A. Historical Background
B. Research Question
II. State of the Art
III. On Power and Leadership
A. Competing Views of Power
B. How to Convert Potential Power into Leadership
C. Implications for the Study of Regional Leading Powers
IV. Discourse Analysis and Leadership
A. Discourse as an Analytical Tool
1. Discourse and Foreign Policy
2. Discourse and Security
3. Discourse and Leadership
B. Operationalisation of Discourse
1. Reliance on Elite Discourse
2. Data Record
3. Key Words
V. Iran´s Discursive Construction of Leadership
A. Representation of a Repressed Leadership
1. Framed Legitimacy of Nuclear Activities
2. Resistance Against Perceived Injustice
B. Representation of an Alternative Regional Order
1. Narrative of a Responsible Neighbour
2. Construction of Common Interests and Enemies
3. Iranian Entrepreunarialism in the Security Field
VI. Gulf States´ Reception of Iranian Ambitions
A. Linking the Nuclear Issue to Regional Security
1. Common Threat Perception
2. Desiderata of Peace, Stability and Security
B. Limits of Iranian Leadership
1. Counter-Initiatives as Immediate Response
2. Caution on Iranian Initiatives
3. Further Sources of Distrust
VII. Empirical Results
To Mariam and Vahan
The present work has been produced in the course of a project seminar directed by Dirk Nabers at the University of Stuttgart. The issue of “regional leading powers” is becoming ever more prominent in the fields of International Relations (IR) and of International Economics at least since the rise of the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China). The demise of the Cold War as well as increasing globalization effects have led to a significant reconfiguration of the international system, and consequently, to a theoretical re-orientation in the discipline of IR. I am particularly grateful to my professor, Mister Nabers, who brought me closer to the appealing insights of constructivism and post-structuralism, who incited me to reflect about the notions of `power´ and `leadership´ in material and social terms simultaneously, and who encouraged me to conduct a discursive analysis. I thank him for all his advice and support. I also thank my fellow student Gabrielle, who took the time to comment this work at different stages of its making.
The present study explores the scope of Iranian leadership in the Gulf region and in the light of Iran´s nuclear ambitions. It may still have the traits of a first draft and some chapters could certainly be refined, deepened or broadened. Role theory could for instance be more explicitly linked to the issue of leadership, as well as identity-related approaches. As a highly topical issue, this work has, to some extent, to be viewed as an experiment, because it applies a social meta-theory to a region which has commonly been analysed through the lens of (neo)realist theory, and which at first glance seems best suited to the application of such theory given the recurrence of interstate conflicts. Yet, constructivist assumptions have been very fruitful for understanding how Iran perceives itself, what collective representations it generates and in turn, how the Gulf Cooperation Council´s (GCC) members view Ahmadinejad´s ambitions to lead the region. These findings could not have been unveiled by `mainstream´ theory due to its materialist ontology and its positivist epistemology. Thus, constructivist insights have a lot to offer to the study of regional leading powers. Nevertheless, further investigation in this research field is still much-needed.
December 2008, Lucie Chamlian
The Middle East is presently one of the most conflict-ridden regions in the world. While the Arab-Israeli conflict used to represent the major cleavage in the region, additional lines of regional divide have been spreading in the last three decades. Even if the former conflict still prevails politically and symbolically, it is no longer the epicentre of regional violence. With the occurrence of three subsequent wars in the Gulf and the current uncertainty surrounding Iran´s nuclear program, the Gulf (sub-) region has itself emerged as a global trouble spot. Hence, the ambivalence of Iran´s nuclear activities coupled with its leadership ambitions in the Gulf has become one of the most compelling controversies within the Middle East. In this context, the Gulf region appears as a good case in point to test such basic concepts of International Relations (IR) as security, power and leadership. As we are interested in latest developments, the historical background, in which Iran´s quest for leadership is anchored will first be retraced. Reviewing these elements will be useful to develop a research question, which will be proposed in the last subchapter of this short introduction.
A. Historical Background
Concerns over regional security in the Gulf have been escalating when putative evidence about Iran´s pursuit of a clandestine nuclear program emerged in 2002. Since then, the `rogue state˝s claims and attempts to alter the regional balance of power have been cautiously watched by international and regional powers. In particular the Arab Gulf states, which never had warm relations toward their Persian neighbour, feel concerned about Iran´s nuclear activities and the concomitant rise of Iranian power in the region.
It is worth noting that when Iran initially started its nuclear power program in the 1950s, the Arab Gulf states did not oppose it, as Shah Pahlavi´s plans were, at that point, clearly backed by the USA. Due to this, they had actually few reasons to doubt about the peacefulness of Iran´s nuclear ambitions. From the Iranian point of view, the nuclear policy was one of the numerous policies that were adopted in the course of national modernisation. Modernisation was then seen as a means to achieve regional leadership. Therefore, Shah Pahlavi can be regarded as the original theorist of Iran´s rise to regional power.
When the British troops withdrew from the Arab Gulf at the beginning of the 1970s, the Shah may have viewed this as an opportunity to fill the power vacuum and subsequently, to assert Iran´s leadership in the region. But, the materialisation of this ambition was quickly thwarted by a major domestic watershed: the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which overthrew the Shah and established the Islamic Republic of Iran – the sole state in the region founded on the rules of Islam. Throughout the 1980s, Iran has actively sought to export its revolution to Muslim states and to overthrow their respective governments. As a matter of fact, the Arab Gulf monarchies as most of Arab countries felt extremely threatened by their Shiite neighbour. Given these circumstances and threat perceptions, they backed Iraq in its war against Iran (1980-1988), leaving Tehran almost without any ally upon which to rely. This traumatic experience of Iraqi aggression remains deeply engrained in Iran´s collective memory until present days. Finally, this brief overview of Iran´s history shows up that Iran has sought to assert its regional leadership on a number of occasions in the past, albeit without success.
In this twofold context – the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq war –, the six Gulf monarchies, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates founded the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. Given the commonness of their threats, they aimed to deepen cooperation among themselves in the fields of security and economics. As Iraq and Iran were rightly perceived as trouble makers impeding regional cooperation, they were from the first excluded from the Council. Although the GCC launched a security project in 1983 – the Peninsula Shield Force –, its members have soon been investing in bilateral security ties with the USA, instead of looking at each other in terms of security provision. Whereas the GCC has succeeded in implementing some economic and security initiatives, it still remains a weak strategic alliance, which lacks deeper institutionalisation, clear leadership and unity among its members.
What is striking is that the GCC states´ threat perception has muted in disfavour of Iran, especially since the latter has turned into an Islamic Republic. This has not been overlooked by Iran. In the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war and more generally of the Cold War, Iran seems to have changed its regional approach. The subsequent presidencies of Rafsandjani (1989-1997) and Khatami (1997-2005) have followed more pragmatic and conciliating regional policies toward their Arab neighbours in order to avoid further isolation. Since the election of the current Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is arguable to what extent the regional détente promoted by his predecessors is perpetuated or even reversed. This shall be assessed progressively along the paper.
B. Research Question
The historical outline informs us that Arab Gulf states perception´s of Iran´s nuclear program has shifted in the course of the last sixty years. Although it would certainly be interesting to track the real causes of this evolution, this study focuses on the current relation between Iran and the GCC states. Whether Iran is factually pursuing a military or a civilian nuclear program is irrelevant. This is why the schedule of the nuclear issue has not been retraced. What counts most is how the nuclear issue is framed by both parties, how they perceive each other and finally, how they act toward each other on the basis of constructed realities or `discursive narratives´. The study of these representations is crucial to understand intra-regional dynamics and comparative analysis shall be useful to clarify the scope of Iranian leadership in the Gulf.
As came to the fore in the historical outline, Iran´s nuclear program was from the beginning coupled with Tehran´s ambition to lead the region. As the basic assumption is that there currently is an Iranian claim to leadership, it will have to be checked to what extent this is true. Furthermore, the extent to which Iran´s putative leadership in the security field is corroborated by the GCC states will have to be investigated too. Subsequently, following this study raises the following questions: How does Iran construct its will and ability to lead the region in discourse? How does the nuclear issue shape the GCC states´ perceptions of Iran and its ambitions? And finally, to what extent is Iranian leadership effective? These questions will help to clarify to what extent Iran and the GCC states share the same values, visions and interests in the field of security. In this respect, it shall become clear whether their respective representations of regional order are congruent and shared or divergent and competing.
As the research field is quite complex, the analysis will be organised in eight stages. First, the state of the art will be scrutinised in order to check the usefulness of the research questions. Chapter III will subsume the theoretical teachings on leadership. On the basis of these, a theoretical framework for empirical analysis will be delineated. Chapter IV, relating to methodology, will discuss the suitability of discourse analysis for assessing collective representations. Then, chapters V and VI will unveil the central ideas shaping Iranian and GCC discourse on the issues of regional security and leadership. In the same breath, the material proposals made by the two respective parties will be analysed. The aim is to assess which ideational and material resources come out on top and to what degree they are accepted by those over which leadership is presumably exercised. Finally, chapter VII will summarise the empirical results. In turn, these will enable us to draw a general conclusion.
II. State of the Art
Research focusing on the Gulf region mainly deals with geopolitics and global energy supply rather than with pure regional dynamics. Yet, since Iran is suspected to run a military nuclear program, socio-scientific scholars are increasingly interested in two focal points. The first one connects to traditional concerns of IR, namely global challenges posed to the norm of non-proliferation. Within this section, research heads in two directions: the first one links Iran´s noncompliant behaviour to regional and global risks of proliferation; the second one attempts to shed light on the institutional bargaining processes that take place between Iran and the international community. Both perspectives, relying on global structures, have already been widely explored if not even exploited by Western academicians.
The second issue is more innovative as it recognises the prevalence of regions in an increasingly `uni-multipolar´ world order. In the aftermath of the East-West conflict, regions have emerged as important political units able to influence the international system. While the interplay between the regional and global stages is an interesting area to be explored, the study of intra-regional and sub-regional dynamics is much more appealing, as the field remains largely under-theorised. Especially the concept of (sub)regional leadership lacks both theoretical underpinning and empirical application. These lacunas afford students of International Relations with a nice opportunity to follow up this approach.
Interestingly, the few studies of leadership in the Middle East come to different conclusions on the question of who leads or who is able to lead. The first circle of academicians posits that some states – Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Iran – have been competing for regional leadership in the past three decades. None of them has been able to emerge as a leading power indeed, as each single state lacks the required capabilities and influence in the region to assume the role currently held by the US. So do the few and fairly underdeveloped regional institutions, that have failed to mediate successfully in any regional conflict. This may stem from regional actors´ thinking of security as a traditional zero-sum game. Given their permanent suspicion of their neighbours´ intentions, Middle Eastern states are not prone to cooperate with each other. Prognoses for the foreseeable future do not expect major changes to occur within these structures. The Middle East will thus remain as it is, namely a region without a leader.
Other researchers, in turn, come to the conclusion that the Middle East is currently witnessing the emergence of a new regional leading power, that is Iran. According to Rubin, Iran is the sole country that has something to offer ideologically and is willing and able to expand its influence accross borders. Iran´s active promotion of influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestina and in parts of Afghanistan coupled with its nuclear policy hence constitute a huge opportunity to assert its regional leadership. Actually, Iran has never been more powerful than today. Yet, the rise of its power is framed as a serious challenge to the current regional order. Iran´s growing leverage on Shiite factions in Iraq and on Shiite minorities within the Arab Gulf states could harm the latter and significantly alter the regional status quo to their disadvantage, especially if Iran finally acquired nuclear weapons.
Despite the recent proliferation of scientific papers addressing Iran´s nuclear policy, the state of the art displays the lack of consistent sub-regional studies that focus on leadership issues in the Gulf. Because the Middle East is a highly heterogenous and excessively conflict-laden region, it truly makes sense to concentrate on smaller units of analysis such as sub-regions. Therefore, the analysis of Iran´s relations with the GCC can certainly provide more accurate insights into current regional dynamics than studies attempting to draw an all-encompassing picture of the region. Even if the latter have the virtue of simplifying complex relations, they face the scientifical dilemma of losing theoretical precision. While the present work focuses on a special phenomenon occuring in a distinct spatial and temporal context, such studies afford us with general knowlegde, but they are of little help to understand how leadership is constructed. This is due to researchers´ reliance upon classical (neo)realist conceptions of power and security. In line with positivist assumptions, they expect all states to share the same overall – and thus static – concerns. By doing this, they are not able to properly explain how single states´ interests are constituted. Likewise, this undifferentiated approach does not allow them to understand the constitution of differing representations of regional order that are based on individual cognition and perceptions. Given these lacunas, our research question seems very useful as it opens up new avenues of research and may thus provide more accurate pictures of intra-regional realities. Before turning to empirical analysis, the theoretical concepts that are central to the present study will be presented and debated. As leadership has often been falsely equated with the mere possession of power capabilities, the evolution of this theoretical debate will be reconstructed showing up the weaknesses of traditional power conceptions.
III. On Power and Leadership
Traditionally, the concept of power has been appraised as the exclusive province of realism. While power is the epicentre of such explanations, scholars themselves disagree on how to best conceive and measure it. This discussion not only takes place within the realist paradigm, but has meanwhile reached liberal, constructivist and post-structuralist scholars too. The lack of consensus on the definition of an apparently such foundational concept of IR shows that power remains an essentially contested notion, suggesting quite different things to different people. In the past, scholars outside the realist paradigm used to distance themselves from power considerations. Yet, in recent times, these scholars have not only brought harsh criticism into the debate, indeed they have amended and re-shaped the concept of power in a very fruitful way. In the light of these critics, it will be seen that paradoxically traditional understandings of power do not suffice to understand the constitution of power relations.
A. Competing Views of Power
From Morgenthau over Carr, Waltz, Gilpin to Mearsheimer, power has been spelled out in terms of material – thus, measurable – capabilities, such as the size of a country´s population, the gross national product of the state and the weight of its military forces. Accordingly, power is constituted by a set of resources. The basic assumption here is the more capabilities one state possesses, the more powerful it is. Another classical approach refers to power, not as a set of material capabilities, but as an actor´s ability to influence other actors in the international realm, focusing thus on the outcomes shaped by this relation. This approach originally draws on Dahl´s intuitive understanding of power, namely “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do”. The definition suggests that power is wielded actively and intentionally, excluding therein the possibility of an unconscious exertion of power. Furthermore, it clearly draws on causality, meaning that “A´s behavior causes B´s behavior”. As follows, this procedure cannot tell anything about how power is constituted. The following sections will unveil that mainstream definitions of power are based on narrow ontologies, and hence, coping with simplistic epistemologies that may aver inadequate for explaining the complex social phenomena running international politics.
Rejecting materialist and static definitions of power, constructivist, neo-Gramscianist and post-structuralist scholars assume that power is irreducibly social. The implications are twofolds. Firstly, assessing the scope of resources an actor or a state has at its disposal does actually not say anything about its real power. Even Dahl himself recognised that “a potential for control is not, except in a peculiarly Hobbesian world, equivalent to such control”. This argument is not only apt in theory, empirical cases seem to corroborate it too. Joseph Nye´s account seems very instructive on this: “People sometimes encounter the paradox that those best endowed with power do not always get the outcomes they want. [...] For example in terms of resources the USA was far more powerful than Vietnam. And America was the world´s only superpower in 2001, but it failed to prevent September, 11”.
Secondly, while realists have strived to develop a somewhat universal definition of power, they have curiously excluded any non-material forms of power related to norms and ideas. By doing this, even if they considered power in a relational sense, they have also widely ignored the issue-specific context in which power relations are performed. As Lukes pertinently claims: “We have to draw on all forms of power, may it be material or ideational resources, and particularly how they are used in which context. We have to think about power broadly rather than narrowly”.
Literally, Lukes argues that “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B´s interests”. He goes on asking rhetorically “is it not the supreme and most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial?”. Subsequently, the exercise of power is a dynamic, relational and ideational process. The analytical framework, that will be developed in the next chapter, will espouse the very fruitful insights of Lukes´ theory. Because Lukes broadens the initially narrow scope of power in a significant way, his view of power is expected to provide a more accurate explanation of power relations and social realities than any material account on balances of power or power cycles.
B. How to Convert Potential Power into Leadership
The analysis of the concept of power enables us to draw the following conclusions. First of all, power is neither static, nor universal but dynamic and situative-specific. To ignore the specific social context in which power is exerted and the set of social interactions it is accompanied by, leaves any power consideration just as meaningless as empty shells. Consequently, while the impact of power is always situation-specific, power ressources cannot be unconditionally equated with leadership. For sure, material and/or ideational resources can be converted into leadership, but the process is neither automatic nor self-reliant. Therefore, research has to focus prima-rily on the processes that translate potential power into effective leadership. In other words, the most appropriate question to be addressed by theory in this field is “how do leaders become leaders and once established, what do they perform under this office?”.
Leadership, although it is a salient concept in social sciences – foremost since Max Weber´s writings on it – remains a notion that is just as much contested as power. Still, the many definitions encountered in the literature agreed upon the fact that leadership is voluntarily followed by the subordinated actors as the leader and subordinates share common ambitions, goals and values. To some extent, these definitions overlap with Gramsci´s definition of consensual hegemony, which implies that power hierachies have to be acquiesced by the subordinated group. Without furthering the debate on controversial notions such as hegemony, this is the most important point to retain for the study of leadership. Relying on Lukes´ third dimension of power which firmly echoes a Gramscian understanding of hegemony, Nabers asserts that leadership is “effective and sustainable when foreign elites acknowledge the leader´s vision of international order and internalize it as their own”. Leadership can thus best be understood as a social relation that takes place between at least two actors and in which each actor assumes a specific role: leader or follower. Hence, this relationship is caracterised by social processes of interaction and socialisation. This comes very close to Foucault´s understanding of power.
C. Implications for the Study of Regional Leading Powers
The previous sections lead us to conclude that in order to assess the scope of leadership, the mere study of power properties is not satisfactory. A regional leading power should be gauged on what it does, meaning how it converts power properties into leadership and how its actions and visions of regional and/or global order are perceived by potential followers. As no proper study has been conducted on Iran´s regional leadership from a constructivist perspective, the originality but also the challenge of the present work is to develop a specific analytical framework to assess the scope of Iranian leadership in the Gulf region. Recent attempts from academicians have been made to fill the research gap on the emergence of new regional leading powers, but by now, the issue remains largely under-theorised.
Yet, the scarce literature on regional leading powers seems to agree upon at least three points. First, a state has to claim leadership. Second, it needs to possess potential resources to enshrine its visions and projects. Third, the putative leadership has to be accepted either by global and/or by regional actors. While we understand regional leadership as a basic relationship between alter and ego, we assume that actors´ role-acceptance is crucial. When the distribution of roles is perceived as being legitimate, the social relation of leadership is stabilised. As this is often not the case, leadership remains an inherently challenged structure, either from inside or from outside.
 Buzan/Waever 2003:215, Halliday 2006:66
 The conflicts referred to are the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (1990-1991), and the American intervention in Iraq (2003)
 Koch 2008
 Stracke 2008
 Reissner 2007. For a deeper explanation, see Eisenhower´s speech “Atoms for Peace” delivered at the United Nations in 1953.
 Stracke 2008
 Rubin 2006
 Reissner 2007
 Fürtig 2008
 Halliday 2006:69
 Ibrahim 2004
 Lowe/Spencer 2006, Buzan/Waever 2003:190
 Russell 2005:25
 Buzan/Waever 2003:192
 Kupchan 2007
 Dimou 2008
 Yehiav 2007
 El-Hokayem/Legrenzi 2006:2. Although the Shah was already seen as an arrogant and overbearing leader, Arab Gulf states had, at that time, no reason to perceive Iran as a direct threat to their security.
 Beck 2006
 See for instance the work of Nicole Stracke
 Huntington 1999:36
 Buzan/Waever/Wilde 1998:9,11, Buzan/Waever 2003:3,11
 Beck 2006, Rubin 2006, Mützenich 2004:29
 Perthes 2004
 Most notably, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council
 Beck 2006:5, Mützenich 2004:29
 Mützenich 2004:29
 Beck 2006:9
 Rubin 2006
 Chubin 2006:134, Makinsky 2007
 Lowe/Spencer 2006, Gause 2007, Chubin 2006:118. Interestingly, the proportions of Shiite minorities within the GCC states vary from 5% in Saudi Arabia to 30% in Bahrain.
 Beck 2006:2
 Barnett/Duvall 2005:40, Schmidt 2005:523, Hagström 2005:398
 Schmidt 2005:526-529, Walt 2002:222, Lukes 1974:61
 Schmidt 2005:529
 Barnett/Duvall 2005:40,41
 Susan Strange, Joseph Nye, Michel Foucault, Stefano Guzzini, Michael Barnett, Raymond Duvall, Oran Young and Doris Fuchs can be regarded as some of the representatives of the new power approaches. Although this schedule is truly a non-exhaustive one, its primary aim is to display how dynamic but also interdisciplinary the research field is.
 Hagström 2005:395-396, Guzzini 2004:537
 Waltz 1979:131, Gilpin 1981:13, Mearsheimer 2001:56, Schmidt 2005
 Schmidt 2005:530, Hagström 2005:399
 Dahl 1957:202-203
 Lukes 1974:5
 Luhmann 1969:150. For a more explicit distinction between causality and constitution, see for instance Wendt 1999.
 Barnett/Duvall 2005:46, Guzzini 2004:538, Foucault 1982
 Guzzini 2004:538, Luhmann 1969:158-159
 Dahl 1958:37
 Nye 2004:29, the critic is also echoed by Christopher Layne 2006
 Baldwin 1989:167. His original quote may be even clearer: „It is time to recognize that the notion of a single overall international power structure unrelated to any particular issue is based on a concept of power that is virtually meaningless“.
 Lukes 1974:1
 Burns 1978:16
 Nabers 2008:3
 Nabers 2008:2
 Burns 1978:19
 Gramsci 1971. In the following, ´leadership´ and ´hegemony´ will be treated as interchangeable items, since the common definitions of leadership actually reflect a Gramscian rationale of hegemony. Meanwhile Marxist theorists mainly focused on material capabilities and coercion, Gramsci introduced the notions of ideational power and persuasion. Coercion and persuasion or material and ideational capabilities are assumed to take place simultaneously within hegemonic processes. For further debate on power, coercion and socialisation, see for instance Ikenberry/Kupchan 1990:285-287.
 Nabers 2008:1. Actually, Nabers draws very closely on Ikenberry and Kupchan´s hypothesis (1990:293): “ [...] socialization occurs only when normative change takes place within the elite community”.
 Ikenberry/Kupchan 1990:283, 285
 Foucault 1982
 Schoeman 2003:353, Flemes 2007, Schirm 2005:110-111
 Nabers 2008:9
- Quote paper
- Lucie Chamlian (Author), 2009, Ahmadinejad´s Quest for Leadership, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/132214