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.
Third, and most importantly, there must be full cooperation with international authorities and transparent behavior through every step of the process. A nation that has made a strategic decision on WMD dismantlement will lead international inspectors to previously concealed facilities, stockpiles, and personnel. It will not engage in needless games or coy attempts at concealment; behavior to that effect is perceived as a smoking gun that a strategic decision has not been made. Nor will it allow international inspectors into the nation only to hide information from and engage in subterfuge against them to undermine their mission.
Running through these criteria is one important tenet–any strategic decision to disarm must be voluntary and uncoerced; commitments undertaken by states to dismantle WMD programs made under great duress, the thinking goes, will have less staying power. Regimes must come to a rational judgment that they are better off without WMD programs, not simply make a hasty decision because they are under the gun.
The South African Example
To support their belief that such a transformation is possible, Administration officials often point to South Africa and Libya as successful models. In both cases, each government supposedly recognized that its WMD program was artificially isolating their nation from the global economy and was not providing tangible security benefits. For South Africa, this argument holds merit. As its notorious apartheid regime crumbled and the Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s, South Africa made a strategic decision to end its long-standing, albeit secret, nuclear weapons program. Under the leadership of President F.W. de Klerk, the South African government initiated dismantlement in 1990, acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) the following year, and in 1993 publicly disclosed the existence of its program.
By and large, South Africa’s nuclear disarmament met the criteria of a strategic decision. The decision was made at the most senior political levels: When the decision was made in 1990 to terminate the nuclear program, President de Klerk appointed a senior-level steering committee with a mandate to oversee the dismantlement of the six nuclear devices produced under the program and the melting and recasting of all highly enriched uranium (HEU) material. The steering committee fulfilled these orders in the span of slightly more than a year, completing the dismantlement process by the time the South African government acceded to the NPT. Moreover, the South African authorities fully cooperated with the IAEA in verifying the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program and accounting for all nuclear materials, stockpiles, and facilities.
The South African experience is a model case for the strategic decision framework. And yet the specifics of the country’s position make it difficult to see it as a model for future disarmament scenarios. The decision came amid a peaceful transition from a uniquely racist regime to a democratic one, and South Africa decided that it simply no longer needed a nuclear weapon with the demise of international communism (and with it the threat from communist rebels to its north). It is unlikely that North Korea or Iran–or any other future proliferator–will undergo such an alteration in regime and security environment profound enough that will enable a 180-degree reversal on their WMD programs.
The Libyan Example
Libya’s December 2003 decision to end its nuclear and chemical weapons programs and fully cooperate with American, British, and international inspectors is perhaps a more relevant example–and one embraced by the Bush Administration. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “Just as 2003 marked a turning point for the Libyan people, so too could 2006 mark turning points for the peoples of Iran and North Korea. ” We urge the leadership of Iran and North Korea to make similar strategic decisions that would benefit their citizens.”
No question exists that Libya has acted in an exemplary manner. Tripoli granted the United States permission to airlift out of Libya, to Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a voluminous set of documents and components from its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including uranium hexafluoride supplies and centrifuge parts. It invited IAEA officials, as well as Amerian and British experts, into the country to conduct follow-on inspections, with the Libyans eagerly opening up their previously illicit programs to the light of full transparency.
However, a closer examination of Libyan behavior reveals that the Muammar Quaddafi regime’s decision came only after lengthy negotiations over tradeoffs and concessions that involved significant deception on the part of the Libyans before the United States and Britain called their bluff. In fact, the Libyan disarmament process more closely resembled traditional negotiations with a proliferator state seeking to extract maximum gain before surrendering a valuable bargaining chip, rather than a textbook strategic decision. First, the Libyan decision to end WMD activities was carefully predicated upon the expected response of the United States and Great Britain, who served as proxies for the broader international community. Reports indicate that Libya conducted back-channel talks with representatives of the U.S. government as early as 1992, when the prospect of opening Libya’s WMD programs to full disclosure and international inspection was first put on the table. The behind-the-scenes diplomatic process continued into the Bush Administration in 2001, with all sides able to settle on a final agreement only in December 2003.
Even then, the Libyans were unable to fully commit, instead seeking concrete assurances on the type of economic, trade, and diplomatic benefits they could expect upon making this decision, a desire reciprocated by their American and British interlocutors. The Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a letter to Quaddafi in 2002, with Bush’s concurrence, spelling out how a final deal on WMD would lead to normalization of relations. And a former Bush Administration official, Flynt Leverett, disclosed that in 2003 the United States offered Libya an “explicit quid pro quo” involving the lifting of U.S. sanctions in return for a verifiable termination of Libya’s WMD program.
In other words, Libya, the United States, and the United Kingdom were engaged in lengthy negotiations, with the discussions focused on the gains Libya could expect by doing the right thing on WMD disarmament. Advocates of the strategic decision approach often minimize the value of negotiations with rogue regimes. Yet rather than proving their point, the Libya example presents stubborn proof that such negotiations can be essential for securing proliferation successes.
Furthermore, the strategic decision school of thought posits that those nations that have made a genuine commitment to disarmament will have no reason to dissemble or conceal evidence from international authorities and inspectors. Yet, in the case of Libya, months of desultory talks in 2003 produced results only following just such an incident. In October 2003, the United States, acting on sensitive intelligence and working in concert with Germany and Italy, intercepted a freighter headed toward Libya found to be carrying essential components for uranium-enrichment centrifuges. The contents of the BBC China cargo allowed American officials to confront the Libyans with concrete evidence that Tripoli’s nuclear program was on a much larger scale than they had previously revealed. It was only at this point that the Libyan regime fully confessed, inviting American and British weapons experts and intelligence officials into their country, opening up their weapons facilities and stockpiles, and making available scientists for interviews.
Libya’s deceitful behavior raises questions about why that country is celebrated by the Bush Administration as a model for strategic-decision making. Had Iran or North Korea engaged in similar talks with the United States, only to be discovered at the eleventh hour engaging in illicit procurement activities, those discussions likely would have quickly collapsed. After all, such behavior would run counter to the whole strategic decision approach.
Why the Strategic Decision Paradigm Fails
To the Administration’s credit, there are advantages to the strategic-decision template. It allows the United States to communicate clearly that WMD proliferation is the wrong choice for nations that aspire to a prosperous future, full membership in the international community, and a rewarding relationship with the United States. It also provides valuable clarity in assessing whether nations are truly committed to dismantling WMD programs. A state that continually hedges its bets, frustrates international inspectors, conceals WMD-related information, and limits transparency is a state that has not yet made a genuine decision to give up its illicit programs. Recognition of such behavior is invaluable in shaping follow-on national and international responses.
Post a Comment