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From Anti-normativism to Norm-setting: A Contemplation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy and International Norms

“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy and International Norms” is a piece of research published by the Foreign Ministry’s Publications done at the efforts of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) and Dr.Seyedjalal Dehghani Firouzabadi, renowned professor of Allameh Tabataba'i University, along with Dr.Fatemeh Soleimani Pourlak for the ۴۳rd anniversary of the Iranian Islamic revolution and is presented to those interested in the Islamic Revolution’s foreign policy studies. Hope that this step helps more in understanding all the more the normative and identity fundamentals of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy.
February 2022
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Khalil Shirgholami

 “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy and International Norms” is a piece of research published by the Foreign Ministry’s Publications done at the efforts of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) and Dr.Seyedjalal Dehghani Firouzabadi, renowned professor of Allameh Tabataba'i University, along with Dr.Fatemeh Soleimani Pourlak for the 43rd anniversary of the Iranian Islamic revolution and is presented to those interested in the Islamic Revolution’s foreign policy studies. Hope that this step helps more in understanding all the more the normative and identity fundamentals of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy.

 The theories and concepts of international relations and foreign policy are always exposed to being exploited and hijacked by great powers for explaining and consolidating their status and creating legitimacy. Even it can be claimed that some theories and concepts have from the beginning been formulated with a biased and power-oriented approach. Norms, pro-normativism and normative foreign policy are concepts that due to their innate favorability and their relation with the process of legitimacy of policies, have ben of much appeal to great powers for exploitation and illustration. On the other hand, establishing norms in the international politics has been a source of power and influence for controlling other actors’ behavior.

Norms get meaning when in the countries’ societies the necessity is felt for existence of some comprehensive rules based on which to regulate and predict the behavior of countries. In the real world and in practice, since norms are mostly defined and interpreted by great powers of the international system, they are relative. In other words, norms are more dependent on power and set for maintaining the status quo or creating a desired status for powers. This process is so important that the ability of countries for participation in defining and establishing norms, determines the amount of their influence in the international community.

On the other side, in the conceptual defining and explaining of the very norms in foreign policy and international politics, there are differences and conflicts, the reason of which being the role of norms in defining the boundaries of accepted behavior in international politics and their impact in creating desired or undesired images of the actors of international relations. Norms have a social nature and are considered as the common interpretation of the actors. Therefore, norms should not be monopolized by the powerful to control others’ behavior within their interests’ framework. Principally, norms are a collection of principles, rules and procedures based on the logic of responsibility instead of interest, aimed at regulating power, and persuasion instead of imposition. Legitimacy of norms is always derived from their persuasive, collective and inter-minded characteristics. Thus, not only should the establishing life of the norms not be monopolized by the powerful, and norms should not be tool-used and interpreted by the powerful actors’ decision, but also they must be used to contain and control power and regulate behavior. Here is the point where an actor like the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a pro-norm political system, can play a prominent role and what can make prominent the newly-published book of IPIS titled “ The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy and international Norms” penned by Dr.Seyedjalal Dehghani Firouzabadi, professor of Allameh Tabataba'i University, along with Dr.Fatemeh Soleimani Pourlak is explanation of this issue.

 This book is a new and considerable effort in explaining a normative foreign policy and possibility for all actors to play parts in defining and explaining norms in the international community. Authors of this book make it clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy , following the general rule of influenceability  of the foreign policy of the countries from the material structural frameworks  and normative perceptive constructs ,has a norms-centered nature. To them, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interest, insistence and selective treatment of the international norms have led to the norms related to the international dominance system being contested and exposed to rejection and the norms capable of securing interests being broadly welcomed and accepted. From this perspective, there is some sort of fluctuation from negation and rejection to relative acceptance of the international norms arising from the international rules, rights, regimes and organizations. Based on this, the authors classify the relation of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy to the international norms in the trio of “normativist” , “anti-normative” , and “norm-setting” , that instead of a passive and reactive approach for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy, they consider for it a position of pro-activity in the most software,  and meanwhile most sensitive processes of societies of countries, that is establishment of norms.

The book tries in a conceptual and theoretical framework to address the conceptolgy of norms and explain the approaches of the relation of foreign policy and international norms. In so doing, a normativist foreign policy is listed in the form of (general) discursive norms-centeredness, minimal norms-centeredness and maximal norms-centeredness, and the indexes and tools of normative foreign policy are outlined in the form of goals, tools and results.

Following this, the authors address the mutual strengthening between the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy and international norms and expand it in the trio form of the normativist, anti-normative and norm-setting foreign policy. Also, for understanding and introducing the normative sources of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy, internal sources ( in the form of the nation-orientedness, Shiite  Islamism , and third world discourses, as well as foreign sources are explained.

 The climatic point of the book is outlining the influence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy on the norms of peace-building, international security-building, norms presiding Islamic identity-seeking and revolutionary resistance-orientedness at the international level, independence norms-making in the international system , and norm-making in human rights and humanitarian areas. Here the author tries to explore the participation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in establishing, explaining or interpreting of norms based on its values and principles in the international system based on specific spheres, and show that it is not solely the western powers that have a establishing role in the international norms, though it is possible the domain of influence and expanse of these establishing norms are different based on various factors.

To me, the main value of this book is that it has fairly well managed to explain the possibility of proactivity of non-hegemon powers in the formation process of norms at the international level and prevention from monopoly and hijacking of norms by big powers on the ground, and from this perspective, this book is a robust effort in producing a new discourse in this area. By studying this  book, we find that the Islamic Republic of Iran is not only a “normative” actor, but it is a norm-setting actor or “norm-setter” in the international system, compared to its weight, and is as influential in the global governing system, because it is said the rulers are those who tell the narrative. Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a revisionist actor, has maintained its anti-normative approach in some specific cases.

In general, the book of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy and International Norms has provided a proper theoretical analytical framework for the mutual relation between the discourse of Foreign Policy and international Norms.  This struggle , as mentioned by the authors,  is worthy of praise both from the perspective of examining the impacts of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Foreign Policy on international Norms from a establishing dimension, and from the point of view  of exploring the harms and faults of the norm and discourse -making process of  the Islamic Republic of Iran in the international system, and finally the strategic musts necessary for maximal utilization of the norm-making  capabilities and capacities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

 Khalil Shirgholami, Senior Expert at IPIS

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