Ali Asghar Kazemi
(Professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran)


The start of the year 2008 will be remembered in current history of Iran. On January 1st 2008 Iran has experienced an unprecedented cold and snowy weather. This same day, pipelines which provided Turkmenistan gas to northern Iran was shut down without prior notice, at least to people caught in the terrible cold.

While climatic changes are among crucial environmental factors which threaten the security and well being of mankind, political dimensions of the matter are significant as well. Governments caught in such natural calamities often blame extraordinary conditions to justify their incapacity to tackle with environmental crises. Iran’s incumbent system did the same during the unprecedented cold of January 2008.

With regards to the stoppage of Turkmenistan gas at this very critical time it was first claimed by government officials that the matter pertained to technical problem. But, soon it was revealed by some domestic newspapers that the problem was deeper than a simple technical matter and related to a long dispute about the price of gas between the two countries. The unexpected harsh weather only brought the matter to the surface.

Engulfed in a terrible cold and snow storm with no heating facilities, people of the majority of provinces started to complain about the incapacity of the government to handle the crisis. Meanwhile many thousands of household gas connections were either completely cut off or became unusable because of lack of pressure. Hundreds of cars were caught in blizzard in principal roads without much help.

The political impact of the cold began to show up when high official started to beg people for economizing and reducing gas consumption. The government ordered industries to shut down production in order to redirect gas to household consumption. Indeed, the cold came to the assistance of political opponents as an opportunity to criticize the hard-line government in the coming parliamentary elections campaign.

Hardliners are anxious to loose their majority seats in the Parliament which seems to be a possibility in the present situation. However, they count on other leverages which could work in their favor in order to change eventual adverse results of the elections.

There is no question that the cold weather at the beginning of winter has shown its enduring impact upon the present political scene of Iran in the following directions:

• Though the Islamic regime owes much of its strength and endurance to low level conflicts and crises, however it has never been ready to face natural disasters and events beyond the control and management capability of inefficient institutions;
• The governmental institutions and machinery are incapable of handling sudden environmental crises such as earthquakes, floods, extreme cold and other natural hazards;
• Lack of strategic insight and contingency planning make it very hard for a self-proclaimed revolutionary regime to tackle with crisis situations;
• Political opponents are no better than the incumbent authorities, because the matter is deep-rooted in the structural and institutional deficiencies;
• Sentimental and not rational approach to foreign policy has already caused much damage to our national and public interests. Turkmenistan irresponsible attitude during the last cold calamities is only one example to be remembered;
• Although it is sure that hard-liners will capitalize on this catastrophe to claim success in handling the crisis, there is no doubt that the government should be taken accountable for its mismanagement and misinformation which caused the death of more than hundred innocent people and huge loss of production during the cold.

Environmental changes are now accepted facts of life on the globe either by natural causes or through man-made artificial reasons. Strategists even go further to predict that future conflicts among nations would be environmental. This is to say that technologically advanced nations are now capable, at least theoretically, to cause inundation or drought by manipulating the clouds over a hostile territory.

Thus, common sense dictates that states should be prepared in their contingency plans for any unexpected natural or artificial events which could have adverse social and political impact upon them.

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