0935 GMT January 17, 2022
Some might argue that many Third World countries, however formally sovereign, are still struggling to establish their autonomy and independence vis-a-vis powerful foreign influences, sometimes at the expense of other ideals of governance, and the Islamic Republic of Iran seems to be no exception. I generally agree with the premise.
The fact is that the turning points in the historical rise of the West are multi-dimensional. These include the arrival of the modern state after the conclusion of the 30-year religious/political war in 1648 and the emergence of the Absolutist states throughout Europe in its aftermath, the rise of the European military and mercantile power, the discovery of the New World in 1492, the European colonial conquest and control of much of the world, the rise of the Industrial Age and capitalism since the 1750s, and the nearly total direct and indirect control of the globe by the conclusion of World War I.
The late industrial, developing countries have faced many challenges in the past 100 years, embarking upon modernization and development within a preexisting international capitalist system, divided into competing nation-states. The increase in nation-states from 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 200 today testifies to the competing desires of peoples everywhere for nationalism, independence, and sovereignty.
There are many parameters responsible for the success or the failure in achieving the goals of development, e.g., national cohesion, integrity, and sovereignty, economic prosperity, human security, and effective and good governance. Such factors include natural and human resources, the type of political system, geography, political culture, and external factors.
However, the absence of a strong state capable of defending itself from foreign interference can prove detrimental to national sovereignty and development. The successful developing countries since WWI have all set their first goal of development on securing the nation-state from foreign intervention and meddling through building the foundation of a strong military and security establishment.
The primary examples would include China, Cuba, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, and Chile. Some benefited from the international rivalry during the Cold War to secure their national interests, e.g., South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Cuba. Nevertheless, the burden of development ultimately falls on the shoulder of the political class in developing countries.
Successful national leaders recognize the complexities of the international system and the intricacies involved in effective national defensive strength and sovereignty, national unity, material prosperity and, ultimately, good governance. The more successful developing countries have practiced ‘effective governance’, where the political class has taken a pragmatic approach to national development under the guise of nationalism, socialism, liberalism, secularism, or even religion, e.g., Islam, Judaism, or Hinduism.
The national leadership in Iran has laid the foundation for an effective state with a strong national defense and a welfare state economy. Iran is now militarily secure enough to confidently engage with the rest of the world based on its pragmatic national interests.
Iran can rely on its hard and soft power to extend its national influence without a confrontation with the West. Following a Chinese and Russian non-interference policy approach, Iran should establish friendly relations with all countries while quietly using its religious doctrine of justice and the defense of the innocent and its geostrategic location as soft power. With fewer external hostilities, it can focus on political and institutional reforms at home.
The failure of national leaders to deliver good governance is ultimately a failure of the state’s leadership, despite claimed or real foreign meddling and intervention.
*Ali Abootalebi is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.