Diplomacy as a Foreign Policy Instrument and the Safavid Civilizational Process

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Department of History, University of Isfahan, Iran

2 PhD in History, Department of History, University of Isfahan, Iran


Diplomacy is one of the most important foreign policy instruments available to a country’s leaders. The government officials and agents regularly have been forced to establish good relations with their neighbors and used diplomatic means in addition to military and economic ones in order to protect the country’s political sovereignty and geographical territory, and to  make progress towards achieving their national goals. During its rule, the Safavid dynasty of Iran (circa 1501-1736) inevitably had to communicate properly with the neighboring countries and its contemporary great powers, in pursuit of the survival of its political rule, the preservation of its geopolitical status, the protection of the country's independence from foreign domination, preventing other governments from interfering in their internal affairs,  the safeguarding of national identity, and the achievement of its religious goals. In fact, the use of diplomatic, military and economic instruments of foreign policy showed remarkable complexity and skills in the Safavid diplomacy, which enabled the rulers to maintain the political-religious structure of their kingdom in competition with the three Sunni governments of the Ottomans, the Uzbeks and the Timurids of India. One of the main objectives of the authors is to study Safavid foreign relations as related to its civilizational process, and try to find suitable answers to the following questions: 1- How did the Safavids used diplomacy to achieve their foreign policy objectives? 2- What was the effect of diplomacy on the advancement of Islamic civilization in the Safavid era?
Inspired by the theory of realism as advanced by scholars such as Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes,  as well as Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Friedrich List, the authors who do not necessarily agree with all the arguments set forth by these realists, emphasize the central role of government, security, and power in international affairs. Most realist scholars have argued that nation-states must use historical experiences rather than abstract principles to achieve their national goals, but it is clear that these goals may be harmful for the rival and antagonist states, and mayat even not be beneficial for the allied and non-hostile states. The realist approach seems to be a proper and practical approach for the study of foreign relations, because it underlines the effective and sensible use of power by governments in order to find ways of securing their national interests. Actually, the concept of national interest is one of the key concepts that has been elaborated by the theorists of the school of realism, and is a constant criterion by which political action should be evaluated and foreign policy objectives should be defined.
The Safavids apparently had premeditated and flexible tactics of using constructive diplomatic tools in their interactions with the regional and extra-regional countries, while following and emphasizing some consistent and time-tested principles. Despite their religious fervor, the Safavid rulers who declared Shi’ism as the state religion, had decided to tolerate other religions inside the county and in its relations with Europe. The research hypothesis assumes that the Safavid reliance on the use of diplomacy as one of the most important instruments of foreign policy had positive consequences for the development of the Safavid civilizational character, and the power and success of the Persian Empire. With a historical approach to understanding past events, the hypothesis is tested by the use of a qualitative method of analyzing historical documents in an effort to examine the evidence contained in what was written or said to explain and interpret these events. Safavid were determined to emphasize the principles of Shi’ism, the policy of open-mindedness and religious tolerance towards the European citizens living in Iran. The Safavid rulers were striving to maintain a traditional balance of power system in Iran’s relations with the rival empires. They were mindful of the political-military alliance with the European countries who were against the common Ottoman enemy, and who could help them with trade and commerce.
 The Safavids' treaties with the Ottomans were centered on political issues, while the focus of their treaties and agreements with the European powers was  mostly trade. Foreign policy considerations, and national security interests encouraged them to adopt strategic and tactical policies based on a set of fixed principles  as well as a variety of flexible tools of statecraft. Neutrality became one of the Safavids' most important foreign policy orientation, which the Safavid rulers adopted after the Treaty of Zuhab was signed by the Safavid and Ottoman empires in an attempt to resolve their border disputes. The new emphasis on following a policy of neutrality was  fairly successful in securing their foreign policy interests and goals.
The results show that the Safavid state during its long reign appeared as a major player in regional politics and played a distinct role in international politics of that era. It established the principles and models of foreign policy, which as a basis and foundation for later periods in the history of the country, lasted for centuries and consequently led to the prosperity of Safavid civilization. In general, the formation of the Safavid state in comparison with the previous historical periods should be considered as a starting point for the establishment of a new civilized society. They were able to establish a relatively stable order in the domestic and foreign domains of Iran for a long time. However, after the glorious rule of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), conflicts increased both horizontally and vertically, which eventually weakened the Safavid rule. Subsequent heightened instability led to the fall of this dynasty and the decline of Safavid civilization.


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Volume 51, Issue 2
September 2021
Pages 434-409
  • Receive Date: 14 July 2020
  • Revise Date: 09 August 2021
  • Accept Date: 18 October 2020
  • First Publish Date: 23 August 2021