The greatest challenge for the West in dealing with Iran stems not so much from its behaviour in the Middle East, or even its nuclear programme, as from uncertainty about its ultimate strategic goals.

The West’s dealings with Iran are characterised by confusion. The greatest challenge stems not so much from Iran’s political and military behaviour in the Middle East, or even its nuclear programme, as from uncertainty about Iran’s ultimate goals. Tehran maintains diplomatic relations with all the Western democracies except for the most important, the United States. Yet Iran is an ideologically governed political system,1 widely believed to be motivated by an anti-Western and anti-imperialist view of the world. The key to understanding the problem of Iran thus lies in the relationship between ideology and strategy.

Surprisingly little has been written about the nexus of ideology, on the one hand, and strategy and war, on the other.2 This may be because authors either take the link for granted or, alternatively, do not consider it a topic worth studying. The ‘end of ideology’ has been proclaimed and rejected at least twice before.3 Ideology was declared to have been exhausted by the political consensus of the 1950s, a proposition opposed vociferously by Niklas Luhmann,4 and then declared to have been abolished by the discourse analysis of Jürgen Habermas, Jean-François Lyotard and, especially, Michel Foucault in the 1970s.5 The Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton spoke out forcefully at the beginning of the 1990s against giving up the idea of ideology, but his influence was restricted to academic circles and his argument was given scant consideration in strategic studies. Something similar happened to Alan Cassels, who penned the best overview of the role of ideology in international relations.6

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Walter Posch is a Middle East security expert and historian at the National Defense Academy of the Austrian Army in Vienna.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

October–November 2017

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