The neoconservative approach to nonproliferation has been a disaster. Why Bush can’t disarm Iran.
Over the past six years, the United States has confronted a range of crises surrounding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), from North Korea’s fall 2006 nuclear weapons test to Iran’s willful defiance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Bush Administration’s inclination toward the use of force and regime change as tools to counter the proliferation of WMDs is well known, as is its distaste for negotiations with states featuring tyrannical regimes that abuse human rights. But minimal attention has been paid to an important framing concept used by senior American government officials in recent years when seeking to persuade states like North Korea and Iran to stand down their WMD programs. As stated policy, the United States encourages WMD proliferators to make a “strategic decision,” sometimes referred to as a “strategic choice.” Accordingly, the United States demands that rogue regimes assess the costs and benefits of maintaining illicit weapons programs and then make a voluntary, national-level decision to eliminate them in a comprehensive and transparent fashion. As senior Administration officials like to point out, this is what happened with Libya, which in 2003 made just such a decision to end its nuclear weapons program and surrender its chemical weapons stocks in favor of closer diplomatic and economic relations with the West. Indeed, the agreement reached last month between the United States, North Korea, and four other nations to freeze and eventually dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for a series of economic, energy, and diplomatic benefits is noteworthy precisely because it strays so far from the Administration’s stated policy.
With the Administration insisting, in the wake of the North Korea deal, that the strategic-decision approach remains official policy and will guide its handling of Iran, it is vital to ask whether it actually works. The answer is definitively no. It is unrealistic to expect a state to reach an overnight realization that nuclear weapons are not in its national interest. Instead, any such decision can only emerge in the aftermath of sustained engagement demonstrating the tradeoffs inherent in defying the will of the international community, a point demonstrated by the years of negotiation preceding Libya’s decision and, more recently, the agreement forged in the Six Party Talks on North Korea. In fact, demanding a permanent strategic decision may inadvertently discourage rogue regimes from taking intermediate steps that make the world more secure, including “half-loaf” compromises that fail to resolve a state’s underlying proliferation desires but effectively constrain its arsenal for a period of time. Although messy, these steps can buy the necessary time to allow a permanent solution to emerge while securing our national interests in the interim. Conversely, the strategic-decision approach allows the United States to sit back while countries move down the road of weapons development. After all, if a nation refuses to change, the United States won’t talk with them, and absent a credible threat of force, there is not much else the United States can do.
There is an alternative course, one that worked well in the 1990s, and that is the lost art of coercive diplomacy: combining incentives and punishments to coerce recalcitrant regimes into making the right decisions. Such coercive diplomacy–as we might be seeing on the Korean Peninsula, but will not likely see repeated with Iran–blends carrots and sticks to ensure that hostile regimes have a clear choice between economic integration and broad diplomatic acceptance versus isolation and the prospective use of military force. It sees negotiation as a diplomatic tool, not a diplomatic reward. And it recognizes something that President Bush has ignored during his first six years in office: that successful nonproliferation policies are more often marked by shades of gray than black and white.
What Does Disarmament Look Like?
In January 2003, the White House faced a thorny dilemma. Under pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom, the UN Security Council had passed Resolution 1441, which presented Iraq with a final chance to come clean on its WMD programs after a decade of stonewalling on its commitments under the 1991 Gulf war cease-fire. Iraq allowed UN and IAEA inspectors to return and filed a lengthy declaration laying out the current status of its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. Nonetheless, the Hussein regime placed numerous obstacles before the international inspectors, including refusal to allow weapons scientists to be interviewed privately and concealment of sensitive documents, actions that led many in the international community to assume that Iraq was still hiding critical information.
On January 23 the White House issued a white paper titled “What Does Disarmament Look Like?” The paper sought to contrast Iraq’s behavior with that of other nations that had voluntarily and transparently surrendered their WMD programs to the satisfaction of the international community. In the process, the White House created a document that serves as a guide to the Bush Administration’s thinking on disarmament.
According to this document, the first prerequisite for a strategic decision to disarm calls for any such decision to be taken at the highest political level. The supreme political authority in a state must sign off on any such decision and invest personal credibility in ensuring the implementation of resulting commitments. At the same time, a genuine strategic decision must receive the approval of all key national stakeholders. An agreement drafted and endorsed by a nation’s foreign ministry to eliminate a WMD program, for instance, means nothing if the national military has not reached the same conclusion.
Second, the national government must implement bureaucratic initiatives to dismantle WMD and related infrastructure. A designated entity within the chain of command must be given a clear mandate and sufficient authority to organize dismantlement, with carte blanche to overrule any special interests within a regime that may have reason to hinder or frustrate the process. Designation of a central actor also allows for smoother communications with outside countries and international organizations.
Post a Comment