Sanctioning "Rogue States"

By O'sullivan, Meghan L. | Harvard International Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Sanctioning "Rogue States"


O'sullivan, Meghan L., Harvard International Review


A Strategy in Decline?

One of the major dilemmas faced by American policy-makers today is how to treat the countries that the United States now refers to as 'rogues.' America's European and Asian allies have traditionally dealt with these countries by engaging them with commercial and diplomatic contacts. In contrast, the United States has generally pursued policies of containment, where economic and diplomatic isolation of the target country has been virtually inevitable. As evidenced by recent US conciliatory gestures toward franas well as the statements of some presidential candidates, business leaders, and many congressional members--enthusiasm for unilateral sanctions has waned considerably. Before jettisoning this tool, which has been the mainstay of containment strategies, it is useful to evaluate the record of US unilateral sanctions in dealing with these so-called rogues. Have unilateral sanctions failed? If so, what policy options are more promising?

What Makes a Rogue?

Castigating countries that oppose US interests as outlaws or pariahs is certainly nothing new. However, the concept of a "rogue" state has been popularized in the post-Cold War era in response to the changing nature of threats facing the United States and, many have argued, in an attempt to fill the void that the demise of the Soviet Union and international communism created. Regard-less of whether the threats posed by these "rogue" nations require the resources and coordination that containment of the Soviet Union demanded, the concept of "rogue" states continues to influence the debates amongst American foreign-policy thinkers and the decisions of America's highest officials.

Despite the prominence of "rogue" rhetoric in the American political system, there is no real consensus on what makes a "rogue." This absence of a checklist of characteristics is not surprising, as the concept of "rogue" states has been used more to garner domestic political support for punitive policies than to provide analytical guidance for sound policies. Nevertheless, the frequent of use of the term has produced a group most commonly associated with the label: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea. By all considerations, "rogue" states are ones which America accuses of four "wrongdoings": pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, support for terrorism, reprehensible treatment of their own citizens, and vocal animosity toward the United States. With the exception of Cuba-- whose inclusion on any register of "rogues" is much more a reflection of domestic politics in the United States than any external criterion--a country must be guilty in all four departments in order to be classified as a "rogue" in Am erican politics. Other countries that may be associated with one or more of the offensive behaviors, but not all of them, seem largely to escape the label of "rogue." In this way, Syria, Serbia, China, and Sudan, while certainly problem regimes, have fallen short of full-fledged "rogue" status. Similarly, Afghanistan (or the Taliban) remains outside this classification for the time being, although it may very well be a "rogue" in the making.

Sanctioning Rogues

In each of the cases of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, US policymakers would surely welcome the replacement of the current regime with a more democratic one favorably disposed to the West. However, regime change has not always been the sole aim of US policy. Ideally, America would like each "rogue" to discontinue its offensive conduct, either as a result of regime change or because of moderation of the current government. But barring this type of progress, US policy has sought to keep these regimes from acquiring the resources needed to pursue the behavior that America judges to threaten its security.

In pursuing these objectives, the United States has relied largely on policies that isolate or punish the offending "rogue." Punitive tools, such as military force, covert action, and the strengthening of a regime's neighbors or rivals, have sporadically played important roles in America's quest to marginalize or replace "rogue" regimes. …

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