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Itching for a fight: Washington prepares for war against the 'rogues.'(Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, North Korea)

Washington prepares for war against the `rogues'

When the U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was blown up in June, Secretary of Defense William Perry declared that the United States would find and punish the bombers. "If the sponsor of this act was another nation, we will take appropriate action against that nation," he said.

The State Department followed suit, providing the names of several countries that might be responsible, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

It just so happens that these are four of the five "rogue" states that Washington has been demonizing since the twilight of the Cold War, the fifth being North Korea. Because of their pursuit of nuclear or chemical weapons, these states are said to constitute a threat every bit as potent as that posed by the former Soviet Union, and to require, in turn, a U.S. military response not unlike that mounted against the Warsaw Pact.

"Contrary to the hopes of many and predictions of some, the end of the Cold War did not bring an end to international conflict," Perry told Congress in March. "The most daunting threats to our national security that we faced during the Cold War have gone away, but they have been replaced by new dangers" (emphasis in the original). Foremost among these, he testified, "are nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue nations." Maintaining a capacity to contain, deter, and fight such states, he added, is the "guiding principle" behind U.S. military policy in the post-Cold War era.

In discussing these states, Pentagon officials seek every opportunity to equate them with the former Soviet bloc. "While the Cold War is over," Perry said in April, "the missile threat has not gone away. Indeed, another missile threat is emerging. It is the threat of missile technology in the hands of rogue nations hostile to the United States." The fact that the U.S.S.R. once deployed some 1,450 intercontinental ballistic missiles, while the nominal rogues possess not a single ICBM, does not seem to matter.

However distorted, the comparison between today's "rogue-state" threat and the long-familiar Soviet threat has obvious attractions to the Department of Defense: So long as the "rogues" can be made to appear as threatening as the former Soviet Union, Congress can be persuaded to maintain U.S. military spending at near-Cold War levels.

To this end, the national-security establishment has worked tirelessly to propagate the image of a world filled with renegades, madly pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and seeking every opportunity to undermine U.S. interests.

President Clinton's National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake (formerly of Mount Holyoke College), calls them the "backlash states": hostile powers "that not only choose to remain outside the family [of nations] but also to assault its basic values." Defense Secretary Perry says they are "madder than MAD," a reference to the condition of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that once governed nuclear relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

But most of the claims made about the military capabilities of the so-called rogues have been greatly exaggerated.

Not one of these countries possesses a functioning nuclear device, and they may not have one until well into the twenty-first century, if at all. Similarly, none of the existing rogues is a match for, say, Israel. For the most part, these are relatively weak countries with severe economic problems and limited military capabilities.

Nevertheless, the foreign-policy establishment has persuaded Congress and a willing media that these "rogue states" pose a real and present danger to world security, and that only firm military action by the United States can overcome this danger.

In some sense, the propagation of this "rogue" doctrine has already achieved its proponents' objectives: It has preserved Pentagon spending at historically high levels. Congress has even approved the acquisition of new weapons intended for future engagements with these states.

But the rhetoric has begun to take on a life of its own. Democrats and Republicans are competing to see how tough they can be on these nations. Thus, when the Republicans in Congress threatened to impose stiff economic sanctions on Iran, President Clinton beat them to the punch by signing an executive order to the same end. And when Clinton warned of military action against chemical-weapons facilities in Libya, the Republicans chided him for not moving fast enough.

This sort of one-upmanship inevitably increases the risk of war. When the next crisis erupts, and politicians in Washington seek to surpass each other in the militancy of their rhetoric, it may be impossible to avoid the onrush to war.

Indeed, the rhetoric of the "rogues" has already brought the United States close to the brink of war. This spring, Defense Secretary Perry threatened to launch military attacks against Libya if it proceeded with construction of an underground chemical weapons plant at Tarhuna, some forty miles south of Tripoli.

"We believe that if Libya were to begin production at this plant, it would represent a threat to all nations in the region--indeed, possibly the world," Perry said on April 18. "Therefore, we are prepared to take preventive measures to keep Libya from posing such a threat to peace and stability."

Perry even suggested, through the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, that the United States was prepared to use nuclear weapons to disable the plant. Destroying the plant at Tarhuna "could require, could include the use of nuclear weapons," Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Bacon declared on April 23.

The Defense Department subsequently insisted that it had no plans to use nuclear weapons against Libya. The Libyans, for their part, said that work on the Tarhuna plant had been suspended, which eased the crisis for the time being. But any further evidence of Libyan efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, or to initiate acts of terrorism against U.S. facilities and personnel, would almost certainly provoke a U.S. military response.

Similarly, if terrorists from Iran, Iraq, Syria, or North Korea could be linked to acts of sabotage against the United States, a swift U.S. assault would be imminent.

The "rogue" rhetoric almost provoked a war against North Korea two years ago. In May and June of 1994, North Korea refused to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit its nuclear facilities, as required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which North Korea had signed. In response, the Clinton Administration threatened to seek U.N. Security Council support for the imposition of economic sanctions. North Korea's leaders warned that they would consider such sanctions an act of war. As tensions mounted, both sides placed their forces on alert, and the United States deployed additional aircraft and missiles to the region.

The Republicans in Congress (and their supporters in the media) called on President Clinton to take further steps, including preemptive military action.

President Clinton, while rejecting such advice, threatened North Korea again with sanctions, producing fresh warnings from Pyongyang.

Only a last-minute peacemaking trip to the region by former President Jimmy Carter, leading to the onset of direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations, prevented this crisis from erupting into war.

Since then, tensions in the region have abated somewhat, but any glitch in the U.S.-North Korea agreement could produce a fresh crisis. Recent Republican threats to cut off funding for the agreement could have exactly that incendiary effect.

At this moment, we are just a step or two away from the onset of military hostilities, and the United States appears destined to fight again and again with the states branded as rogues.

While it is reasonable to assume that U.S. forces will always prevail in these encounters, war has a way of bringing on unintended, harmful consequences even to the victors.

And to the people who inhabit the "rogue states" targeted by the United States, the suffering could be catastrophic.

Those of us in the peace community who seek the nonviolent resolution of international disputes must question the validity of the "rogue" doctrine. We must insist that U.S. interests are ultimately harmed by categorizing a group of countries as outlaws or renegades without examining the distinctive nature of these states or the particulars of the issues that divide us. Only by engaging in such a process can we adopt a realistic policy and actually deal with the problems these states present to us.

The states called rogues have sought to circumvent the various nonproliferation agreements--as have other states, including U.S. allies. The states called rogues have also violated the human rights of their citizens and supported terrorist activities--as have other states, including U.S. allies.

The United States must work in the United Nations and other international bodies to develop effective measures for preventing proliferation and terrorism, and for promoting human rights. But basing our foreign policy on a permanent military crusade against the so-called rogue states will neither solve these problems nor enhance U.S. security. Only a policy based on international collaboration and a realistic, constructive approach to U.S. relations with all nations will truly serve our long-term interests.
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Author:Klare, Michael
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Sep 1, 1996
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