rules-based international and regional orders. Based on my understanding, we do not have any problem with a rules-based international order. The Question is: whose rules?

Iran FP is based on the following rules and principles:

  • Peace and Order: From an Iranian point of view peace and stability are very important. In Shia teachings Justice is regarded as very important, however even Islamic scholars also prioritized order to justice and has supported political systems during the history, even when their justice has been under question.
  • Dialogue: Within a peaceful situation, dialogue is possible. Without dialogue we do not understand others and we are not able to help others understand our positions. However, Iran dose not enter into negotiation under pressure and regard it as a kind of submission to power that is in contradiction with other political values.
  • Inclusive Rules: By inclusive, I mean mutually and multilaterally agreed rules, not hegemonic rules. Iranian culture has been highly sensitive to hegemonic rules and that’s the main reason that this country exists. If Iranians had accepted hegemonic rules, this country had seized to exist many centuries back. Resistance against hegemony is part of the culture in an old civilization. Islamic teachings and Iranian wisdom do not permit accepting hegemonic rules and it make no difference to be the US, UK, Russia, China or any other hegemon.
  • Just rule; Justice is one of the five principles of Shia Islam belief system. However, the importance of justice in Iranian political culture goes back to Iranian history before Islam. Based on historical texts, three leaders and kings are very famous in Iranian history for their justice and drafting and respecting rules. Syros the Great with Syros Cylinder on human rights (539 BC), Anoushirvan Adel (Adel means just, 550-570 Ad) and Imam Ali, the first Imam in Shia 650s AD. These historical examples and accompanied social and political values have created a cultural and political criterion to evaluate policies and decisions that persist today. Iran emphasized just peace during Iraqi war in 1980s and still emphasize on just peace in Palestine and freeing Palestinians from the Israeli Apartheid regime like 2500 years back that Iran freed the Jews from captivity in Babel.
  • Inviolability of agreements; Inviolability of agreements and rules are part of Iranian belief system; In Iranian culture, both before and after Islam, we find too much emphasis on respecting agreements and keeping promises. Violation of agreements also leads to instability and disorder at both national and international level. That’s another reason why Iran supports rules-based order.

In my opinion, Iran approach toward international order is reformist not revisionist. Iran have opposed the US led international order because of the US exclusive approach toward Iran. Whenever and wherever the US engaged Tehran, Iran also supported the orders that was engaged in creation. We saw this situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and JCPOA. When they ignored and excluded Iran, Tehran also opposed the US plans and hegemonic order. Even in the case of Gaza conflict, both sides tried to prevent expansion of the war. It is Israel that has tried to expand the conflict to regional level.

Iran problem with the international order stems from the US exclusive and discriminatory approaches toward Iran and other forces in the region. Tehran supports a reformist and inclusive approach at national, regional and international level. Iran is and wants to be among the rule shapers not rule takers, especially at regional level.

What the US says is “Rule for Thee but not for Me”. During the past two decades UN rules-based order has been struggling with challenges and it may collapse. Since 2003 we have witnessed the US invasion of Iraq,  the US/EU military attacks against Libya, annexation of Crimea by Russia, the US withdrawal from JCPOA, the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran, termination of the Treaty of Amity by the US (October 2018), the US withdrawal from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty (August 2019), the US withdrawal from Open Sky treaty (May 2020), recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights by the US….. As we see, when the US talks about international rules-based order, they mean the US Rules not the UN rules; UN rules are for others.  

Current trend is damaging the UN system and the US also no longer is able to impose a unilateral order on Europe, West Asia or East Asia. The US failure in Iraq and Afghanistan proved that. Collapse of the order based on the UN rules means more regional and global wars with no winner and many losers. GAZA war is a symptom of the collapse of both the UN and US rules-based orders. Israel has not respected any rules and regulations and still is supported by both the US and EU.

Iran believes and supports the principles of a viable international and regional order like: respectful dialogue and negotiations, respecting the UN Charter by all, a multipolar world, international law and regulations, inclusive systems (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine), regional stability and inclusive regional security system in the Persian Gulf, respecting territorial integrity of other countries…. Rapprochement with Saudi Arabia was a step in that direction.

In sum, the question is not the rules but whose rules? The US hegemonic rules? or the UN Rules? Iran, supports UN rules-based regional and international order not a hegemonic and exclusive order; and it makes no difference who is the hegemon.

Nabi Sonboli, Senior expert in IPIS

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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