Islam in Iran's Foreign Policy

Islam in Iran's Foreign Policy: Central Asia and Afghanistan

The Iranian revolution of 1979 brought to power an assertive Islamic regime, feared by its neighbours as a source of instability. The revolutionary rhetoric emanating from Tehran has been unnerving for incumbent regimes in the Middle East and Central Asia, and viewed with extreme concern in Washington. The intensity of the rhetoric has ebbed and flowed. But the anxiety regarding Iran's alleged agenda to export its model of government to the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia has continued to plague Iran's relations with its neighbours. Iran's refusal to comply with UN oversight and the inspections regime on its nuclear program has reinforced international concerns about its hidden agenda. At the core of the criticism about the behaviour of the Iranian regime is the charge that Iran's foreign policy is based on a set of ideological positions which are by definition fixed and uncompromising. The language used by the Iranian authorities tends to support the assumption that its foreign policy is grounded in an Islamic ideological framework. But this assumption remains untested. In fact, this assumption does not explain substantial shifts in Iran's foreign policy orientations towards its neighbours and the United States. It is important to examine the above question and analyse its utility and limits in explaining foreign policy making. The key question is: What is the role of Islamic ideology in shaping foreign policy in Iran?

Researching the above question is supported by three supplementary and related questions to contextualise the project:

  • How does Iran formulate its national interests?
  • How are religious ideological imperatives reconciled with pragmatism to promote state interest?
  • To what extent are Iranian state (national) interests in Central Asia and Afghanistan served by Islam?

By exploring these questions, this project will document the extent to which ideological objectives may be curtailed by value-free pragmatism. This is an exciting and fresh area of study that makes a direct contribution to conceptualisations of international relations. Furthermore, this will assist the Australian government to make informed policy based on a nuanced assessment of the dynamics behind the scene in Iran, not ideological presumptions. Exploring the dynamics that drive Iranian policy towards its neighbours in Central Asia and Afghanistan is relevant to informed policy making. The present project will make a modest contribution in filling this gap in a difficult region, where Australia's national interests are being contested at the present time.


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