Four Scenarios for Iran's Future
Volker Perthes | openDemocracy l February 2010
It is nearly impossible to predict what the future will hold for Iranian politics. Nevertheless, thinking through various conceivable scenarios does provide decision-makers with important cues as to possible future developments. Two variables are important in any assessment of plausible political developments in Iran: the strength of the regime and the potential for external conflicts, in particular the question of nuclear armament. Thus the following four scenarios present themselves for the period of early 2010 through late 2011:
- A circling of wagons: By early 2010, it is obvious that a nuclear agreement between Iran and the so-called “five-plus-one” (U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) will not be reached. The United States and Europe declare that they will limit trade and financial transactions involving Iran. They use economic pressure to induce Iran to step down. Political unrest manifests in the country. The potential for low-level conflict rises, while Iran remains economically stable.
- A dysfunctional system: The standoff on the nuclear front continues. Russia and China support a new UN Security Council resolution imposing more sanctions on Iran. The country continues various provocations, such as rocket tests and provocative statements concerning Israel. The G20 greatly reduce trade relations with Iran. The economic situation domestically deteriorates. Moreover, accidents at nuclear sites give cause for concern. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is no longer popular. The Iranian government becomes increasingly dysfunctional.
- A tightened fist: The international community is distracted by a crisis with North Korea. The Iranian nuclear program stagnates, the economy deteriorates. The opposition organizes protest rallies. A power-struggle erupts openly. An Interim Committee for the Rescue of the Islamic Revolution assumes governing responsibility, while parliament is dissolved.
- A dual détente: Iran is permitted to work with uranium in limited quantities. In exchange, the Iranian government pledges adherence to the additional protocol of the non-proliferation treaty. Russia supports a new agreement, which is signed in March 2010. Soon thereafter Iran and the United States begin negotiations on closer economic ties and visa policies. The Iranian opposition supports the government’s policies, as regime critics regain confidence.
In spite of these four scenarios, matters could turn out quite differently. A worst-case scenario remains relevant, involving an all-out war between Iran and Israel and/or the United States. In order to prevent such a nightmare from coming to pass, the above scenarios hope to inspire policy-makers to think and act in order to achieve a peaceful outcome.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team from "Iran 2010-11: four scenarios and a nightmare" published here by openDemocracy.