Iran: Preparing for “Soft War”
Ali Asghar Kazemi
Changing Conflict Environment
Ever since the breakdown of the Soviet Union, as the most powerful rival of the United States in the bipolar system, without a single bullet being fired, the expression of “Soft War” entered into new military and strategic jargon in the world. While the use of hard power or military forces is still a prevalent means in interstate clashes, the advent of the internet as a popular method of communications introduced a new dimension in the conflict environment.
Cyber war is a form of applied soft power in conflict situations where various vital strategic points and institutions of the target state are susceptible to cyber attacks. The range of such targets is very wide and diverse: from civilian power plants, banking system and defense establishments to media and cultural centers and academic institutions. Many states are now investing hard in the field of soft war as a legitimate investment with the objective to avoid the fate of the “evil empire.”
While conflict environment is being radically changed, means of encountering threats should also be transformed accordingly. However, there seem to be some misperceptions about non-violent and peaceful capacity of states to influence the course of international relations. This dimension has always been an important element of interstate interactions. In other words, use of soft power to complement other means of military power in peace and war has always formed an integral part of states’ grand strategy.
How far new schemes to cope with the threats of “soft war” is realistic? What are the risks of such strategy for society as a whole?
New Threats Perceptions
The post-elections turmoil in Iran has already lasted too long to be turned into an attrition domestic conflict. The hard-liners in Tehran are now announcing that they are facing a “soft war” initiated by the West for the purpose of toppling the Islamic regime. They argue that Western powers, disappointed from the threats of use force and hard power against Iran, and deterred from Iran’s defense and military capability, have been staging an unparalleled aggressive scheme through “soft power.” In their view, the plan is to instigate people against the government by claiming freedom, human rights, democracy and so on. They perceive that these latter demands are merely intended to press upon the Islamic system to surrender to western evil secular institutions and way of life.
The apprehension seems to be real and serious. Since, the forces of law and order are now being directed to cope with soft threats coming from the public media influenced by the West, including the satellites, internet and other means of communications. A parallel campaign has been initiated against academic institutions for teaching Western oriented secular social sciences. This whole has given a legitimate pretext to the ruling system to widen its rigorous control over the media and to press upon journalists, scholars, academics and opposition groups who one way or another have been criticizing the government during the past turbulent months.
Exaggerating Western Soft Power
There is no doubt about the technological capacity of the West and their capability to influence course of events anywhere in the world. But apparently, the threat of soft power is being immensely exaggerated in order to suppress domestic dissents which seeks its roots somewhere else
Ibne Khaldun, (1332-1406 AD) Moslem philosopher and scholar, pioneer in sociology and historical analysis, was the first to argue that the defeat of the Islamic domination in Western Mediterranean (Spain) was due to moral and material decay of Moslem warriors and rulers. The main cause of this phenomenon in his opinion was the clever plot designed by Westerners to corrupt Moslem zealous through inducing lust for material amenities of life which detracted them from their fervor and eagerness to defend the conquered realm of Islam.
In a way, the Khadunian suggestion seems to be still valid in any society where there is a cleavage between people and the ruling system because of mutual distrust. There are many factors through which people lose faith in their political system. Lack of accountability and proper democratic institutions, infringement to their principal rights, non-conformity to moral and ethical values, are among the most important factors leading to people mistrust and alienation. When people lose faith in the political system, they become discontent and thereby vulnerable and subject to all sorts of exogenous influence and intrigues.
Therefore, when people rise up against a political system and claim legitimate rights, one should not put all the blame on extraneous factors. Rational management of domestic crises requires that indigenous elements be taken seriously into consideration. In other words, we must first have an adequate grasp of our own society before initiating policies to counter with outside mischievous plots. People should be immunized against the influence of others’ soft power through appropriate cultural and educational preparation. Uses of repressive and restrictive measures usually have counterproductive effect. The problem needs to be tackled open-mindedly and rationally by specialists and not by unqualified forces that could jeopardize the whole scheme.
Dialogue and Diplomacy as Instruments of Soft Power
When states are engaged concurrently in two fronts (domestic and international) with disagreement, they should use both dialogue and diplomacy as instruments of soft power for crisis management. Exaggerating too much about “soft war” may further close the society and isolate the nation from the mainstream of international relations. At the same time, investing too heavily on hard power and military strength will not produce the necessary security assurance for a country.
The fall of the Soviet Union was not due to their lack of hard power, but rather to the disregard of the ruling elites of people’s essential rights and closure of the communist society to perceived “imperialistic plots.” Preparing for “soft war” requires a national consciousness of our strength, advantages and weakness and our standing in the global political configuration. Hard power and soft power are complementary components of national strategy in pursuit of vital interests. No matter how powerful a nation might be, it should show some degree of flexibility and tolerance in domestic and foreign affairs. The instruments of dialogue and diplomacy should be used as appropriate means to offset domestic unrest and to neutralize conceivable threats directed against our national interests. /
* Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. See: www.aakazemi.blogspot.com
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