Who You Callin' Rogue?

By Mousavizadeh, Nader | Newsweek, February 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

Who You Callin' Rogue?


Mousavizadeh, Nader, Newsweek


Byline: Nader Mousavizadeh

How 'rogue' countries like North Korea and Iran have become our rivals' new best friends.

A year after Barack Obama relaunched America's relations with the world's rogue states, the verdict is in: from Burma to North Korea, Venezuela to Iran, his outstretched hand has been met with a clenched fist. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Rangoon, Pyongyang is testing missiles, Caracas continues to rail against gringo imperialism, and Tehran has dismissed a year-end deadline to do a deal on its nuclear program. Engagement has failed, and Obama is now poised to deliver on threats of tougher sanctions, as surely he must. Right? Well, not necessarily.

What Washington has failed to fully recognize is that the world that created "rogue states" is gone. The term became popular in the 1980s, mainly in the United States, to describe minor dictatorships that posed a threat to the Cold War order. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the term described states unwilling to accommodate themselves to the "end of history" and to conform to U.S. values. The notion assumed that Western interests and values were shared universally and that an international consensus existed on who the renegades were and how to deal with them. By the late 1990s this consensus was dissolving, with the rise of China, the revival of Russia, and the emergence of India, Brazil, and Turkey as real powers, all with their own interests and values. Today, these rising powers make no secret of their resistance to America's anti-rogue diplomacy.

What's needed is a new set of baseline global interests, defined in concert with the rising powers who have real influence in capitals like Rangoon, Pyongyang, and Tehran. The world is eager for more engagement from America, not less, but based on partnership, not U.S. primacy. If Washington wants to confront the threats of nuclear proliferation, terror, and regional instability posed by state and nonstate actors alike, it will need to seek out coalitions that are genuinely willing--not forged under U.S. pressure. This requires a painful reconsideration of America's place in the world. But it promises real help from rising powers in shouldering the financial and military burden of addressing global threats.

Today, countries everywhere are looking for partners, not patrons. Where Washington looks to punish rogues, rival powers are stepping in with investment, defense contracts, and the promise of a relationship based on dignity and respect. This is the story of China in Burma, Russia in Iran, Brazil in Cuba--and so on down the line. The rising powers feel no obligation to back sanctions they've had no say in formulating. During a recent state visit, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stood beside Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and declared bluntly: "We don't have the right to think other people should think like us." These words resonate deeply outside the Western world. Days before, Ahmadinejad had been hosted by Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who embraced him and insisted that Iran's nuclear program was "peaceful."

The Western press attacked Lula and Erdogan for betraying democratic values and solidarity, missing the point entirely. As established democrats, Lula and Erdogan aren't supporting Tehran's violent crackdown on protesters or its covert nuclear programs. Rather, they are demonstrating their intention--and their ability--to have a say in who the rogues are and how to deal with them.

The perils of the West's old thinking are laid bare in Burma. Washington's two-decade-old policy of isolating that regime has only weakened Western influence and opened the door to China while devastating Burma's legitimate economy and doing nothing to improve human rights. The military junta is as firmly in control as ever, the democratic opposition is in disarray, and where Western policy toward Burma used to be primarily about the regime's domestic behavior, it now must contend with the generals' suspected ties to North Korea. …

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