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How should America respond to renegade countries?


Published Apr 1, 2008 8:00 AM

Copyright © Illustration by Stephanie Augustine

America's response to renegade countries is literally and figuratively all over the map. Do we engage them, as we have with North Korea? Isolate them, as we've done in Iran? Or strike, as we did in Iraq?

During the Cold War as well as earlier and later we regularly negotiated with our ostensible enemies, including the Soviet Union, even when President Reagan had denounced it as an 'evil empire.' We even negotiated with China at the time when we did not have diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, through our ambassadors in Warsaw. In the current Bush administration we have replaced negotiations with enemies by unilateral demands, ultimatums, economic and political sanctions, and ultimately military invasion and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq. There can be value, however, in negotiations with Iran, Syria and other states. There would also be value to direct negotiations with North Korea to resolve issues on the Korean peninsula. Survival, security and independence are paramount issues to [North Korea] and also to Iran, especially after President Bush's January 29, 2002, State of the Union address identifying these nations as part of an 'Axis of Evil' along with Iraq and his subsequent invasion of Iraq.

Michael Intriligator
UCLA Professor Emeritus
Economics, Political Science and Public Policy

There are times when force is both justified and likely to be effective, especially against weak states when the objective is clear and simple. But in most cases, the threat to us is not sufficiently imminent, the cost is too high, and the probability of success too low for military strikes to be a wise option. In such cases, we should revive the strategy of containment that George Kennan eloquently articulated in the 1950s. The USSR under Stalin was the quintessential rogue state. Kennan's recommendation: Construct strong, self-confident institutions within the West, form coalitions to oppose the adversary, build up and deploy defensive military forces where necessary, but at all cost avoid saber-rattling and remain open to dialogue should the 'rogue state' become more cooperative. Containment, as advocated by Kennan, requires isolation, engagement (on our terms) and the threat of military action (but always very much in the background).

Daniel Treisman
UCLA Professor
Political Science

Our foreign policy toward rogue nations should take into account all relevant factors, including both the threat posed by the country and the likelihood of their attacking us. Countries most likely to use their perceived weapons of mass destruction and who refuse to be deterred by diplomatic pressure may need to be dealt with by force. As for countries like Iran, there's not much to discuss with a nation whose leaders call for the destruction of America and Israel. Countries like North Korea, which are receptive toward diplomatic agreements, should be negotiated with. In fact, our aggressive pursuit of diplomacy with that country has led North Korea to commit to complete denuclearization. Applying a one-size-fits-all approach, such as blanket diplomacy, would fail to adequately respond to the problems we face.

David Lazar '08
Bruin Republicans Chairman

Stanley Meisler reviews our options in the feature story, Engage, Isolate or Strike? Now tell us what you think by commenting.

Isolation has not produced any meaningful resolution with North Korea, Iran or Cuba. In failing to engage these nations we are essentially setting the stage for a possible military showdown. It is an absolute injustice to the members of our Armed Forces, not to mention the American people and our allies, to consider armed conflict without any attempts at political discourse and dialogue with these countries. It is imperative that we, as the last remaining superpower, engage these nations and bring them back into the fold, not isolate them. If we as a nation fail at this task, it will be America's sons and daughters who pay the ultimate price.

Arturo R. Murguia '99
Captain, United States Army

There is no one formula for dealing with rogue states. A willingness to engage, when and where appropriate, is a kind of diplomatic bottom line. The U.S. policy toward Iran is not just about sanctions. There is every evidence since the revised NIE that our talks with Iran over mutual interests in Iraq may expand, supported curiously by the Iranian public where the U.S. enjoys almost unparalleled "street" popularity. With North Korea, a negotiating framework with regional partners has yielded real progress on the ground. With Iraq, please recall the national consensus that backed the 2003 invasion after years of abortive diplomacy, whatever we make of that consensus in hindsight. Diplomatically, the U.S. has pursued different and timely strokes in dealing with rogue states, which I believe is the right approach.

Peter J. Kovach
UCLA Diplomat in Residence

We have to talk to rogue nations. Our efforts to isolate Iran have failed miserably. Since U.S. intelligence agencies have recently concluded that Iran is no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program, we do not have a smoking gun to justify military action. We have already lost our credibility around the world because of our failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Only a surge in diplomacy makes sense. If we can reach an agreement with North Korea, which already possesses nuclear weapons, we should not be afraid to talk to Iran. Give diplomacy a chance.

Tufail Ahmad
Senior Fellow, UCLA School of Public Affairs
President, Euro-America Shipping & Trade