Helpless Foreign Policy and the Lack of a Sense of Reality

  August 07, 2021   Read time 2 min
Helpless Foreign Policy and the Lack of a Sense of Reality
The sovereign being “the sole executive” who could, to recall Lord Curzon’s words, reduce his ministers or others “to impotence and beggary in the twinkling of an eye, ”the Qäjär Shahs were the true makers of these alliances and the real instigators of these wars.

They, like the Iranian monarchs of previous centuries, were identified with the state itself, and their means and ends were those of Iran. Before Iran was drawn into the scheme of European power politics, the process of weakening had already set in. Nevertheless, at the turn of the nineteenth century Iran enjoyed not only vast possessions but, more importantly, freedom from foreign domination. This was still the case when Fath 'Ali Shah ascended the throne of Iran.

The policies of Fath ‘Ali Shah and his successors reduced Iran’s power swiftly. In slightly over a decade the Shah lost enormous territories to Russia, losses which made the Caspian Sea a Russian lake. In the second war with Russia he lost more territory and opened the country to foreign domination through the grant of capitulatory privileges, first to Russia and subsequently to other European powers. Later the various campaigns against Afghanistan by Muhammad Shah and Nâsir al-Dïn Shah further dissipated Iran’s human and material resources. These campaigns also led to the war with Great Britain, as the result of which Iran acknowledged the loss of Afghanistan. All these unprepared wars within a few decades resulted in Iran’s becoming a weak state, inexorably caught between two rival powers pursuing opposing aims.

In all these wars, as well as alliances, Iran’s fundamental objective was the recovery of former territories. The irredentist tendencies of the Q äjär rulers surpassed those of Shah Ism äil, Shah Tahmäsb, Shah 'Abbäs, Nadir Shah, and other Iranian monarchs of the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Acquisition of the ancient frontiers of Iran, and even areas beyond, had been the goal of the foreign policy of many pre-nineteenth-century rulers. They had sought to maximize their personal and dynastic power by recovering former territories, by utilizing the Shif ideology, or by recalling the greatness of the ancient past. The nineteenth-century monarchs aspired to reach the limits of the empire of Nadir Shah, if not of Cyrus the Great.

Monarchial irredentism was accompanied by a persistent disparity between the means and ends in the nineteenth-century wars. Fath ‘All Shah went into unprepared wars with Russia, Muhammad Shah with the Afghans, and Näsir al-Din Shah with Great Britain. They all insisted on the same goal of recovering Iran’s former territories without recognizing the limitations of their power. As a result, to paraphrase Walter Lippmann’s remarkably applicable words, preventable wars were not prevented, unavoidable wars were fought without being adequately prepared for, and settlements were made which were the prelude to a new cycle of unprepared wars and unavoidable settlements.