Jeffrey LewisLibya’s Lessons for North Korea

Hey, remember when Bush Administration officials tried to convince Kim Jong Il that he could get the same denuclearization deal Bush gave Qadhafi?

Yeah, the last couple of days might explain why Kim didn’t think it was such a great idea.

Update | 11:25 am 22 March 2011

Apparently the DPRK is drawing the same lesson.  From KCNA:

The present Libyan crisis teaches the international community a serious lesson.

It was fully exposed before the world that “Libya’s nuclear dismantlement” much touted by the U.S. in the past turned out to be a mode of aggression whereby the latter coaxed the former with such sweet words as “guarantee of security” and “improvement of relations” to disarm itself and then swallowed it up by force.

It proved once again the truth of history that peace can be preserved only when one builds up one′s own strength as long as high-handed and arbitrary practices go on in the world.

The DPRK was quite just when it took the path of Songun and the military capacity for self-defence built up in this course serves as a very valuable deterrent for averting a war and defending peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Every semester, I have my students read Rob Litwak’s Non-proliferation and the Dilemmas of Regime Change for a reason.

Comments

  1. Andrew Tubbiolo (History)

    Yeah, at the end of the Cold War I really thought humanity had made some progress with regards to having a large military and restraint in using it. I understood the lesson was forced on the major powers, but I thought we had learned none the less. It seems we unlearn. So is the arms control community ever going to address runaway executive branch control over the military forces of the world? My goodness if nobody in the governing class can see that so much power endowed in the hands of so few minds has degraded world security, and driven so many nations bankrupt, what good are they? It does not matter how you meter security, stability or wealth, the current mindset is just not working. …. Sorry for the rant.

  2. FSB (History)

    The positive from this is that the douchebags in Bahrain and Yemen may get a clue. But I doubt we will ever hit our dictators and apartheid-friendly douches in Saudi and Israel for their human rights abuses.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      There is some discontent about the tendency to go right to “douchebag” in the comments. Can we keep it a little more high-minded?

    • FSB (History)

      Sorry — was acting as per original ACW mind-set. “All the news that’s too wonky or obscene..etc..”

      Sorry will keep the comments less douche-baggy henceforth.

  3. barmak (History)

    This is also a lesson for Iran. It’s also a lesson for Gaddafi:

    2008 article:
    Gaddafi: Isolated Iran risks the same fate as Iraq
    http://www.jordantimes.com/?news=9837

    Technically it wouldn’t have made any difference if Gaddafi had kept his nuclear program. Human rights activists would still be bombing Libya, or maybe they would have bombed Libya sooner. It makes no sense. They should have left Libya alone. Gaddafi would have been overthrown anyway if there were no outside intervention. Besides, Libya doesn’t have much strategic importance, they were happily selling their oil and investing their money in Europe and Americas. What’s the point of all this?

    • FSB (History)

      Let’s be bloody clear: this has nothing to do with Libya’s ex-nuclear aspirations. What is the precise tie-in?

      If anything Hillary was infatuated with Libya, like 2 years ago and wanted to drop some X and join the rave there:

      http://www.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/World/Story/A1Story20090422-136714.html

      “WASHINGTON, April 21, 2009 (AFP) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Tuesday for stronger ties between the United States and its former foe Libya, during a meeting here with a son of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi, the Libyan leader….”

  4. FSB (History)

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/03/21/what_intervention_in_libya_tells_us_about_the_neocon_liberal_alliance

    “The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy, both groups believe that U.S. power — and especially its military power — can be a highly effective tool of statecraft. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America’s right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world. Both groups consistently over-estimate how easy it will be to do this, however, which is why each has a propensity to get us involved in conflicts where our vital interests are not engaged and that end up costing a lot more than they initially expect. ”

    Oh, and Hillary 2011, please meet Hillary 2009……

    • Drew (History)

      “I’m not sure what the lesson is here except that it’s not a good year to be an autocrat in the Middle East.”

      Unless you happen to host military and economic cooperation within a certain sphere of influence/call yourself an emir of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince of Emir of Qatar, Emir of Kuwait, the King of Saudi Arabia, etc. In fact, Saudi Arabia was ranked at the bottom of the 2010 Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit while previous democracies in the Middle East (Iran in the 1950’s, for example) have seen themselves overthrown by Western democracies. Incompliant autocrat must have been the phrase missing from the sentence.

      Generally, greater amounts are spent on military aid than democracy aid and often superficial political liberalization can serve as a facade for continued authoritarianism. Zogby polls suggest Arab public opinion largely rejects the assertion that U.S. democracy assistance is helpful and other polls also confirm that people in the Middle East are mainly discouraged by U.S. policies in the Middle East. Largely, democracy is only perceived to be good if and when it conforms to U.S. economic and strategic objectives. The overarching concept is always whatever is currently perceived to be the U.S. economic and strategic goal of interest, and many times it is convenient to call this democracy to build public support for intervention.

    • Lab Lemming (History)

      It has everything to do with WMD.

      If Qadaffi had the bomb, do you think the current air campaign would be happening right now?

      The lesson for Iran, Myanmar, and DPRK is clear: Acquire a nuclear deterrent before wiping out your own people.

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      You know, what I find slightly odd about the railings against American Imperialism is that they are so very, very entrenched in an American hegemonic mindset.

      There are a lot of Liberal Interventionists in Europe.

      Sometimes, it’s not all about the USA.

    • FSB (History)

      While I agree with Lab Lemming that had Libya had a bomb we may have acted differently, Libya was not even close to making a bomb and I believe it never had the in house expertise to do so within even two decades from 2004.

      So the analogy with N. Korea is nice and fun, but Libya was an order of magnitude less close to a bomb, ever.

  5. Andy (History)

    Except I don’t think this really has anything to do with Libya’s WMD programs. Gaddafi giving those up isn’t a get-out-of-jail free card for anything he might do in perpetuity – no one should expect that. I’m not sure what the lesson is here except that it’s not a good year to be an autocrat in the Middle East.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Qadhafi clearly thought he was purchasing international acceptance of his regime. That was the explicit offer to North Korea, as well, as articled by John Bolton:

      “When I spoke a year ago, some may have doubted that the United States would fulfill its pledge to put relations on a new plane once North Korea fulfilled its pledge to verifiably dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs in a complete and irreversible way. Those doubts should now be dispelled. The reason is that I can offer empirical proof — proof of how the United States acts toward such regimes when they learn from their past mistakes and work to make amends with the international community. Let there be no doubt: the case of Libya has shown concretely the benefits that can flow when leaders of isolated regimes make the strategic choice to invest in their countries’ future, and not in weapons of mass destruction.”

      Hey, it’s a rare case where I disagree with you!

    • Drew (History)

      In reply to Andy:

      “I’m not sure what the lesson is here except that it’s not a good year to be an autocrat in the Middle East.”

      Unless you happen to host military and economic cooperation within a certain sphere of influence/call yourself an emir of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince of Emir of Qatar, Emir of Kuwait, the King of Saudi Arabia, etc. In fact, Saudi Arabia was ranked at the bottom of the 2010 Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit while previous democracies in the Middle East (Iran in the 1950’s, for example) have seen themselves overthrown by Western democracies. Incompliant autocrat must have been the phrase missing from the sentence.

      Generally, greater amounts are spent on military aid than democracy aid and often superficial political liberalization can serve as a facade for continued authoritarianism. Zogby polls suggest Arab public opinion largely rejects the assertion that U.S. democracy assistance is helpful and other polls also confirm that people in the Middle East are mainly discouraged by U.S. policies in the Middle East. Largely, democracy is only perceived to be good if and when it conforms to U.S. economic and strategic objectives. The overarching concept is always whatever is currently perceived to be the U.S. economic and strategic goal of interest, and many times it is convenient to call this democracy to build public support for intervention.

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      Andy, I agree.

      Jeffrey:
      Yes, but I think the deal was fairly contingent on Gadaffi not spending the political capital he earned by turning in his WMD programmes on repressive crackdowns, a bill which his credit rating can not sustain. You can’t pretend to be a good guy and then be a bad guy.

      Intervention normally requires a mix of self interest, moral interest and legal cover. Here we have the self interest of Europe not wanting a Somalia on the med and waves of refugees, the moral interest in the electorates to see Gadaffi following through on his house by house promise, and the legal cover of a UN resolution.

      Sadly, the whole thins is so late that Gadaffi and more importantly the rest of the loyalists are now committed and have to see this through. Two weeks ago this might have tipped the balance into some kind of political settlement. Now, it’s just going to be bloody.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Seb:

      I’m a little fuzzy on the whole “good/bad” thing, here. What do you mean, “bad guy”?

      Because there never was any possibility of Gaddafi, or Kim
      Jong or Ahmadinejad of whatnot, ever being the “good guy” by western liberal democratic standards. There was, at one point, the potential that if such not-good-guys were to at least restrain themselves to lesser forms of badness, nobody would wage bloody war to depose them. That was the deal that was offered. Not “be a good guy”; just “avoid nuclear-grade evil”

      Possibly the deal is still on the table. Possibly Gaddafi (and Hussein, Milosevic, et al) crossed the line but there is still room for ruthless dictators to rule in peace while restraining themselves to lesser evils. But at this point, the line needs to be clearly defined, or nobody is going to take that deal.

      If someone is imagining that this will lead to fewer people choosing careers in the “ruthless dictators” field, I suspect they underestimate the appeal of such. Mostly, it’s just going to result in more bloody wars. Including probably nuclear ones. Possibly you consider that to be a worthwhile trade, and possibly you could convince me, but that’s another issue that needs to be clearly defined.

    • Andy (History)

      Jeffrey,

      I admit it’s a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, you want to incentivize nations to give up WMD programs. On the other hand, you don’t want promise that giving up those weapons is a ticket that gives a state carte blanche to do anything and everything they want free from any consequences. There’s got to be a balance. Not that I agree at all with this stupid war in Libya.

      Besides, I know Gaddafi is wanted by the fashion police on several outstanding warrants. I’m not sure there’s anything that can make those go away.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      On the subject of “Year x called and they want their shirt back,” this will make you laugh.

      http://xkcd.com/875/

    • Seb Tallents (History)

      John Shilling:

      I was speaking loosely, sorry.

      While I do think nuclear proliforation ranks as one of the biggest dangers to human civilisation currently going, at the same time there are limits to what you can let dictators and autocratic regimes get away with.

      Clearly there has to be a trade-off here between human rights and crimes against humanity vs. non proliforation efforts. Particularly when we are dealing with classes of countries that can’t threaten appocalypse even if they had the bomb in the first place. Somewhere between three and four times more people died in the Rwandan genocide than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Thats not necesarily the scale of the problem in Libya though, and intervention there is more self interested, but it is worth thinking about.

      Extending the same level of license that a nuclear umbrella would allow to anyone who merely attempts to get a nuclear weapon and then stops seems somewhat counter productive. The dictator gets the benefits of the open world with the benefits of a dictator. This is a recipie for more despots rather than less, which will lead to more destabalisation and could lead to a situation where they get the bomb to ward against each other rather than themselves. Iran and Iraqs WMD programmes were historically abouth each other rahter than about us.

      Going back to Rwanda vs. Hiroshima, in a strictly realist sense you might say that the threat of a Hiroshmia is more likely to impact the industrialised world whereas another Rwanda will probably happen in far away countries of which we know little. But the motivation here (which might not be so apparant from a US perspective) is very much coming from the effect this has on the region: refugees and power voids, terrorist bases or priates on the mediterranian. If this were happening in the Indian Ocean, like the Sri Lankans rather heavy handed ending of the Tamil Tigers, European countries would not be pushing for more than trade and diplomatic sanctions (as was the case then), and the US would not be feeling compelled to go along with it. It’s the combination of moral outrage over blood, self interest, and legal cover that is pushing intervention here.

      Unacceptable level of badness then, being someone who creates an accute enough humanitarian catastrophe that has immediate enough consequences that living with it becomes too problematic for countries that have the capability to do something about it. Chronic repression will be overlooked officially, bloody crackdowns have a chance of getting nothing more than handwringing if you can avoid causing trouble. This does not lend itself to clarity, I agree. But I think very few countries will put up with the negative consequences of having a nut job behaving as though he has a nuclear umbrella as a neighbour if they do not actually have a nuclear umbrella. European countries are as unlikely to sit by in this situation as the US would overlook another Libyan bomb attack on an airliner or a civil war in Mexico.

      Moreover, too much clarity can reduce the risk of a Hiroshima but increases the risk of a Rwanda.

      The deal made with Gadaffi was more “bomb, bloody crackdowns and absolute security but isolation or we overlook your past offences and a permittable amount of chronic brutality, you risk being marginalised but you get shopping trips in New York”.

      The irritating thing about this intervention is that credible threats and resolutions, had a mere no fly zone been declared three weeks ago, it might have clearly communicated to Gadaffi or at least those people around him that this was an unacceptable level of badness, and that alternative strategies might be better all around. Frankly, if that even meant “here is a dollop of cash Mo Ibrahim style to become the figurehead you always claimed to be”, or even finding a nice retirement home (Caraccas? Cuba?) with continued access to old bank accounts, I’m happy to do that too. Now, I think we are in the stupid situation of Gadaffi and Loyalists being backed into a corner, and the west unable to do much to end the situation. This will lead to refugges and power vacuums. Realistically, the Italian “let him get on with it” approach would probably fit Europes current political interests better (given that the mentality is more about fortress Europe than seeing the enormous potential for Europe in a string of Turkeys on the southern coast of the med).

      Oh well, so it goes.

  6. Pong (History)

    To draw the conclusion that if the Libyans had retained their WMD program, the current, UN-mandated, coalition would not have intervened is counterfactual. Even the misinformed belief that Iraq had WMD in ’03 led to an invasion into a state with a more formidable military than Libya.
    It is unlikely the Jonger would ever surrender his nuclear weapons program. Unlike Libya, who makes money through the sale of petroleum, North Korea has an economy almost entirely based upon the export of military hardware. He doesn’t have to play nice to continue to make money. Many of his customers trade with him because he is opposed to us and they are too.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Pong,

      The relevant term is “nuclear weapons”, not WMD. Some weapons are more massively destructive than others. Chemical weapons are suitable for the mass slaughter of civilians and third-rate armies. Nuclear weapons can do all that plus inflict great damage on even first-rate military forces.

      So if the prospect on the table is that a coalition of first-rate armies are going to wage warin defense of civilians and/or third-rate armies, it does actually matter what sort of “WMD” are involved. Nobody seriously believed Iraq posessed *nuclear* weapons, in 1991 or 2003. What would have happened in 2003 if Iraq were believed to have nuclear weapons, is unknown. Ditto Libya in 2011.

      But it is likely that at least some dictators will believe that actual nuclear weapons, not merely “WMD”, are necessary for the security of their regime. And I fear they are correct, though if they are going to take that approach I suspect the South African variation will work best – keep the nuclear arsenal secret until you need it, then do a quiet reveal in the last round of pre-war diplomacy.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      If the only “fact” you can cite is that somebody believed Iraq had militarily significant WMD (btw one nuclear weapon is every-way significant, whereas a small quantity of nerve gas or anthrax is just enough to possibly get you nuked, figuratively or literally), then I can’t see how the (seemingly very likely) hypothesis that even suspected Libyan possession of a nuclear weapon would have been enough to deter intervention is in any way “counterfactual,” since anybody who by March 2003 still believed Iraq possessed WMD not only hadn’t spent half a day on the internet reading the UNSCOM reports but clearly wasn’t paying any attention to what UNMOVIC wasn’t finding in the most extensive and intrusive inspections regime ever forced on any nation short of actual occupation. Give us a break already. Nobody with any intelligence, and no intelligence agencies, believed Iraq had WMD, unless they just didn’t care what the truth was (and I’m not sure that qualifies as “belief”).

      Whatever the merits of intervention against Ka-Daffy (I reckon I get to choose my own spelling just like everyone else), you can bet the lesson many of his peers will take home is “Don’t trust the West; get a nuke if you can, and keep it handy.”

    • Pong (History)

      John,

      Valid, there is a difference in the kind of WMD. I also find no fault with Mark’s assertion that the lesson to be learned from this for the “dictator down the street” is to get a nuke and hold on to it. In a world of haves and have nots, those with nuclear weapons are afforded a great deal more “elbow room.”

      However, the decision to intervene cannot be as simple as asking if the state is a nuclear power. The extent of their nuclear arsenal, the accuracy of their delivery systems, and the estimation of our own ability to intercept the weapons are pertinent to this decision. I believe this is one reason why President Obama has not abandoned the ABM program.

      I merely aimed to point out the differences in cost/benefit for Gaddafi (Is this how we are spelling his name this decade?) and the Jonger. The former has many business ties with the West and abandoning his nuclear program could parlay into lucrative contracts; while the latter (whose health was already failing) probably saw no short-term benefits from disarming.

      Pong out.

  7. Alan (History)

    Andy – I agree it is a dilemma; central to it seems to me to be how much of it is a matter of national security for the country in question, and how much is “merely” the personal security of the leader or regime.

    If a leader is friendless at home and abroad, as Qaddafi is and Saddam was, cometh the hour they will have no choice other than to fight to the death.

    Maybe the best thing the West could do right now is fly a helicopter into Libya, pick up Qaddafi and all his family, plonk then in a chateau in the Alps and feed them caviaar for the rest of their lives.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Qaddafi seems temprementally unsuited to take that deal; all we would be doing is sending a helicopter full of hostages or martyrs into the sights of loyalist antiaircraft guns.

      But while there are dictators who would take such a deal, I suspect the Pinochet precedent will make them rather reluctant. It does not appear that anybody in “the West” has the actual authority to offer amnesty or pardon to retired dictators.

      Fighting to the death, yes, that option is still on the table and always will be. Surprisingly popular, too.

    • Alan (History)

      John – ah yes, the hurdle of universal jurisdiction, which I happen to think is a very good thing. Still, I would hope some bright spark somewhere could yet devise a clever scheme that enables WMD policy objectives to be met without engendering the individual isolation that results in the fight-to-the-death mentality.

      Maybe a UNSCR that explicitly protects Qaddafi and his job lot of sunglasses could be offered. Kim Il Jong is himself rather partial to a pair of sunglasses after all.

  8. FSB (History)
  9. John Bragg (History)

    First, Obama would be a lot better off politically and strategically if he had put out the word “We’d love to see Qadaffi go down, but Bush made a deal in 2003 and Gaddafi’s pretty much kept it. Libyan rebels might not like it, but they’d like getting poison gassed a lot less.” That wouldn’t obligate the Europeans, although it would create some static for the Brits who would deny that that was part of the deal.

    Second, I’d say the movement towards accountability for dictators has been a Bad Thing, overall. It was a good thing that Marcos finished out his days in Hawaii and Pinochet in a Senate seat and Idi Amin in a Saudi mansion rather than fighting to the death in their Presidential Palaces, or just dying peacefully in their Presidential Palaces like Franco and Hafez Assad.

    Qadaffi’s a hard case for asylum because he had so many blood feuds running (Egypt, Saudi, most of Africa), and some stable refuges aren’t looking so stable or friendly, but the Situation in Libya would have been a lot easier if international diplomacy could work on a soft, quiet landing spot for Q, his clan and a good chunk of their money; instead of working on an ICC indictment which didn’t exactly deliver a justice orgasm for Milosevic’s victims.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      In a related case, Charles Taylor of Liberia–who once was trained and sponsored by Qadhafi–was promised asylum and immunity in Nigeria if he would stop fighting and leave the country. He did it and the US then pressed Nigeria to turn him over to the Special Court of Sierra Leone. (Liberia quietly refused to prosecute him, but Taylor had also sponsored a guerrilla war in Sierra Leone.) As much as he deserves it, it does make it more complicated to negotiate an end to civil wars.

  10. FSB (History)
    • jason (History)

      Actually it’s Mark Sheetz from Boston College. But still a great ending paragraph there.

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