Iran’s ‘Look to the East’ — and Dark Ties with China and Russia — Precludes Any Deal with the West
In late March, news of the conclusion of a 25-year Iran-China strategic agreement shook the world and caused a sensation inside Iran. The Islamic Republic appears to have ceded almost all of Iran’s natural and mineral resources, infrastructure, and markets to China for a quarter century, in exchange for security guarantees against the West.
Although President Joe Biden has expressed concern over Iran’s tilt toward the East, he remains hopeful that a new nuclear deal can be struck with the Islamic Republic. This is contradictory, as the regime — which was hardly ever in compliance with the original nuclear deal — has effectively precluded the prospect for any viable deal with the West by turning toward the East.
The 25-year agreement is a series of comprehensive trilateral accords that envision extensive military and security cooperation among Iran, China, and Russia, a vision with the potential to dramatically change the balance of power in the Middle East. According to the terms of the agreement, China’s and Russia’s warplanes will have unrestricted access to Iranian airbases, and their warships will be stationed at Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Also, Russian electronic warfare systems will be installed across Iran, which can be linked to Russia’s Southern Joint Strategic Command and then to Chinese systems. Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) officers are to travel annually to Beijing and Moscow, and Russian and Chinese officers to Tehran, for security and military training.
Feeling more secure due to their multi-front partnership, the trio has become more openly aggressive toward the West, especially the US. Over at least the past five years, the three have flagrantly interfered in US presidential and Congressional elections, as well as in the racial strife that flared up over the death of African-American George Floyd. Furthermore, both Russia and China strongly opposed the US-proposed resolution at the UN Security Council to indefinitely extend the UN arms embargo on Iran to prevent Tehran’s sale and export of conventional weapons, thereby defeating the resolution and allowing Iran to continue its procurement of game-changing military technology. Both countries vigorously defend the Iranian regime’s nuclear project.
In an era when the US is refusing to confront challengers of liberalism around the world and Europe is more concerned about securing its interests than defending democracy, authoritarian Eurasian regimes are filling the vacuum.
The rise and collective effort of the Eurasian dictatorships pose the greatest existential threat to the liberal order as they systematically challenge, undermine, and supplant democracies around the world. Russia’s relentless resurgence in the Caucasus, Ukraine, and the Middle East; China’s manifest projection of power in Hong Kong, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East; and Iran’s bloody jihad across the Islamic world and beyond can all be seen from that perspective. The ambitious tripartite covenant is intended to be a slap in the face of democracy and the West, and it sets the trio on an inevitable collision course with the US as guardian of the liberal order.
This is why any hope of making a new deal with the Iranian regime to mitigate or contain its threat is misplaced. As long as the regime remains a pawn in the Russo-Chinese strategy to gain mastery over the US, it will never be allowed to leave the Oriental sphere of influence and join that of the Occident. The East permits the regime to approach the West only inasmuch as doing so will not endanger its own security interests and strategic objectives. China and Russia do sometimes restrain the regime’s more radical impulses, such as its burning desire to go fully nuclear; but that is only because they regard it as a loose cannon that can endanger them as well as destabilize their own more deliberate steps toward undermining and eventually eradicating the West. In order to lessen the risks the regime’s apocalyptic behavior poses to themselves, they keep it on a short leash — but they will never give Iran up to the US, because they benefit from the Islamist regime’s overall aggression against the West.
The West needs to wake up to the troubling fact that despite all its well-intentioned efforts to make peace with its adversaries, anti-Western hostility will continue to escalate around the world for the foreseeable future. The West must brace for the worst. The world is in the early stages of a paradigm shift in global politics whereby powerful authoritarian regimes, pragmatically setting aside their differences, are increasingly willing to work together to achieve one overarching goal: the undermining of Western and other democracies around the world and ultimately the elimination of the liberal world order.
In response, the West must develop a collective security doctrine, similar to the one in place during the Cold War, that surpasses the conventional “domestic/foreign” division and encompasses all spheres of concern under one broad category of Western Security. This doctrine should cover Western-style democracies and other Western allies around the world.
As a countermeasure to the Oriental offensive, the West needs to take the civilizational struggle to Eurasian territory. NATO must revive its red lines in the North Atlantic and diligently enforce international adherence to them. The Abraham Accords, the Arab-Israeli strategic alliance, should become the fulcrum of US Middle East policy. In the Far East, Taiwan should become the strategic center of a US-led defense alliance containing the democracies of East, Southeast, and South Asia.
In addition, Western values and democratic institutions should be developed among nations that suffer from Eurasian authoritarianism. High on the agenda should be supporting democratic movements in countries such as Ukraine, Hong Kong, Syria, and Turkey. As for Iran, only the overthrow of the Islamist regime and the establishment of a non-imperialist regime can bring the nation back to the Western fold. This is a sine qua non to eliminate the threat of the Middle East’s takeover by a totalitarian, expansionist nuclear power and thwart Russo-Chinese plans to shatter the liberal order and dominate the world.
A version of this article was originally published by the Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies and the BESA Center.