Where Have All the Rogues Gone?

by Colonel Daniel Smith, USA (Ret.)

Center for Defense Information (CDI) Library - Internet


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 opposition.

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 system."

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 these terms.)

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 decades.

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?"

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