Carrot or Compromise?


When describing countries which Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once referred to as existing “with the sole purpose of destroying the system,” the U.S. government recently decided to drop the use of the term “rogue states” in favor of “states of concern.”

Is this move a carrot designed to entice these countries into more amicable behavior, or is it a show of Washington’s reluctance to take an uncompromising stance in defending American policy internationally, particularly in the face of declining international support?

Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained the change thusly: “The [‘rogue states’] category has outlived its usefulness…. It’s not really a change in behavior or policy or what we’re doing as much as it is finding a better description or a different description, because a single description, ‘one size fits all,’ doesn’t really fit anymore.”

The term “rogue state” has been applied to Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Libya and Sudan in the past, and the controversial title has been used to justify a policy of “dual containment” against Iraq and Iran in the mid-1990s, as well as, more recently, plans for a U.S. national defense system (described as necessary to protect against attacks from “rogue states”).

Some feel that adopting the new, more palatable term will make it easier to deal with such countries on an individual basis, particularly when concessions or signs of improvement are shown.

But others see it as yet another example of weakened American posturing in the face of long-term opposition and declining international support.

Iraq is an example. Recent articles report that in spite of 18 months of intermittent bombing designed to destroy Iraq’s missile centers, the country’s missile program has been restarted and Saddam Hussein recently flight-tested a short-range ballistic missile. Meanwhile Egypt, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has contracted with Iraq to become its leading trade partner (Stratfor GIU, May 3).

Writing for the International Herald Tribune, William Pfaff offers another view on Washington’s change of approach. “The decision that rogue nations are not irredeemably roguish but are subjects for therapy provides a belated application to international relations of the currently popular American notion that the object of interpersonal relationships is the maximization of self-esteem. A rogue nation can only bolster its self-esteem by more roguery, whereas a ‘state of concern’—as rogue states are now designated—is one with potential for self-improvement and for winning the esteem of others” (July 1-2).

In other words, calling a country a “state of concern” might tempt it to change for the better, while “rogue states” remain locked into their behavior at least partially by their unpopular classification.

That the U.S. administration has become soft-fisted in dealing with regimes that violate basic principles of democracy and human rights is clear. But when has the boost to a dictator’s self-esteem ever driven him to change?