Sunday, February 25, 2007

Offensive Realism, Hegemony and Iran

As Mearsheimer mentions in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, offshore balancers (regional hegemons) such as the United States will seek to influence the affairs of distant regions through direct military force when a potential hegemon in that region threatens to upset the balance of power. The underlying assumption or rationale for this behavior is summed up succinctly by Mearsheimer.
Regional hegemons fear that a peer competitor might jeopardize their hegemony by upsetting the balance of power in their back yard. Thus, regional hegemons prefer that there be two or more great powers in the other key regions of the world, because those neighbors are likely to spend most of their time competing with each other, leaving them few opportunities to threaten a distant hegemon (141).
He goes on to demonstrate how this mode of behavior has been the typical mode for the US throughout most of its history, including WW1 and WW2. I tend to think that while our administration may not have been guided by this logic prior its present intervention in southwest Asia, future US actions may follow this trajectory. In other words, the US destabilized this region through its invasion of Iraq’s Saddam and Afghanistan’s Taliban (both Sunni enemies of the largely Shia Iran.) Now the effects of Iran’s status as a regional power and its ambitions towards regional hegemony are becoming increasingly more tangible. Now it seems that if the power of Iran is not checked by Israel or some other power, the US is likely to do so through its own efforts.

It is becoming increasingly more evident that our government, in trying to advance the security interests of our nation post 9/11, created a whole new range of potentially more dangerous security dilemmas that we are now attempting to comprehend. Iran has clearly become stronger relative its previous position. And, while Iran was among the nations sympathetic to our plight, its people holding a public vigil in support for the victims. Our government ignored and vilified them. As such, a radical element rose to power, embodied in the form of President Amadinejad. Iran has since allied itself with Russia who is threatening to cut off oil supplies to Europe and Venezuela who’s newly elected Socialist Dictator, Hugo Chavez, is openly challenging US power.

This is clearly predictable behavior given the calculus of Mearheimer’s Offensive Realism. Iran, as it increasingly exercises regional power, is attempting to export its power to other regions in order to maximize its own security interest. However, this behavior is exacerbating a security dilemma that could have the effect of precipitating a major power war on a scale implying the world.

1 comment:

Jeb said...


I think that your analysis is correct when you argue that the Bush administration is trying to balance the rising power of Iran.

I would suggest that the balancer is not Israel, however, but Saudi Arabia, and the other prominent Sunni states like Egypt and Jordan. You may have read the article recently in The New York Times about how the Gulf states are publicly buying large supplies of arms. There was also an announcement awhile back by a group of Gulf States to pursue a collaborative "peaceful" nuclear program. Clearly this is an attempt to counter the rising influence of Iran.

I imagine that the Bush administration is doing all they can to encourage this Sunni-Shia balancing, but I am mostly speculating on this point.