Democracy Arsenal

April 24, 2007


Talking Points from the Armageddon Lobby
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Not too long ago, I did a live radio show and one of the callers told me I sounded like a socialist. Hmmmmm. I thought. Silly man! don't you know that only the private sector enjoys the benefits of socialism in this country? Take last week's conservative onslaught about the "guv-mint wanting to take over your health care" In other words, taxpayer subsidized health care corporations don't want the government to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs. Or the glorious bounty of public financing going to the school testing industry? (No Child Left Behind is a social engineering endeavor that even Lenin couldn't have dreamed up. Rise Up! And Obey! ) But the most insidious one of all is the subsidization of companies making billions off of our legitimate fear. That would be those members of the defense industry who cling to the Cold War like barnacles on a Trident sub. And they get a boost from conservative activists who are trying to send us back to the bad old days of nuclear inspired nightmares.

The Armageddon Lobby has even sent out talking points. A friend who works on the Hill sent me this example:

"I support new and improved nuclear warheads for the U.S. I also support creating smaller warheads.

Continue reading "Talking Points from the Armageddon Lobby" »

February 13, 2007


North Korea: Sharing the Credit
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While others blog about the within-the-Administration deck chair movements that made this week's North Korea deal possible (here, here, here for starters), I'll suggest three less-sung heroes:

1.  The Chinese decided it was time for the North to get in line, after the embarrassment of the missile test, and are demonstrating -- with their stop-the-clock diplomacy when things got stuck-- that they can deliver.  This seems like good news for the future of the agreement -- China's prestige will be invested in it -- and for demonstrating, if that were needed, that while China is frustrating and, to put it mildly, problematic on some issues (Darfur, human rights, exchange rate) working with China on other issues of mutual concern is required, not optional.

2.  The US Foreign Service.  After a week of complaints about State's inability to come up with officers for tough/dangerous/hopeless posts in Iraq, here's a reminder in the person of Assistant Secretary for Asia Chris Hill that there is just no substitute for someone who has spent his whole professional life furthering US interests in the most challenging places and against the most challenging backdrops back in Washington.  Hill, who also happens to be a genuinely nice guy, won accolades for his performance in the Balkans a decade ago before being rewarded (?) with his Asian portfolios.  I assume he's already won every award the State Dep't has, but hey, triplicate never hurts.  (And while I'm on this subject, may I just mention how delightful it was to see career FSO and consummate professional Alejandro (Alex) Wolff, our acting rep at the UN in NY, make this comment on UN reform last week:

You’ll have a lot of different views on the details, whether this is the best one or a different approach might be better,” he said, “but you have 192 members and consensus is not easy to get, so support for the secretary general is the principle that we stand by."

Imagine what we'd have achieved in the 2005 anniversary summit with that approach.  But I digress.)

3.  The American people.  The Administration concluded, correctly, that the American people voted in November not just on Iraq but on the general proposition that we can't militarily pre-empt all our challenges all the time.  A month after the election, 82% of Americans said that we should talk to countries we disapprove of, not just threaten them; going further, seven of ten said we should sign an agreement not to attack North Korea and six of ten said we should agree to increase food aid in exchange for the North's commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  Nice work, my fellow Americans.

None of that means that this deal is perfect or that the North Koreans won't try to bust it sometime in the future.  But even if it performs only half as well as the Clinton Administration agreement that lasted a decade, that five years is enough time to wind up the distracting disaster of Iraq, move to reinvigorate the global non-proliferation regime, and regain our good name as a champion of non-proliferation.

I also find myself very tempted to turn the this-deal-is-a-bad-signal-to-Teheran argument on its head:  sure, it's a signal to Teheran.  The international community stood with us and we got what we wanted, with intrusive international inspections.  Get ready to give us the non-proliferation guarantees and inspections we need to see, with the ability to know if you're not playing fair, and we're ready to give you a deal too.

Negotiations, after all, like conflict, have a certain logic that breeds more negotiations -- if they're allowed to.

February 12, 2007


When is a threat deferred a threat deterred?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There is debate underway among proliferation experts about whether a country like Iran, assuming it gained nuclear capabilities, would be subject to the traditional logic of deterrence credited with helping avert a nuclear catastrophe over the last 50 years among the existing "club" of nuclear states.

The same question underlay the debate over whether to go to war with Iraq:  if those who were convinced that Saddam had (or was close to having) nukes were also confident that he'd never use them for fear of annihilation, the rationale for war - even assuming his nuclear program had been real and not imaginary - would have been much weaker.

This reminds me of a remark by Madeleine Albright shortly after leaving office as Secretary of State.  She was asked about Iraq and, to paraphrase, said:  "we were handed the problem by our predecessors and . . .  we've now handed it back to them."  It was a witty line, but at the time Bush's rhetoric about the folly of standing back while threats gathered still seemed plausible.   

In retrospect, though, the Clinton Administration's policy of containing the threat and preventing it from getting worse looks a whole lot better than the alternative of confrontation turned out to be.   With the perils of preemption exposed, it seems worth asking whether there are circumstances when deferring a threat - preventing it from ripening and stopping it from getting worse, but not confronting or eliminating it - may be an acceptable outcome.   

Continue reading "When is a threat deferred a threat deterred?" »

January 30, 2007


EU Gives the Run Around on Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The NYT reports today that the Bush Administration is having a tough time winning European cooperation on tough economic sanctions for Iran.  The continent's excuses are two-fold: 1) they have vast commercial interests tied up with Tehran and 2) they lack the legal regimes and infrastructure necessary to implement the sorts of controls that the US Treasury Department is seeking.

Let's assume, as we are forced to in relation to all of the many foreign policy developments that do not break Washington's way of late, that part of their reluctance to cooperate is rooted in frustration and disgust with the Administration.  Let's venture that they don't trust the intelligence on the precise state of the Iranian nuclear program, that they fear that the US will make critical policy decisions without consulting them, and that they worry we will play into the hands of Ahmadinejad through ham-handed moves that make him look like a besieged innocent. 

Even given all that, they ought to promptly and fully cooperate with an effort to beef up sanctions.  Why?

- First off, nothing will embolden the Tehran regime more than a rift between the US and EU over how to react to its nuclear program.  With both Russia and China reluctant to clamp down on Iran, and the US bogged down in Iraq, transatlantic resolve is the only foundation for an international response.  If it fragments, Iran will think it has little to fear, and Israel may see no alternative but to act alone.

- There are initial signs that the tepid UN sanctions enacted on Iran thus far are having some effects - harming the country's economy and, more importantly, stimulating political dissent

- The logistical hurdles the Europeans cite seem surmountable - EU governments provided $18B in loan guarantees for transactions with Iran in 2005 even though many of the companies dealt with are known terrorist fronts.  Since the governments control these funds and guarantees, how hard can it be to cut them off?

- The commercial interests involved are another matter, but not an insurmountable hurdle.  If there's a war over Iran or Israel launches a preemptive attack, those interests will be jeopardized anyway.  Also, starting a program of distentangling those interests now will be less commercially disruptive than shutting them off suddenly and completely after, for example, an Iranian nuclear test.

- But the most important reason for the Europeans to get serious about sanctions is that they represent one among a precious handful of options for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions without military force.  Asset freezes and tightened export controls may well not accomplish much, but if they did tip Iran's precarious balance of power it could avert a frightening global crisis now in the works.

Continue reading "EU Gives the Run Around on Iran" »

December 31, 2006

Proliferation, UN

Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea
Posted by Jordan Tama

2006 was a bad year for American foreign policy, marked by our inability to stop the escalating civil war in Iraq, worsening violence in Darfur, and the continued decline of our international reputation. But we also had a couple of important diplomatic achievements that haven't got as much attention as they deserve: the passage by the UN Security Council of targeted sanctions against North Korea and Iran for their nuclear programs.

After North Korea's nuclear test in October, the Security Council voted unanimously for sanctions that ban the transfer of nuclear materials to North Korea, bar international travel by officials associated with North Korea's weapons programs, and freeze the overseas assets of those officials. The resolution also authorizes countries to inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea to detect illegal weapons. Eight days ago, the Security Council unanimously approved a less stringent sanctions package on Iran, including a ban on the import and export of nuclear materials and a freeze on the assets of some Iranian individuals and companies.

In both cases, the U.S. had pushed for tougher sanctions, while Russia and China had sought weaker ones. The results were painstakingly negotiated compromises that satisfied no one but represented significant diplomatic achievements considering the wide divergence of views among Security Council members. The sanctions won't stop North Korea and Iran from moving forward with their nuclear programs, but they will slow them down by making it harder for them to acquire needed materials and complicating the work of officials involved in nuclear efforts.

The bigger benefits might be political. In Iran, the sanctions already have contributed to growing discontent with President Ahmadinejad, as some Iranians blame him for unnecessarily isolating their country (though most Iranians support Iran's nuclear program). In East Asia, the sanctions have shown North Korea that its most important patron, China, is willing to cooperate with North Korea's enemies to punish it for recalcitrant behavior.

Continue reading "Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea" »

October 16, 2006


Where are we on North Korea
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Reading the reports on the UN sanctions resolution, the status of the US's effort to punish and isolate Pyongyang in the aftermath of what's now been confirmed to be an (albeit small scale) nuclear test is murky at best.   Here are some quick observations:

- The Administration is talking a good game about international unity, but actual common ground looks pretty scarce - Barely a day after the UNSC passed its resolution, China and South Korea are backing away from key elements involving border inspections and the withdrawal of support for collaborative economic development projects with Pyongyang.   Earlier last week the US backed off its proposals to provide for recourse to military action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if North Korea continues to flout the Council.  Upshot:  Washington managed to achieve a brief show of unity that barely masked underlying deep divisions.

- US efforts to steamroll opposition to its positions failed - Reading accounts of how the Chinese quickly disavowed any intention to implement the inspections regime called for by the resolution reminded me of my time at the UN.  On several occasions, after fierce negotiations with other delegations over controversial points, we would think we'd scored a big victory when they assented to our proposed language.  Days or weeks later we were flabbergasted holding near worthless pieces of paper when they claimed that the adopted language did not represent a change in their prior position, nor a commitment to do what the paper in question said.   These delegations had concluded that making noises of capitulation that would later be reversed was an easier route than continuing to fight off a US government bent on browbeating them into submission.   In my time I never saw this happen on a matter as visible and high-stakes as the North Korea resolution, but with Bolton in the US chair at the Council, I cannot say I am surprised.

- There seems little reason for Iran to be daunted by the prospect of being the Security Council's next target- The resumed debates over Iran's nuclear program will make even the fractious North Korea debate sound like the strains of Kumbaya.  The economic stakes are higher, and Tehran has skillfully situated itself in the midst of a bloc of anti-US developing countries that will provide some cover (like Venezuela which is battling for its own temporary UNSC seat).  The more the US tries to hold China and others' feet to the fire in implementing the North Korea resolution, the harder it may be to win agreement on a text dealing with Iran.

This is not the first time that developments over North Korea are not what they seem.  But its easy enough to criticize.  What should the Administration be doing differently to get better results in the Council?

- Since its pretty clear Bolton's heavy-handed approach hasn't achieved substantive gains, it would be best not to have him at the forefront of trying to shame China into delivering on its obligations.  How about trying some quiet diplomacy in Beijing so that if the Chinese do come around, they can do so without falling into the trap they are most likely to avoid, i.e. the appearance of submitting to US pressure.

- While we're at it, how about some lip-service to the idea of avoiding war?  Russia and China have repeatedly emphasized a desire to deescalate this conflict.  Some might portray that as a sign of weakness, but since Pyongyang now is indeed nuclear, pure reason dictates that the last thing we want to do is ratchet up tensions. 

July 04, 2006


North Korea: Sticking it to Washington (and Beijing)
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Pyongyang's choice of July 4th to launch a much-anticipated and roundly discouraged test of its long-range missile capabilities, (despite having failed rather spectacularly in the first minute after launch) will go down in history as one of the more flagrant recent attempts to goad and humiliate the superpower. 

But this time there's a twist.  While the timing is unquestionably meant to provoke Washington, the move ought to attract roughly equal ire in Beijing.  First off, China now chairs the six-party talks aimed at controlling North Korea's nuclear program.  The test thus marks the failure of Beijing's highest-stakes diplomatic gambit yet in their own rise to great-power status.   

Moreover, the Chinese have, laudably, been working assiduously in recent weeks to avert the missile launch.  It was reported on Sunday that the Chinese were looking to reconvene an informal session of the six-party forum later this month.  Just yesterday China and North Korea jointly announced a planned exchange of high-level visits to, among other things, discuss the threatened missile launch.  For Kim Jong Il to have proceeded in the face of ongoing Chinese diplomatic efforts is at least as much a slap in the face to Beijing as to the US.

Apart from misery loving company, what's the significance of China being just as dissed as we are?  It's impossible to say, but a few musings:

Continue reading "North Korea: Sticking it to Washington (and Beijing)" »

June 06, 2006


A Question for Readers - quick replies please!
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Joseph Cirincione - up on the podium - wants to know your view:  Have North Korea and Iran made more progress on the development of their nuclear programs over the last six years, or during the period prior to 2001?  In other words, have US policies during the Bush Administration set back or fostered the momentum of nuclear proliferation?

Please give us your views!


Proliferation Panel
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A proliferation panel is underway.  The Egyptian Ambassador to the UN is arguing that you cannot solve the Iranian nuclear problem without solving the Israeli nuclear problem.  He's also pointing out the problem of the Administration's nuclear deal with India.

Cirincione_iiJoseph Cirincione, CAP's new head of National Security is up next.  He's a passionate and forceful speaker.  He's lambasting the fact that we're neglecting the nuclear threat and blames the breakdown of threat-assessment and the shameful blaming of the Iraq fiasco on intelligence analysts.

He argues that Iran is a serious threat, yet not our most serious threat, which is Iraq.  He thinks North Korea, which already has enough nuclear material to make weapons, is a more proximate theat, and that Pakistan may be next on the list, but barely even makes the Administration's threat matrix because there's no political constituency driving it.

He urges abandoning the phrase Weapons of Mass Destruction.  I agree - chem, bio and nuclear weapons require totally different responses, and the term WMD confuses them.  He supports the Ambassador on a nuclear-free Middle East.  The NPT is on the verge of collapse because of this Administration.  But he's confident all this can be turned around.  We have programs that work:  we've already secured more than 50% of the loose nukes in the fmr Soviet Union.

May 16, 2006

Democracy, Proliferation

How to Join the Friendly Dictator Club and Live to Tell About It
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It appears that the serial offensiveness of the US decision to restore diplomatic ties with Libya has been lost on most observers. It marks yet another instance of the Bush administration’s implacable disregard for Arab democracy. If anything, this was exactly the time to say to Libya that, yes, we are happy that you have renounced nuclear ambition but we will not be fully satisfied until you renounce your autocracy. Libya, unlike many of the other egregious human rights offenders in the region, is actually what may be termed a “full autocracy,” meaning that there isn’t even the charade of electoral window-dressing. There is, however, the well-scripted, although somewhat tiresome charade of Muammar Qaddafi’s “third way,” forever enshrined in the laughable “Green Book,” proof that sometimes the first and second ways are the better bet. In any case, there is a well-deserved, although now crumbling, consensus that Qaddafi is (was) a most despicable man, and one, to boot, with a fashion style bordering on the horrific.

Then there was the overwrought self-aggrandizement that seems to have become a mainstay of the State Department press operation. Condoleezza Rice declared that “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.” She went on to call Libya “an important model.” Well, in 2006 the Libyan people are still living under the same unrepentant tyranny as they were in 2002, a tyranny which allows them no recourse to liberty and freedom - things which, lest we forget, President Bush seemed to believe in quite strongly as recently as January 20, 2005.

Yes, if you’re disciple of Scrowcroft (and it just so happens that Rice is), then yesterday’s announcement was indeed one to get triumphant about. Realism is alive and well. I, on the other hand, am perhaps being unrealistic to expect that any US administration – Republican or Democrat – will be able to resist the lure of dictator-coddling, a favorite pastime in Washington circles. Interests, interests, interests. Well, if this is the case, then the war on terror will not be won easily for an American victory requires nothing less than the dismantling of the authoritarian status quo, a status quo which has made the region a hotbed of all the things we don’t like – extremism, terrorism, fundamentalism, cultural, economic, and political stagnation... The list, as always, goes on.

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