Small Wars Journal

Iran's Political, Demographic, and Economic Vulnerabilities

Iran's Political, Demographic, and Economic Vulnerabilities by Keith Crane, Rollie Lal and Jeffrey Martini; Rand Corporation Monograph.

Iran is one of the United States' most important foreign policy concerns. It has also been an extraordinarily difficult country with which to engage. Ironically, while the leadership has been hostile to the United States, Iranian society has evolved in ways friendly to the United States and US interests. This monograph assesses current political, ethnic, demographic, and economic trends and vulnerabilities in Iran. For example, the numbers of young people entering the Iranian labor force are at an all-time high. The authors then provide recommendations for US policies that might foster trends beneficial to US interests. For example, greater use of markets and a more-vibrant private sector would contribute to the development of sources of political power independent from the current regime. The authors finally note a need for patience. Even if favorable trends take root, it will take time for them to come to fruition.

Rand Press Release:

The United States should pursue a mixed strategy toward Iran, using a variety of means to promote favorable social developments within the country and at the same time exploiting vulnerabilities in the nation's political, economic and demographic conditions, according to a study issued today by the Rand Corporation.

However, Iran's vulnerabilities are "not extraordinary" and have become less severe over the last decade as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have consolidated their power.

"The United States can use Iran's vulnerabilities to advance US goals, but expectations should be kept low," said Keith Crane, the study's lead author and a senior economist at Rand, a nonprofit research organization. "This is going to be a long-term proposition. Although economic and social forces within Iran are pushing for liberalization, the current regime has been able to maintain its hold on power."

Despite hostile rhetoric expressed by Iranian leaders toward the United States, Iranian society has a generally favorable view of the United States, partly because there is a large population of Iranians living in America, Crane said. Although it faces many problems, the current Iranian regime is likely to resist external pressure for change. It may, however, become more democratic over time, as economic, political and demographic pressures from within force the government to respond to popular desires for a more democratic state.

The Rand report is based upon an assessment of the ethnographic, political and economic literature about Iran, in addition to official Iranian government statements and monitored blogs maintained by Iranians. Economic assessments from the Central Bank of Iran and the International Monetary Fund also were a part of the material assessed.

The study recommends that US policy should be crafted with the goals of fostering conditions for a more democratic Iranian society, weakening the ability of the Iranian government to crack down on dissenters, and penalizing the Iranian government for policies that harm the United States...