Iran, the United States’ New Custodian in the Middle East

Rashin Khosravi When President Obama’s administration in the fall of 2011 announced its new strategy of pivoting to East Asia in the United States’ foreign policy, no one expected that the implementation of this strategy could alleviate the 36 years of animosity between Iran and the United States. Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the United States has focused on putting its efforts towards the Middle East. By doing so, they failed to recognize Asia as an important arena. In order to concentrate on Asia, the United States needs to find a strong and reliable regional ally to extricate itself from the current complicated situation in the Middle East.

The logic of the strategic pivot to Asia can be found in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (post-Cold War political and military strategy to prevent the emergence of a rival superpower) mixed with the predominant neoconservative doctrine of US world supremacy. The logic of pivoting to Asia was shaped due to the emergence of a new trade dynamic as well as a new political world order in Asia. The most current and strongest warning that other rivals to the U.S. are rising came from the Russian city of Ufa on July 8-10, 2015. Ufa hosted the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the 7th summit of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The 2015 National Military Strategy of the United States lists Iran, China, and Russia, three countries which were actors at the Ufa summits, as the countries that pose the biggest threat to American security. At Ufa, according to the record, the Russian President Vladimir Putin told the Chinese President Xi Jinping: “Combining efforts, no doubt we (Russia and China) will overcome all the problems before us.” At Ufa in his speech, Putin emphasized the active negotiations with Iran on various projects.

The 7th summit of the BRICS at Ufa launched two new financial institutions: the New Development Bank (NDB) and the new joint Economic Cooperation Strategy. The new joint Economic Cooperation Strategy is to expand the multilateral cooperation in energy, mining, agriculture, and infrastructure. The NDB and the new joint Economic Cooperation Strategy could affect Western-based lending institutions and the American dollar. At the summit, the participant countries agreed to allocate an initial subscribed capital of $5 billion (USD) and an initial authorized capital of $100 billion (USD) to the infrastructure and development projects of the BRICS countries through the New Development Bank (NDB). The NDB’s members also agreed to consecrate $400 billion dollars to help other developing nations across the globe, all in their own currencies. Without doubt, the  NDB can be an alternative for the U.S. backed lending institutions: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Unlike the IMF and World Bank, in the NDB, each nation has equal say regardless of its GDP, and unlike the World Bank, each participant country is assigned one vote with no vetoes allowed. It is necessary to know that the BRICS countries have 20 percent of global GDP.  41.4 percent of the world’s population belongs to the four major counties of the BRICS.

The summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was held after the BRICS summit. The SCO is an intergovernmental international organization that consists of six members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO is led by China and Russia. Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan are observer states. Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners of the SCO. A quarter of the world’s total population belongs to the SCO’s member countries.

In the SCO’s summit at Ufa, the members agreed to give membership to India and Pakistan, observer-state member status to Belarus, and dialogue partner status to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, and Nepal. They also agreed to support the Chinese “Silk Road” economic belt project. Furthermore, in the SOC’s summit, a joint development strategy which will last until 2025 was approved. This 10 year strategy includes calling for a reform in the UN Security Council, establishing a Convention on Fighting Extremists, and creating new transportation corridors which connect Mumbai, India to Bandar Abbas, Iran and Astrakhan, Russia.

U.S. policy-makers believe that the time of American unilateralism is over and the world is moving towards multilateralism. China and Russia, countries that already pose a threat to the United States according to the 2015 National Military Strategy of the United States, are leaders of this movement towards multilateralism. The agreement between Iran and the 5+1 world powers allows the U.S. to try to pull Iran away from alignment with China and Russia.

United States policy makers consider the national security of the U.S. as their primary objective. The plan to meet this objective is the concentration on Asia to counter the rise of China and Russia. For this purpose, they need to have a strong and reliable ally in the Middle East to escape from the current complicated situation in the region. Among the regional powers, it seems to them, Iran is the most powerful one and one which has a strategic stable foreign policy. Despite the long term international crippling sanctions against it, Iran still stays strong in the region. The approval of the Iran nuclear deal by Congress will appoint Iran as the new guardian of the Middle East with the capacity of stabilizing the region. At that point, if Congress allows it, the anticipated result will be the alleviation of challenges from China and Russia.

Rashin Khosravibavandpouri is an Iranian-born journalist and currently a M.S. student in International Relations at Suffolk University, as well as a member of MAPA’s Middle East Working Group.