Idealism in international relations is a dangerous thing, particularly when it comes to dealing with rogue states. Iran is a prime example of this: driven by the vain hope that appeasement will bring liberalisation, governments continue to financially support the regime, despite no indication whatsoever that it plans to abandon its autocratic and militaristic tendencies.
This was demonstrated once again this week by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the intergovernmental group tackling money laundering and setting counter terrorist financing standards, which postponed imposing sanctions on Iran. FATF gave Tehran until June to clean up its act, despite its failing to act on nine out of ten of FATF’s guidelines and multiple warning. Iran’s broken pledges on money laundering plainly show how dreams trump facts for idealistic leaders.
Iran has always been known to be dangerous. When in 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini said that there will be freedom of expression, Iranians hoped for liberal policies allowing debate and political freedom. Instead, we have a regime that forcefully cracks down on any opposition to its autocratic rule, using violence, detention and torture to maintain absolute control over its people.
According to Amnesty International, Iranian authorities arrested more than 7,000 dissidents last year, with hundreds being jailed, at least 26 protestors killed, and nine people dying in custody under suspicious circumstances.
Those currently detained by the regime include journalists, women who protested against the country’s strict dress code, and the leaders of the opposition political parties. This is not to mention the UK and US dual-nationals currently being held on dubious charges and denied the right to see their families.
Human Rights Watch tries to draw attention to these “rampant violations of the security apparatus and the judiciary” by the regime. It has also highlighted systemic discrimination and abuse of people with disabilities and maintains a constant monitor of discrimination against women in the workforce.
Iran, however, is not only known for the repression of its own population. The regime also has the dubious honour of being one of the world’s biggest sponsors of terrorism, supporting extremist groups operating both in the Middle East and the West.
The Iranian state is known in particular for its deliberate use of terrorism as a foreign policy tool, most notably in its support of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been responsible for murderous terror attacks against the population around the globe, facilitated by generous and ongoing support from the Iranian regime. Iran supports terrorist groups not only by providing weapons and training but also through direct financing for their activities.
The Iranian regime also pursues its aggressive tendencies through more overt means. Several recent reports have warned of this growing danger, including the “Munich Security Report 2019” launched at the Munich Security Conference. This report reveals a worrying growth in Iranian military strength, raising the risk of an accidental clash in the region. Neighbouring countries’ increasingly view Tehran as an emboldened threat whose aspirations for regional hegemony have not been curbed.
European leaders should be listening to these warnings and picking a side. Europe cannot continue to help a country which represents a volatile and growing threat both to its own citizens and to the security of the region. This doublespeak could prove fatal for Europe and its citizens. European leaders seem blind to reality in pursuit of idealistic goals, labouring under the false hope that Iran will moderate its behaviour in return for economic aid. After 40 years of repression, lies, and broken promises, our European leaders need to ask themselves, do we still expect Iran to change?