SHEEHAN: Balancing Ends, Ways, and Means: The Case for Reviving Support for ‘Regime Change from Within’ in Iran | The Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis | Syracuse University | Spring 2015 | 10th Edition

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SHEEHAN: Balancing Ends, Ways, and Means: The Case for Reviving Support for “Regime Change from Within” in Iran | The Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis | Syracuse University | Spring 2015 | 10th Edition

As a March 31 deadline looms and world powers scramble to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program – and on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings to a joint session of Congress this week – Dr. Ivan Sascha Sheehan has published his latest paper titled Balancing Ends, Ways, and Means: The Case for Reviving Support for ‘Regime Change from Within’ in Iran in The Journal on Terrorism and Security Analysis (Syracuse University). In the paper he argues that “the U.S. needs to abandon the idea that pressure on Iran in the form of support for “regime change from within” will only derail talks. As Kenneth Pollack has pointed out, Iran does not moderate when the pressure is off but when it is high.

Excerpt: The regime’s expanding use of proxies to destabilize its neighbors is another matter of urgent concern. Iran still provides small arms shipments and training to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In addition, and despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, it gives regular guidance and training to Shia militants in Iraq. It has also deployed several hundred military specialists, including senior Quds Force commanders to Syria and is believed to have spent billions of dollars to support the Assad regime as it continues its brutal crackdown on the Syrian people, a crackdown that has resulted in the deaths of more than 70,000 civilians. Additionally, Iran has been sending weapons to secessionist movements to foment dissent and destabilize Yemen. These activities too are unlikely to stop in the presence of a nuclear deal, if one occurs. As Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, indicated as recently as November 2013, Iran is determined on “challenging the influence of America in the region and extending its own influence”and it does not appear to be inclined to change how it pursues its influence “one iota.” 

Further, to support these activities and defend against potential fallout, Iran has intensified a brutal crackdown on its own citizens. While the regime’s record on human rights has always been poor, its repression of ordinary Iranians reached new heights in the wake of the disputed elections of 2009. Protestors were arrested en masse, tortured, raped and killed in prison. Today, as many as 500 Iranian dissidents, including minority rights and women’s activists, are still behind bars. Leading opposition figures such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and Zahra Rahnavard have now been held under house arrest for three years without charges or trial, and “despite President Rouhani’s numerous promises to respect people’s rights following his June 2013 electoral victory,” serious rights abuses continue. One of the most alarming trends is the surge in executions. Iran is now ranked number one, above China, in executions per capita. According to Ahmed Shaheed, Iran’s UN special rapporteur for human rights, 176 people were put to death in January, February, and early March of 2014 alone. Several were executed in public and many sources believe the numbers are much higher. According to other reports, including the Human Rights Documentation Center, more than 500 people have been executed since Rouhani took office. These trends, coupled with the regime’s record of arbitrary detention and unfair trials, discrimination against minorities, mistreatment of political prisoners and restrictions on freedom of expression, led the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to deliver a sharp rebuke to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, as recently as March 2014. The problem is that such abuses not only affect individuals and communities. In “a world of complex interdependencies and trans-border activities,” they also have “spillover effects.” In particular they can increase the flow of refugees with destabilizing effects in neighboring countries. In addition, as Tim Dunne points out they “diminish the constraining capacity of key norms” and in the process give a “green light” to other states to engage in similar repression in blatant violation of international standards of behavior.

Access a full PDF of the newly published article here.

For additional research or media related updates or to learn more, follow Dr. Sheehan on Twitter @ProfSheehan.

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