Where Have All the Rogues Gone?
by Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.)
Center for Defense Information (CDI) Library
Words are important. Spoken or heard, they reflect and affect
our thoughts by the specific meanings they carry, the concepts
they suggest, and the emotions they touch. Their influence on
the human psyche, and therefore on our actions, is enormous.
That's why the State Department's July 19 announcement that
henceforth "rogue states" will be "states of concern"
is a potential springboard for resolving long standing but now
anachronistic disputes with other nations.
From Whence Came the Rogues?
It really hasn't been that many years since "rogue"
became linked with nations or states in the parlance of international
relations and national politics. In 1991, then Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell observed, "I'm
running out of demons. I'm running out of villains. I'm down to
Castro and Kim Il Sung." He did not use the term rogue, with
its connotation of being irrational or out of control, but he
did name the men who were in charge of the two third world countries
the U.S. most loved to hate.
When "rogue" became synonymous with a leader or
country implacably opposed to U.S. interests, it was neither Castro
nor Kim who "set the standard" but Saddam Hussein. This
change occurred in the post-Desert Storm 1990s when nations like
Iraq that supported terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction
took center stage in the thinking of American policy makers.
In An Elusive Consensus: Nuclear Weapons and American Security
After the Cold War, Janne Nolan presents a brief overview of how
this change occurred. Representative Les Aspin, Chairman of the
House Armed Services Committee and soon to be Clinton's first
Secretary of Defense, identified "regional" aggressors
as the main threat to international peace. Mr. Aspin defined what
Nolan describes as the Saddam Hussein four point "threat
yardstick" by which all regional renegades could be measured.
The points were:
* willing to commit aggression
* pursuing nuclear weapons development
* using or supporting the use of terrorism; and
* employing a totalitarian system of governance.
Identifying the Rogues
In addition to Iraq, Aspin found that Cuba, Syria, North Korea,
Iran, Libya, and even China fit the mold. But China was a major
power and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council where
it could wield the veto power. It could hardly be cast out of
the international community. Thus, despite some profound differences
among them, only the first five were lumped together under the
indiscriminate "rogue" label.
Using Iraq's leader as the measuring stick for "rogueness"
was only the beginning. According to Ms. Nolan, Aspin was the
one who suggested what might be termed the "rogue blackmail"
scenario. This declared that, had Saddam Hussein succeeded in
developing nuclear weapons and mating them to delivery systems
capable of threatening key U.S. allies, America might have thought
twice about mounting Desert Storm or at least have been
forced into different and more costly operations. Ms. Nolan writes:
"The notion that the United States would have been unable
to assemble a credible military coalition to deter or defeat a
nuclear-armed, or even a chemically armed, Iraq took hold and
soon became conventional wisdom."
Implicit in this observation are two other criteria: a rogue
would always be a country whose leadership opposed U.S. actions
or physical presence, and, in opposing America, was being irrational
because it was willing to risk everything for the sake of such
Thus Iraq, which had refused to leave Kuwait when faced with
overwhelming military might, became primus inter pares first
among equals in the universe of rogues.
Sudan was the seventh rogue. Its fall from grace was sealed
in August, 1998, the same month that the U.S. embassies in Nairobi,
Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were blown up in a coordinated
attack allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden, the Saudi businessman
turned terrorist. On August 20, 1998, the U.S. Navy launched a
cruise missile attack on Sudan (as well as on Afghanistan) in
retaliation for Khartoum's alleged support of bin Laden. The Sudanese
government was also accused of producing precursor agents for
the highly toxic nerve gas VX. Sudan denied both charges, and
subsequent events substantiated its denial of manufacturing VX.
(However, in August 1999 the UN undertook an investigation of
reports that the Khartoum government had dropped 22 canisters
filled with chemical agents on rebels who have been fighting for
nearly two decades.)
Responding to the Rogues
The ascribed "irrational willingness" of the leaders
of the rogue states to strike out at the United States, its military
forces, diplomatic personnel, and even ordinary citizens in turn
focused the response of the Clinton Administration on military
countermeasures. Even Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador
to the United Nations, challenged Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman
General Colin Powell in 1993 by asking, "What's the point
of having this superb military that you're always talking about
if we can't use it?"
Yet as late as 1995, William Perry's first Annual Report as
Secretary of Defense to the President and Congress did not include
the term "rogue." The terms Dr. Perry used were aggressor,
adversary, hostile, and of particular note for subsequent developments,
"countries of concern."
In the introductory paragraph of Dr. Perry's 1996 report he
included for the first time the term "rogue nation."
This seemed to break the official Pentagon lexicon dam; under
William Cohen, Secretary of Defense in the second Clinton Administration,
four countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea
were specifically identified as "rogue states" in the
counterproliferation section of the 1997 Annual Report. A further
reference to rogue states was made in the section on countering
terrorism, Mr. Aspin's third "signature" of a rogue.
But in the next three volumes (1998-2000) no countries were specifically
mentioned and "rogue states" appeared in the discussion
about smaller scale contingencies (i.e., less than a major theater
war) under the section on readiness for the full spectrum of conflict.
Goodby Rogues, Hello States of Concern
The change that set the press corps twittering came during
a June 19 National Public Radio interview of Secretary of State
Albright by Diane Rehm on WAMU-FM in Washington, DC.
"We are now calling these states 'states of concern'
because we are concerned about their support for terrorist activity,
their development of missiles, their desire to disrupt the international
Commenting on the shift in terminology later in the day, a
State Department spokesperson noted that "rogue" had
not been used for a number of months in statements and briefings
by State Department officials. "It's not really a change
in behavior or policy...as much as it is finding a better description...because
a single description, one size fits all, doesn't really fit anymore."
Yet habits die hard. While the State Department may have been
phasing out the terms rogue, rogue state, and rogue nation, the
current (106th) Congress has not. The Congressional Record has
50 entries between January 6, 1999 and July 18, 2000 with
18 in 2000 alone in which at least one Member used one of
From "Threats" to Doing Business
Indeed, during the 1990s "rogue nations" were identified
as the major new threat despite the fact that none were major
powers and their combined military outlays today are less than
5% what the U.S. will spend in Fiscal Year 2001. Nonetheless,
in the strange world of international relations, from the mid-point
of the decade the U.S. found that it could "do business"
with the then "rogue states" on different issues.
North Korea: In 1994 the U.S. negotiated the Agreed Framework
which froze the North's nuclear weapons program in return for
the promise of new light water nuclear energy power plants. The
North subsequently (1999) agreed to a moratorium on testing long-range
missiles and this June Kim Jong Il held an historic summit meeting
with South Korean president Kim Dae Jung. In July North Korea
joined the Asian Regional Forum and expressed interest in joining
other regional and international organizations. The U.S. has substantially
eased sanctions for items that fall under the Trading With the
Enemy Act, the export administration regulations, and the Defense
Production Act. However, missile and missile technology proliferation
remain sticking points.
Iran: The election of the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatemi
as president in 1997 signaled the beginning of a shift in U.S.-Iranian
relations. "People-to-people" exchanges, particularly
in sports, began. In July 1999 restrictions on sales of food and
medicine were lifted (as were sales to Libya and Sudan). The election
this year to the parliament of a majority who support President
Khatemi has strengthened his hand, and he has suggested exploring
more formal government-to-government relations with the United
States. As with North Korea, however, Iran's nuclear and missile
programs are "concerns."
Libya: With the surrender for trial in the Hague of the two
men accused of the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1986, Libya is a prime
candidate for "rehabilitation" and removal, after nearly
21 years, from the State Department's list of states accused of
supporting terrorism (one of Mr. Aspin's four criteria). In the
early 1990s the plants at Rabta and Tarhunah are believed to have
produced limited amounts of chemical agents, but activity seems
to have ceased at both locations. U.N. imposed sanctions have
been suspended but not permanently revoked.
Sudan: The unfreezing of Sudanese assets in 1999, Sudan's
signing of the 1993 treaty banning the use, development, and production
of chemical weapons and the U.N. convention on suppressing terrorism,
and the lifting of sanctions on medicine and food seemed to signal
a change in attitude toward Khartoum. Yet U.S. officials seem
unwilling to absolve the Sudanese owner of the pharmaceutical
plant destroyed by the August 1998 cruise missile attack of complicity
in terrorism. The reported use of chemical weapons against rebels
also is a red flag against the government.
Syria: The drive for a comprehensive Middle East peace required
the U.S. to negotiate with Syria. The first major change in America's
attitude came in 1990-1991 when Syria sent troops to Saudi Arabia
to join the coalition that threw Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.
But Syria has continued to at least tolerate groups in Lebanon
that routinely attack Israeli forces in southern Lebanon or Israel
itself. It also appears that Bashar Assad, who formally succeeded
his father as president in July, will insist that the entire Golan
Heights be returned to Syrian control before the elusive peace
accord will be signed.
Cuba: Considered a nemesis for 41 years, Cuba too is being
regarded in a new light. It has been decades since Cubans sought
to export their revolution to Latin America or sent forces to
fight with the Marxist government of Angola against U.S. backed
rebels. Moreover, Cuba has cooperated with the U.S. on drug interdiction
and refugee matters. For some time the U.S. has been virtually
alone in trying to impose trade sanctions on Cuba, and in early
July efforts to lift enforcement of some long-standing sanctions
finally gathered real momentum in the Congress.
Iraq: "Unrepentant" and defiant of U.S. bombings,
Iraq is suspected of reconstituting its chemical and biological
agent stockpiles and redeveloping its nuclear weapons program.
Under U.N. rules, Iraq can develop short range ballistic missiles,
which it has done. Most trade remains under U.N. sanctions although
oil is being sold to allow the purchase of food and medicine.
The U.S. Congress passed and the President signed legislation
that allocates $97 million for supporting dissident groups, but
this money has barely been touched.
Why "One Size" Never Fits
The wisdom of breaking from the "one size fits all"
characterization of nations as rogues is perhaps clearest with
respect to Mr. Aspin's fourth yardstick a totalitarian system
of governance. Arguably it does not apply to Iran even though
there remains a pre-screening process for candidates. And while
some Americans might condemn the "election" of Bashar
Assad as non-democratic, a process that allows for peaceful transfer
of authority if that authority is not abused may be
preferable to a bloody power struggle that could destroy the hard
won progress made to date.
Finally, does the demise of rogue nations signal a change
in the rationale for developing any national missile defense?
According to the State Department, it does not. The "reality"
is that the states formerly called "rogues" are still
working to develop new ballistic missiles in mid-July Iran
tested an intermediate range Shahab 3 which is based on the North
Korean No-Dong missile.
Americans like things simple and broad, inclusive categories
are simple. But in this instance adding a bit of complexity may
well increase our security by allowing policymakers to distinguish
the real from the illusionary challenges to the U.S. and the international
community. Constructive multilateral diplomacy which encourages
peaceful aspirations could selectively reduce the hostility that
in some cases has marked U.S. relations with these nations for
Removing the stigma of "rogue"is the first step
along this path because it also removes the unproductive implication
that the leaders of these countries are irrational men bent on
self-destruction. In fact, as some have recently demonstrated,
there are many issues on which we can do business if we give them
and ourselves a little breathing space for respect
and time for peace to take hold.
Under Mr. Aspin the "rogue blackmail" scenario
became conventional wisdom.
"What's the point of having this superb military...if
we can't use it?"