Iran’s Geopolitical Strategy in the West Asia: Containment of ‘Geography’ and ‘History’

Document Type : Original Article


Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Tehran


The depth and extension of Iran’s controversial connections with its proxies have caught eyes and thoughts. While much ink has been spilled to Iran's regional policy, the majority of these analyses, either intuitively or deliberately, build their explanation on the so-called ‘Persian-Shia offensive intentions’. Conversely, the present paper seeks the roots of Iran's regional policy in its specific geography and history. From this perspective, Iran’s regional policy is inseparable from its geopolitical strategies. To shed light on these strategies, the paper begins with the rise of the Persian Achaemenes until the establishment of the Islamic Republic, focusing on major driving forces behind Iran’s regional policy and strategies. The paper elaborates on a foundational concept of ‘strategic loneliness’, as Iran’s permanent feature, by highlighting the country’s curse of geography and its long-standing historical insecurity. In following, it shows the consequential impact of Iran’s strategic loneliness for the country’s non-state foreign policymaking strategic connections with military non-state actors—in the containment of its regional enemies. The paper ultimately argues that while this policy has kept Iran’s national integrity and security while entrapped the country in a durable ‘geopolitical predicament’ and deepened regional crisis in the Middle East.


Main Subjects

Article Title [فارسی]

راهبرد ژئوپولتیک ایران در غرب آسیا: مهار "جغرافیا" و "تاریخ"

Alam, Assadollah. 1993. Yad’dashtha-ye Alam: Virayesh va Muqaddamah az Alinaqi Alikhani [The Alam Diaries: Edited by Alinaqi Alikhani], Vol. I: 1347–1348/1968–1969, Bethesda, MD: Iranbook.
Alam, Assadollah, 1995. Yad’dashtha-ye Alam: Virayesh va Muqaddamah az Alinaqi Alikhani [The Alam Diaries: Edited by Alinaqi Alikhani], Vol. II: 1349–1351/1971–1972, Bethesda, MD: Iranbook.
Alam, Assadollah. 1995. Yad’dashtha-ye Alam: Virayesh va Muqaddamah az Alinaqi Alikhani [The Alam Diaries: Edited by Alinaqi Alikhani], Vol. III: 1352/1973 Bethesda, MD: Iranbook.
Al-Balādhurī, Futuh al-Buldan. 1916. The Origins of the Islamic State: Translation with Annotations Geographic and Historic Notes of the Kitāb Futūḥ al-Buldān of al-Imâm abu-l'Abbâs Aḥmad ibn-Jâbir al-Balâdhuri. 1. Translated by Philip Khuri Hitti. New York: Columbia University Press.
Axworthy, Michael. 2010. Sword of Persia: Nader Shah, from Tribal Warrior to Conquering Tyrant, I.B. Tauris; 1edition.
Buzan, Barry and Ole Waver. 2003. Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security. Cambridge University Press.
Dandamaev, Muhammad. 1989. A Political History of The Achaemenid Empire, translated by Willem Vogelsang.
Daryaee, Touraj, 2014. Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, I.B. Tauris; 1 edition.
Dignas, Beate and Engelbert Winter. 2007. Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals, Cambridge University Press, First Paper Back Edition.
Doran, Charles. 1971. The Politics of Assimilation: Hegemony and Its Aftermath, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Ewans, Martin. 2004. The Great Game: Britain and Russia in Central Asia. Edited, Routledge Curzon, Milton Park.
Farrokh, Kaveh. 2007. Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War, Osprey Publishing.
Floor, Willem. 2009. The Rise and Fall of Nader Shah: Dutch East India Company Reports, 1730-1747, Mage Publishers.
Floor, Willem and Edmund Herzig. 2005. Iran and the World in the Safavid Age, International Library of Iranian Studies (Book 2).
Foster, John. 2006. The New Geopolitics of Empire, 57 Monthly Rev. 8.
Frankopan, Peter. 2016. The Silk Road: A New History of the World, Vintage; Reprint edition.
Freedman, Lawrence, Paul Hayes and Robert O’Neill (eds.). 1992. War, Strategy and International Politics: Essays in Honour of Sir Michael Howard, Oxford Clarendon Press.
Gebb, Michael. 1983. ‘Review: Anglo-Russian Rivalry in Central Asia, 1810-1895’. UCLA Historical Journal, Vol. 4, pp. 130–132.
Gerard, Maj.-Gen. 1897. Report on the Proceedings of the Pamir Boundary Commission. Calcutta, Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India.
Gray, Colin and Geoffrey Sloan. 2014. Geopolitics, Geography, and Strategy, Routledge.
Hinz, Walther, Darius und die Perser. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Achämeniden, 2 Bde. Baden-Baden 1976 / 1979.
Holland, Tom. 2005. Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, Little, Brown.
Kaplan, Robert D. “The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate,” Random House; First Edition, September 11, 2012.
Kennan, George. 1947. The Sources of Soviet Conduct, Foreign Affairs.
Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Wiley, 2 Edition.
Koch, Heidemarie. 1992. So Says King Darius ... Life in the Persian Empire, Saverne, Mainz, Cultural History of the Ancient World, Vol. 55.
Lee, Richard. Fernand Braudel. 2012. the Longue Duree, and World Systems Analysis. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Mahmud, Mahmud. 1999. The Political Relations of Iran and Britain in the 19th Century [Ravabet-e Siasi-ye Iran va Engelestan], Eghbal Publisher.
Maksymiuk, Katarzyna. 2015. Geography of Roman-Iranian wars military operations of Rome and Sasanian Iran, UPH.
Matthee, Rudi. 2011. Persia in Crisis: Safavid Decline and the Fall of Isfahan, I.B. Tauris.
Mesbahi, Mohiaddin. 2011. ‘Free and Confined: Iran and the International System’, Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 9–34.
Mesbahi, Mohiaddin. 2013. ‘Trust and U.S.-Iran Relations: Between the Prisoners' Dilemma and the Assurance Game’, Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs, Volume 4 , No. 1, pp. 7–51.
Newman, Andrew. 2008. Safavid Iran: Rebirth of a Persian Empire, I.B. Tauris.
Parker, W. H. Mackinder. 1982. Geography as an Aid to Statecraft, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Parsi, Trita. 2007. Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, Yale University Press.
Rae, Cam, Leviathan vs. Behemoth. 2014. The Roman-Parthian Wars 66 BC-217 AD, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Reisinezhad, Arash. 2018. The Shah of Iran, the Iraqi Kurds and the Lebanese Shia, Palgrave Macmillan.
Rousseu, David and Garcia-Retamero, Rocio. 2006. ‘Estimating Threats: The Impact and Interaction of Identity and Power’ in American Foreign Policy and the Politics of Fear, edited by Trevor Thrall and Jane Cramer, London: Routledge.
Sariolghalam, Mahmoud. 2016. ‘Nezam-e Beinolmelal va Geopolitik-e Jadid-e Khvarmianeh [International System and New Geopolitics of the Middle East]’, Pajoheshnameh Oloum-e Siasi, pp. 101-139.
Sarkhosh Curtis, Vesta and Sarah Stewart. 2007. The Age of the Parthians, I.B. Tauris.
Sheldon, Rose Mary. 2010. Rome’s Wars in Parthia: Blood in the Sand, Vallentine Mitchell.
Siegel, Jennifer. 2002. Endgame: Britain, Russia and the Final Struggle for Central Asia. I.B.Tauris, London.
Tabatabaie, Javad. 2007. On Iran: The Theory of Constitutionalism in Iran [Taamoli bar Iran: Nazariye-e Hooumat-e Ghanoon], Minou-ye Kherad.
Wright, R., and P. Baker. 2004. “Iraq, Jordan see threat to election from Iran: Leaders warn against forming religious state.” The Washington Post, December 8. 
Xenophon, Cyropaedia, 1997. translated by Miller, Walter, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Zarrinkoub, Abdolhossein. 1975. The Arab Conquest of Iran and its aftermath: in Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4.