Jofi Joseph—now foreign relations adviser for Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.)—pens an fanatistic article in Democracy Journal that—to my mind—nails why the Bush Administration “can’t disarm Iran.”
States make the “strategic decision” over a period of years, not—as many senior Bush Administration officials seem to believe—overnight. This mistake—perhaps impatience—leads many Bush Administration officials to a hasty pessimism and blinds them to the virtues of sustained diplomacy:
It is unrealistic to expect a state to reach an overnight realization that nuclear weapons are not in its national interest. Instead, any such decision can only emerge in the aftermath of sustained engagement demonstrating the tradeoffs inherent in defyingthe will of the international community, a point demonstrated by the years of negotiation preceding Libya’s decision and, more recently, the agreement forged in the Six Party Talks on North Korea. In fact, demanding a permanent strategic decision may inadvertently discourage rogue regimes from taking intermediate steps that make the world more secure, including “half-loaf” compromises that fail to resolve a state’s underlying proliferation desires but effectively constrain its arsenal for a period of time. Although messy, these steps can buy the necessary time to allow a permanent solution to emerge while securing our national interests in the interim. Conversely, the strategic-decision approach allows the United States to sit back while countries move down the road of weapons development. After all, if a nation refuses to change, the United States won’t talk with them, and absent a credible threat of force, there is not much else the United States can do.
There is an alternative course, one that worked well in the 1990s, and that is the lost art of coercive diplomacy: combining incentives and punishments to coerce recalcitrant regimes into making the right decisions. Such coercive diplomacy—as we might be seeing on the Korean Peninsula, but will not likely see repeated with Iran—blends carrots and sticks to ensure that hostile regimes have a clear choice between economic integration and broad diplomatic acceptance versus isolation and the prospective use of military force. It sees negotiation as a diplomatic tool, not a diplomatic reward. And it recognizes something that President Bush has ignored during his first six years in office: that successful nonproliferation policies are more often marked by shades of gray than black and white.
I guess that is a little long for a post-it note, so we won’t be able to staple it to the President’s forehead.
I pick on the Bush Administration, of course, and Jofi is pretty merciless in pointing out how the policies derived from this worldview are screwed up. But the overnight “strategic decision” is a widespread theme in Washington.
But what I most like about Jofi’s article is that it exemplifies what I’d call the “post partisan” outlook. There is nothing about being a D or an R that should influence the empirical judgment on how long states requires to make strategic decisions. Jofi simply notes how one pervasive and false concept can derail a nonproliferation policy.
I wish I’d written this article. I kind of fouled off a couple of pitches with a similar swing in a forthcoming book review.
But Jofi hit this one out of the park.
(On a related note, I recall that we wouldn’t know what disarmament looked like if we intercepted the order.)