"Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaucasia, Persia - to many
these words breathe only a sense of utter remoteness, or a memory
of strange vicissitudes and of moribund romance. 70 , me, I confess,
they are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is played out a
game for the domination of the World. "
George Lord Curzon, viceroy of India (1899-1905)
From Dr. Assad Homayoun's speech at Strategy '97 Conference Washington,
DC. September 22-24, 1997
Northern Tier states of the Middle East comprised of Afghanistan,
Iran, and Turkey, on the southern periphery of former USSR. are
gaining much importance in international politics. They enjoy
unique geopolitical, and economic position in the "Eurasian
Corridor". or between East and West, and Iran among them,
is a land bridge between the two important energy zones of the
Caspian and the Persian Gulf. These three countries have over
2700 miles of boundaries with Asiatic side of the former Soviet
Union. Now there is no Soviet Union, but the newly independent
States which lie between Russia and Northern Tier States, in the
coming decade will hold the promise of offering the industrial
world an alternative source of energy. In the Northern Tier, in
spite of the fact that Afghanistan is still in a state of civil
war, its geopolitical value is undeniable. Turkey lacks a direct
geographical link with Turkic-s eakin states of the region, but
because of the political system, free market economy, close political
and military relationship with the West, it is the center of attraction
to the governments and the people of Caucasus and Central Asia.
Since diffusion of power from Moscow and fall of the Soviet Union,
these peripheral border states have been looking to the United
States, and the industrial/developing world for reconstruction
First, the Central Asia and Caucasus in a way have become part
of the Middle East, with over 65 million Muslims reentering the
broader Muslim world. And, as result of disintegration of Soviet
Union those states have been brought to the religious, political,
economic and strategic environment of the Middle East. Secondly,
the Northern Tier, Central Asia and Caucasus in deed form a corridor
or "Eurasian Corridor", that has become the stage of
a new "Great Game", another contest to influence the
region. (the "Great Game", was a serious conflict which
occurred in 19th century among Britain, Russia and Germany for
domination of the Central Asia). The rules and players have changed,
but the aim remains the same, namely, winning of trade, access
to natural resources, political influence and protection of national
security. As history records, the region has been the birthplace
of upheavals. For, Central Asia is the heart of Asia, the vast,
seasoned heart of the greatest continent on earth, whose stability
and well-being, the lives of countless millions depend on. A brief
glance at the region's past history shows that, when the heart
is disturbed the entire body is affected. Whenever Central Asia
has been moved, history has been made. This vast region has reemerged
as one of the most politically and economically important regions
of the globe. It has become an arena of rivalries, internally
and externally, for a source of cheap energy for most of the industrial
Finally, this region also is plagued with domestic internal and
external, ethnic and religious conflicts and instability. On a
per capita basis, the Middle East is the most heavily armed region
(with conventional and weapons of mass destruction) in the world.
And most importantly, as history shows, resolution of conflicts
in this region, from ancient to present time, has been mostly
resolved through war rather than diplomacy and peace.
NEW INTEREST IN THE REGION
The industrial and industrializing world are becoming deeply interested
in this area for several reasons:
-Access to oil and gas resources,
- Filling the political vacuum left by the Soviets.
- Sustaining the balance of power in the Eurasian mainland in
view of growing Chinese power in Pacific and Indian Ocean, and
reemergence of Russian influence in the former republics. Equilibrium
of power in Eurasia continues to be the key to the "peace
evolution" of the international system. As Alfred Mahan,
whose writings had much impact on American strategic thinking,
in his book, "The Influence of Sea Power Upon History"
recommends, the world balance of power depends on control of Eurasian
land mass and as history demonstrates, control of the 'sea approaches'
to Eurasia will be decisive in sustaining a balance of power in
the land mass.
- Moreover, the US would like to have another source of energy
and less reliance on the Persian Gulf oil, even though the U.S.
seeks other sources of energy in Latin America, reality is that
the Middle East will provide the major source of energy for U.S.
and the rest of the industrial world. Some American experts and
former defense and foreign policy officials are in favor of more
U.S. policy in the region. Former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger,
has pointed out that US access to the Caspian oil is more important
to long term US strategic interest than the expansion of NATO.
As Undersecretary of State Stuart Eisenstat on July 26 said "it
is essential that US. have a pro-active policy to assure that
Caucasus and Central Asia remain free of Iranian influence ...A
political vacuum would only give Iran the opportunity to fill
it. We must not create this situation".
Five Countries, around the Caspian (Azarbaijan. Russia, Kazakstan,
Turkmenestan and Iran) share oil in and around the Caspian that
is second to the Persian gulf reserves. Currently billions of
dollars of investment from American. Japanese and European oil
companies are flowing to the Caspian.
The problem is that, countries around the Caspian are land locked.
Furthermore, they are susceptible to current clerical regime's
propaganda and religious subversion.
IRAN'S ROLE AND POSITION
The role of Iran in this vast region's future for better or worse,
is pivotal, and in any future scenario it will be the dominant
force. But till now, the current regime of the clerics has failed
to fulfill its potential as a regional stabilizing influence and
example of constructive government.
Iran has borders with 15 countries in the region. It is the preeminent
power of the Caspian and the Persian Gulf region. Because of its
size, population (almost 70 millions), natural resources, strategic
location as a historical, geographical and economic link between
East and West, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian region along with
a strong cultural identity, Iran is central to peace and stability
of the Middle East, Caucasus, Central Asia (once known simply
as Turkestan) and especially the war torn Afghanistan. Iran indeed
is a bridge in "Eurasian Corridor", and natural transit
link and shortest route between the Caspian and the open seas.
It also has major oil terminals and facilities.
The fact remains that Iran's government is controlled by fundamentalist
and anti-US regime elements and there is no indication that the
regime will moderate itself. There is no sign that Iran will change
its political behavior and cooperate with the west. The clerical
regime has based its policy on ideology. The rule of "Velayat-e-Faghih"
(rule of Supreme Theologian) will continue its support of international
terrorism, anti-peace activities and its drive to build weapons
of mass destruction. If there is a change, it will be in tactics
and method for buying time and strategic gain. Therefore, the
source of concern and instability will remain with us until there
is a real change toward reason and moderation in Iran. As an Iranian,
I share a profound concern with millions of Iranian people both
within and outside the country, for the lack of perception and
neglectful policy of the present regime.
Strategic cooperation between Tehran and Moscow, and Tehran and
Beijing is yet another source of concern.
Iran has developed a close relationship, i.e. military and economic
agreements with Russia and China and North Korea; receives sophisticated
arms from those countries and facilitates their influence and
expansion in the region.
Also, there is a growing strategic relation between Syria and
the clerical regime of Tehran. On the other hand, relations between
Baghdad and Damascus are improving fast. Some among the ruling
clerics in Tehran are in favor of Tehran-Damascus-Baghdad cooperation
and an anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-moderate Arab states alliance.
It is apparent that Iran's geo-strategic location in the region
has placed an extra-ordinary prerequisite for adeptness and
in domestic and foreign affairs on the shoulders of its leadership.
1 believe that the current regime of clerics fails miserably in
that requirement. The political behavior of the Mullahs, in domestic
and foreign affairs, in the past 18 years, reflect their incapability
and incompetence in addressing the needs of the people and dealing
with the outside world. Their policy has brought nothing but misery
for the people of Iran and isolation of the country as a "pariah'
state. The rule of the clerics, without consent of the people
and lack of credibility as well as quality, has lost not only
the confidence of the people, but, the trust of the global community
NEW PRESIDENT AND OLD POLICY
Dissatisfaction of the people caused them in last May's presidential
election to vote for Mr. Mohammad Khatami a so-called moderate
(compared to the other candidates) to initiate a change towards
reason. The election took place in an environment where freedom
of assembly, free press, an independent legal system and active
political parties were non-existent and women were not allowed
to be candidates, but people participated and the big turn out
nonetheless prevented the tampering with the vote count. As a
result, Mr. Khatami was elected as the fifth president of the
Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr. Khatami took office in August 3, and until now, he has not
taken a single step in the direction of domestic or foreign policy,
to end repression and assuage suffering of the people or to end
isolation of Iran. He is dominated by ruling radical clerics,
assuming in fact he is not an integral part of them.
Another point is that the power resides with the Supreme Leader
, it is the leader who decides on important external and internal
Therefore, 1 believe the present system of the Supreme Theologian
will not work in the direction of peace. Iran, with its present
leadership, cannot play its proper role in the Middle East which
strategically and economically has become extremely important.
It has been shown that 'critical dialogue' which some experts
and European governments persistently suggest, will not work and
will not change the behavior of the current regime of Tehran.
Neither do 1 believe that military action suggested by some, will
have any chances to succeed. Military action could bring undesirable
results and indeed strengthen the position of radical clerics.
Since the people of Iran are against the absolute rule of the
clerics, the only solution will be the support of the people and
a moderate nationalist element to replace the present regime with
a responsible representative one that contributes to peace, equilibrium
and stability of the region. I believe the people of Iran are
waiting and watching Mr. Khatami carefully. If he fails his promises
and succumbs to the will of the Supreme leader, as has been the
case, they must decide to go after another leader, a truly national
leader who could commit himself to the freedom of people and regional
For the next foreseeable future, oil will remain an important
source of energy. Therefore, not only stability of the Persian
Gulf will remain vital to the US interest, but access to the Caspian
Sea oil will also gain importance in the U.S. strategic agenda.
In view of forgoing facts, 1 believe a stable, moderate, secular
and democratic regime in Tehran can contribute significantly to
the stability of this volcanic region.