Is Deterrence Back?
Posted by Michael Cohen
Against my better judgment I watched my former mayor, Rudolph Guiliani on Meet the Press and I have to say I share the view expressed here by M.J. Rosenberg that it was not Rudy's finest effort.
But one thing he said really did jump out at me. When asked about Iran's nuclear program, Guiliani extolled the virtues of deterrence. Here's what he had to say:
We should utilize as much pressure as we’re capable of. But the fact that that is there, that military option is there, not taken off the table ultimately increases the pressure, doesn’t it? The reality is the pressure works. They said that, too, right? They, they said in 2003 Iran abandoned its nuclear program, they believe, because of all the pressure, all the threats, that they are susceptible to that. 2003 was the year in which we deposed Saddam Hussein. It was the year in which America showed massive military strength.
Interestingly, John Bolton made a somewhat similar point in his absurd op-ed last week in the Washington Post. In criticizing the NIE's focus on diplomatic suasion, Bolton instead argues that the Iranians were undoubtedly influenced by the US invasion of
It [the NIE] implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran.
This is not completely accurate, indeed the Iran NIE argues the following:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.
But, whatever the case, the concessions by Bolton and Guiliani are important - because both men seem to indicate that deterrence and containment had an impact on changing Iranian behavior. Why does this matter? Because the key rationale for war with Iraq; the entire basis of the Bush Administration's national security strategy, namely the preemption doctrine, is based on the notion that deterrence doesn't work.
Here is President Bush in a speech at West Point in 2002:
For much of the last century, America's defense relied on the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment. In some cases, those strategies still apply. But new threats also require new thinking. Deterrence -- the promise of massive retaliation against nations -- means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend. Containment is not possible when unbalanced dictators with weapons of mass destruction can deliver those weapons on missiles or secretly provide them to terrorist allies.
Here's what the 2002 National Security Strategy said:
Deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people,and the wealth of their nations.
Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents; whose so-called soldiers seek martyrdom in death and whose most potent protection is statelessness.The overlap between states that sponsor terror and those that pursue WMD compels us to action.
Now of course the Bush Administration has wrongly conflated state
sponsors of terrorism with the terrorists themselves, but the argument
here seems pretty clear - rogue states can't be deterred. Of course, in
the run-up to the the Iraq War, no argument of the Bush foreign policy
team was more absurd then this one. While it may be impossible to deter
a terrorist like Mohammed Atta, states are very different animals and
are much more likely to respond to carrots and sticks. Indeed, history
is replete with lessons.
Pre-war Iraq is an excellent example. Every time Saddam Hussein got the idea to move against one of his neighbors, it took the threat, and sometimes use of, military force to convince him otherwise. Moreover, the UN sanctions regime and no-fly zones, patrolled by the US and UK kept Saddam in a very restrictive cage. He was unable to project military power outside his border and in fact, the Northern fly-zone helped the flowering of Kurdish civil society. Of course, as we now know, they also short-circuited Saddam's WMD programs. In short, they were among the most successful sanction regimes in human history.
Clearly, a far less invasive system of scrutiny and pressure seemed to have a similar effect on Iran. There is a lesson there about the power of deterrence and containment in the age of terror. Subconsciously, Bolton and Guiliani seem to get it; whether a Guiliani Administration would act on this knowledge, well that is something else altogether.