Monday, April 02, 2007

Tensions Ease In Iran

The situation between Iran and Great Britain concerning the fate of 15 British sailors seized by Iran seems to be easing a bit. Iran has just announced that it does not think it necessary to try the sailors, a statement that seems to pave the way for a diplomatic end to the crisis. Iran seems to have realized that it made a serious miscalculation, as British and American pressure and threats were quick to follow the seizure. Furthermore, Russia has offered little defense to its client, and there was no mention of easing UN sanctions concerning Iran's nuclear program. And while the situation isn't completely resolved yet (Iran is still insisting that Britain apologize, something that Britain seems unlikely to do), things seem to be trending in the right direction.

While it's all well and good to avoid military force, the situation is an important reminder of what it means to be a "rogue state." This is not merely some designation cooked up by President Bush to describe states he doesn't like. Rather, it refers to states that do not play by the rules and seek to challenge the existing order. Iran is, plain and simple, a rogue state. It supports international terrorism, it violates its international legal commitments under the NPT, it ignores the UN and international law, and it seizes hostages to make political points and give itself leverage. While it may be nearly impossible to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we should not forget why the US and Europe should do whatever they can to prevent that from happening.


LĂ©onard Roger Martin said...

Seth, while you're right in pointing out that Iran is a rogue state in the full sense of the term, do you not agree that the most destabilizing factor for internat'l security in the globe today is M. Bush's ill-advised foreign policy (NOT the current attempt to correct it, but the that which got us to the present situation)?

Seth Weinberger said...

Leo: Thanks for asking the inevitable question. No, I do not see the US under Bush as a rogue state nor is US foreign policy "the most destabilizing factor for international security." Yes, many of Bush's policies have been unilateral and in violation of international law. But many other policies, many of them overlooked (see Dan Drezner's article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs for more on this), have been supportive of international society and cooperation in a larger sense. Furthermore, even if you oppose the Iraq War, unless one is of the "Bush Lied, No Blood for Oil" ilk, even the most unilateral of Bush's policies are aimed at upholding international norms, if not the letter of the law itself.

Perhaps a better way to answer this question is to ask: What would the world look like without US power and foreign policy? What would happen with Iran, North Korea, Iraq (pre-invasion), Chinese ambition, Russian resurgence, Sudanese genocide, and everything else in the absence of US stabilizing power? Is that a world in which any state would/could live peacefully?

Subalternate said...

Seth, just something to think about. You say "Iran is, plain and simple, a rogue state. It supports international terrorism, it violates its international legal commitments under the NPT, it ignores the UN and international law, and it seizes hostages to make political points and give itself leverage."

The United States funds the IDF, it violates international commitements under the Kyoto Protocal and does not comply with the International Courts, it takes other states citizens into secret prisons and often they dont even tell the country that they are kidnapping its people.

I dont know. Seems like two slices of the same pie.

Subalternate said...

Also, you paint a bleak picture of a world if the United States was not the global hegemon but you dont take into consideration that problems in many of those countries happened in some form due to U.S hegemonic intervention. Perhaps if the United States hadnt and doesnt play that global police role, than many of the global problems would not be at a stage like they are now. Certainly this is true with Iran and what the United States did with the Shah.

Anonymous said...

weez: the IDF is a legitimate actor under a state (int. terrorists are not); the U.S. did not sign onto Kyoto and therefore is not committed to its provisions; the U.S. is not part of the ICC; and although Guantanamo and Abu Gharib do not sit well in my mind, is it not true that terrorism is a legitimate threat that needs to be addressed and targeted somehow. Any suggestions.
If the United States was not hegemon then maybe some problems would not be present... but maybe the world would just be ill-informed, if informed at all, of the problems within other countries, and then left without any way of addressing issues like human rights etc etc. Who would take the US's role? Would any state be willing to take on the responsibilities?

Subalternate said...

Of course. States are always trying to maximize their own power and states are always competing with one another. The fact that the U.S has not signed key international laws does not make it iinnocent. If one signs a contract not to steal and still does and another person steals without ever sighing a contract, the point is that both stole. We cannot blame the first person while ignoring that the second person whole, especially if the crimes of the second one are far more significant.

For the most part, those in power make the laws and therefore, those who most challenge their power become "terrorists"
True, there are global terrorists out there but Hamas and Hezbollah have VERY LITTLE to do with the likes of Al-Qaeda. By putting all in the same blanket, the U.S and Israel make it easier to wage war but whereas Al-Qaeda is out to do damage and kill, Hamas and Hezbollah are legitimate institutions. Lebanon recognizes Hezbollah and the PA recognizes Hamas. You would be hard pressed to find a nation that recognizes Al-Qaeda.

Seth Weinberger said...

Unfortunately, international law does not work the way Weezie wishes it would. The "stealing" analogy is a false one...we do not contract on a case-by-case basis whether or not to steal. Rather, stealing is against the laws of our society. In the absence of law, there can be no private property and therefore no theft. Similarly, international law is based primarily on consent; if a state refuses to sign an international agreement it is not bound by that agreement and the subsequent law produced. You might wish that the US had signed the Kyoto Protocol, and you might even think it is "bad" the US did not. But it is most certainly not illegal that the US didn't sign, nor can the US be accused of breaking the law for not complying with an agreement it did not sign. The US is not violating international commitments by not complying with Kyoto; the most that can be said is that the US is not complying with the will of a good part of the international community. But that is not the same as an illegal action.

If you want to argue that the US often behaves in a unilateral fashion in opposition to the will/norms of the international community, fine. But then you can't just point to isolated cases like Kyoto or the ICC; rather you have to consider US behavior on a wider scale to determine how to judge US actions.

Subalternate said...

First of all, you’re reducing the important of the ICC. The ICC is not some simple insignificant thing, it is meant to be the Supreme Court on an international level and the fact that the world superpower does not comply with said court is a mockery of the institution. You would expect so called rogue states to not comply with international tribunals and such, not the country who proclaims that they stand for justice and freedom.

Second, the dichotomous relationship you attempt to paint between benevolent U.S hegemony and rogue Iranian terrorism is very near sited and is closer to nationalism than looking at it from a realist perspective. Iran is attempting to further its own cause, as is Fiji and Burundi and all other nations. All actors on the international level want more power and labeling everyone who challenges the power structure as rogue and terrorist is short sighted and wrong.

If the United States acts unilateral on many issues, certainly the Iranians or the Iraqis or Afghans or Sudanese have the same right to do so. What they do might not be right but for the United States to do so but attempt to stop other nations from doing so is hypocritical.

Seth Weinberger said...

Weezie: The importance of the ICC is of absolutely no relevance. Simply because an institution is deemed by observers as important doesn't make it obligatory to join it. While I happen to believe that the US should have joined the ICC (with a few modifications), there were, in fact, several good reasons for the US not to join. But even that is beside the is not law unless one subscribes to it. International institutions cannot bind states that choose not to participate in them.

You are correct that all states follow their interests, and that Iran, Fiji, and Burundi should no more be faulted for pursuing their interests than the US is for pursuing its own. However, what makes a state a "rogue," or to refer to Morgenthau a revisionist state, is not whether it pursues its interest but how it chooses to do so. A rogue state is one that identifies its interest in ways that cannot be satisfied within the bounds of the international system as it is constituted; thus a rogue state seeks fundamental revision to the extant system. Yes, the US may act against the will of the international community; so do all states. But the US and most other states do so within the existing framework of international politics; states like North Korea or Iran try to upset the existing balance. And that is the critical difference.

Perhaps unintentionally, your argument in your last comment ended up at "right makes might." If all states simply pursue their interests without reference to the international system, then there can be no "wrong" or "rogue states." Outcomes will purely be determined by power. Of course, being powerful helps. But the American power, for example, is ultimately limited and restrained by the American adherence to basic international laws and norms and the need for legitimacy (both domestic and international), even if the US occasionally acts unilaterally.

Subalternate said...

But your view of what a rogue state is and isn't is based on the belief that the United States is a benign and benevolent power, which history does not support. I am sure you read the BBC study in which more people in Germany believed that the United States was a greater threat to the world than Iran and another study that found that more people in Europe see Israel as a greater threat to peace than Iran. So when you make things seem international, the international community seems to have different opinions.

Our government supports aggressive wars, a blitzkrieg" style concept of pre-emptive "shock and awe" military strikes which "cannot be satisfied within the bounds of the international system as it is constituted." Perhaps during the days or Alexander this would be alright but none of that falls within the norms of today.

Rogue state applies to states that pose the greatest threat to global security and stability. Morgenthau's definition aside (wasn't Morgenthau also the one that believed that post WWII Germany should be eviscerated and its industries not allowed to rebuild after the war?)there are many other factors to consider.

Dictionary specifications of "rogue" include three elements: viciousness, lack of principle, and propensity to engage in unilateral action. Certainly many nations at some point or another fall into that (Saddam's Iraq). The whole idea of Saddam using gas against the Kurds did much to strengthen the case that Iraq was a rogue state. But let us consider that the United States used chemical warfare on a far greater scale against Vietnam in the 1960s, and its overall attack on Indochina was as vicious and far more devastating than Iraq's on its local victims. As to principle, it should be noted that the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein during the 1980s and protected him from any international sanctions, finding his possession of "weapons of mass destruction" intolerable only after he stepped out of line and ceased to be of service.

As Edward Herman puts it, "The U.S., we might say, engages in wholesale roguery, whereas Iraq is a retail rogue." And of course, he is talking about Saddam's Iraq. Furthermore, "If a country is sufficiently powerful, it naturally assumes the role of global policeman, and as such it designates who are terrorists and rogues. This role is accepted and internalized not only by its own media, but by politicians and the media of its allied and client states."

Your definition of rogue is your own but it in no way takes into consideration states who are by definition rogue but because of economic power, are exempt from such a status.