Foreign Policy

Yes, Incentives Matter (International Edition)

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Jonathan Schwarz makes a point that ought to be obvious but apparently isn't:

In all the discussion about the current U.S. bombing of Libya, something important has gone almost unnoticed–the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth. That lesson is: no matter what, no matter the inducements or pressure, never ever give up chemical weapons or a nuclear weapons program. Doing so will not ensure that the U.S. does not attack you–on the contrary, it will make it much more likely….

Whether or not Iran has an active nuclear weapons program (it's still the official position of the U.S. intelligence community that it does not) we can be sure the Iranian faction that wants nuclear weapons has been tremendously strengthened by the attack on Libya. And the faction that believes Iran would be safer without nuclear weapons is much weaker, and in fact is probably being ridiculed for its embarrassing naiveté.

Something similar is going on inside the North Korean government. Anyone within the regime who's been pressing for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons is now in a much worse position.

There's more, including a reminder that "the current attack on Libya is not an unforeseen glitch in our efforts to get them to disarm. Instead, it was the explicit policy of the U.S. to get countries to disarm so that we would be able to attack them." Whole thing here.

NEXT: Obama on Energy: "None of this would have happened without government support."

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  1. They’re as think as we dumb I am.

  2. I agree 95% with this article, but I really doubt that Iranian pro-nuke factions can use this war. It makes bad propaganda to support the rebels and then cite Gaddhafi as analogous to your own regime and hence the need for nukes. Just…confusing.

    1. They can use it internally, which I think was the point.

      Bush’s attack on Iraq was an incentive not to have a WMD program, an incentive that Gaddafi responded to. This incentive was much weakened by the weak multilateral approach to the Norks and the mullahs, not to mention our support of Pakistan.

      The Iranian pro-nuke faction has always argued, I suspect, that the only insurance against overt Western meddling and attack would be nukes. They were right, and the attack on Libya (marginally) strengthens their position.

      Whatever anti-nuke faction there may be in Iran would have been arguing that the cost of that insurance policy was too high. They certainly haven’t been helped.

      1. That’s a really good summary of events. I think we’re referring to two subtly different Iranian anti-nuke factions. I’m talking about the anti-nukers who are vocal opponents of the Ahmadinejad regime and you’re talking more about the ‘insiders’ who are down with Islamic government but don’t think a nuke is the best way to protect/promote it.

      2. Bush’s attack on Iraq was an incentive not to have a WMD program

        Iraq hadn’t had a WMD program for years before the invasion.

        1. Not a successful one, no. But Saddam had cultivated a lot of ambiguity both among his own people and others. The idea being that if you don’t have nukes, since nukes and WMDs are a great defense, the next best thing is to make people *think* that you have WMDs, so they won’t invade you.

          For most of the incentive argument, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Iraq actually had WMDs, it matters whether or not other actors (both the USA, those within Iraq, and those in neighboring countries) thought that Iraq did.

  3. Another lesson might be: don’t be an oppressive regime that kills your own people or the US might at some point notice. But I suppose it’s too late for Iran and NK on that count….

    1. Oh, wait, you’re serious. HAHAHAHA!

    2. Another lesson might be: don’t be an oppressive regime with oil and easy logistics for an air war that kills your own people or the US might at some point notice be induced to do the bidding of Europeans who want your oil.

      1. More precisely, don’t be an oppressive nation that has oil and also is an enemy of the United States.

        You need at least three factions in Walter Russel Mead’s manner of thinking to get enough of the US people behind a war. Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, and Jacksonians.

        ‘Course, by not actually going after Gaddafi, Obama is blowing the Jacksonian part of it.

        1. Libya was not an enemy of the US two months ago. Keep making shit up, though, it’s entertaining.

          1. Not in a larger strategic sense, no, and not to policymakers after Bush’s deal. But plenty of ordinary people remember Lockerbie, and Reagan bombing Libya, and consider Gaddafi both a Bad Guy and a known enemy of the US in the way that they don’t consider, say, the Saudis. The ordinary man in the street knows Gaddafi and dislikes him, far more than any other specific M.E. despot except for Saddam and Khomeinei. (And they possibly don’t realize that the latter is dead.)

            You’re really going to attempt to deny that?

          2. In the court of public opinion, he’s far more an enemy than most, despite recent events.

    3. Or dont let your refugees flood into Italy and France.

  4. That lesson is: no matter what, no matter the inducements or pressure, never ever give up chemical weapons or a nuclear weapons program. Doing so will not ensure that the U.S. does not attack you–on the contrary, it will make it much more likely…

    “It’s a Cook Book!!!”

    1. Over my last winter break I lived with my friend and his girlfriend. I used that episode during the “Syfy” New Year’s Day Marathon to introduce her to scifi.

  5. Another lesson in all of this could have been, “Slaughter your protestors and you’ll stay in power.”

    1. IS that really what would have happened in the event of such a slaughter? It seems to me that had such a slaughter occurred, the resistance may have grown stronger. The more the resistance turns into a foreign occupation, the more this whole situation will spin out of control.

  6. Anyone who accepts the argument that the US should “allow” other nations to develop and deploy nuke/chem/bio weapons because it is their “right” to do so and the US would have no “right” to stop them, should, logically, also come down on the side of the “right” of the guy in the eternal libertarian internet dispute who wants to have his own nuclear weapon in his back yard as against the “right” of the people or the government to stop him.

    I wonder if that’s universally the case?

    1. Of course, using a nuclear weapon would incur trillions in legal damages…

    2. I feel no “logical” compulsion to leap from the position that individuals should have the right to defend themselves, to the conclusion that they should be entitled to area defense or denial weapons that are not appropriate for that purpose.

      1. Who decides what weapons are “right for the purpose” of self-defense?

        1. Why, the Supreme Court, of course.

          Seriously, though, nukes, grenades, artillery, all that stuff is not self-defense weaponry, because you can’t really use it against someone who is threatening your life without the likelihood of injuring someone who isn’t.

          War-fighting weaponry, yes, that it is, and that’s a separate issue (does the 2A protect the right to own war-fighting weaponry).

          1. you can’t really use it against someone who is threatening your life without the likelihood of injuring someone who isn’t.

            That also applies to a Magnum .45 in an apartment building with thin walls. Unless you’re a perfect shot in dim light immediately after waking up in the middle of the night.

            1. Excellent point, and I’m afraid our friend RC will not be able to articulate that mythical line where the right to bear arms ends.

      2. Given I hold the .gov to be a greater threat than my neighbors, I damn sure need some MANPADS. Black helicopters won’t shoot themselves down, y’know.

    3. I tried to respond to your comment, but all the quotation marks hurt my eyes.

  7. Heh heh, but where do you draw that line?

  8. Heh heh, but where do you draw that line?

  9. In all the discussion about the current U.S. bombing of Libya, something important has gone almost unnoticed–the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth.

    This is a retardedly naive statement. The entire history of human civilization teaches the government of every country on earth that strong militaries are for defense. This fact should have been obvious to the Norks and Iranians– AND OBVIOUSLY WAS– before Obama, before W, before Clinton, before HW Bush, before Reagan.

    You’d have to be some kind of silly utopian in order to forget this lesson, and some type of incredibly arrogant utopian in order to, once you realized this fact that was long obvious to everyone, pretend that it’s some new revelation.

    The NKs already knew this. The Iranians already knew this.

    1. Only pacifists ever believed that unilateral disarmament would lead to other nations leaving you alone. They shouldn’t blame realizing their error on one specific event, not when the history of human civilization already argued against their point.

      1. Got a carbon permit for that strawman?

        “Unilateral disarmament” is not under discussion here; we’re talking about non-pursuit of WMD programs, not dissolving your military and throwing away all your guns.

        1. Is there a difference?

          “they still have their bows, they still have their arrows…”

          Denial of the most damaging and advanced of modern weaponry while your neighbors and enemies advance IS essentially throwing away your military…

    2. When there are significant international carrots and sticks discouraging pursuit of WMDs, that changes the landscape of that question. If WMD-holding nations can be trusted not to attack you it may well make sense (even in the context of a nation’s defense) not to pursue them.

      What the US is demonstrating now is that it is not to be trusted to mind its own business.

  10. Anyway, to go along with RC Dean’s point, if Jesse and Jonathan Schwarz actually believe this point, and actually fetishize other countries not having WMDs, then they should applaud the US when it goes after countries that have or claim to have WMDs (or even are thought to have and don’t do enough to dispel public opinion). You know, to establish those incentives., giving credit to the Iraq War for causing Gaddafi to give up his WMD program (more advanced than the CIA thought, natch) to avoid being attacked.

    Of course, like most reasonable people, I’m sure that they’re more interested in preventing war by whatever means, not in decreasing the number of possibly operational WMD, if accomplishing the latter means fighting more wars. If you want to avoid war, why should we care if Gaddafi has WMDs so long as they aren’t used?

    1. If Iran and the NKs getting WMDs prevents war, and you’re antiwar, why should you be so upset? Shouldn’t Jesse and Jonathan applaud the Iranian and DPRK nuclear programs as being pro-peace?

      1. Didn’t somebody once say something about the peace of the grave that’s relevant to this discussion?

      2. If your point is that Iran and North Korea are likely to use their WMDs rather than use them as a deterrent, then I think you’re on to something.

        That’s one reason, by the way, that I’m cautiously optimistic about trying to cultivate a better relationship with the Muslim world.

        North Korea doesn’t have the benefit of huge oil reserves, but I suspect that a world with a nuclear Iran may not be big enough for both of us.

        If and when that comes to a head, having a record of being on the side of Muslims against the vicious dictators can only count in our favor.

        1. If and when that comes to a head, having a record of being on the side of Muslims against the vicious dictators can only count in our favor.

          We’ve taken up the defense of Muslims in any number of places, and it has either (a) gotten us no credit or (b) created a new generation of terrorists (or so I’m told).

          Why would Libya be any different?

          1. Because we’re doing it minus the occupation. …and all the blunders that come with that.

            Muslims don’t want us to invade or occupy their countries. Actually, they’ve been pretty adamant about that for about 1,400 years.

            We should listen.

            1. Because we’re doing it minus the occupation. …and all the blunders that come with that.

              Yeah right.

              Muslims don’t want us to invade or occupy their countries. Actually, they’ve been pretty adamant about that for about 1,400 years.

              For most of the past 1400 years it was the Muslims doing the invading and occupying.

              I suspect they also don’t like it when we incinerate their women and children from tens of thousands of feet in the air, but that’s precisely what we’re doing now too.

        2. The vicious dictators who don’t have 20% of the world’s oil and/or nuclear weapons, you mean.

          And of course we funded Mubarak for 30 years or so, and then jumped sides only when it became clear he wasn’t going to last.

          1. Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t jump sides? Should we stand with the dictators?

            I was talking about what we should do now and in the future–not what we should have done in the past.

            1. Well I think we shouldn’t get involved either way. But in this case I was speaking to your claim that Muslims will suddenly think we’re on our side because we’re beating up on one particular dictator while leaving others that are just as bad alone. They could be forgiven that we’re just beating up on a dictator who we have plenty of past grudges against, and one who’s pretty easy to beat up.

              1. Yeah, we need to pick and choose who we can and can’t help unfortunately, and our decisions are based on all sorts of ugly math with lives hanging in the balance.

                Still, this isn’t like it was during the Iraq War. There weren’t thousands of Muslims protesting in the streets of Baghdad demanding that Saddam Hussein step down, and after the occupation began? There were thousands of Muslims all over the world protesting our invasion and occupation.

                It’s different in Libya. There really were thousands of Muslims demonstrating in the streets for Gaddafi to step down, and I know it’s early yet, but I haven’t seen any reports of Muslims protesting American involvement in Libya yet…anywhere in the world.

                There have been times in the past when we’ve been on the ummah’s side and they’ve been on ours too, during Gulf War I being one such example. We used that good will last time to make some serious mistakes-putting ground troops in Saudi Arabia where they didn’t belong being one.

                The point is that we can make the ummah think we’re on their side this time using the most insidious trick known to man–by actually and truly being on their side.

                We didn’t pick this fight between the people of Libya and their dictator, and that isn’t like it was in Iraq. In Libya, the Libyan people picked a fight with their dictator–we just picked a side. We decided to be on the side of the ummah against their dictator.

                It reminds me a bit of the end of the Cold War, when we sided with the people of Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, Romania and other countries against their insect overlords.

                Can you imagine how badly the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc might have gone if the people there had thought that the U.S. were siding with their dictators against them?

                We sided with the dictators of North Africa and the Middle East against the ummah for too long. If we were ever going to change that, then there had to be a period of inconsistency. If we were ever going to change course, then there had to be a time when we first started really siding with the people even as our old commitments to dictators lagged on.

                But just because that was our strategy once doesn’t mean it has to be our strategy forever. Who would suggest that we have to keep doing what we’ve done in the past–even if things have changed and it’s stupid now–just because that’s what we’ve always done before?

      3. I don’t think it’s “pro peace”, but I damn sure believe that we don’t have the right to command other sovereign nations on what they may and may not do within the confines of their own countries.

        1. Such a collectivist premise. I think anyone has the right to depose totalitarian mafias enslaving a nation.

    2. they should applaud the US when it goes after countries that have or claim to have WMDs

      We don’t go after countries that actually have WMDs. Are you getting paid by the falsehood here or what?

  11. “the current attack on Libya is not an unforeseen glitch in our efforts to get them to disarm. Instead, it was the explicit policy of the U.S. to get countries to disarm so that we would be able to attack them.”

    One problem I have with the quote is that it imputes some sort of overall master plan.

    Does the US Government look like people with a plan?

    1. I always bring a similar point up to conspiracy nuts. If there’s some secret organization running the world, wouldn’t they have to more competent than this?

      Really, working for the government dispels any myths of competence you might have had.

  12. Who claimed that this is new information, John? Schwarz said it’s a subject that has largely been left out of the debate over Libya. That isn’t the same thing. And me, I said it “ought to be obvious.”

    And who has “fetishized” WMD? It’s not my fault that there’s a tension between nonproliferation and other U.S. goals. Take up your complaint with Hillary Clinton, not me.

    1. Because I think it’s stupid that he claims that it’s “the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth.” That’s ridiculous.

      The fact was already obvious. Claiming that it’s some sort of new lesson as if it’s a profound statement inherently rubs me the wrong way.

      And if you look at his statement, he’s still implicitly assuming that it’s a bad thing that North Korea and Iran might give up their nukes. But why? Since it’s indubitably correct that having the nukes prevents war and invasions, he should be celebrating them holding on to their nukes.

      If you’re anti-war, you should be extremely glad for this reminder, if you think it was necessary. After all, if any factions actually were on the verge of convincing Iran and the DPRK to give up their nuclear weapons, that would make war more, not less likely by his argument.

      He’s arguing that he should be pro-proliferation, but then somehow argues as though proliferation is a bad thing.

      1. Since it’s indubitably correct that having the nukes prevents war and invasions, he should be celebrating them holding on to their nukes.

        That’s not indubitably correct. Possession of nukes emboldens aggressive regimes to make war on their non-nuclear neighbors with little fear of reprisal from the international community.

        And of course, war between nuclear states is not impossible and would be far more devastating than war between non-nuclear states. So not only do nukes not prevent more wars than they lead to, they also can make the wars that do happen more severe.

  13. Actually, everyone assumed Saddam Hussein still had chemical weapons, and we attacked him.

    How about this lesson – we will take out totalitarian crime families, particularly if they are avowed enemies of the US, if we think we can do it with minimal cost.

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