Friday, July 07, 2006

The Need for a Big Stick

For the last few days, the news has been filled with dire news from Iran and North Korea. The former announced yesterday that Iran would not respond early to an international proposal for dealing with its developing nuclear program. North Korea, of course, has been castigated by the international community for its testing 7 missiles, including a long-range Taepo-Dong 2 missile that failed. Today, North Korea is ranting that it will consider any punitive sanctions to be an act of war by the international community.

However, neither North Korea nor Iran need worry, as the likelihood of the international community cracking down on them for the behavior is slim to none. Both Russia and China, for various reasons, oppose sanctions in both instances and claim that only continued, and perhaps endless, diplomacy, can resolve the situations.

The problem is, of course, that the UN, and the international community more generally, is incapable of enforcing its norms, rules, laws, and will. The UN is hamstrung by Security Council vetoes, a norm of sovereignty, and a general prediliction for consensus, while the international community is crippled by free-riding, shirking, and indifference. Whether or not, for example, you supported the US invasion of Iraq, there is no question that the UN was unwilling and incapable of enforcing its resolutions on Iraq, that the sanctions and containment regimes were collapsing, and that without the US invasion, Hussein would still be in power and by now would have very likely reconstituted his arsenal of WMDs.

Both North Korea and Iran are able to spit in the face of the international community because both states know that they will not be called to account for their behavior. Each has one, if not two, veto-wielding Security Council members in its corner, and each is well aware of the hesitation of "New Europe" to act boldly and strongly in the name of international peace and security.

In the absence of an overarching, systemic, and existential threat like that posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, international security has become more dependent on the interational community. The US has learned the hard way the price of going it alone. But where's the international community when serious threats pose themselves? Everyone seems to agree that Iran must not be allowed to continue its pursuit of nuclear "power," while North Korea's missile tests alarmed Russia and China, as well as Japan and the West. If both North Korea and Iran continue down their present paths, it will, no doubt, fall on the US to unilaterally deal with the problem.

It's time for the like-minded states, which excludes Russia and possibly China, to develop a new international security apparatus outside of the UN framework. NATO is a collective security institution and is not meant to nor capable of dealing with these kinds of threats. Instead, the international economic structures in which nearly every state participates (maybe not North Korea, but Iran is trying hard to get into the WTO) must be tied together and made contigent on adhere to international norms of cooperation and behavior. The punishment for rogue behavior such as demonstrated by Iran and North Korea must be international isolation and economic exclusion. And such decisions cannot be left in the hands of the United Nations.

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