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Iran Regains Primacy in United States Middle East Strategic Calculus

Paper No. 5898                                 Dated 23-Mar-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Iran seems to be regaining its earlier primacy in the United States Middle East strategic calculus in light of US contemporaneous moves, notwithstanding the nuclear issue.

The United States is seemingly co-opting Iran (even if not directly) even if not as a partner but as an essential component in combatting the ISIS menace that has afflicted the Middle East and North Africa. Media reports also suggest that the ISIS is also spreading its tentacles into Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Constantly emphasised in my Papers in the middle of the last decade was the reality that the United States strategic imperatives to stay embedded in the Middle East dictated a normalisation of United States-Iran relations as a given, independent of United States traditional and inviolable commitments to the security and existence of Israel.

Recent media reports also indicate that even in US national security circles, there is a growing advocacy of Iran being co-opted in the overall matrix of neutralising the ISIS threat to Middle East security.

 Obviously, Middle East nations including Pakistan, which are supposedly the mainstays of the US regional security architecture are considered by the United States as ‘unequal’ to advance US security interests of containing and liquidating the ISIS threat.

Iran’s strategic significance in terms of her natural predominance as a regional power with all the attributes that go with it, again stood highlighted by me periodically over the years in my Papers on the subject.

Three decades plus of Iran’s demonization by the US-led Western group of nations and their economic sanctions in recent years over Iran’s nuclear program has not diluted Iran’s primacy in the Middle East strategic calculus. It outweighs Saudi Arabia’s strategic utility to United States in terms of US national security interests in the region.

It needs to be recalled that in the decade prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran was the United States most reliable security partner in the region. The United States militarily built it up to perform the role of a ‘regional policeman’ including initiating Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran was then emerging as the main ‘security pillar’ of the United States regional security plans and figured at the very top in the United States strategic calculus and security architecture in the Middle East

In an ironic strategic twist, three decades over, the United States may have to revert to the same strategic formulation, if current trends of militant Islamic militias seem bent on militarily taking over this vital strategic region and threatening United States interests in the region.

However, there are discordant voices in the United States Congress which are determined to thwart any United States-Iran normalisation of relations. While concerns for Israel’s security is a legitimate security imperative for the United States, so is it strategically imperative for the United States to ensure it revises its strategic formulations in the region inconsonance with its global national security interests.

There will be discordant voices within Iran too to such a process especially when a civilsational power like Iran was demonised and strategically isolated by the United States and the West.

 Discordant voices within the United States however cannot wish away the centrality of Iran’s primacy in the Middle East strategic calculus as the naturally predominant regional power dominating the entire Eastern flank of the Persian Gulf. Also cannot be wished away is the political importance and spiritual hold that Iran has as the largest and most powerful Shia nation, amongst the sizeable Shia populations in Iraq, Syria and not to speak of the US traditional monarchical allies in The Gulf.

Iran’s opponents within the United States need to note that during the Gulf Wars and the US military intervention in Afghanistan, despite its capabilities to make things difficult militarily for the United States in these two war-torn countries, Iran did not indulge in any such disruption of US military efforts. This was in marked contrast to US’s Major Non-NATO Ally, Pakistan double-timing the United States in Afghanistan, a recorded fact.

Concluding, one would like to stress that Iran does not require United States to prop it as a notable factor in the Middle East strategic calculus. Iran enjoys an intrinsic strategic significance as the naturally predominant regional power in the Middle East and contemporaneous security developments in the region are only propelling it into that role.  The United States is also seemingly being impelled to acknowledge this reality.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at