"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 and development.
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
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
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
It is apparent that Iran's geo-strategic location in the
region has placed an extra-ordinary prerequisite for adeptness
and ability 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 as well.
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
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
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
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 stability.
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.