The Realist Logic Behind the Iran Nuclear Deal

Prof. Dr. Tarık OĞUZLU
03 September 2015
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July 2015 witnessed the signing of an historic nuclear deal between the permanent five (P5) plus Germany and Iran concerning the latter’s acquiescence in giving up its efforts to produce nuclear weapons in return for a gradual phasing out of economic and military sanctions put on Iran by the international community. The implementation of the deal, pending its approval by the US Congress, will shake up the foreign and security policy dynamics in the Middle East as well as globally. In this regard it is important to position the debate on the merits of the deal into an academic context by highlighting the alternative foreign policy imperatives at play. Such a discussion warrants attention particularly in the context of the debate held in the United States. As of today, it seems that there exist two competing schools of thought in Washington, the so-called realists and pragmatists on the one hand and the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists on the other. Though it would be wrong to cluster all realists and pragmatists in one camp and neoconservatives and liberal interventionists in another, the discussion held on the merits of the deal reveals strong parallels between realists and pragmatists on one hand and neoconservatives and liberal interventionists on the other.


Realism in its essence contends that the external environment at a particular time should be taken as given and foreign policy should reflect policy re-adjustments to external factors. The manner in which other actors are administrated internally should not affect the way they are dealt with strategically. What matters in international relations and foreign policy is the ability to materialize previously defined national interests by engaging foes and friends alike strategically and instrumentally. The transformation of others in ones own self-image should be discarded outright. Similarly, the engagement of other actors should not be kept hostage to permanent ideational and ideological standpoints. Long-term friendships, rivalries and enmities based on ideational viewpoints, emotions and intersubjectively shared values should not color the way decision makers formulate national interests and engage other actors. Peace and stability in the system should be sought in the distribution of material capabilities among actors as well as maintaining a sustainable balance of power.


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