All Writings
July 31, 2004

Defeating Terrorism 5

New York, August 15, 2004 – – To prevent catastrophic attacks, and ultimately defeat terrorism, the next administration must develop a comprehensive strategy comprised of 10 distinct critical domestic and international policy agendas it needs to be act on simultaneously. The following is the fifth of 10 policy papers:

Rogue States–A Strategy of Containment Through Engagement

Considering the Iraq war and its aftermath, the next administration must take a much harder look at the so-called rogue states and devise a new strategy of containment through constructive engagement. Such a strategy needs to take into account the unique situation in each of these countries, its specific grievances, and the potential for good and evil. The war in Iraq have demonstrated not only the limits of U.S. military power, but the problems inherent in a policy premised on using force and occupying other countries before exhausting other options and examining the conflicting forces that shape these nations.

There are a few countries that fit the category of rogue states, and the next administration must deal with them with the support of the international community in a deliberate and sustainable way. Indeed, the United States is not in a position to act militarily against every state with impunity, as it did with Iraq, when the rationale for invasion is dubious at best and the consequences fall far short of the administration’s promises. Rogue states by definition are usually authoritarian regimes that are often hostile to the West, especially America and its allies. They also typically brutalize their own citizens, seek weapons of mass destruction, ignore international norms of conduct, sponsor terrorism, behave irrationally, and exhibit a profound disregard for human values. These characteristics are present in varying degrees in North Korea, Iran, Syria, and the Sudan, states commonly viewed as rogue, though obviously other nations that have not been identified as rogue states, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, share some of these defining characteristics. However, since the concept is also politically driven, it does not always reflect the reality. For example, Iranians enjoy far greater freedom than do their Saudi counterparts and perhaps contribute less to international terrorism than the Saudis. If state terrorism is one of the main focuses of the war on terrorism, then the United States must not be fixated solely on the usual “culprits”, but also look in other directions.

For a brief period toward the end of the Clinton administration, the term “rogue states” was changed to “states of concern,” because, as Secretary of State Madeline Albright explained, “The [U.S.] is concerned about their support for terrorist activity and their development of missiles, their desire to disrupt the international system. The main reason for the change is that it allows the United States the flexibility to deal with these pariah states on its own terms [something] which the term ‘rogue states’ does not lend itself [to] in that it explicitly suggests a more actively dangerous state.” But the Bush administration has never adopted the new term chiefly because top officials, including the president, have tended to see things in more black-and-white terms, and therefore, been unwilling to distinguish the different levels of egregiousness shown by the different states. For example, the Bush administration has used the nuclear threat posed by North Korea to justify funding for the anti-ballistic missiles program–an argument that might have been much harder to make if North Korea is characterized as a “state of concern.” To support its case, the administration claimed that countries like North Korea would hardly hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and would not be deterred even if faced with certain destruction. In fact, following 9-11, Mr. Bush went further, using the term, “axis of evil,” in referring to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and so entirely ignoring that 15 of the highjackers came, not from Iran or Iraq, but from Saudi Arabia and that Pakistan much more than North Korea peddled nuclear material and technology to other nations, including Libya.

Although in the past few years we have witnessed a reduction in state sponsorship of terrorism, its support by several states remains a serious obstacle to combating it effectively on the international level. For example, in Iran, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, state-sponsored terrorism remains a driving force behind international terrorism. Although countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have joined (with some reservation) the U.S. campaign against terrorism, their social, political, and religious environments have encouraged terrorism and been, inadvertently, the breeding grounds for future generations of terrorists. Moreover, leaders of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or Yemen cannot wage war on terrorists inside their own borders without risking a major political backlash that could topple their governments, especially as domestic support for al Quida and other terrorist groups is widespread. The populations of most Muslim and Arab countries are factional and tribal, with limited or no loyalty to the central government. This helps explain why neither the United States nor the governments of these countries can successfully fight terrorism without addressing the urgent social, economic, and political problems of these nations. In addition, the next administration must carefully consider the historical experiences of each nation where terrorism poses a threat and only then construct a long-term strategy that addresses these problems with the support of other nations. To that end, the United States must reconsider its policies on a number of fronts:

First, Unilateralism Must Be a Last Resort: regardless of the intensity of American grievances against any of the rogue states, the United States must work with other powers and international organizations, including the UN, to deal with the transgressions of such states. The Iraq war provides an excellent case in point: by bypassing the SC, the United States has widened the gap with its allies, creating a gulf between itself and the rest of the world. Mr. Bush Americanized the war and made Americans the prime targets for attacks. Although the Bush administration argues that SC Resolution 1441 adopted in November 2002 provided the necessary authorization to use force, many members of the Council did not share the American interpretation. Indeed, only the SC determines the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or acts of aggression, and the sole exception is found in article 51, which allows member states to exercise the “right of individual or collective self-defense against armed attacks." The point here is that no state has the authority to make that determination on its own, unless an imminent danger to its national security has been unambiguously demonstrated or a catastrophic development is about to unfold, in which cases a preemptive attack can be justified. Neither of these two conditions existed in Iraq. That being the case, the question is not whether America should exercise its power when the standards justifying intervention have been met, but rather, how to distinguish between the necessity to intervene in the case of a clearly justified cause and the mere desire to intervene to serve a narrow national interest. As the only superpower, the United States must lead by example, restraining its impulse, to act unilaterally, especially in trying to address serious violations to international security by rogue states. During the past four years, the level of concern was raised not only by the enemies but friendly nations and supporters of the United States and the term “rogue state” usually reserved for outlaw nations has been increasingly applied to the United States. Serious doubts have been raised not simply about America’s integrity and moral leadership but about its credibility and unpredictability in dealing with similar situations now and in the future. Especially in dealing with rogue states, the United States needs to cooperate with other nations because their cooperation is critical, for example, in gathering intelligence about terrorist activities, providing over-flight or staging facilities, and certainly in contributing militarily when this is called for. The debacle in Iraq has tarnished U.S. credibility, while the lack of transparent evenhandedness in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict has impeded America’s ability to persuade other nations to take a much harsher view of both Iran’s and North Korea’s violations in connection with the proliferation of WMD.

Second, A Traditional Support of Despots: The United States must stop the hypocrisy of preaching democracy and freedom while unabashedly supporting despotic regimes like those in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Saddam Hussein was one of the leading beneficiaries of American aid and support, especially during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988. In fact, as revealed by former Reagan aide Howard Teicher, the United States called on Saddam to train several hundred Libyans to help overthrow the Qaddafi regime. America has traditionally favored military dictatorship to maintain stability, and if change occurred, preferred it come from within, initiated by people already in positions of power. The U.S. support of brutal dictators was not limited to the Middle East. South Korean’s, for example, have systematically been abused by successive military dictators as long as these despots were served American interest above others in the Korean peninsula. Before the invasion of Iraq, both the Clinton and the Bush administrations sought to replace Saddam by another military man as long as he was more amenable to America’s dictates. It was not the lack of effort on the part of both administrations, but Saddam’s tight control over his top military brass, that rendered such maneuvers unsuccessful. With the technological revolution and the information age, the Unites States can no longer have it both ways. There is an unparalleled awakening among the Arab and Muslim masses about their present plight and bleak future unless a change is clearly on the way. What worries many U.S. allies is that the very political ideals of freedom and democracy that have provided a beacon of light and hope to so many nations are being recklessly abandoned for limited strategic gain. Future administrations must either support the building of democratic institutions and encourage gradual reforms in these countries or continue to support despots that stand on the backs of their people. The latter choice will only further deepen the hatred of these people toward America as they increasingly reject their governments’ subservience to American whims. Indeed, by any definition, Iraq was as much a rogue state in the 1980s as in the 1990s. What changed was not Saddam’s level of ruthlessness against his people and his desire to obtain WMD, but his invasion of Kuwait and the prospects of his controlling, together with Kuwaiti oil, the largest reservoir of oil in the world; the combination made Iraq a rogue state and Saddam persona non-grata.

Another cogent example is Iran. Before 1979, the Shah was considered one of the closet allies of the United States. Standing next to the Shah in1978, former president Carter called Iran a “sea of tranquility”. Less than a year later Iran became a rogue state. These two examples underscore the problems in a foreign policy that promotes alliances based on personal relationships and the longevity of the dictator in power. At present, the Iranian situation is particularly critical, for Iran plays a large role, both perceived and real, in the Middle East and in international terrorism. Both the United States and Iran have grievances against each other, and a deep psychological barrier separates between the two nations dating back, for the Iranians, to the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew a democratically elected government and installed the Shah. Meanwhile, the United States has not forgiven Tehran for taking American hostages in 1979. The next administration must seek an open-ended dialogue and negotiate directly with Iran to resolve the differences between the two nations. The United States will neither lose face nor prestige by offering Iran to engage in such an open-ended discussion to resolve not only past grievances but also the current dispute over Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. The administration could lean on England, France, and Germany, which have developed good working relations with Tehran to help jump-start an exchange that addresses these mutual grievances. That is, instead of threatening Iran with sanctions to which most of the United States’ allies object and, in any event, may not be effective, the United States should seek a new breakthrough with such a strategically important state, especially in the wake of the continuing turmoil in Iraq. Again, if Iran refuses such an opportunity, it could then expect condemnation and enforceable sanctions supported by the international community. Another problem that the next administration needs to deal with is the possibility that, today’s friendly despotic states, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or even Egypt, could become rogue states tomorrow. Pakistan, which is presently a staunch ally, may become an enemy tomorrow, and one with nuclear weapons. The assassination of president Musharef (there have been two attempts on his life) could bring about this development, especially because a large segment of the Pakistani population is sympathetic to al Qaida or supportive of other terrorist groups. Moreover, Pakistan is extremely factional, very poor, and ripe for counter-revolutionary forces. America must not continue to build alliances with despot regimes and hope that Islamic extremism will just fade away. It will not, because for many among the Arab and Muslim masses violent defiance seems their only weapon in undermining what they term the unholy alliances between their corrupt governments and the United States.

Third, Behaving as a Crazed State: Whereas all nations recognize American supremacy, no nation wants to be intimidated into submission. A 1995 secret study by the Military Strategic Command (which is responsible for the control of the strategic nuclear arsenal) outlines the basic thinking adopted by successive administrations. The study, released through the Freedom of Information Act, shows how the United States shifted its strategy of deterrence from the former Soviet Union to the so-called rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and a few others. The study advocates that the U.S. government exploit its nuclear arsenal in such a way that it shows itself as “irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked.” That “should be part of the national persona the U.S. projects to all its adversaries, particularly the rogue states. The fact that some elements [of the U.S. government] may appear to be potentially ‘out of control’ can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubt within the minds of adversary’s decision makers.” In brief, as Noam Chomsky, the world’s most famous linguist and an articulate opponent of political hypocrisy and abuse of power, commented: “The enemies of the U.S. should recognize that America is crazed and unpredictable, with extraordinary destructive force at its disposal, so that the enemy will bend to its will in fear.” Still, it should be noted that neither North Korea, nor Iran succumbed to American whims after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, although the reaction of the Bush administration to the attacks of 9/11 has, no doubt, shown this “quality of madness,” as evidenced by the administration’s fixation on Iraq and the intimidation of other states. In addition, this strategy has not moved the United States an inch closer to resolving either the problem of international terrorism or of WMD in North Korea. And Pyongyang itself may have also adopted this posture knowing full well that by raising the stakes, the United States would relent. Therefore, a new approach to resolve the North Korean impasse before it gets out of control is in order.

During their most recent meeting in June, 2004, the United States offered North Korea a step-by-step plan that would start by North Korea’s freezing its nuclear program for three months. (In the interim, a comprehensive list would be compiled by the IAEA detailing Pyongyang’s nuclear activity while allowing inspectors into its facilities.) The United States insisted that it would withhold any economic aid to ensure compliance. Pyongyang called the offer a sham and rejected it, stating that it lacked reciprocity. Meanwhile, North Korea demanded simultaneous benefits, including oil, economic assistance, and lifting of the sanctions. The problem here is that there is profound distrust between the two sides and perhaps for good reason. Is was North Korea that cheated on prior agreements, but even before this fact became known to the Bush administration, the bilateral talks were suspended by the United States shortly after Mr. Bush took office, and, subsequently, North Korea was declared to be a member of the “axis of evil” club. The next administration must focus on ending North Korea’s nuclear program and with that its prospects for becoming a modern nuclear peddler, selling nuclear material and technology which could easily end up in the hands of al Quida or other terrorist groups. We must offer North Korea the opportunity to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable way in exchange for peace, economic aid, and integration into the international community. Even if North Korea insists on freezing its nuclear program first, as long as its compliance can be fully verified, why does such an offer undermine American interests or prestige? If North Korea accepts, then this conflict will be resolved, perhaps permanently. But if its leaders refuse, then the administration can lean on China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea to support a more coercive diplomacy, because it would be clear that the United States exhausted every option in order to avoid military confrontation.

Fourth, U.S. Interventionist Policies: America unquestionably enjoys a unique position of power in the world today, but being the only superpower imposes added responsibilities to which no other nation is burdened. If, in this role, the United States finds itself in a situation that demands it exercise the prerogatives of leadership, even then it must first exhaust all multilateral approaches. In Bosnia, for example, the former National Security Advisor to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, observed that either, “You Americanize the war or you Americanize the genocide. Since the United States is the only power in the world that can stop ethnic cleansing, the U.S. is responsible if ethnic cleansing continues.” That said, no other nation has ceded to the United States the right to decide unilaterally when and how to intervene in the affairs of other nations. Whereas, intervention is often necessary, the problem is more with the arrogance and the ignorance involved in the exercise of power. For this reason, America must carefully measure every potential intervention and its impact on the international order. According to the congressional records, the United States intervened in the affairs of other nations, at least 119 times during the previous century, from Argentina in 1890 to Iraq in 2003. Even after the Vietnam War, when Americans were dramatically affected by the “Vietnam Syndrome,” successive U.S. administrations reluctant to send troops into harms’ way, still intervened 19 times in the internal affairs of other nations, from Cambodia in 1975 to Iraq in 1990. By 1991, the United States had finally left the Vietnam Syndrome behind. Encouraged by the success of the first Gulf war, both the military and the public became more willing to support foreign interventions provided that American casualties were kept to a minimum. The events of 9/11 gave additional support to the idea of military intervention as long as it was deemed part of the war on terrorism. Currently, the United States has some type of military presence in 112 nations, ranging from a few dozen soldiers in the Philippines to 135 thousand in Iraq. Conservative Republicans, who supported intervention only when there was a clear national economic or security interest, are now more than eager to back the Bush administration in waging war on terrorism wherever it may be. Future interventions must then be guided by three principles: (1) raise the bar for the prerequisites governing intervention, and (2) secure wide international support, and (3) ensure that the action produce positive and predictable consequences.

The present irony is that while the United States preaches obedience to the norms of international behavior and often punishes countries for noncompliance, the Bush administration stands accused as unilateralist in its policies, acting outside such norms when it deems it convenient. Thus, United States opted out of several major international treaties, agreements, and protocols (sometimes by finding loopholes), including the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty with Russia, the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention, the treaty to Eliminate Land Mines, the International Convention on the Rights of Children, the Kyoto Protocol on the Environment, and it opposed the creation of the International Criminal Court, and, of course, waged war on Iraq against the near unanimous objections of the international community.

America is safer when it is more respected than feared. As the only superpower, it must be trusted and be reliable, concerned about the interests and national sensibilities of other nations and use a moral compass to guide its decisions. Bullying other nations, including rogue states, into submission by the threat or the use of force is not a viable strategy. The United States must consistently seek to contain these nations through constructive engagement and work with the international community to achieve its objectives. Even rogue states may have legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. They will be far more responsive to multilateral consensus and pressure when other nations close ranks with America. But they will be defiant and challenging when the United States acts unilaterally especially, when its actions are seem as illegitimate and thus largely opposed by the international community.