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U.S. 'Rogue' Policy Isn't the French Way

October 16, 2000|JACQUES BELTRAN | Jacques Beltran is a research associate at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris and associate professor at the Military Academy of Saint-Cyr

For many years, France and the U.S. have suffered periods of tense relations due to divergent policies toward countries designated by Washington as "rogue states," generally Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

The "rogue state" concept itself, which does not have any satisfactory translation in the French language, has been at the heart of the dispute. The U.S. has generally adopted nondifferentiated strategies of containment--including the wide use of economic sanctions--in dealing with these nations, with the notable exception of North Korea. France has favored more tailored policies based on political dialogue.

Recently, the United States has made significant steps toward abandoning this containment policy, successively announcing the easing of the embargoes on Iran, North Korea and Cuba. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright decided in June to drop the ambiguous and counterproductive "rogue state" label.

These steps are good news. But the question today is whether they reflect a genuine change in policy or whether they are only pragmatic adaptations to what is often known in Washington as the "sanctions fatigue," not only among U.S. allies but also within a growing part of the American electorate.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 17, 2000 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 9 Op Ed Desk 2 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
U.S. policy--An Oct. 16 article by Jacques Beltran contained an error that changed the meaning of one sentence. It should have read: "In the months to come, Iraq will be a litmus test for U.S.-France relations, because France argues that the comprehensive embargo sponsored by Washington should be replaced by 'targeted sanctions' and other measures of conditional engagement."

But a close examination of the U.S. attitude leads to the conclusion that the "rogue state" concept, which has tailored the American strategic thinking during a decade, is still very steadfast among many decision-makers.

First of all, Albright's decision to stop using the "R" word was diminished--from a European viewpoint--by the fact that these countries are now referred to as "countries of concern" by the State Department, a change in words that does not necessarily imply a change in deeds.

Second, the decision within the State Department is not necessarily applicable elsewhere, in particular at the Department of Defense or in the Republican ranks of the Senate. As a matter of fact, the major argument advanced by those who support the national missile defense program, a program that has caused such alarm among America's allies, is that there is a growing missile threat on the U.S. from "rogue states." It is therefore difficult for an observer on the other side of the Atlantic to be convinced of Washington's will to abandon the rogue rhetoric.

Third, one should also notice that, although most embargoes have been eased, they remain in place and could easily be reinforced if need be. As it has often happened in the past, U.S. foreign policy appears to be excessively reactive to international events. In 1996, the Helms-Burton and D'Amato-Kennedy acts, which imposed secondary boycotts on countries doing business with rogue states, were enacted in reaction to two terrorist attacks--the bombing in Israel with alleged support from Tehran, and the shooting of two American civilian planes off Cuba. If events of this kind were to take place again, even if the people responsible for such terrorist acts represent only a minority within the "state of concern," Washington could well return to the blind strategy of containment, thereby undermining all the efforts to reintroduce the target country into the international community.

Last but not least, the U.S. maintains toward Iraq, in many aspects the archetype of the rogue state, a strategy of full containment and isolation, not excluding the use of force, as Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush recently suggested. In the months to come, Iraq will be a litmus test for U.S.-French relations, because France argues that the comprehensive embargo sponsored by Washington should be replaced by "targeted sanctions" and not measures of conditional engagement.

Recently, Saddam Hussein declared that he would not allow the entry on the Iraqi soil of the new inspection commission led by Hans Blix. Once again, France and the U.S. are very likely to oppose each other on the best way to face this provocation. If Washington were to decide the use of force, this could lead to a significant diplomatic crisis between the two allies.

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