Defeating Terrorism through Engagement

By Ben-Meir, Alon | The World and I, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Defeating Terrorism through Engagement


Ben-Meir, Alon, The World and I


Alon Ben-Meir is the Middle East project director at the World Policy Institute, New York, and a professor of international relations at New York University.

Is it good for America to pursue a policy of behaving like a "crazed state"?

Whereas all nations recognize American supremacy, no nation wants to be intimidated into submission. A 1995 secret study by the Military Strategic Command (which is responsible for the control of the strategic nuclear arsenal) outlines the basic thinking adopted by successive administrations. The study, released through the Freedom of Information Act, shows how the United States shifted its strategy of deterrence from the former Soviet Union to the so-called rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and a few others. The study advocates that the U.S. government exploit its nuclear arsenal in such a way that it shows itself as "irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked."

That "should be part of the national persona the U.S. projects to all its adversaries, particularly the rogue states," the study said. "The fact that some elements [of the U.S. government] may appear to be potentially 'out of control' can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears and doubt within the minds of adversary's decision makers."

In brief, as Noam Chomsky, the world's most famous linguist and an articulate opponent of political hypocrisy and abuse of power, commented: "The enemies of the U.S. should recognize that America is crazed and unpredictable, with extraordinary destructive force at its disposal, so that the enemy will bend to its will in fear."

Still, it should be noted that neither North Korea, nor Iran succumbed to American whims after the defeat of Saddam Hussein, although the reaction of the Bush administration to the attacks of 9/11 has, no doubt, shown this "quality of madness," as evidenced by the administration's fixation on Iraq and the intimidation of other states. In addition, this strategy has not moved the United States an inch closer to resolving either the problem of international terrorism or of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in North Korea. And Pyongyang itself may have also adopted this posture knowing full well that by raising the stakes, the United States would relent. Therefore, a new approach to resolving the North Korean impasse before it gets out of control is in order.

During their most recent meeting in June, the United States offered North Korea a step-by-step plan that would start by North Korea's freezing its nuclear program for three months. (In the interim, a comprehensive list would be compiled by the IAEA detailing Pyongyang's nuclear activity while allowing inspectors into its facilities.) The United States insisted that it would withhold any economic aid to ensure compliance. Pyongyang called the offer a sham and rejected it, stating that it lacked reciprocity.

Meanwhile, North Korea demanded simultaneous benefits, including oil, economic assistance, and lifting of the sanctions. The problem here is that there is profound distrust between the two sides and perhaps for good reason. Is was North Korea that cheated on prior agreements, but even before this fact became known to the Bush administration, the bilateral talks were suspended by the United States shortly after Bush took office, and, subsequently, North Korea was declared to be a member of the "axis of evil" club. The next administration must focus on ending North Korea's nuclear program and with that its prospects for becoming a modern nuclear peddler, selling nuclear material and technology which could easily end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. We must offer North Korea the opportunity to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable way in exchange for peace, economic aid, and integration into the international community.

Even if North Korea insists on freezing its nuclear program first, as long as its compliance can be fully verified, why does such an offer undermine American interests or prestige? …

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