What Iran Really Wants

Iranian Foreign Policy in the Rouhani Era

President Hassan Rouhani and the author in Davos, Switzerland, January 2014.
President Hassan Rouhani and the author in Davos, Switzerland, January 2014. (Eric Piermont / Getty)

Foreign policy is a critical component in the lives, conduct, and governance of all nation-states. But it has become even more significant in recent years as interstate relations have grown ever more complex. The inexorable rise in the number of international players -- including multilateral organizations, nonstate actors, and even individuals -- has further complicated policymaking. Meanwhile, the ongoing process of globalization -- however conceived and defined, whether lauded or despised -- has brought its inescapable weight to bear on the foreign policies of all states, whether large or small, developed or developing.

Since its establishment by a popular revolution in 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has grappled with these challenges. The postrevolutionary foreign policy of Iran has been based on a number of cherished ideals and objectives embedded in the country’s constitution. These include the preservation of Iran’s independence, territorial integrity, and national security and the achievement of long-term, sustainable national development. Beyond its borders, Iran seeks to enhance its regional and global stature; to promote its ideals, including Islamic democracy; to expand its bilateral and multilateral relations, particularly with neighboring Muslim-majority countries and nonaligned states; to reduce tensions and manage disagreements with other states; to foster peace and security at both the regional and the international levels through positive engagement; and to promote international understanding through dialogue and cultural interaction.

IRAN IN THE MULTILATERAL ERA

Since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the bipolar world in the early 1990s, the global order has undergone a major structural transformation. But a firm new order has not yet emerged. As was the case during other transitions in the past, the fluid, complex, and uncertain state of international affairs today is extremely perilous and challenging. Previous transitions were usually complicated by military rivalries and even outright war among the dominant powers of the time. Today’s rivalries are similarly quite intense. However, due to a number of factors -- the substantially changed global environment, changes in the nature of power, and the diversity and multiplicity of state and nonstate actors -- competition these days mostly takes a nonmilitary form.

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