Rogue states: Suspicion of US blocks creation of consensus




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 26 January 2005

When the Bush administration announced the formation of a “core” group of countries that would lead the multinational relief effort for south Asia after the December 26 2004 earthquake and tsunami, the US hope of projecting an image of good will was quickly overtaken by accusations that the initiative was intended to undermine the role of the United Nations.

The core group was disbanded after a few days. But so mired in political considerations had the humanitarian effort become, that arriving in the devastated Indonesian city of Banda Aceh, the US secretary of state Colin Powell appeared as much concerned with mending fences as giving aid.

The $350m donated by the US government represented “American values in action,” Mr Powell insisted. He added that American generosity towards the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia, showed that the US “is not an anti-Islamic, anti-Muslim nation”.

The deep suspicion of the US that has become entrenched in many parts of the world since the launch of the Global War on Terror, and which was intensified by the invasion of Iraq, is the biggest stumbling block to the reconstruction of global consensus and the creation of durable strategies to deal with crises ranging from natural disasters to weapons proliferation and the terrorist threat.

But without US support and participation, many initiatives intended to improve global security, encourage democracy and confront “rogue states”, are unlikely to succeed.

Many saw a weakness of the first Bush administration in the poor skills it employed to promote policies that could have gained wide support if they had been presented differently.

As the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote recently in Foreign Affairs: “Pre-emption defined as prevention. . . runs the risk – amply demonstrated over the past two years – that the United States itself will appear to much of the world as a clear and present danger.”

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, President George W Bush laid out a challenge to all states, telling them that they were either US allies in the war on terror, or they were “with the terrorists”.

He went further, by grouping Iraq, Iran and North Korea into an “axis of evil”, intent on developing weapons of mass destruction and passing them to terrorists.

The nature of the threat from “rogue states” is itself hotly debated, not least as a result of the terminology itself. For the Bush administration, inclusion of North Korea in the “axis of evil” was consistent with its post-September 11 world view, which redefined international relations as being driven by security concerns and the ideological commitment to “freedom”.

But for its neighbours, Russia, China and South Korea, engagement with the North Korean regime is essential, largely for practical reasons.

Suspicion of the US strategy of pre-emption as a means of dealing with “rogue states” has multiple roots.

“The tendency of the Bush administration to portray US interests as global interests has alienated many”

First, is concern that the unintended consequences of pre-emptive action may make the future more dangerous than the status quo.

Second, flaws in the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq has cast doubt on the capacity to gather adequate knowledge to justify pre-emption.

Third, winning support for action requires aligning both immediate and long-term multilateral interests.

As Mr Gaddis wrote: “September 11 exposed vulnerabilities in the defences of all states. Unless these are repaired, and unless those who would exploit them are killed, captured or dissuaded, the survival of the state system could be at stake. Here lies common ground, for unless that multinational interest is secured, few other national interests – convergent or divergent – can be.”

The tendency of the Bush administration to portray US interests as global interests has alienated many of its traditional allies, and complicated the task of confronting threats to global security. The consequences have been serious, not least because states such as France, which have criticised the US, are ultimately no safer than such staunch US allies as the UK.

During negotiations on its nuclear programme, Iran sought to exploit the hawkish position of the US and the determination of the UK, France and Germany to negotiate an end to Tehran’s plans. This disunity threatened the Europeans’ strategy, until Iran slowly gave in to EU demands, and the US was convinced that negotiations offered a genuine way forward.

But even where there is apparent consensus, decisive action has not always resulted. The opportunity for the international community to use its power in a manner that could garner global support arose in the western Sudanese province of Darfur.

The behaviour of the Sudanese government, and the methodical slaughter of Africans by Arab militias, fitted the definition of genocide that the Clinton administration had resisted applying to a larger scale slaughter in Rwanda in 1994.

But even after Colin Powell used the “G-word” in reference to Darfur, the signatories to the 1948 convention that binds them to act to halt genocide, took no meaningful action. They left several thousand troops from the African Union to “observe” a region the size of France.

The bloodshed in Iraq, and the flawed intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, have strengthened the case for diplomacy in dealing with future crises.

Months of careful negotiation, and some significant intelligence breakthroughs, secured agreement with Libya for the abandonment of its WMD programmes. But British diplomacy not only got Libya to come clean: it was also used to persuade the US not to threaten Colonel Gadaffi with military action.

US power has been widely used to bring issues of vital importance to the top of the global agenda. But solutions have not always followed.

With Iraqi elections hanging in the balance, debate on how to confront dictatorship and expand democratic frontiers continues. But experience since September 11 2001 shows a poor record of imposing “freedom”.

The “axis of evil” has seen a few changes, but it would be hard to argue that people living there are any happier.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.