Jeffrey LewisWhat Disarmament Looks Like

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.

[Emphasis Mine]

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.)


  1. Hass

    Note the implied and unjustified assumption that Iran is in fact seeking nuclear weapons . . .

  2. TS

    Yeah, why not wait a few years for diplomacy to work? If Israel gets nuked in the meantime, well that’s just the price of diplomacy, right?>:-P

  3. TS

    Also, how lame to so similarly name a journal after NED’s well-respected Journal of Democracy.

  4. ben (History)

    how are you enjoying being back in DC?

  5. Mike (History)

    This is why in negotiating buying time it worth buying time.

  6. Keith Rasmussen (History)

    The comments here, I notice, are rather lame. Your picture sure does prove that Bush is the stupidist person alive though. Congratulations, you’ve made a stunning discovery. Your place in ciber history is preserved forever. Lincoln was pretty stupid too, and I’m sure you would have been on to him, no doubt. Back slapping all around!

  7. CKR (History)

    What I’ve been saying. It took 14 years for Brazil and Argentina to convince themselves they didn’t need nuclear weapons against each other.

  8. Anon

    Negotiations are not an unqualified good. Take the rather startling op-ed below, which was written by Mr. Sunshine Policy himself.


    Abandoned at a Nuclear CrossroadsBy Kim Dae-jungChosun IlboMarch 12, 2007

    The dynamics of international relations concerning the Korean Peninsula are rapidly changing. So is the security situation of South Korea. With North Korea’s vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan’s visit to the United States as momentum, U.S.-North Korean relations are suddenly improving. In Vietnam, Japan has held negotiations with North Korea on improving relations (although their talks are broken off for the time being). Senior officials from the U.S. departments of State and the Treasury have visited China, suggesting that the U.S. is giving weight to China’s go-between role in the Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has unexpectedly visited the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang to stress his friendship with China. Lee Hae-chan, a special aide to the South Korean president, has visited Pyongyang, tapping the possibility of an inter-Korean summit meeting.

    It all shows that with the Feb. 13 six-party agreement as momentum, the status of nuclear-armed North Korea is rising, and that the traditional alliances and hostilities in and around the Korean Peninsula are being readjusted. Today’s South Korea may not be the friend of the U.S. it was yesterday, just as today’s North Korea is not the enemy it was. Since his inauguration, U.S. President George W. Bush at every opportunity branded North Korea part of an “axis of evil,” a dictatorship and a violator of human rights. But as seen in his State of the Union address this year, Bush has become very quiet as far as North Korea and Kim Jong-il are concerned. He has gone so far as to praise the six-party agreement as “successful” even if he would have thrown away only a few months ago. Bush is no longer a politician of principles. He has virtually given in to North Korean nuclear weapons.

    South Korea is in trouble. Over the past five decades, we have had a free ride for our national security is concerned, with full support from the United States. Furthermore, North Korea was weak. China was bent on reviving its own economy. Japan was trying to maintain its status as an economic power. That allowed us to focus on developing our economy relatively smoothly, without having to worry much about security.

    But now the tables have been turned. With its weapons, North Korea has grown strong enough to confront the U.S. Buoyed by its economic growth, China is stretching itself, longing for the good old days when it had the run of Asia. With the backing of its strong relations with the U.S., Japan behaves like a U.S. proxy in Asia. Above all, the U.S. is leaving South Korea. Now South Korea’s free ride for its securityis coming to an end—a natural consequence of South Korea’s own actions, because the Roh Moo-hyun government looked on as North Korea pursued a nuclear development program and encouraged the U.S. to leave.

    We may feel the U.S. is being irresponsible, but nobody can stop it from leaving South Korea. This is what the Roh administration wanted. And the U.S. can no longer afford to stay here, even if we oppose its departure. The situation in Northeast Asia has changed, and so has America. It has become disaffected with South Korea. As a gesture of courtesy to an ally, it should lay out a step-by-step roadmap to security prior to departure. But if we look at the Bush administration’s way of handling the transition of wartime operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul and the North Korean nuclear crisis, it is doubtful if the U.S. feels any sense of responsibility for the future security of South Korea.

    Last Wednesday, Gen. Burwell Bell, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, expressed concern about the reductio-n of the South Korean forces and shortening of their military service, saying that North Korea could be a nuclear power by 2009. It is difficult not to feel aggrieved, since his statement sounds like, “Can you do it alone even if we are leaving?”

    Now we have to defend ourselves with our own efforts. Regardless of who is to blame, that is the reality we have to face. We must work out emergency measures to survive. We must double our diplomatic efforts, boost defense capabilities, and pay more taxes for this cause. More importantly, we need the defense equipment that allows us to cope with North Korea’s nuclear weapons. That means we need to reconsider our position on nuclear weapons.

    We are surrounded by countries who either have or are capable of building nuclear arms. Because it has nuclear weapons, North Korea has been able to survive and negotiate with the big powers. Of course, China also has nuclear weapons, and the stark reality is that Japan, with a nuclear reprocessing plant, is capable of making nuclear arms any time it needs to. In addition, if we cannot expect the support of the nuclear umbrella provided by the U.S, we could be left helpless at a crossroads in East Asia amid a forest of nuclear weapons. Mere troop numbers or longer military service, as General Bell appeared to suggest, would not guarantee security. As long as it tolerates North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the U.S. has no justification for preventing any country that is desperate to survive from developing its own.

    * Former president Kim Dae-jung is a Nobel laureate.

  9. Stephen Schwartz (History)

    For more on what’s required to get states to reconsider decisions to go nuclear, see “Nuclear U-Turns: Learning from South Korea and Taiwanese Rollback,” by Rebecca Hersman and Robert Peters in the November 2006 issue of the Nonproliferation Review (table of contents here— As they note, this process can take a very long time.

    There are also good articles about the South Africa and Egyptian cases.

  10. Eaton

    The article in Chosun Ilbo was written by Kim Dae-joong. He is not related to the former president.

  11. hass

    This “Israel will get nuked” hysteria is tiresome disingenuous nonsense. It is Israel that has the actual nukes, and Iran which has been explicitly threatened with nuclear attack.