North Korea: Libya, not Iran

Libya, without firing a shot, was successfully moved to dismantle its WMD program and abandon its support of terrorists.
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The all-important negotiations with North Korea are about to resume. They are very much in line with the suggestions of the critics of the Bush Administration: the negotiations are multilateral; they focus on diplomacy and economic incentives rather than on military threats and confrontations; they are even compliant with UN resolutions and international law. So far, so good.

Equally important, these negotiations follow the Libyan model. Libya--by itself, to be undiplomatically frank--is of limited strategic importance. However, it does provide a powerful precedent. It entails forgoing coerced regime change when, and if, a nation is willing to cease acquiring or developing WMDs and stops supporting terrorists.

This deproliferation policy constitutes a 180-degree turn away from the Neo-Con practice of forcefully democratizing regimes to ensure that they will not attack us and our allies and that they will resolve their internal differences with ballots rather than with bullets. Libya, without firing a shot, was successfully moved to dismantle its WMD program and abandon its support of terrorists. In return, Libya was rewarded with the removal of sanctions, was provided with considerable investments, and a partial rehabilitation of its international reputation. The promotion of democracy by the West continues in Libya, but only through non-lethal means.

It is too early to tell what results the ongoing negotiations with North Korea will bring. However, the direction they are finally moving, after years of futile attempts to break the regime, is clear: in return for shutting down its nuclear arms program, North Korea is promised one million tons of fuel, increased foreign aid, and a removal of economic sanctions. These measures will go a long way to stabilize the regime rather than to change it, a policy now considered acceptable if a government gives up on WMDs and its support of terrorists. It is a major change of policy that has been hardly touted given that those who promised global democratization on the run as their hallmark are still in the White House.

Only in dealing with Iran is the old Neo-Con policy still in place. President Bush has asked Congress for $75 million to support dissenting groups in Iran; the CIA is in touch with various ethnic groups that the Administration fantasizes will rise against the Mullahs and end the nuclear program once they take over. This policy has yielded no results, and my visit with the reformers in Iran leaves no doubt in my mind that even if they could take over, they would keep the nuclear program. That is why it is time to apply to the Libyan precedent to Iran.

It is important to note that the Libyan/North Korean deproliferation policy differs profoundly from the old one that was centered on the NPT. This treaty allows nations to develop nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment plants that can be used for both civilian and military purposes, as long as they permit inspectors to verify that these assets are used only for peaceful purposes. However, we know from long experience that inspectors are often fooled. Moreover, the NPT allows nations to develop nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment plants for peaceful uses, then quit the treaty--and keep the reactors and plants to make bombs. This is a major reason why the new deproliferation approach, which shut down, dismantled and removed these dual use assets, is preferable to promoting the right of inspection which the West is still seeking from Iran. Nations that give up dual use assets are--and should be--allowed ready access to other sources of energy and given plenty of rewards. Such a policy should also be applied to Iran; it worked in Libya and seems to gain ground in dealing with North Korea.

Micro-blogging: Some factoids just refuse to die. Pottery Barn does not have the rule that 'if you break it--you own it.' However, this has not stopped one authority after another from drawing mighty foreign policy conclusions from it - including Collin Powell. I suggest instead:' if you don't own it, don't break it.' Pass the word.

Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at the George Washington University and author of Security First: For A Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy. (Yale University Press, 2007).

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