Issues Navigator

Global Challenges

Strategic Regions

Domestic Debates

Tag cloud

See All Tags

November 8, 2010 |  14 comments |  Print  Atlantic Memos  

Memo 26

Consistent Regime-Change Policy in Iran

Memo 26: The character of the Iranian State is such that rapprochement with the West is impossible. Therefore, a systematic policy of undermining the regime is the only way to stop the nuclear program and prevent a military confrontation.

Atlantic-community.org's Policy Workshop Competition 2010, sponsored by the U.S. Mission to Germany, challenged students with one of the toughest questions in international relations: "What could a successful strategy for the transatlantic partners to overcome the deadlock on Iran's nuclear program look like?"

The six best submissions were published and intensely debated with more than 130 comments. The incisive, yet constructive debate led to the emergence of two very different strategies.

This is the Memo from the 'Hawks', Niklas Anzinger and Felix Seidler, who advocate isolation of the regime and support for opposition groups. Concurrently, we have also published the Memo written by the 'Negotiators', Felix Haass, Sascha Lohmann, Alexander Pyka and Tobias Sauer, all of whom argue for greater engagement with the Iranian government.

 

Consistent Regime-Change Policy in Iran

1. The Nature of the Regime

The following suggestions are necessarily inconsistent with the majority approach, as we have a different assessment of the Iranian regime's character.

Iran is a vital supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah and seeking to destabilize its surrounding neighborhood. Furthermore, Iran's allies are a coalition of anti-Western and anti-Israeli powers. Conclusively, the regime's ultimate goals are the consolidation of an Islamic state, expansion of the Islamic Revolution and the destruction of Israel. Measures targeting the nuclear issue and the situation of human rights need to take this character into account, as it fundamentally differs from the primary interests of other states such as economic development, prestige, and security interests.

A nuclear-armed Iran would be the worst-case scenario in any strategy, as Israel's security interests would be undermined, which could lead to an intense arms-race as well as the likelihood of a military confrontation.

A consistent policy of regime change is necessary, as Western goals regarding Iran will not be achieved by complying with Tehran. Ultimately, the opposition movement has shown that they reject the rigid moral code and constant brutal harassment imposed by the regime. Most of Iranian society's most prominent figures are integrated within the opposition movement. Thus, the regime's clergy and militant-wing stand alone, as they are the state's sole executors. Hence, measures to strengthen the opposition movement could threaten the theocratic system.

Thus, all measures such as rapprochement with the existing regime (negotiations, trust-building etc.) should be downsized. Instead, efforts which strengthen dissent within the system and promote the opposition movement's goals should be enforced.

2. Policy Recommendations

2.1 Sanctions in Focus

Economic sanctions are necessary to end Western technology transfers, which Iran relies on. However, the regime has shown an ability to substitute existing sanctions through Russian and Chinese sources. Additionally, EU sanctions came with loopholes which were bypassed. Thus, Iran's trade channels through Oman, the Emirates and Saudi-Arabia need to be identified and cut off.

The key player is Germany, whose high technology imports could not be replaced in the short term. Strategic and faster acting sanctions would weaken Iran's military infrastructure. Hence, Germany as a transatlantic power is responsible for taking the lead, with support from the other transatlantic partners. They will have to insist on Germany's head role. Loopholes to be dealt with from within Germany are the European-Iranian Trade Bank (EIH) and medium sized engineering enterprises.

Another critical loophole is EGL, a subsidiary of the Swiss-owned Axpo Group, which has completed a billion Euro mega-deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company in 2008. Swiss ambitions also include assisting Iran's application for membership of the WTO. The Swiss government has to be pushed to abandon the EGL deal and official commitments with the Iranian regime.

2.2 Strengthen the Opposition Movement

Most people are not likely to engage in politics when they feel alone. The protesters in Iran have repeatedly called for international solidarity with their struggle. Therefore, transatlantic civil societies must raise their voices to clarify that the Iranian opposition is broadly recognized. NGOs, journalists, scholars and human rights groups particularly have to espouse Iran's opposition.

Furthermore, women's rights groups should strengthen their engagement with Iranian women. These groups have been a major driving force in the protest against the regime since the requirement for women to wear the veil. Women are explicitly more suppressed than men in Iran, which means that they receive vigorous attention from transatlantic civil society. This underlines the necessity for NGOs of transatlantic partner countries, to engage with their Iranian counterparts. In the same manner, transatlantic media should offer assistance wherever possible, to Iranian TV, radio, and print media. Assistance could include technical equipment or campaigning know-how. It is up to the opposition whether to accept or reject such offers.

Moreover, Iranian bloggers, which need to be promoted, could be protected by their own fame. Iran's government will hardly be able to stash away people known worldwide. Engaging online with Iran's opposition needs to include all kinds of new social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Not less important is fostering academic exchange. Scholarships and conferences for Iranian students and scholars are an essential means of doing so. Requirements for travel visas for Iranians should be waived. Assuming there is Iranian interest, religious dialogue should be intensified. Depending on the situation, the transatlantic partners have either to ignore or to confront Tehran's efforts to use these programs for its own propaganda. Thus, these initiatives should be considered as a confrontational strategy against the Iranian regime in order to delegitimize their hold on the Iranian people.

Last but not least, transatlantic governments must encourage Iranian civil society in its engagements as well as provide political support. Hence, transatlantic politicians have to back up the Iranian opposition in speeches and constantly name political detainees. Talks should be arranged and international campaigns initiated to free these people.

Any moves by the regime to boycott these efforts need to be countered by strong diplomatic initiatives which discredit Tehran's actions in front of the entire international community. Western countries should withdraw their ambassadors from Tehran, because Iran constantly violates human rights in an extraordinary manner.

2.3 Deterrence by Denial

From the perspective of political tactics, the military option can hardly be taken off the table.  Israeli security concerns have to be considered. Additionally, the Iranian regime may interpret a move away from the military option as a ticket for a 'free ride'.

However, the military option offers not a sustainable solution; rather only a means in which to buy time. As Iran is developing medium range missiles as warhead carriers, missile defense as 'deterrence by denial' capability is the wisest way to go. Iran can be deterred from showing any kind of aggressive behavior when Tehran is forced to accept that its missiles are useless. Aside from the transatlantic partner countries, every missile defense system should take Israel and the Gulf states into account. Otherwise, further growth of current arms races or military confrontations may not be avoidable.

CONCLUSION

A consistent regime-change strategy of political and economic containment of the Iranian regime and strengthening of the opposition movement is the only workable way to prevent a military confrontation. A new government in Tehran would most likely have other priorities apart from going nuclear, rather aiming for co-operation with the international community.

 

Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth. His op-ed article entitled, 'Isolate the Regime in Tehran' can be viewed here.

Felix Seidler is a student of Political Science, Law and History at Würzburg University.His op-ed article entitled, 'Iran's Internet Generation Hold the Key' can be viewed here.

 

For more information about the competition, please see here.

 
  • 10
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this Article! What's this?

 
 
Comments
Basia A Bubel

November 29, 2010

  • 6
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
I am not sure where to start as I have many concerns and issues with the things proposed in this article. First, when have sanctions actually worked? How can you just target the regime with sanctions and not hurt millions of people? These suggestions in my opinion seem like an approach an adult would have with a "naughty" child- almost like we are putting the child in time out in order to get the child to comply with what the parent wants. I do not see how these suggestions would ever prevent a military confrontation. These suggestions reminds me of Cold War politics. Providing support for opposition to the current regime of Iran would make any effort for a new Iran another example of a nation building strategy. Change within Iran must come from its own people not from our imposed ideas. I think we saw enough of that during the Cold War and the results were never positive.
"Economic sanctions are necessary to end Western technology transfers, which Iran relies on."--- I don't believe this argument to be true. If the West cuts Iran off through economic sanctions- they still have China, Sudan, Russia, N. Korea to do business with. In fact, as published in the New York Times recently, Iran has purchases 19 advanced missiles from N. Korea.
Overall, I do not believe these suggestions will achieve anything positive. If Iran were to attack any Western nation or its allies, this would be suicide for Iran. There are no benefits for Iran to use military power against another nation. What I suggest is that we stop having a police and parent like approach toward Iran and any other nations that we termed the "axis of evil".
 
Niklas  Anzinger

November 30, 2010

  • 6
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Mrs. Bubel,

sanctions have actually worked in the cases of Libya, South Africa and I think they undermined Syrian expansionist ambitions towards Lebanon. I would also claim a theory approach that states economic relationship as a relevant political instrument in either way - strong commitment or sanction policy. In the case of Iraq they may have caused pain for the people (Ba´athian dictatorship implemendeted bringing the people in Iraq into this situation), but nevertheless I argue that the Iranian dossier is different. I stated this opion in my posts, so please read it (or contact me if you want me to give you these passages).

My reasearch specifically dealt with German trade with the Iranian regime and I claim that Germany delivers technology, which can not be substituted in the short term.

In fact, the Iranian regime can not be assessed by a Cold War calculus because it fundamentally differs from materialist power calculating regimes. The Iranian regime is unpredictable out of its severe religious commitment to the goals of the Islamic Revolution. You have to take this character into account.
 
Basia A Bubel

November 30, 2010

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Mr. Anzinger,
Thank you for your response. As to your last point, I do not agree with the statement that the religious commitment makes Iran unpredictable. Sure, Iran has made crazy statements in the past and has ideas that tend to be extreme but I think they are also aware that using any military force or weapons against any state (well maybe not with Iraq) will be suicide for them. Iran wants to assert its independence and power in the region but I think it is aware that this is not going to happen through military means- instead they want to create relationships and economic trade relations with other nations that are not friendly with the USA.
 
Felix F. Seidler

November 30, 2010

  • 7
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Dear Basia,

Thank you for your comments.

How did the Cold War end? With regime change. East Germans, the Polish and others overthrow their governments and established democracies. As we pointed out, our proposals are not about imposing anything, rather supporting the Iranians becoming able to act like East Germans. Please read our memo carefully, because we did not argue for imposed regime change by covered action. However, we three share the approach that "change within Iran must come from its own people." Furthermore, you may read my article, if you are looking for some deeper insights.

According to your comment that Iran ist not "using any military force or weapons against any state" I have to mention Iran´s revolutionary guards. Those have engaged/ are engaging in violence, as you mentioned, in Iraq and, furhermore, in Lebanon and maybe Afghanistan. Iran is not using its conventional forces, rather its paramilitary forces and covered action. Thus, the best example is Lebnon, where Iran trains and endows Hezbollah to threaten Israel. Additionally, please remember the revolutionary guard´s assault on Israel´s embassy in Argentina.
 
Erich Stefan Hines

November 30, 2010

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
I think an important issue here is whether the opposition in Iran would give up the nation's nuclear program. Mousavi for instance did not differ from the regime on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. If Democratic change did come about in Iran, why should we then expect the new government to do what the West wants? By standing up to the West on this issue it might be a good way for them to alleviate internal fears of the new regime becoming a puppet state.

Regarding the Cold War analogy, I think the history of the Shah and the revolution would make an emerging democratic Iran's approach to the West very different from those democracies that emerged in Eastern Europe after years of Soviet/Russian domination.
 
Felix F. Seidler

November 30, 2010

  • 4
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
The core issue is not the nuclear program itself, rather the intentions behind it. Nobody would complain about Iran´s nuclear program, if we had the Swedish government sitting in Tehran. Recently, Wikileaks reported that Iran bought medium range missiles from North Korea. Those missiles, however, are delivery means for warheads, otherwise they are useless. Hence, the nuclear program must have military aims.

Anyway, the problem will only be solved, when we have a government in Tehran with no military nuclear intentions. But the critical point is not how the Government of a democratizing Iran may approach the West in detail, rather about the particular change of intentions in Tehran.
 
E  Jervis

November 30, 2010

  • 6
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
What about support for oppressed ethnic minorities (Kurds, Balochs, Azeris)? Minorities make up almost half the Iranian population and there are several with organizations that oppose the clerics in Tehran. Should there be more support given to these groups that could lead to greater fractures in society and put more pressures on the regime? The U.S. supported the Balochis throughout the 80’s and 90’s and then stopped in 2001 when Iran agreed to help downed U.S. pilots operating in Afghanistan. I guess there may still be a lot of covert support.

 
Basia A Bubel

November 30, 2010

  • 4
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Dear Niklas and Felix,
It was a pleasure chatting with you via skype today during my class. I was the one who asked the question about whether it is really true that the Iranian people oppose the current regime. I feel that the views I share were very well represented today by my classmates and my professor. While, i do not share your exact views and approach suggestions I respect your view points and your commitments.
best wishes
 
Erica  Mukherjee

December 2, 2010

  • 4
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Working for human rights by encouraging dissent in Iran seems irresponsible at best. In the protests of the 2009-2010 approximately 150 were killed by government forces. An untold number were arrested and tortured in prison. By encouraging dissent, the West is essentially encouraging Iranian citizens to put themselves in harm's way, the antithesis of human rights. Dissent and civil disobedience worked in the US during the civil rights movement because the US was reluctant to use deadly force against its own citizens. Even so, events such as Kent State took place. Iran has no such internal or external checks against the use of violence.

You cite regime change as the cause of the end of the Cold War. That regime change was, by and large peaceful because the Soviet and Warsaw Pact governments were ready to allow a change to take place. Earlier attempts at regime change (Budapest 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968) were met with brutal military force. Therefore, it would seem that a consensus must be reached between both the people and the government for a peaceful regime change to take place.

Since we all know what happens when a foreign government tells the people of a sovereign nation that they want democracy above all else (e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan), isn't it better for the US government to continue to engage with the Iranian government on a state to state level? It is this way that the critical mass for peaceful regime change can be achieved.
 
Andrea  Aquino

December 2, 2010

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
I agree with Erica's comments. Change by an imposed force is never the correct approach and more importantly rarely leads to a sustainable solution. The western nations cannot make the assumption that "bullying" is an effective means to encourage compliance by Iran. Dialogue needs to occur, and change needs to come from within. Otherwise, there will never be a political cohesion from Iran if her people are told what is best for them without being able to determine this for themselves. Although sanctions can prove to be effective, it is my belief that sanctions that isolate a state is not the correct way to go. The United Nations proposed several sanctions to prevent Gulf War I, and then the United States forced change and its agenda through military force. In the end, this did not solve any of the problems, but instead exacerbated them.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

December 4, 2010

  • 5
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Our recommendments were essentially built on two premies:

1. A nuclear Iran is not an option for the West.

2. The nuclear option is a problem of the Iranian regime.

As the people have shown that they want to get rid of the regime, they are able to abandon the nuclear option.

Erica, we have in fact very different terms concerning "human rights" and "souvereign states". According to your logic, the Somali warlord who claims the rulership over the country because he is the most powerful man and uses massive violence to establish his rule is to be adressed as a representative of a "souvereign state". Human rights is what this warlord defines to not threaten his leadership. The situation in Iran is historically not that different.

Don´t you see even the possibility that there are governments who are illegitimate because they established their rulership with force and are not able to make concessions in human rights?

Andrea, in fact we argue for an inner change by any possible means. As a nuclear Iran is not an option and the time is running out, we should consider measures to prevent Iran from getting nuclear
 
Talia  Hagerty

December 8, 2010

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
I believe that there is a philosophical premise that is inspiring opposition to this policy by my NYU colleagues. I think that we all agree that change from within, so that it promotes freedom and human rights and rids a nation of an oppressive regime, is the ultimate goal. However, from the beginning of this policy I was set up to disagree with it.

I think that a certain amount of perspective taking is necessary here. We cannot move forward in a constructive way without understanding alternative points of view. Considering this statement: "Iran's allies are a coalition of anti-Western and anti-Israeli powers. Conclusively, the regime's ultimate goals are the consolidation of an Islamic state, expansion of the Islamic Revolution and the destruction of Israel."

An Iranian student could easily write the same thing about the US: "The US allies are a coalition of anti-Islamic and anti-Iranian powers. Conclusively, the regime's ultimate goals are the consolidation of Western power and global influence and the destruction of Iran." Both statements are true, and we will never move forward while we are talking of destruction. We need to abandon this negative language and talk of the construction of a cooperative relationship- with Iran and with the Iranian people and their neighbors.

Furthermore, this sounds very much like a statement about the US, as much as one about Iran: "Measures targeting the nuclear issue and the situation of human rights need to take this character into account, as it fundamentally differs from the primary interests of other states such as economic development, prestige, and security interests." The US has a significant history of undermining the development, prestige, and security of other states. That behavior gave us the Cold War, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and 9/11. Can we really argue for proceeding with the same philosophy? It is high time to reconsider this approach.

The actual policy prescription made here may be necessary and successful, but it won't engender agreement and cooperation with the given premise.
 
Niklas  Anzinger

December 11, 2010

  • 3
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Dear Talia, I think it is in no way a point to see relative. Our assessment of the Iranian regime offers a valid explanation of its policy in the last three decades. One can´t explaine assassination attempts, support for terrorist organisations, proliferation of arms in the region reaching North Africa with a different approach. Additionally, we think that Mr. Ahmadinejad´s anti-Israel rhetoric is to be taken seriously, as the last century´s lesson should be that anti-Semites make their annihilation dreams come true, if they have the equipment to do that. We conclude that the Iranian regime must be stopped from getting this equipment.

Well, I think this approach has been reconsidered in foreign relations. The US invasion in Iraq used essentially different premises than former US Realpolitik, everyone uses Iraq as a negative example, but I think the people in Iraq deserved a chance to organize democratically. Actually I think there are examples for the necessity and the success of a foreign invasion, namely Germany, Italy and Japan. Would you be waiting until the German people would falter the Nazi regime? If you would have decided that, we would all be speaking German know. Conclusively, there is a point where totalitarian dynamics are dangerous for a lot of people and a lot of harm could be prevented, if those forces are stopped in their murderous ambitions.

Nevertheless, as the Iranian people have brought the regime to a dead end, the revolution has already happened, I think they are ultimately able to bring the regime down. If I am right, then a lot of harm coming with an invasion could be prevented, if I am not, we have to consider a calculus with many, many death and suffer.
 
Basia A Bubel

December 17, 2010

  • 2
  •  
  •  
  • No rating possible
  • No rating possible
I like this comment! What's this?
Niklas,
I want to respond to your last comment. Germany under the Nazi regime I think is very different from Iran. If Iran was starting to invade countries and set up death camps like the Nazi's did then we would have a completely different issue at hand. There is no doubt that the Nazi's had to be stopped but I just don't see Iran as comparable. I can see how the invasion of Iraq can be romanticized into something positive but I just want to make clear: what was the exact reason for us going in there? It wasn't the weapons of mass destruction because there were none. That invasion was a HUGE mess and that mess is very well documented in many books, documentaries, journals and blogs. AND most Americans were supportive of the invasion because they thought it was retaliation for 911. If we want to justify that invasion in terms of humanitarian issues- I think there were other countries that really needed humanitarian assistance more than Iraq. I also want to make a very important point- why does Iran have such a regime right now? Could it be from all the foreign interference from before? Lets say like supporting the Shah? I'm a firm believer that Western interference in the past has created many problems and instabilities around the world. And I'm 100 percent for human rights in every way and I used to think that the USA was going around liberating people from oppressors and guaranteeing freedom to the world - but lets just say we haven't done much to stop genocides in the past nor have we really cared about human rights when we supported brutal dictators in Latin America and Africa. We call some of the worst dictators our friends! So as far as I'm concerned, the US needs to stay out unless some country is starting war and invading other countries.
 

Commenting has been deactivated in the archive. We appreciate your comments on our more recent articles at atlantic-community.org


Community

You are in the archive of all articles published on atlantic-community.org from 2007 to 2012. To read the latest articles from our open think tank and network with community members, please go to our new website