We Can’t Leave Iran to Its Own Devices
The Westphalian System is a doctrine in international law that has been the generally accepted norm for hundreds of years. The basis of this doctrine is the Peace of Westphalia that put an end to the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in 1648.
The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) proved to be one of the most devastating wars in Europe’s history, with approximately eight million casualties. The war initially started over post-Reformation religious disputes between the Protestant and the Catholic states in the Holy Roman Empire. It later grew into an ongoing continental power struggle between the Habsburg Empire and the Bourbon Empire. The bloody war was concluded by the Peace of Westphalia.
In order to prevent the re-forming of such formidable “blocs of power” that had made the disaster of the Thirty Years’ War possible in the first place, the Westphalian System stipulated a set of specific codes to which all European states became bound by the principle of “non-interference” in the domestic affairs of other states. Each state’s right to exercise sovereignty over her territory was recognized and emphasized, and each country, regardless of its size, was accorded equal rights with others in international affairs.
The apex of the Westphalian System came in 19th-Century Europe, where it was infused with and strengthened by the emerging trend of “nationalism” that would consider the “state” and the “nation” one and the same.
But if the Westphalian System had been theoretically designed to ward off war, it proved far from successful in practice. By making “separation” of states the most salient principle of international relations, the Westphalian System rendered “confrontation,” although of another kind, inevitable. In that regard, perhaps Javier Solana, the former NATO Secretary-General, has delivered the most cogent argument against the Westphalian System so far. In 1998, during a Symposium on the Continuing Political Relevance of the Peace of Westphalia, Solana said that
[T]he Westphalian system had its limits. For one, the principle of sovereignty it relied on also produced the basis for rivalry, not community of states; exclusion, not integration. Further, the idea of a strong, sovereign state was later draped with nationalistic fervour that degenerated into a destructive political force… In the end, it was a system that could not guarantee peace. Nor did it prevent war, as the history of the last three centuries has so tragically demonstrated.
As it happened, the process of nation-building in the mostly-colonized modern Middle East, which took place along the lines of the Westphalian System, also absorbed most of its limitations. Except for Iran and somewhat Turkey, almost all the states in the modern Middle East are the product of the Westphalian System. As such, it can easily be seen that almost all of them promote “independence” as one of their most fundamental ideological values.
However, it is the Islamic Republic in Iran that has proved to be the epitome of that Westphalian separationist/confrontationist attitude in the Middle East. The Islamic regime there almost verges on “militant isolationism,” which has been notoriously enshrined in one of the most cherished slogans of the revolution: “Neither East, nor West, [only] the Islamic Republic!”
But strangely, the Islamic Republic has at the same time departed from the state-based separationist Westphalian System by relentlessly developing its own supra-national “bloc of power” for the past 38 years. To clarify, the Islamic Republic has been forging a wide-ranging and far-reaching league of Shiite extremists in the Middle East with zealous followers in the form of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Alawites and Druze in Syria, Houthis in Yemen, Twelvers in Iraq and Bahrain, Afghan Shiites, and even Zaydis in Saudi Arabia.
While the Iran-centered spirit of separationism from the world has been retained, its scope has been expanded to incorporate other countries in the Middle East, although the governments in those countries might not be necessarily regarded as allies or satellites of the Iranian regime. The key concepts here are “Islamism,” “Export of Revolution” and “terrorism,” the first continuously implemented via the second and the third. As such, the Islamic Republic has managed to create an ideological bloc of power that supersedes and threatens to subvert the Westphalian System, first in the Middle East and then all over the world.
And it is that bloc of power that today threatens Western values and interests, not only in the Middle East but also around the world. It can be said that while the non-centralized Sunni forms of Islamism such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and ISIS only individually, sporadically, and inconsistently threaten the West, the Iran-centered Shiite bloc of power has been collectively, systematically, and consistently targeting the West and polarizing the region and the world to the detriment of the West.
Therefore, believing that leaving the Iran-centered Islamist bloc to its own devices and granting it leverage in the region in hopes that it will behave itself and stick to its own business is only an illusion; as can be most apparently seen in the case of the ill-going Nuclear Deal with the regime of the mullahs. Indeed, leaving the Middle East’s fate to the mullahs will eventually lead to more unwanted costs and interventions on the part of the West.
Therefore, it is not only wise but also to in best interest of the West that whatever “order” is left behind in the Middle East shares the fundamental values of democracy, secularism, liberalism, human rights, and a predisposition to free market with the West. The next occupant of the Oval Office will be well advised to heed this advice.
A version of this article was published by The American Thinker.