In Western policy-making circles and political commentary the Iranian threat is considered to pose the greatest danger to world order and hence must be the primary focus of US foreign policy, with Europe trailing along politely.
What exactly is the Iranian threat? An authoritative answer is provided by the Pentagon and US intelligence. Reporting on global security in 2010, they make it clear that the threat is not military. Iran’s military spending is “relatively low compared to the rest of the region,” they conclude. Its military doctrine is strictly “defensive, designed to slow an invasion and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities.” Iran has only “a limited capability to project force beyond its borders.” With regard to the nuclear option, “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” All quotes.
The brutal clerical regime is doubtless a threat to its own people, though it hardly outranks US allies in that regard. But the threat lies elsewhere, and is ominous indeed. One element is Iran’s potential deterrent capacity, an illegitimate exercise of sovereignty that might interfere with US freedom of action in the region. It is glaringly obvious why Iran would seek a deterrent capacity; a look at the military bases and nuclear forces in the region suffices to explain. Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that “The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy,” particularly when they are under constant threat of attack in violation of the UN Charter. Whether they are doing so remains an open question, but perhaps so.
But Iran’s threat goes beyond deterrence. It is also seeking to expand its influence in neighboring countries, the Pentagon and Intelligence emphasize, and in this way to “destabilize” the region, in the technical terms of foreign policy discourse. US invasion and military occupation of Iran’s neighbors is “stabilization.” Iran’s efforts to extend its influence to them is “destabilization,” hence plainly illegitimate. Such usage is routine. Thus the prominent foreign policy analyst James Chace was properly using the term “stability” in its technical sense when he explained that in order to achieve “stability” in Chile it was necessary to “destabilize” the country (by overthrowing the elected Allende government and installing the Pinochet dictatorship). Other concerns about Iran are equally interesting to explore, but perhaps this is enough to reveal the guiding principles and their status in imperial culture; as FDR’s planners emphasized at the dawn of the contemporary world system, the US cannot tolerate “any exercise of sovereignty” that interferes with its global designs.
A more objective approach would be to ask the world what they think is the greatest threat to world peace.
A global survey conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup at the end of 2013 asked over 60 nations “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”
The US topped the list, with 24 percent of people believing America to be the biggest danger to peace. Please see chart to get a sense of the overwhelming results:
I’m not trying to raise anti-US sentiment. I’m merely pointing at the facts. Next time you hear about Iran or some other “third-world” nation being a threat to world peace, please make sure to correct them.
Lieutenant General Ronald L. Burgess, Director, Defense Intelligence Agency, Statement before the Committee on Armed Services, US Senate, 14 April 2010; Unclassified Report on Military Power of Iran, April 2010; John J Kruzel, American Forces Press Service, “Report to Congress Outlines Iranian Threats”, April 2010
The question on the greatest threat to peace were part of an annual WIN-Gallup International survey of global opinions and outlook for the coming year. This year  national probability samples of around 1,000 people were surveyed in each of the 65 countries polled, a total of 66,806 respondents: