by Foreign Policy Concepts
With Iran’s Green Movement standing firm in its demands for democratic change as well as a further articulation of its goals and needs over the past few weeks, the Movement’s potential geopolitical impact can be recognized with important emerging questions. These questions revolve around one central theme: the geopolitical direction that Iran will adopt under a democratic rule and its impact on existing alliances and energy politics. Come China and Russia into this yet-to-be complicated picture.
The most crucial of these questions are:
- Mixing Russian roulette & Chinese fortune cookies: To what extent are Russians willing to bet on Ahmadinejad’s and Khamenei’s regime, which is already bruised by the bare hands of street protesters? How does Russia view the regime’s stability and whether it’s capable of weathering this storm? Is there any Persian luck in the Chinese fortune cookies, and what do they hold for Beijing’s geopolitical interests? The two countries’ current behavior, under close scrutiny by the Green Movement, is set to impact their future relationship with Iran.
- Central Asia: In a democratic environment in Iran, will Central Asia’s energy map be redrawn and in what way? Will Iran emerge as the preeminent hub for distribution of Central Asia’s massive and untapped energy resources? How Russia and China will reposition themselves under such scenario?
- The loss of an ally? Given Moscow’s and Beijing’s extensive ties with Tehran in military and energy fields, how would they respond to the loss of their current military allies in Tehran who share with them the language of violence and intimidation in dealing with democratic aspirations of their respective domestic populations?
- The Israeli question: under a democratic structure, how should Iran formulate its policy toward Israel? Should it be the continuation of the nonsensical diatribe embodied in Ahmadinejad’s language and known for being more Palestinian than Palenstinians; or should it be a policy based on détente and gradual rapprochement?
- Iran’s proxies: Under a democratic rule, would Iran restructure its relationship with its proxy forces in Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas) and how would such a restructuring impact Israel and its geopolitical interests?
- After-shocks in Baghdad and Kabul: Under a new order in Iran, what would happen to Shia’s in Iraq and would Afghanistan become necessarily a more stable place than it is today?
As Iran’s internal crisis spirals into a more intense and perhaps violent stage, it is worth paying a great deal of attention to Moscow’s and Beijing’s response to it, both public and behind-the-scenes. Moscow is loath to lose its leverage over Iran since it confers Moscow with its much desired sense of “Great Power” status, a leverage that Moscow has been using to undermine Western interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.
As for China, long on an energy buying binge in world markets to feed its impressive economic growth, Iran sits at the center of its long term, geo-energy landscape. For Beijing’s rulers, any damage to its geo-energy interests in Iran would be seen as a direct blow to the country’s long-term economic prosperity. Therefore, there should be little room for surprise that recently the Chinese sent high-tech armored anti-riot vehicles equipped with water cannons that can douse people with boiling water and teargas. It remains to be seen how this Chinese technological ingenuity plays out in the streets of Iran over the next few weeks.
Iranian officials and their weakened security forces will certainly continue to brand anti-government demonstrators as agents of U.S. and Israel as well as “enemies of God” an accusation that can carry death penalty. Interestingly, these accusations take place vis-à-vis efforts by Ahmadinejad’s and Khamenei’s de facto apologists in Washington D.C. such as Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, who have spent every effort in both print and electronic media to belittle and demonstrate as insignificant Iranians’ frustration with the Islamic Republic and its policies.
With their efforts to contain the growing discontent becoming increasingly desperate, Iran’s ruling elite see their institutions of power become further jolted evidenced by the political tugs-of-war within the regime’s highest echelons’ of power. It is high time that we gave the geopolitical impact of the 21st Century’s first internet-based social uprising a serious thought and became prepared for its reverberations in the region and beyond.