No Conquest, No Defeat

Iran’s National Security Strategy

Ariane M. Tabatabai

An extremely timely history of what drives Iran’s security policies towards both its neighbours and its adversaries further afield.

Bibliographic Details
No Conquest, No Defeat Hardback
September 2020£35
9781787382091 400pp

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In early 2019, the Islamic Republic of Iran marked its fortieth anniversary, despite decades of isolation, political pressure, sanctions and war. Observers of its security policies continue to try and make sense of this unlikely endurance. Though there are significant disagreements about the Islamic Republic’s thinking and intentions, virtually everyone agrees that its policies are fundamentally different from those pursued by their monarchical predecessors.

No Conquest, No Defeat offers a historically grounded overview of Iranian national security. Tabatabai argues that Iranian strategic thinking is perhaps best characterised by its dynamic yet resilient nature, one that is continually evolving and whose foundations were laid out decades ago. To understand Iran’s national security thinking and policies today, one must examine them in their historical context.

As the Islamic Republic enters its fifth decade, this book sheds new light on Iran’s controversial nuclear and missile programmes, and its involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.


Ariane M. Tabatabai is the Middle East Fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund and an Adjunct Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University. She is the co-author of Triple Axis: Iran's Relations with Russia and China and holds a PhD from the Department of War Studies at King's College London.


‘In this comprehensive and historically informed book, Tabatabai traces post-revolutionary Iran’s defence policy back to the nineteenth century and highlights elements of long-standing continuity. This is a persuasive and corrective study opposing the oft-repeated claim that the Islamic Republic’s national security approach can be captured in one word: “revolutionary”.’ — Sussan Siavoshi, Una Chapman Cox Professor of International Affairs, Trinity University, San Antonio

‘A magisterial work of scholarship that skilfully overturns common tropes on the Islamic Republic’s military behaviour. Deploying a rich array of sources and written in graceful, lucid prose, No Conquest, No Defeat unspools the threads of continuity between Iran’s supposedly “exceptional” present and its pre-revolutionary past.’ — Frederic Wehrey, Senior Fellow, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

No Conquest, No Defeat offers a fresh and innovative perspective on the underlying security considerations that drive Iranian strategic thinking, its foreign policy, and its behaviour in the region. Tabatabai argues that continuity rather than a sharp break characterises Iran’s international behaviour under the Islamic Republic. A must-read.’ — Haleh Esfandiari, Director Emerita and Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars