By examining the lessons of Irano-U. S. relations, the article contends that a post-Cold War American foreign policy relying on middle powers can achieve American security interests while avoiding the potential for excessive entanglements arising from a direct role The effective implementation of this policy is argued to be consistent with the promotion of regional stability and the diffusion of democracy.
Since the end of the Cold War much discussion has focused on the direction of American foreign policy. The debate pits those espousing a continued activist role for America in world affairs against those who argue that our mission has been fulfilled and that we must now look inward to resolve domestic problems. Such a division in policy circles is not new; rather it has been an enduring feature of American foreign policy debates ever since George Washington warned of entanglements in European affairs. This article seeks to address the issue by exploring a role for middle powers in international politics and American foreign policy. Specifically, I define three conditions most conducive to a middle power policy: a) the absence of global conflict, b) the willingness of a middle power (or powers) to assume responsibility, and c) the willingness of a great power to structure the "architecture" of regional security. It begins with the premise that a compromise may be attainable between the two seemingly irreconci lable positions by returning to the strategy expressed in the Nixon Doctrine. The working assumption is that the United States cannot expect to, nor should it be expected to, become directly involved in the maintenance of security around the globe. In place of this activist posture it may be more efficient and effective to cultivate relationships with the growing number of "middle powers" in world politics--a policy that will permit the United States to exercise influence and pursue localized goals while avoiding the potential for excessive entanglements that arise from a direct role.
To explore the conditions for a middle power policy I examine the "discovery" of Iran and its evolution as a middle power ally of the United States between 1962 and 1977. The case is not so odd as it may seem; particularly given the recent attention by some scholars to the role that regional powers can play in American foreign policy (Chase, Hill, and Kennedy, 1996; Huntington, 1999). Several features of this relationship provide a valuable model with both positive and negative lessons for its implementation in the future. First, in a positive vein, the architecture of the U.S.-Iranian relationship is precisely the type of model that can guide American policy in the future. The Shah was willing to, indeed, insistent on, assuming a large role in maintaining stability and the flow of petroleum in the Persian Gulf, while the United States found it cost effective and economically worthwhile, given the volume of arms sales, to rely on Iranian power. Second, Nixon's so-called "twin-pillar" policy sought to link th e interests of two regionally powerful states with opposing objectives. Saudi Arabia and Iran diverged on the issue of Israel, oil pricing policy, and the management of the Persian Gulf region, yet the United States effectively bridged this gap through its willingness to distribute regional responsibilities, albeit in differing forms, between the two states.
On the other hand, the case is instructive in the negative lessons it provides. The complex nature of the relationship between the United States and Iran was such that the former became substantially dependent on the latter. In effect, with the rising cost of oil, American policymakers in the Nixon administration found arms sales to Iran to be a useful means to offset the growing trade deficit. The consequences of this relationship were significant. For instance, the United States became as dependent on arms sales as the Shah was on American arms--perhaps more so given fears that the Shah might go elsewhere to purchase military equipment while American oil costs were increasing regardless of the source. Furthermore, the inflow of American military and civilian personnel, the rapid build-up of arms purchases in the face of economic crisis in Iran, and the continued public support of the Shah by the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations gave the appearance of tacit American approval of the regime and its pol icies. These circumstances exacerbated existing social and political tensions in Iran, tensions that were largely discounted for three reasons. First, many in the United States viewed the Shah as a modernizing and progressive monarch. Second, the Shah's regime was relied upon for providing security in the Persian Gulf region, which included the maintenance of American listening posts along the Soviet border. And third, American policymakers viewed the strategic interests of the United States and Iran as quite compatible; hence there was a firm belief that even if the Shah were to lose power, Iranian policy in the region and towards the United States was unlikely to change. The ultimate failure of American policy in the region stemmed less from the middle power relationship per se than from the complex linkages and systemic perceptions that associated the United States with an unpopular leader. Therefore any successful middle power policy must carefully assess the negative lessons that led the United States to support a repressive regime.
The article proceeds in three sections. First, I briefly discuss the meaning of a middle power in international politics. Following that I examine the architecture of U.S.-Iranian relations, including the significance of the Nixon Doctrine and the twin-pillar policy. Last, the conclusion discusses some implications of a middle power policy for U.S. foreign policy. In particular, I assert that such a policy can facilitate the spread of democracy by creating regional "zones of peace" (Thompson, 1996).
Locating the Place of a Middle Power
The idea of a middle power in international politics is constrained by the preeminent place of political realism in international theory. The role of great powers in the classical realist tradition informed much scholarly discourse up to the era of the Cold War. European states dominated world affairs through the expansion, maintenance, and decline of their empires during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. After World War lithe rise of two superpower states did not lead to a transitional phase of international theory and policy, only a readjustment of the number of relevant great powers. Further support for this posture was provided by the wide acceptance of Kenneth Waltz's study, Theory of International Politics, which has since laid the foundation for international relations theory and practice (Waltz, 1979). These realist arguments emphasize the similar motivations of power and security that characterize the behavior of the strongest actors in the international system. The consequence of this argumen t for the practice of foreign policy was to create a logic that construed regional political behavior in terms of great power interests and goals. For the United States, this meant that solutions to regional dilemmas in the Middle East (Kaufman, 1996; Quandt, 1977, 1986), Southeast Asia (McNamara, 1996), and Africa (Duignan & Gann, 1984, p. 291-293; Kemp, 1978; Legvold, 1978) often were informed primarily by superpower rivalry rather than the particular needs and political aspirations of contending local actors.
While acknowledging that the manner in which states interpret and act on the posited motivations will differ according to their capabilities, the realist position minimizes the fact that these capabilities are relative to the field of action. And, importantly, for the vast majority of states who are not great powers the field of action is limited by geography. Since the demise of the Cold War the restraints imposed by the superpower states on localized geopolitical behavior have been, for the most part, removed. The consequence is that regional international politics has now acquired a primacy in international relations heretofore neglected by theorists of the discipline and policymakers who too often interpreted events from a systemically oriented lens. Thus middle powers may prove to be central actors in the maintenance of international order in the future.
Scholars have considered the role of middle powers in international politics (Holbraad, 1984; Neumann, 1992; Pratt, 1990) and the relation of subsystem or regional politics to the larger international system (Dominguez, 1971; Haas, 1974; Sela, 1998; Triska, 1986). For example, Barry Schutz (1993) notes the importance of autonomous regional dynamics shorn of superpower conflict as central to the creation of local security regimes. My …