[5]
The Iranian Revolution

We have in reality, then, no choice but to . . . overthrow all treacherous, corrupt, oppressive, and criminal regimes.

— Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Nobody is ever ready for a revolution.

— Gary Sick, White House aide for Iran, 1977-81

Like the French and Russian revolutions, the Islamic upheaval in Iran confirms that revolutions raise the level of security competition between states. By altering the regional balance of power, the revolution in Iran both threatened other states and created opportunities for them. It also triggered spirals of hostility between the new regime and several other countries, which raised the level of threat even further. The fear that the revolution would spread made the danger seem greater, and lingering opposition within Iran fed the new regime's fears of foreign plots and gave its rivals the impression that it would be easy to overturn. Foreign responses to the revolution were also affected by uncertainty and misinformation, which exacerbated each side's perceptions of threat.

The hopes and fears that accompanied the revolution turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Although the Iranian example did encourage fundamentalists in other countries, it was not the sole (or even the most important) cause of the Islamic resurgence, and Iranian efforts to export the revolution to other countries have been largely unsuccessful. Foreign beliefs that the new regime would collapse turned out to be equally misguided; the Islamic Republic has survived diplomatic isolation, economic difficulties, a costly war, and internal conflicts that have endured for over fifteen years. Again we find that revolutions are both hard to spread and hard to reverse.

Finally, the Iranian Revolution offers only modest support for neorealist claims about the socializing effects of the international system. As in the Soviet case, key members of the revolutionary elite sought to moderate Iranian diplomacy in order to improve its international position. Their efforts were erratic and incomplete, however, for several reasons: the evidence in

-210-

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Revolution and War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Revolution and War *
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - A Theory of Revolution and War 18
  • 3 - The French Revolution 46
  • 4 - The Russian Revolution 129
  • 5 - The Iranian Revolution 210
  • 6 - The American, Mexican, Turkish, and Chinese Revolutions 269
  • 7 - Conclusion 331
  • Index 353
  • Cornell Studies in Security Affairs *
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