Realism, Liberalsm, Constructivism, and Iran


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr.

     Some realists would divide the possession of nuclear weapons by the government of Iran topic into a discussion of hard power and soft power. “In the realist hard power perspective, a rising Iran is a rising threat” (Rahigh-Aghsan 2010). In essence, when a state is increasing in power the increase of power sets the precedent for increased security, and in this context, a nuclear program. This hard power perspective concedes that others in the Mid-Eastern regions will responsively develop fear and resultantly increase their attention to procurement of arms. Militarily, Iran would position itself objectively to further its momentum for power by denying any outside attempts toward intervention. This perspective could also be referred to as defensive realism. The soft power perspective would anticipate Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons as enhancing its ability to maintain the power afforded to it by the Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad and Hizbullah’s increasing influence in Lebanon. Nuclear possession in this regard would help Iran wield religious and ideological influences throughout the Middle East producing civil unrest and violence. This perspective could also be referred to as offensive realism.

      Liberalism literature could exclude military aims altogether and reduce the possession of nuclear weapons as a means of concentrating on economic development. The main assumptions of liberalism would include notions such as: Iran only wants to make electricity, achieve economic stability, deter the threats of trade sanctions, and gain a competitive advantage globally (Sadedin, 2009). This would affect international politics of the Middle East in regard to trade negotiations and could also increase other state’s sense of insecurity as economic advantage is also a means to a militaristic advantage.

     Constructivism would lend itself to questions such as why would Iran possess nuclear weapons, what are the costs versus benefits of having them, and does the possession of nuclear weapons fit into Iran’s international strategy. From there ideologies or behaviors could be examined. For instance, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa revealing that the possession, production, or use of nuclear weapons was considered sinful and therefore forbidden (GJIA 2013). This would immediately discourage an extreme view that they just want to bomb someone.

     Finally, the constructivist approach, once adopted, could later prove the realist approach was a more realistic one if Iran’s leader is found to have concealed its true position using religious rhetoric. Constructively, a lie of such magnitude (when considering the operational efficacy of a fatwa) would give legitimate cause for all actors within the international spectrum of the Middle East to develop policies toward and forge alliances against Iran. In that case, liberalism would be discarded as well. Thus, it remains imperative to cross-examine IR theories when examining international affairs. “As Patrick Jackson and Daniel Nexon (2004) have pointed out, there are ‘‘variants’’ of constructivism that can at any time share certain assumptions with realists and liberals because constructivism is not one predominantly uniform research ‘‘program’’ but, rather, a loose paradigm of related interpretations” (Steele 2007).


 GJIA. “When Dealing with Iran, Switch to Constructivism for a Change.” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 2013. (accessed September 16, 2013).

Rahigh-Aghsan, Ali:Jakobsen, Peter Viggo. “The Rise of Iran: How Durable, how Dangerous?” The Middle East Journal. Vol. 64. Washington, Autumn 2010. (accessed September 16, 2013).

Sadedin, S. “A Cross-Cultural Study of Attitudes Toward Iran’s Nuclear Development Program.” Order No. 3344450, Walden University, 2009. In PROQUESTMS ABI/INFORM Global, (accessed September 16, 2013).

Steele, Brent. “Liberal-Idealism: A Constructivist Critique,” in International Studies Review, (University of Kansas, Department of Political Science 2007), 35, accessed September 16, 2013, EBSCOhost Ebrary.


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