Wednesday, February 06, 2008

John Bolton Calls It as He Sees It (and some of my thoughts too)

I have just returned from today's edition of the Security First Foreign Policy roundtable luncheon series (co-sponsored by George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs and the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies)--featuring John Bolton.

As always, a man prepared to speak his mind and to pull no punches. Some of his critiques:

--the missed opportunity earlier this decade to pull Russia closer to Western security institutions in light of common threats (although noting that in more recent years Vladimir Putin himself has made this harder);

--a State Department "on autopilot" when it comes to Kosovo--moving ahead as if Slobodan Milosevic was still in power and not recognizing not only changed conditions in Serbia itself but also why this is such a priority when the U.S. has other pressing concerns

--a focus on "saving the deal" with North Korea when the regime has no intention of carrying out its obligations.

Here, Ambassador Bolton focused on North Korea's efforts to disperse its programs away from the Korean peninsula. Was the facility destroyed by an Israeli raid into Syria last September connected to North Korea (and Iran)--why wouldn't they disperse and conceal their activities and move things beyond the reach of potential inspectors?

As readers of NI's current issue are aware, I reviewed Amitai Etzioni's Security First and discussed the "Libya model". In Bolton's view, the regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang cannot follow the same model because unlike Tripoli they have not acted in the good faith way necessary to make such deals feasible. This leaves regime change as the only way to modify behavior since both regimes see possession of a nuclear capability, in his opinion, as an absolute necessity for their own survival. Especially in the case of North Korea, one then has to assess their willingness to sell or transfer dangerous technologies to others as well. In the case of Iran, use of force must not only be on the table but increasingly may be the only way to change the timeline--to at least delay acquisition of capabilities. Meaningful sanctions that could affect behavior are just not on the table anymore.

In his discussion about China and Korea, I found myself thinking about parallels and unintended consequences. Beijing doesn't want a nuclear north Korea because this makes it easier for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to push for their own nuclear programs. In addition, instability in East Asia is bad for business which generates growth. But China does not want North Korea to collapse and sees it as a buffer zone. China scholars out there: is there any literature in China that deals with the unification of Germany and the expansion of NATO? I could see a scenario where if the North Korean regime comes down the U.S. could pledge to keep forces on the southern side of the 38th parallel--no U.S. deployments at the Yalu river!--but would Beijing accept such assurances? Just a thought.

Assume he is angry about how the NIE ruined the plans for war against Iran.
Well, that's the point he made in yesterday's WSJ:

"The NIE's first key judgment is "we judge with high confidence that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." Most of the world, predictably, never got beyond that opinion. Only inveterate footnote hunters noticed the extraordinary accompanying footnote which redefined Iran's "nuclear weapons program" to mean only its "nuclear weapon design and weaponization work," and undeclared uranium conversion and enrichment activities. Card sharks -- not intelligence professionals -- could be proud of this sleight of hand, which grossly mischaracterizes what Iran actually needs for a weapons program. ...

"Whatever the intentions of the drafters of the NIE, it mortally wounded the administration's diplomatic strategy, which was ineffective to begin with. Many applauded the outcome of this internecine bureaucratic warfare, but it is highly risky to allow such outcome-determinative opinions to prevail."
Nick, did he talk about Darfur?
Yes, he did. He criticized the UN for setting ambitious goals it has no intention of being able to fulfill and for states to call for action when they have little intent on following through, and then using China essentially as the excuse for why something can't be done.
I think it will be a good idea for the Nixon Center should host a seminar titled "The World After US-Iran War"; trying to ascertain its effects 1, 5, and 10 years into the future.
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