The paper under review is titled Iraq-Iran War (1980-1989). The paper is written by Benjamin York for the US State Department. The paper was written on October 5 2008 and this review was carried out on October 20 2008.
The paper employs the realist theory in explaining the root cause of the Iraq-Iran conflict and thereby gives implications of the US foreign policy. The realist theory primary assumption is that key actors in the International System are states, and world politics is a ceaseless, repetitive struggle for power where the strong dominate the weak. The defining characteristics of the International System include; motivations of behavior, causes or justifications for war and principles of cooperation.
The paper has been prepared for the policy makers in the office of the Secretary of State. Through this paper they will again a better understanding of politics at the world level and the causes of conflict among states. The conflicting interests of sovereign of individual states and the lack of an international leviathan are stated as the causes of war. After going through the paper, the State’s policy makers will better understand relations among states and design their foreign policies in such a way that the United State’s national interests are catered for without any conflict arising.
The paper begins with an introduction where the Iraq-Iran war is briefly discussed as well as how the assumptions of the realist theory will be used to discuss the conflict. The second part which is the theoretical framework gives an account of the realist theory and acknowledges scholars who immensely contributed to the development of this theory. This is important as the paper is marked by assumptions and the related propositions of the realist theory. The principles of the realist theory which include; human nature, the role of the state, the struggle for power, the possibilities of cooperation and the conflict between moral principles and national interest are discussed in this section. These principles form the basis of the interpretation of phenomena in accordance with the realist theory.
The paper then goes on to give an analysis of the conflict. In this part it looks at the causes of the war and how nations with vested interests in the region intervened. These are the former USSR and the United States. The war is analyzed by applying the principles of the realist theory where each principle is discussed in relation to the war.
The paper further discusses the implications of the conflict for US policy. This section looks at the US involvement in the Middle East and how it has resulted in two wars. The paper concludes by challenging the leaders of the major actors in the international system to learn from past conflicts and not to make miscalculated moves that will lead to long and unnecessary conflict. The conclusion also asserts the importance of the realist theory in explaining world events and its role in policy formulation.
As mentioned earlier this paper draws its conclusions from the assumptions and related propositions of the realist theory. The first assumption is human beings are naturally selfish and their pursuits are primarily for their own interest. ” In general, humans are naturally selfish, pursuing first and foremost the objects of their own interests. They are “driven to watch out for themselves and to compete with others for self-advantage (Kegley 2008, 28).”
Human interests are also often subject to an innate lust for power and a desire to lord that power over others. The paper, from this assumption, concludes that the behavior of nations is a result of the behavior of the leaders that rule them. If the leader is aggressive, the nation’s policies will also be aggressive.
The second assumption applied by the paper is that the nation or state is the most important actor in the international system, and because the “essential structural quality of the system is anarchy – the absence of a central monopoly of legitimate force (Williams et al. 2006, 65),” nations or states are free to pursue their own self-interests. States are sovereign. The absence of an international ruler in the international system leaves the states to behave as they wish as long as they have the might and resources to fight any opposition from other states.
The struggle for power is the third assumption used to analyze the Iraq-Iran war. One of the major characteristic of the international system is the struggle for power. “The primary obligation of every state – the goal to which all other national objectives should be subordinate – is to promote its national interest and to acquire power for that purpose (Kegley 2008, 28).” The paper concludes that most conflicts between states are as a result of nations or states protecting their own interests. Each state seeks to protect its own physical, political and cultural identity against any external threat.
The paper further states that International cooperation is achievable. Nevertheless this is only possible in the context of the pursuit of national self-interest. When the benefits of cooperation outweigh the potential negative consequences of the loss of sovereignty, nations will often collaborate. “Allies might be sought to increase a state’s ability to defend itself, but their loyalty and reliability should not be assumed, and commitments to allies should be repudiated if it is no longer in a state’s national interests to honor them (Kegley 2008, 28).”
Finally, the paper talks of the conflict between morality and national interest. “The significance of this principle lies in the fact that there is an “ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action (Williams et al. 2006, 61).” Therefore, though nations might consider the moral consequences of their actions, the defining principle for action is the necessity of political success through the pursuit of national interests.
The writer has utilized the above points to draw conclusions on the causes of the Iraq-Iran war. The points have been brought forward in a manner that is easy to understand. In text citations from reliable sources-relevant books- are used to explain these points further. The realist theory is a sound IR theory advanced by great scholars such as Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes among others.
To support these conclusions, the paper looks at the characteristics of the war and that of the states involved. It also looks at the personal traits of the leaders and the intervening states. Human nature which is selfish and self seeking is applied to this scenario. The paper states that Saddam Hussein who was Iraq’s leader at the time had a leadership style which was unconventional. Like his fellow human beings he was filled with the lust for power. He was driven by self-interest that reflected in his desire to remain in power, and also increase this power.
The paper also gives evidence of human interest as a contributing factor to the war by looking at Ayatollah Khomeini’s pursuits. Khomeini claimed he had been commanded by God to contain the spread of secular ideals in the Middle East. His revolution needed to cleanse Iran’s neighbors of false gods. Khomeini’s personal pursuit in the war with Iraq was further confirmed, when, in 1984, Iraq sought a diplomatic solution to end the war and restore peace. Khomeini refused to end the war unless Hussein and the Baath Party were completely removed from power, and Iraq paid an enormous sum in war reparations. Thus, the war continued, as Khomeini’s decision to maintain his self-interested ambitions resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians alike.
The paper also explains the role of the state in the Iran –Iraq conflict. The two being sovereign states, acted entirely on the basis of their own national interests. There was no central-governing authority in place that could effectively influence them to put aside their own pursuits. “The policymakers of all the major powers whose interests are engaged in the Gulf – the United States, our European allies, Japan, and the Soviet Union – have felt a similar sense of frustration in dealing with the conflict. They know that while interests of great importance to them are jeopardized by the Gulf crisis, their ability to influence the course of the struggle is limited (Sterner 1984, 128).
However, the international community’s pressure did little to bring about a solution to the ongoing war. Iraq had initially welcomed the international community’s bidding, not necessarily due to the UN’s influence, but rather because the war had turned in favor of Iran, and Iraq was desperately trying to avoid further devastation to its own country. Iran, nevertheless, was unwilling to cooperate based on its determination to end the rule of Hussein and his Baath Party over Iraq. This therefore demonstrates that the lack of an international leviathan and the states’ sovereignty contributed largely to the war.
The Iraq – Iran War confirmed the notion that the world is engulfed in a never-ending struggle for power. Iraq went to war in the quest for territorial expansion as Iran sought to also be the dominant power in the Middle East by imposing radical Islamic ideology in the region. The US and other Western states became involved in the war purely for their own interest. “Iran threatened to close the Persian Gulf for everybody if Iraqi attacks continued…sub sequentially, the United States announced it would not allow the Gulf to be closed, and emphasized the capabilities of the US carrier task force on station just outside the Gulf (Sterner 1984, 129).” The war had also generated another threat to the US regional power status with regards to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had stepped up its diplomatic negotiations in the region as a result of the war, and “American diplomats in the Gulf agreed that further chaos in the region would only benefit the Soviet Union (Visors 1986, 363).” Thus, the US sought to counter Soviet influence and generate power and influence for themselves.
The paper also explains the principle of possibilities of cooperation. In 1984, Iraq realized that the war was well beyond its ability to win. As a result, it became increasingly open to international involvement, in hopes that international support would deter further Iranian aggression. The war also fostered another previously unlikely cooperation. This was between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However the US only cooperated with the Soviet Union to the extent that was necessary in order to attain its national interests. Once the Iraq – Iran War ended the US/Soviet Union relations returned to their pre Iraq – Iran War stances.
The tension between moral principles and national interest objectives is also discussed by the paper. It states that the use of chemical weapons in the Iraq – Iran War demonstrates this tenet of realism quite well. “Iraq’s decision to violate the 1925 Geneva protocols forbidding the use of chemical weapons was not a hasty one…When the Iraqis finally did initiate chemical warfare in 1983, they had to choose between the possible effects of offending world opinion and the certain adverse effects of being overrun by Iranian soldiers (Segal 1988, 962). On seeing that it was going to lose the war, the Iraq government decide to use unconventional means to contain Iraq’s aggression. Thus it chose national interests over morality.
The paper is fairly well organized. It begins with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. However the headings under the conflict analysis discussing the applications of the principles of the realist theory should highlighted. This will make the document easier to read and understand. The paragraphs are well structured as they are short and each explains one point at a time. The paper is grammatically correct and adheres to the rules of grammar. Punctuation marks are properly used. The right prepositions are also used in the sentences. This makes the paper enjoyable to read. The citations and bibliography adhere to the MLA format.
In conclusion, the paper is well written. The realist theory best explains the origins of conflict among states. States or nations are governed by human beings who according to the realist theory are selfish and self seeking which explains the behavior of individual states. The fact that states are sovereign and act first and foremost based on their national interests coupled with the lack of an international leviathan gives the states the freedom to act as they please so long as they have the might. Even the presence of the UN in the international system has not stopped the errant behavior of states. Generally this is an excellent and enlightening article. However I am of the opinion that the author would have discussed more about the implications of this conflict on US policy.