Address to the United States and World Affairs Seminar, at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, California, January 24, 2001

The Rise and Decline of Rogue States

By Thomas Henriksen

For the past decade, rogue states, such as North Korea or Iraq, appeared unpredictable irrational, and free of larger patron support. Pundits viewed them as solitary menaces that could be engaged or confronted one-on-one by the United States. But this political picture fails to capture the evolving realties of rogue states. They now cooperate with one another, seek and receive aid and arms from more powerful states, and calculatingly pursue rational objectives. The former lone wolves have joined a pack, declining their go-it-alone course.

The incoming George W. Bush Administration must be cognizant of the changes and fashion its policies according to the new geopolitical environment.
The first official application of term rogue state to unsavory regimes (now dubbed "states of concern" by the U.S. Department of State), occurred, when in January, 1994 President Clinton spoke in Brussels about the "clear and present" danger of missiles aimed at Europe from "rogue states such as Iran and Libya." This designation evoked an image of a rogue elephant, threatening a village by its vicious behavior.

The end of the Cold War witnessed the emergence of rogue states on the world stage. The four-decade East-West confrontation actually spawned the rogue states. But the former Soviet Union kept them on a short leash. When Soviet empire collapsed these militant, pariah states seemed to burst suddenly on the world scene. In reality, their gestation has been a long time in coming.

During the Cold War, Moscow resorted to proxy states to expand its influence and weaken the West. It was these former Soviet surrogates that surfaced to challenge international harmony in the 1990s.

Cuba became Moscow's archetype proxy state, instigating or supporting insurgencies in Africa and Central and South America. Havana first sent Ernesto "Che" Guevara to lead a failed rural insurgency in the Congo and next on a fatal effort in Bolivia. It dispatched arms and instructors to Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to spread communism. It even deployed thousands of ground troops in Angola during the mid-1970s to take part in the Soviet-sponsored military intervention. North
Korea kept tens of thousands of U.S. troops tied down on the peninsula after the Korean War.

The Soviet Union also turned to other Third World regimes to sponsor terrorism against Western states or interests. Not all these governments embraced Marxism, as Cuba and North Korea had. Instead, this second group of proxies included garden-variety dictatorships like Iraq, Libya, and Syria. As such, their strongmen had little affinity with Marxism. Their game was antipathy to the United States and its allies. But their actions served Soviet strategic goals. Terrorism was often their weapon of choice.

The incidence of terrorism has steadily increased from the late 1950s and involved kidnapping, bombings, assassinations, and the hijacking of airplanes and ships. Muammar Qaddafi, for example, underwrote vigorous terrorist exploits soon after he ousted the Libyan monarch in 1969. Libya's deadly subversion reached such proportions that by the 1980s Qaddafi had become viewed by the Reagan administration as the center of global terrorism.

In time the U.S. Department of State placed eight countries on its terrorist listing and imposed sanctions on each to combat their state-directed violence. The list is currently made up of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, and South Yemen. South Yemen, whose seaport was the scene of the bombing of the USS Cole, had been removed in 1990 after it unified with the northern Yemen Arab Republic. States breeding terrorism during the Cold War became virtually synonymous with the future rogue states.

The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union cast its former client states adrift. It was at this historical juncture that rogue states dramatically made their reappearance evoking surprise in political circles, despite many historical precedents of rogue states, including Nazi Germany.

The presence of rogue regimes confounded hopes for a harmonious world based on economic integration and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Rejecting international norms, rogue rulers in Iraq, Iran and North Korea sponsored terrorism, pursued the acquisition of mega-death weapons, and threatened the peace in their neighborhoods.

Others, in fact, became outwardly quiescent. Deprived of the Moscow's largesse, Libya, Cuba and Syria became less extroverted in their practice of terrorism. They still offered their territory to terrorist cells as sanctuary. For their part, Libya and Syria continued to pursue the development of weapons of mass destruction and missile systems. Cuba kept up its shrill anti-U.S. diatribe, sent instructors to Latin American countries, and facilitated the shipment of narcotics onto American shores.

Like North Korea, Cuba found itself high and dry without Soviet aid. But unlike North Korea, it did not attempt to build nuclear weapons or export rockets. However, it did imitate its Asian counterpart by looking to China for selective support. Fidel Castro dropped his formerly anti-Chinese rhetoric, and Beijing stepped into the political vacuum left by Moscow. During the early 1990s, Castro and President Jiang Zemin reciprocated each other's visits, and Chinese defense minister Chi Haotian headed a military delegation to Cuba in 1997. China furnished military equipment and defense technology along with economic aid and selective investment. Beijing, in return, gained an eavesdropping post near the United States with its financing of the Terrena Caribe Satellite Tracking Base and other facilities.

After decades of being a hotbed of terrorism, Libya courted favorable international opinion. In 1999, Qaddafi turned two suspects in the 1988 downing of Pan American flight 103 over for trial in the Netherlands. Additionally, Qaddafi gave financial compensation to families of the French victims killed when their airliner was blown up over Africa in 1989. Libya also agreed to pay a $1 million ransom for each of the twelve foreign hostages held by Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines in mid-2000. Qaddafi's reversal, in part, stemmed from Libya's need to lift sanctions so as to salvage its depressed economy and export oil for hard currency. Nevertheless, the change in outward appearance was dramatic. But it paled in comparison with North Korea.

During the 1990s, North Korea loomed as the quintessential rogue state. A rusting relic of the Stalin period, North Korea preached its own brand of Marxism, or juche, which called for self-reliance. In reality, it depended greatly on Soviet subsidies, since the partition of the peninsula at the end of WWII. The Soviet Union's end deprived Pyongyang of its chief benefactor. Subject to a cycle of drought and floods, the North stood at the brink of calamity by the mid-1990s. It appeared as a lone-wolf player, since no state, not even China, claimed influence over Pyongyang's menacing policies.

North Korea's rogue status was confirmed by its threats to build nuclear weapons as the Clinton Administration took office and then in 1998 by launching a multistage
rocket that traversed Japanese territory before crashing into the Pacific. North Korean officials claimed that the solid-fuel missile was fired in an attempt to place a satellite in orbit. This explanation failed to allay fears in Japan, South Korea and even the United States where observers concluded that the North Korea was on the road to building ICBMs capable of hitting the American continent. Suddenly, it reversed course.

Pyongyang announced a suspension in missile launches in return for continued foreign aid from Japan, South Korea and the United States. In 2000 after a series of meetings with William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, as well as the historic June summit between the North and South Korean leaders, Washington engaged Pyongyang.

China's influence on North Korea's pariah posture became a topic of interest along with Pyongyang's kinder and gentler image. Despite Beijing's long protestations to the contrary, outsiders held that China's voice carried more impact than any other state. After all, China had spent blood and treasure to repel the U.S. intervention into the North during the Korean War. The two continually trade with each other across their common border, and China exports goods through the North's ports to third countries.

In March 2000, the reclusive Kim Jong II, made an unprecedented visit to the Chinese embassy in Pyongyang, signaling North Korea's subordination to China. The North Korean leader next visited Beijing for talks with President Jiang Zemin. The North Korean leader then agreed to the dramatic about-face in policy by announcing his willingness to meet with South Korean president. The coincidence could hardly be more telling. Soon afterwards, another event cast further doubt on Chinese denials. Hours before U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Pyongyang in October, China's defense minister, Chi Haotian, preceded her for a five-day visit to improve the existing friendship and cooperation. Beijing gains from an externally moderating North Korea by eroding the rationale for an U.S. troop presence on China's doorstep.

Most outside observers drew conclusion by the late 1990s that the North Korean leadership desired survival instead of nuclear war. Its once-risky ventures gradually became interpreted as calculating but entirely rational. Diplomatically astute, they managed to insinuate themselves into American consciousness by nuclear blackmail in one of the most audacious stratagems imaginable. Breaking out of the U.S.-imposed containment, they circumvented South Korea and achieved direct contact with Washington. They gained U.S. shipments of food through the UN's World Food Program and ended most sanctions. They played a weak hand with commensurate skill.

Appearing in public at the North-South summit and later the same year with Albright during her visit, Chairman Kim shed his stern visage for one of affability. The outgoing Kim matched the changed perceptions of North Korea's new quiescence. None of these diplomatic initiatives or public gestures even slightly modified the regime's apparatus of power, however. Nor did the North pull back its military units from the DMZ, including the forward-based artillery that threatens Seoul. Neither did the Kim Jong II government repudiate terrorism. It just appeared less dangerous, and the U.S. media fostered this benign image.

North Korea remains the chief entrepot for missile technology shipments to other rogue states. This trade has become a distinguishing feature of intra-rogue cooperation. The North's export of missile technology to states, like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Syria, provoked consternation among neighbors and the United States. Sales raised-much needed hard currency for a state with few commercial goods. Efforts to curb this arms trade either encountered a stonewall or unpalatable counteroffers such as a request for an annual $1 billion bribe in exchange for ending missile exports.

Iraq's trajectory from extreme rogue to leader of the "Arab street" and to being embraced by three members of the UN Security Council—China, France, and Russia— shares parallels with North Korea. Rather than licking its wounds in the wake of the Persian Gulf war, Baghdad redoubled its exertions to develop weapons of mass destruction. Without Soviet patronage, Iraq's reputation as a freelance rogue solidified. At the close of hostilities, Iraq stood internationally isolated not only from the West but also from much of the Muslim world.

After the conflict, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq, dispatched weapons inspection teams, pressed for reparations for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and authorized no-fly zones in the north and the south. Later, after the four-day bombing operation, called Desert Fox in December 1998, Washington continued airstrikes on Iraqi antiaircraft sites. This no-war, no-peace formula persists today. But in time major cracks occurred in the anti-Hussein coalition as former enemies traded with and traveled to Iraq.

International attention shifted from Iraqi weapons violation to sympathy for the plight of Iraq's poor. Undermining legitimacy of sanctions, nongovernmental organizations claimed that the UN embargo denied food and medicines to ordinary Iraqis. Meanwhile Saddam Hussein lavished oil revenues on palaces and resorts for his family and cronies.

The renewal of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in late 2000 also lessened Iraq's isolation, since Baghdad moved to embrace the Palestinian cause. The heightened anti-
Americanism throughout the Muslim world played into the hands of Iraq. For the first time since the Gulf war, the Arab League invited Iraq to attend the October summit. The United Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar resumed diplomatic relations with the Iraqis. Even Kuwait favored reconciliation, if its' conditions on the return of missing citizens could be met by Baghdad.

Like North Korea, Iraq was no longer judged a genuine threat in several capitals.

In Beijing, Moscow and Paris, Iraq represented an oil-rich trading partner. Even Washington failed to move decisively. The Clinton Administration temporized on implementing the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which called for the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime. This legislation authorized $97 million in equipment and arms for Iraqi opposition forces. At the conclusion of the Clinton presidency precious little had been expended.

The early post-Cold War period saw other brutal and dictatorial regimes come to power that eschewed weapons of mass destruction. Among them, Rwanda, Serbia and the Congo practiced domestic terrorism, murdering large numbers of their countrymen. These governments escaped a branding as rogue states, because they did not cross the line by acquiring nuclear or biological weapons and exporting terror internationally.

Afghanistan, for example, enjoys a somewhat anomalous status among rogues. The Department of State has avoided listing it as a terrorist state. Yet, Washington diplomatically isolated and embargoed its Taliban regime for harboring America's most-wanted terrorist for his alleged role in U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. Afghanistan bestows a safe haven for Osama bin Laden, the Saudi businessman-turned-master perpetrator of violence, whose terrorist network has been held responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Because of their disparity in ideological, political, and economic makeup, rogues were classified as distinct and treated on a case-by-case basis. The logic for this policy was — and is — sound. There is a galaxy of difference between, say, North Korea and Iraq. But this strategy must not blind policy makers to the fact to that rogue states cooperate with one another. Nor should the rogues' differing circumstances obscure the fact that they have increasingly reconnected to either former parent states or other major powers for material and diplomatic support. This collusion demonstrates all the signs of a bulwark against the spread of Western influence, globalization, and democratic values.

Anthony Lake, then-Assistant for National Security Affairs to President Clinton, wrote in 1994 that ties between these states are growing and called attention to the limited cooperation between Baghdad and Tehran. Since Lake's assessment, inter-rogue linkages have multiplied.

Despite the deep cultural cleavages among rogues, they increasingly collude. They practice a form of gangster fraternization that refutes notion that these mavericks operate alone or are bereft of great-power patronage.

Even implacable enemies collaborated with each other. In spite of a bloody war between Iran and Iraq during the 1980s and continued animosity, the two cooperated. Iraq's oil smuggling, abetted by Iran's complicity, brought substantial profits to Iraq, which channeled the funds into arms coffers. Baghdad dispatched officials to help Serbia weather the Kosovo bombing campaign. China assists Sudan's oil exploitation and deploys security personnel to protect the oil-carrying pipelines. Iran, arguably the most independent of rogue states, has entered into cooperation with Russia. Despite official denials, Middle East rogues purchase missile components and technological know-how from North Korea.

China and Russia now sponsor rogues for commercial and geopolitical reasons rather than ideological objectives. They pursue arms sales for cash and reactivation of old Cold War relationships for diplomatic leverage to counter American influence. The linkages facilitate a proliferation of missile and nuclear-weapons capability from advanced industrial economies to renegade Third World regimes. The scale and destination of these transfers portend a frightening world in "the near future. Unlike the symmetry of the Soviet-American nuclear standoff, today's security environment is a crazy quilt of "proliferators" and weapons-amassing states.

China, India, Russia, and even the European Union aspire to play major roles on the international stage. Even though their unilateral influence is well short of American power, their competition engenders political currents that will draw smaller states to their side. As the outcast states and major powers reestablish loose affiliations, the anomaly of solitaire rogues is fading.

A return to age-old patterns signals a failure for Washington's policy to isolate Iraq as well as its attempt at the "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran. In fact, the Clinton Administration abandoned its hands-off policy toward Iran in hopes of rapprochement.

Clinton's engagement of reclusive states like Iran, North Korea and Libya was predicated on modifying and pacifying them. Yet their de-isolation has not produced genuine changes in any regime. Thus, the capacity and propensity for state-directed terrorism is still in place. Moreover, U.S. efforts to engage rogues provided "cover" for other states to do the same. Moscow can claim legitimacy in dealing with Iran and Iraq, for instance.

The return of rogues to parent-state orbits carries inconvenient implications for U.S. defense doctrine based on waging limited military engagements against sealed-off pariahs. Combat operations take on greater complexity against unpopular states if they have friends. As one illustration, the Kosovo air campaign damaged relations with Moscow and Beijing, for both were lending diplomatic support to Serbia.

Global chess envisions a return to great power tactics that compel concessions without head-on confrontation with the world's most powerful state. China and Russia, for example, can export advanced ballistic missile or nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. These transfers threaten U.S. interests and friends in their respective regions. They fall short of a direct challenge to Washington but do put it on notice. Russia can even the political score for U.S. bombing of its ally Serbia during the Kosovo air campaign or for NATO expansion eastward. China, in another example, can exact a price for U.S. interference over its claim to Taiwan.

What options does this leave U.S. policy makers? First and foremost, the incoming Bush Administration must recalibrate its policies to take account of the changing realities of rogue states. Since nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction is the single most pressing foreign policy issue, we must acknowledge that arms control treaties will not be effective against big-power supplied rogues, which ignore international legal codes.

Second, rogue and patron proliferation sustains the debate on the need for an American national missile defense and for smaller theater systems to protect U.S. forces in the field or safeguard allies. The spread of missiles with lengthening range makes the need more imperative, whether it be a new boost-phase interceptor, laser, or some other information-age innovation. Otherwise, the United States will be vulnerable to blackmail, if not outright attack.

Third, the United States must redouble its diplomatic exertions to halt the patronage of rogue dictators when dealing with Russia and China. It is not enough merely to engage Moscow and Beijing commercially in hopes that over time this will nudge them toward peaceful pursuits. Washington ought to build into its multifaceted negotiations the cessation of missile and nuclear technology exports to dangerous states.

Finally, Washington must pursue astute diplomacy that divides patrons from rogue regimes as well as rogues from one another. Since circumstances differ with each rogue, the steps taken to neutralize them can vary from covert actions for undermining a dictator to forms of economic and diplomatic engagement. But whatever the course of action, it must be sustained or we face certain peril.

Thomas Henriksen is a senior fellow and associate director at the Hoover Institution. He is the editor of "Foreign Policy for America in the 21st Century."