The Necessity of Balance in Foreign Policy

Amir Pasandepour
29 Min Read
The Necessity of Balance in Foreign Policy

The necessity of balancing in foreign policy

The necessity of balancing in foreign policy has been a significant topic of discussion in some political arenas in recent months. This discussion, especially due to the raised issue and accusations of joint cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia in the Ukraine war, as well as the alignment of China and Russia with the Arab states of the Persian Gulf on territorial integrity matters, and also the hostilities of some countries towards Iran, has intensified. Therefore, it is appropriate for the dimensions of the issue to be further deliberated.

The reality is that the concept of balanced foreign policy has been ambiguous for some diplomats and at times has been exclusively equated with establishing peaceful relations with America and the Western bloc. However, balanced foreign policy, especially for a country with unique geographical and political coordinates like Iran, pertains to broad, deep, and complex concepts and meanings that have not received sufficient attention from diplomatic practitioners. It is evident that ambiguity in this matter cannot assist in formulating strategies aligned with reality in foreign policy.

Fundamentally, the main undeniable balance and equilibrium in international relations is dedicated to the various aspects and diverse elements of foreign relations and driving forces of changes in the international environment and shaping the interests within it. It is reminded above all that foreign policy is an inseparable whole. The policy of transformations and international relations is composed of elements and entities, and the key to success in formulating a balanced foreign policy is to have a balanced and fair view of all its components.

This is a principle and empirical law governing foreign relations in the international environment. Neglecting this principle is merely an illusion and inevitably leads to capital loss in geopolitical competitions with foreigners.

The developments of the past three decades at the international level indicate the reality that not only has the world passed the unipolar era and entered into multipolar relations, but also with the emergence of new political, economic, and military coalitions, a new balance has been formed between small and medium powers on one side and large global powers on the other. Major and emerging powers have come out of their traditional and surrounding areas, searched for new regions in the world, and expanded their sphere of influence over a wider radius.

Countries have discovered the multi-polar world and the distribution of power in new economic, political, and cultural capacities, creating a new balance in politics and international relations. For example, Europe has formed alliances and transatlantic relations with South America, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, Asia, and Central Asia, shaping new capacities in international relations through comprehensive organizations. India has taken innovative actions with countries in the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and the Caucasus, creating a new set of economic areas and accelerating the distribution of power.

By focusing on the scientific and digital capabilities of the United States, this country has implemented various projects such as ICET and utilizes these capabilities and new capacities for development. Turkey has established organized relations with African and Arab countries and recently in the Ukraine issue. Russia has exercised new power dynamics in the Mediterranean and uses available opportunities in the Persian Gulf and other regions of the world based on a multi-polar order.

Countries around the Persian Gulf have unprecedentedly formed economic ties and new connections with China, sharing their economic capacities while maintaining strategic relations with the West and the United States. Southern Persian Gulf countries, emerging from the previous bipolar and unipolar order, are strengthening the principle of shared interests, economic integration, forming new alliances, and creating transcontinental economic power in an unparalleled manner. Besides expanding regional influence in the global power orbit, they are experiencing a new role and presence in the United Nations and the General Assembly.

China has taken significant steps towards creating effective competition with the United States by utilizing the economic and trade capacities and capabilities of America and Europe, as well as presenting mutually beneficial initiatives with Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Recently, this country has been striving to enter the traditional sphere of influence of America and strengthen its competition with this country through collective coalitions with the countries in the Persian Gulf region.

The United States, England, and Australia have designed and implemented a new pact called AUKUS to counter China’s influence expansion in a tight competition with Europe. These, along with other prominent examples, indicate the formation of new relations at regional and global levels, with the most significant aspect being the emergence of a new balance in the world based on multipolar relations and the distribution of power and capacities.

The first and most central point in these new developments is that in this multipolar world, all countries use the element of positive balance between different and even conflicting phenomena and factions to preserve their interests. By doing so, they expand their sphere of influence and benefit from new capacities at the international and regional levels. No country in the new multipolar arenas can be found limiting itself to one pole and a specific political space. As a result, despite being deprived of the new capacities released by the multipolar system, they have still achieved their foreign policy goals.

The necessity and prerequisite of political life in a multipolar system is to create a positive balance and political attraction in all aspects as an indispensable strategy. On the other hand, the prerequisite for the success of the strategy of positive balance is to strengthen the historical, cultural, economic, military, and political advantages of the country, which can maintain a high degree of restraint in creating a balance with other players. Otherwise, not only will a positive balance not be established, but the conditions will move towards submission to the demands of foreigners. Of course, this strategy, as mentioned, must be aimed at preserving the national interests of the country based on a balance of interests on one hand, and preserving the sovereignty and integrity of the country and realizing the fundamental principles of a nation on the other hand.

Positive balance in a multipolar world is by no means contradictory to having strategic relations with allies. Strategic relations with some countries can in turn strengthen positive balance and make it more efficient. However, it should be noted that strategic relations with countries or a group of countries have their own specific legal, political, and economic definitions and characteristics that require special conditions to access them.

For example, Iran has not been able to have appropriate strategic relations with countries or even neighboring countries as it should in the current situation, because Iran’s current situation and foreign policy orientation on one hand, and the inconsistency of neighboring countries’ foreign policies towards Iran and their shared interests with Iran’s rivals and enemies on the other hand, do not currently allow for such permissions.

Therefore, not only is it necessary to strengthen the positive balance strategy in foreign policy more than ever, but ways should be sought to compensate for the lack of strategic relations with countries. The most effective way in this situation is to focus on identifying power components and power production areas in the world, which should be achieved through moving away from calculations in static situations and paying attention to the dynamics of international developments.

On the other hand, from a historical perspective, strategic loneliness can naturally be one of Iran’s major challenges in international relations. This loneliness has created difficult and complicated conditions for Iran and incurred costs. Experience has shown that the way to deal with the challenges and threats arising from strategic loneliness is to adjust a balanced foreign policy. Unfortunately, due to the clichéd thinking prevailing in the country’s diplomatic circles, vague and sometimes incorrect perceptions have formed about balanced foreign policy, leading to errors and misunderstandings in the decision-making process.

Some believe that balanced foreign policy solely means reviving relations with the US and the West, which is not the case. The driving forces and power components in the current international environment are complex and diverse. Therefore, the scope of the discussion on balanced foreign policy goes far beyond the necessity of establishing relations with the Western world. In the current international system, there are ample opportunities for national growth and development, with the condition for benefiting from them being the creation of a balance in utilizing power resources.

In other words, the first step towards establishing a balance in international relations, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is the necessity of evaluating the existing order as a great opportunity. It is obvious that having an opportunistic view towards the existing order does not imply the absence of threats in this order. However, addressing threats in the international environment is subject to variables that paying attention to them makes achieving goals easier. This discussion attempts to outline indicators of balanced foreign policy based on the multiplicity of power components and diverse arenas of power production. It is appropriate to first refer to some principles and influential elements in achieving balanced foreign policy before presenting indicators.

1. Principle of Indivisibility

As mentioned at the beginning, the various aspects and elements in international relations and foreign policy are an indivisible whole. International relations have various components and dimensions, and the first requirement for pursuing a balanced foreign policy is to have a balanced view of all components and understand the importance of their roles in this whole.

The first aspect of the principle of indivisibility of internal connection and mutual effects of political concepts and phenomena in international relations is that driving forces in the nature of power, influence, security, deterrence, development, and balance continuously have mutual influences on each other. Penetration in the realm of global goods and common needs in the international environment is synonymous with development and non-divisional sector of power, closely related to security. All these concepts and elements individually and collectively produce deterrence to protect interests and counter threats.

An important point in the principle of indivisibility is that falling behind in the development sector rapidly reflects in the security sector and manifests as geopolitical threats. For example, rapid growth and development on the coasts and shores of the Arabian Gulf reflects as geopolitical threats against Iran due to the remoteness of Iranian shores in this aquatic region.

Basically, foreign policy has a mission in three areas: security, development, and promoting values. Diplomacy of countries succeeds when it maintains a balanced approach to all the missions of foreign policy. Regarding Iran’s foreign policy, it should be noted that as much as the mission to ensure the country’s security and citizens and promote values ​​is important, achieving development is also an inseparable part of foreign relations and a necessary condition for achieving foreign policy goals.

Development in the country’s foreign relations is not just a national and governmental commitment for the country’s economic and social advancement and the welfare of citizens. The mission for development is not a matter of choice or a tactical decision, but a necessity and a powerful tool in geopolitical competition with outsiders to safeguard national interests.

The second aspect of this principle is the distinguishability of international developments. The behaviors of actors in the international arena take shape in a cause-and-effect relationship. The notion of isolated actions in the existing international system is certainly a simplistic view. The components in this system are so intertwined that one can never calculate developments, decisions, political behaviors in the world, both in the process and in the result, without considering the interdependence, relationship, and mutual influence on each other.

In other words, although the scope of complex international relations includes different and conflicting interests among countries and geographical regions, international and global actions and relations take place in a unified and distinguishable environment. The movements of countries and political alliances have internal dependencies and connections, and definitely influence each other in the process and as a result.

Therefore, it is not possible to separate bilateral relations from multilateral relations in the existing world order. Similarly, it is not possible to distinguish bilateral and regional relations from international relations and developments in international organizations. All these relationships are inseparable in their effects and consequences in a global network.

Distinguishability in international relations, especially the distinguishability of threats, occurs both at the surface and in depth, and both sides ultimately converge at a point. Distinguishability of threats at the surface is a situation where states, in the course of geopolitical competition and in response to a rival’s development, use all foreign policy tools – defensive, economic, and security – outside their borders to horizontally address threats posed by their rivals at the right time and place.

The discernibility of threats in depth indicates transformations where international actors carry out threats within borders, among populations, and inside rival countries, striving towards negative mindset formation and creating national humiliation, ultimately leading to the disintegration of rival countries. Examples of such threats are vertical.

An important point is that all these transformations, whether at surface or in depth, occur in a cause-and-effect relationship and in a continuous and interconnected network. For example, one cannot imagine political behavior in an incident in the West without affecting the East, or vice versa. In other words, if country A takes action on a front in the North against its rival or enemy, it should expect a similar or different action in the South by country B against itself, both at surface and in depth.

An important point is that if country A assumes its action in the South in isolation or lacks readiness to confront country B and its rival, it will certainly be the loser in political, defensive, security, economic, and cultural activities at regional and international levels. This means that the initiating country at point A in political, defensive, and security areas against its rival or enemy must definitely be prepared to confront its rival or enemy at point B.

On the contrary, the initiating country must understand that lack of deterrence at point A, especially in a state of unpreparedness to respond comprehensively to rival threats at point B, will definitely jeopardize national development goals and even its own existence.

In other words, the country in question must make this calculation before any action: Is confronting and striking the enemy at point A proportional to its deterrent power to prevent the enemy from establishing balance at point B? Because if the confrontation with the enemy on one side is not proportionate to its deterrent power on the other side, the country in question will definitely suffer serious and strategic damage in both points. It is appropriate now to refer to the elements of deterrence. Undoubtedly, military might in terms of forces and equipment is one of the most important elements of deterrence.

However, this issue is not limited to the military component alone, and certainly other elements such as a country’s international status, political coalition with other powerful countries, economic power, influence of media and public diplomacy, external cultural outreach, and internal cohesion and consensus play a crucial role in deterrence power. Therefore, it is emphasized once again that confrontation at one point without possessing deterrence power at another point is synonymous with increasing weakness and constant erosion of national interests.

What is currently observed in the general Caucasus region, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and some neighboring countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the behaviors of Russia, India, and other players, is just one example of the reflection of the mentioned principles. Therefore, the first result of paying attention to the principle of indivisibility in the international environment is the necessity of formulating smart and balanced diplomacy through analyzing and calculating international political events and movements in the broader network of the global and multi-dimensional elements interconnected and mutually influential in this environment.

Smart diplomacy in the process of diplomatic movements sees all influential elements and components, actions, and reactions together in a global and international framework. Therefore, with this comprehensive view, unilateralism and divisiveness in international relations are a deadly and destructive poison to national interests.

Two powers, guarantor and overseer.

Cross-border presence and influence and efforts to create the desired order or security arrangements and boundaries and horizons of international political presence at the regional and global levels must be proportionate to the level of overseer’s power to maintain the continuous presence and influence as a support. Otherwise, defensive and security achievements will also disappear predictably. For example, after World War II, the United States established its desired international order in the surrounding region of Europe and even Asia.

For the preservation of its desired order in Europe as a guarantor of order, the United States implemented the Marshall Plan with its economic power and did the same for such an arrangement in Japan. Russia, after the Soviet Union, also preserved some large countries under its influence during the Soviet era with its power as a guarantor of the new order under the name of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in its surrounding environment.

In recent years, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have signed agreements in the field of security arrangements in some areas in Syria as guarantors of those arrangements and have protected their desired order as influential powers in the field. Similarly, France has tried to establish its desired order in some regions of the African continent in the years following the independence of African countries and has sought to pursue its interests as a guardian and protector of order through its comprehensive authority.

These examples, among many others, demonstrate that countries that seek to establish regional and global order or engage in cross-border presence and influence must necessarily possess the required authority as a country acting as a guarantor and supervisor in military, economic, and cultural domains. They must also create necessary structures in future processes to safeguard and protect their cross-border presence and influence, their desired order, and ultimately preserve the results and achievements as well as their short-term and long-term interests.

It is obvious that if a country cannot establish a real proportion between its power as a guarantor and actor of restraint on one hand, and its external presence, international influence, and global political horizon on the other hand, it will definitely incur high costs in the long run, sometimes jeopardizing its achievements and exposing itself to numerous threats.

The Three Principles of Comprehensive Deterrence

The principle of deterrence in its comprehensive concept and the deterrent power of countries is one of the elements that can determine the success level of countries in achieving their foreign policy goals. In other words, the quality and scope of activities, the extent of influence and external presence in foreign and defense policies must necessarily be proportionate to the comprehensive deterrent power of the country in question. This means that countries, in determining strategic confrontation points and their foreign dealings with rivals and enemies, as well as in designing their external interests and initiatives, must consider their deterrent power. The greater the deterrent power, the greater the ability to create balance and equilibrium in foreign relations, and consequently, further safeguard national interests in foreign policy.

A country that seeks to establish a secure and stable security and economic belt and protect its interests by presence and external influence, or creating order around itself, must have the necessary deterrent power in defense, economic, political, and cultural areas to neutralize activities or attacks by enemies in the aforementioned areas and be able to disable their advancement with its deterrent power in the surrounding environment.

For example, one aspect of comprehensive deterrent power is the convergence and alignment of economic and political interests, where greater convergence of economic trends in the surrounding environment with economic influential powers is crucial. This shared interest must be so strong and extensive that competitors or enemies in the geopolitical arena cannot easily and cost-effectively implement their disruptive plans. The security doctrines and political schemes of countries should be designed in a way that can be supported by a strong deterrent power; otherwise, the implementation of political schemes and security arrangements will face failure, imposing high and sometimes irreparable costs.

The 4 principles of the fluidity of interests and the necessity of establishing balance and equilibrium among them.

Principles and their benefits are two different concepts. Principles are constant, but benefits are fluid. The form and content of benefits define their political structure and earthly transformations. For example, the form and content of benefits during the reign of ISIS and terrorism in Iraq and Syria are different from the post-ISIS era. During ISIS, the benefit was in fighting ISIS and military mechanisms and strategies, but in the post-ISIS era, the benefit lies in presence and influence in the constructive processes, expanding political communications with competitors in this process, and economic strategies.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for some European countries like Germany, expanding relations, especially economic relations, with Russia and the Nord Stream gas contract were considered beneficial. However, after the Russian attack, the direction of benefits changed, and many contracts, especially the Nord Stream, were put on hold. Joining NATO was not perceived as beneficial for some countries, but after the war, joining NATO was considered beneficial.

Saudi Arabia’s benefit during the era of absolute American hegemony and the bipolar era of being in Washington’s orbit. However, this country, after the transformation in the international order and the rise of emerging countries and the emergence of China as a powerful player in global geopolitics, and the security developments in the region, and the political changes in the world, defined new benefits in the form of foreign policy that are completely different from previous eras. Even Putin, in different political eras and periods over the past 25 years, has designed and implemented different and even conflicting interests in relation to the Western world.

Therefore, an efficient government in the field of foreign policy necessarily pursues the fluidity of interests as a practical and customary principle. Hence, the principle of the fluidity of interests dictates that foreign policy in different eras identifies real interests and realizes them with tools that align with their changes. In the second stage, the duty of foreign policy and practical diplomacy is to establish balance and equilibrium in various areas of security, economy, and values. Diplomacy in different situations must be moderate and calculate the desired interests accordingly.

In other words, if one or more interests in foreign policy are consistently prioritized over other interests, national goals may not be achieved and it may also harm the economy, culture, and development of the country. For example, the main countries of the European Union and mainly European countries have defined multiple interests such as promoting human rights, democracy, economic interests, military presence, and security arrangements, preserving and expanding bilateral and multilateral relations, strengthening geopolitical presence in the region and the world, and combating terrorism in their foreign and defense policies.

On the other hand, statements, declarations, documents, and analyses of some of them indicate that they are not willing to sacrifice one interest for another except in special and exceptional circumstances, if it harms the general principle of national interests. For example, the Netherlands, which is among the most famous countries in the world for adhering to international human rights, is not willing to compromise on their economic national interests and strategic relations with countries for the sake of upholding human rights, which they consider as a divine revelation in their beliefs.

In other words, the Netherlands does not want to defend its universal human rights at the expense of sacrificing its other strategic interests internationally. It goes without saying that every country designs its own interests, aspects, and different dimensions based on its fundamental principles. However, in general, a key to success in foreign policy is the necessity of creating a balance and equilibrium between various national interests in implementing political plans.


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Expertise: Diplomatic Relations_Political Relations / Master's in International Relations / Former Head of the Policy Council for Diplomat Monthly Publications: Book on Foreign Policy of the Islamic Republic (Published by the Expediency Discernment Council) / Book on Security and Entrepreneurship (Academic Publishing) / Translation: Book on Social Media and Power (Pileh Publishing)