A Review on Security Arrangements in the Persian Gulf
To many observers, Iran’s foreign policy is at best unclear and, at worst, unpredictable. This study by Mahboubeh Sadeghinia offers an in-depth explanation of the complex factors that have shaped Iran’s policy in the Persian Gulf, a stretch of water also referred to as the Arabian Gulf. It examines the incendiary forces, internal and external, which have made this region the so very volatile flashpoint that it is.
Sadeghinia makes a strong case to turn “threats into opportunities”. She argues that if the regional states do not support integration they could, at the very least, recognise their diversity and have a more inclusive cooperative system. In other words, she favours an approach of realpolitik and cooperative security rather than the hegemonic which excludes competitors with different goals and values. Toward this end, she says the pyramid security model could be the solution to the regional tensions because while it recognises geopolitical rivalries, it makes provisions for political and economic concerns of regional and ultra-regional actors. It is founded on the premise of interdependency and attachment. Every state, “like pieces of a puzzle, has a unique and non-ignorable place in the security system”, regardless of size [XXXVI].
Idealistic, maybe, but according to Sadeghinia, the safest way to offset the fears of the smaller states is to focus on socio-political and economic power rather than military power. There must be a holistic approach and vision of the region, not as individual states.
In theory, this pragmatic and collaborative approach outlined in the book seems valid and appealing. However, it does not match with the view expressed by the author in her foreword where she asserts that Iran is “the hegemonic power in the Persian Gulf” (XVI). Hegemonic may be construed as pretentious and exaggerated. Nonetheless, Sadeghinia is right when she says that whatever regime exists in Tehran, Iran has legitimate national and security interests in the region.
A dominant theme that is revisited time and again throughout this book is that despite its size and location, Iran has been, since 1979, treated as an outsider. During the time of the Shah, it was supported equally by the US and Israel. Today, both are threatening it with war. When it was a proxy of the Americans, Iran’s primacy in the region was accepted. This is clearly one of the enduring truths about power politics; small states are valued only to the extent that they serve the interests of great powers.
The Persian Gulf is one of the most important geopolitical regions in the world. It is a sub-system of the Middle East and contains the region’s main oil reserves. Indeed, it contains 55 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 41 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves. Ninety-five per cent of the Gulf’s oil exports pass through the Straits of Hormuz. Not only is the cost of exploration relatively low here, but access to the global markets from the Gulf is also easy. This strategic location attracts the attention of ultra-regional powers. The region is fought over because the ownership of oil fields and control of transit routes influence the balance of power. Most of Europe’s fuel needs come from the Gulf. Sadeghinia explains that this is why oil has become a matter of national security for the EU, the world’s second largest consumer of the precious fuel after the US.