Iran: Internal Narratives and Real Security Challenges

Iran: Internal Narratives and Real Security Challenges

  • 8 May 2013

Why have Iranian actors displayed such aggressive behavior over the past decade, especially since 2005? Why did Iranian perestroika fail? This aggressive behavior has been characterized by military threats and postures of deterrence, rhetorical intimidations of Israel, hints at military nuclearization, and assistance for “revolutionary” agitation in states with Shiite majorities. The possible consequences of Iran’s “activities” for the Gulf region are far from negligible. For example, a US or Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear infrastructure could involve retaliation against Gulf countries, especially those who have hosted US troops. This lecture will outline chronologically three distinct periods in this behavior: two are characterized by antagonistic policy (1979–1989 and 2005–2013), the other by relative détente between Iran and the West (1989–2002).

Many explanations have been offered for these variations in Iranian foreign policy behavior, such as profit motives, security opportunities brought about by the spread of technology, or “American” encirclement by troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. While these explanations have some merit, they do not answer some intriguing key questions: why is it that Iranian decision makers declare themselves to be a great nuclear power and threaten Israel before actually being able to employ a nuclear deterrent? And why is Iran emphasizing nuclearization in spite of the high economic costs (e.g., in the form of sanctions) linked to this option?

I will shed light on these puzzles by focusing more on the importance of narratives of “self-aggrandizement” in Iranian decision-making (by this I mean inflated presentations of one’s own cohesion and strength, employing strong images of the “enemy”). Such “myths” have the function of re-invigorating the self-esteem of the country’s decision-makers and enhancing their internal legitimacy. These “myths” also involve the demonization of other significant international actors (in this case, the United States).

This lecture will establish the co-variation between the US policy on Iran and the radicalization of Iran’s internal narratives and foreign policy. The first part will outline the historical variations in Iran’s foreign policy and approach to international politics. In particular, it will argue that nuclear policy and rhetoric has been employed to construct a positive self-image of an isolated Iran. The second part will show that these chronological variations in internal Iranian narratives and foreign policy approaches are linked to the US and European framing of Iran, arguing that it is Iran’s stigmatization as a “rogue state” which has contributed to the rise of narcissistic self-descriptions that depict western international powers as “evil.”

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LECTURER

Wednesday 8 May 2013

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Wednesday 8 May 2013

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