August 5, 2015


How Washington Has Inflated the Iran Threat (Justin Logan, 8/04/15, Washington Examiner)

"Regional hegemony" is a term in international relations popularized by the University of Chicago's John J. Mearsheimer. (The term hegemon draws etymologically from the Greek word meaning "to lead.") Mearsheimer said a regional hegemon "must be considerably wealthier than its local rivals and must possess the mightiest army in the region." The consequence of meeting this condition is that the regional hegemon attains outsized influence in its region. As Mearsheimer goes on to argue, the only state in the modern era to attain regional hegemony is the United States in the Western hemisphere.

Claims that Iran is poised to achieve regional hegemony in the Middle East should be evaluated in light of what the term means. Does Iran look like it has a shot at becoming considerably wealthier than its local rivals? Does it look likely to possess the mightiest army in the Middle East?

The answer to all of these questions is a decisive no. Take, first, the agreed upon exemplar of regional hegemony: the contemporary United States. Its gross domestic product comprises roughly 68 percent of the Western hemisphere's GDP, and its military expenditure constitutes roughly 86 percent of defense spending in the region. Its influence there is hard to overstate. For example, its commitment to fighting a war on drugs has produced disastrous results across the region, including more than 50,000 deaths since 2007 and billions of dollars in economic damage per year, just in its neighbor to the south. On matters of high politics, no country in the Western hemisphere would dare defy Washington's desiderata.

Compare this with contemporary Iran. Even before sanctions took full effect, Iran comprised only about 11 percent of the Middle East's GDP. Israel comes in at 8.6 percent, Iraq at 6.8 percent, and Saudi Arabia at 22.3 percent. Iran's share of the region's military expenditures is similarly unimpressive at 9 percent. Israel accounts for 11.1 percent of the region's military spending, Iraq 10.4 percent, and Saudi Arabia 44.6 percent. While American client states in the region like Saudi Arabia certainly complain about Iran, it does not and cannot influence its neighbors in the way a regional hegemon would. But this isn't just about misapplying an academic definition of regional hegemony. Even to suggest that Iran has a shot at dominating the region defies both history and logic.

As Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has shown, Iran is "anything but the hegemon of the region." As a recent CSIS report documented in great detail, the Gulf states' militaries possess nearly a half-century technical advantage over Iran. Iran's military doctrine is based around defense in depth, which is premised on fighting defensive wars while yielding territory in the hope the aggressor becomes vulnerable over time. The poor quality of its land forces, which would be at the center of any claim to regional hegemony, negatively influence its ability to project power anywhere in the region.

Posted by at August 5, 2015 12:16 PM

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