TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

Live and Let Live With the
"Rogue" Nations



LONDON-- Perhaps there is an important political moral in the tale of the American baloonist, Steve Fossett, who earlier this week had to cut short his attempt to fly around the world, running out of fuel over India after being forced to detour Libyan airspace--that attempts to isolate so-called "rogue-regimes" can, if allowed to fester unresolved for too long, curdle all sense of proportion, by both perpetrator and object alike. If the Libyan regime has looked at this high flying baloon with ridiculously sour eyes then the U.S. and its western allies are also at fault for seeing Libya and other rogue states, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Iraq as irredeemably outcast, not as manageable problems but as all-consuming threats.

This is really to overdo it. All are basket-case economies. All are diplomatically isolated. All are bordered by states possessing great military potential. As the editor of Foreign Policy, Charles Maynes, put it recently, "Even if they were to acquire weapons of mass destruction these states could not pose an existential threat to the U.S. They might over the course of several years acquire the power to strike back at the U.S. heartland in a limited way, but it would be at the price of their own extinction."

These states, badly mistaken and misgoverned though they are in many ways, are neither crazy nor suicidal. They are cornered and feel, rightly or wrongly, paranoid about American power. In fact the U.S. has attempted at one time or another to overthrow their regimes.

The reality is that Tehran's threat to American interests is very much a limited one. Militant Shi'ite Islam has not become, despite all the shouting, a model for other Muslims and Iran's military prowess is exaggerated. By focussing so tightly on Iran's supposed religious and military muscle Washington has obscured the domestic and political failings of the Islamic Republic. There is, in reality, a great degree of internal opposition to the regime, even among clerics, but Washington's embargo and policy of isolation allows the ruling group to blame this for their failings and to portray their predicament as a cultural clash between the Christian West and Islam.

Under the Clinton Administration the confrontation has been ratcheted up way beyond what it was before, provoking its western allies to be publically critical. It is not to be surprised at. Little concrete evidence has emerged to support the U.S. allegation that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix, has pointed out that he has no difficulties with Iran in implementing safeguard agreements. Neither is Iran possessor of a great military machine. Its military is much inferior to Iraq's, despite the drubbing the latter took in the Gulf War.

It would be far more productive if the U.S. would do as it has done with North Korea over nuclear arms development--reverse engines from hostile confrontation and engage its antagonist in an effort to assimilate Iran into the norm of reasonable behaviour.

This was ex-President Jimmy Carter's great contribution to the North Korean nuclear stand-off three years ago. Just when President Clinton was about to launch a full-scale confrontation with Pyongyang over its apparent nuclear bomb program, egged on by the likes of former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and ex-CIA Director Robert Gates telling him to hurry up and bomb the North Korean reprocessing plant, Carter went to North Korea, engaged the leadership in negotiations and won a deal to freeze all nuclear developments, a deal still satisfactorily being implemented.

But, unwisely, the Clinton Administration has refused to learn from its own lessons and extend this conciliatory diplomacy into other areas of its fraught relationship with North Korea. It continues to maintain an array of anachronistic sanctions designed during the Cold War to isolate Pyongyang, even to the point of not fulfilling some of the commitments made in the nuclear freeze deal. Washington--and this time also its allies in Europe, Canada and Japan--appear to take insufficient account of the changes in North Korean behaviour since the Cold War years, (partly forced on it by the cut-off in Soviet and Chinese food and petroleum lifelines). They take too little account of North Korea's efforts to engage in a policy of economic liberalization that will enable it to evolve in a Chinese direction of freedom in economic matters if not in political. And it appears they take not enough serious account of North Korean statements that indicate that the leadership no longer opposes the presence of U.S. forces in South Korea.

The present Western policy of waiting for North Korea's regime to collapse is both long-winded and unnecessary. A non-nuclear North Korea that ended its military confrontation with the South and is liberalizing its economy should be enough to build a live and let live relationship.

Endless confrontation is endlessly counterproductive (what Washington, paradoxically, has decided with what is arguably the greatest "rogue" state of them all, Syria). There is no evidence that isolating or cornering a state succeeds in moderating its behavior. Engagement is the only way, short of war, to produce results that move nations out of their entrenched positions--and, as Mr. Fossett would doubtless remind us, keeps the balloons flying in the fastest direction.


January 22, 1997, LONDON

Copyright © 1997 By JONATHAN POWER

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