Think tanks wrap-up

March 13, 2003 at 7:35 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of four wrap-ups for March 13.

The Nixon Center/The National Interest

(The Nixon Center is a public policy institution that is a substantively and programmatically independent division of The Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation in Yorba Linda, Calif. The National Interest magazine is published quarterly by The National Interest Inc., a non-profit partnership of Hollinger International Inc. and The Nixon Center.)

WASHINGTON -- Russia, the United Nations, and the fate of Iraq

By Nikolas K. Gvosdev

Last-ditch efforts to win Russian support for a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq are likely to fail. It is no longer a matter of sending a high level envoy like Condoleezza Rice to Moscow, or offering to restructure Soviet era Iraqi debt, or cutting Russian firms a piece of the action in the postwar Iraqi oil industry. Russia has committed itself to playing a high-stakes game of chess, triangulating the United States against its erstwhile continental European allies.

For this strategy to succeed, however, Russia cannot abandon its European partners. The Russians have concluded that close support of the United States on the Iraq issue brings no real additional benefits that pre-existing Russian cooperation with Washington in the war on terror has already produced. Instead, Russia feels can only gain by opposing a U.S. resolution -- it will cement its ties to Paris and Berlin (especially the crucial economic ones) without provoking an overall rupture of its special relationship with Washington that has developed in the wake of Sept. 11.

Russia needs Europe in some ways more than it needs the United States -- after all, more than 60 percent of its trade is with Europe (and its leading trade partner is Germany, and Germany is the top holder of Russian debt). Europe, not the United States, is the primary source of foreign capital for the Russian economy. Despite the expansive rhetoric of U.S.-Russia partnership, it is Europe's euros, not America's dollars that are providing the basis for Russia's development.

Closer ties with Europe is part of Putin's strategy to modernize Russia, and it appears that some in the Russian government believe that partnership on an equal basis is more likely with "Europe" than with the United States. It also reflects a fundamental shift from Gregory Yavlinsky's earlier observation that the road to good relations with Europe lay through the United States -- rather, it now appears that by distancing itself from

Washington, Moscow can engender closer ties with the leading continental powers.

Since Russia is no longer a "great power" in the military sense, its usefulness to Washington in any armed action against Iraq is primarily political. For its part, Russia is seeking to project itself as a mediator, straddling the major divides in the Western alliance, and presenting itself as the trusted voice to which all sides listen. It is ironic that it is Putin who calls Bush to brief him on talks with his German and French counterparts, not the other way around.

We should not be surprised, therefore, if the Russians (perhaps working in tandem with the British) begin to circulate new proposals that would purport to achieve full Iraqi disarmament without requiring a war. There are also indications that the Administration still sees value in Russia's role as a "back channel" to Baghdad and the Europeans.

Moscow assumes that the United States does want the imprimatur of the United Nations before undertaking any action (certainly they are aware that this is a sine qua non for London). Thus, they have concluded that the best strategy is to slow down the U.S. drive to war in order to reassert the primacy of the U.N. Security Council in setting the Iraq agenda.

This is in keeping with Igor Ivanov's own view of international relations; writing in his New Russian Diplomacy, he observed: "In the U.N. Security Council, Russia achieves consensus with the other permanent members of this body (the United States, Great Britain, France and China) on the majority of issues, which makes possible constructive solutions that are in the interests of the world community."

Yet the Russians are also running an enormous risk. Hamstringing the Security Council may play well in Berlin and Paris, but it also strengthens sentiment in the United States that Washington should abandon the entire U.N. process (not to mention the cumbersome NATO requirements of unanimity) and forge ahead with an ad hoc "coalition of the willing" to deal with Saddam Hussein. Ivanov's vision of the U.N. Security Council as the pinnacle of the international security architecture would be gravely compromised if the United States decides in the future not to consult with the United Nations. Russia's veto is meaningless (and hence its importance lessened) if Washington sets a precedent by acting outside of the United Nations vis-à-vis Iraq.

Washington has begun to make this clear, by drawing a clear distinction between a Russian abstention in the vote on a new Security Council resolution as opposed to a veto. The Bush administration can accept Russian neutrality, for neutrality is a form of indirect support. It does not believe, however, that open opposition constitutes simply a mere "disagreement." On the contrary, it could jeopardize the entire future of the Russo-American relationship, which could collapse under the weight of mutual recriminations.

And this would be very problematic for Russia. Despite its interest in Europe, Russia needs a partnership with the United States in a way the Western allies do not. The commercial and economic relationship between Washington and Moscow is still very much linked to political issues. A potential energy partnership between Russia and the United States, for example, is not something that can be insulated from politics.

For better or for worse, Iraq has become a make-or-break issue for the Bush administration, and the president and his senior officials will remember Russia's vote for a long time to come.

(Nikolas Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.)

WASHINGTON -- A matter of timing: thoughts on North Korea

By Fritz W. Ermarth

The arguments advanced by critics of the Bush administration's policy for dealing with the nuclear challenge from North Korea border on the fundamentally flawed. Only the assumption that they will miss no apparent opportunity to bash Bush explains why such otherwise intelligent and experienced people miss the essentials of this grave and delicate confrontation, which make matters of time and timing of the utmost importance.

Leave aside the irony that many of the critics who demand that the United States "go it alone" in bargaining with Pyongyang (just as Pyongyang demands), are the same voices insisting that the United States must not go it alone against Iraq. It was Pyongyang that called this showdown.

The president's ill-advised "axis of evil" speech, his on-the-record "loathing" of Kim Jong Il to Bob Woodward, and his dispatch of Jim Kelly last fall to "out" the North Koreans on their uranium enrichment program may have contributed to the timing of their decisions. We shall have to await access to Pyongyang's archives to determine this. But it was the strategic and political logic of the situation that surely governed.

North Korean nuclear ambitions and activities have a long history. They were perhaps delayed, but not suspended much less jettisoned, by the 1994 Framework Agreement. To play the role that Kim wants them to play, indeed desperately needs them to play, in intimidation, extortion, profit making, and deterrence of punishment for his excesses -- all crucial in his eyes to his regime's survival -- his nuclear capabilities had to be explicitly avowed sooner or later. And he had every incentive to time the initiation of this campaign of brinkmanship to when the United States was visibly preoccupied elsewhere, namely with Iraq.

The critics contend that this preoccupation represents the wrong priorities and that North Korea is the more dangerous threat. The latter point is very true and very important to getting the matter of strategic timing right. But as a practical matter, in a gang fight it makes sense to engage the nearest opponent first, especially when he is the more easily subdued.

The critics contend that the Bush administration is "merely" playing for time. This is exactly what the administration is and should be doing. Playing for time is exactly the right strategy in a situation like this one. Such a strategy requires good answers to two questions:

First, how much time is there to play for? This is a function of the rise in North Korea's efforts at plutonium separation, uranium enrichment, weapon fabrication, and developing delivery systems. This author is no expert on these matters; and even the best official intelligence seems to leave a good deal of uncertainty. It is clear we are already in or entering the first phase of North Korea's nuclear status, when it has one, two, then several nuclear weapons. From this posture the DPRK can project a frightening image and attempt risky extortionist policies.

The next phase comes when the North has upwards of, say, 10 nuclear weapons mated to reliable delivery systems of varying range, accurate enough to strike military infrastructure in the ROK, Japan, and maybe farther away, and survivable enough to be available for a second or third strike. This posture will be far more dangerous because Pyongyang will believe it lowers the risk entailed by its own aggressive behavior.

This is the situation, which must be averted. In this situation the DPRK will aggressively seek and probably get the payoffs of nuclear blackmail, keep and enlarge the means of nuclear blackmail, have enough extra to sell to the most dangerous buyers, and ever more brazenly seek to extort benefits. This scenario is highly likely to lead to war on the Korean peninsula, either from Pyongyang overplaying its hand, or because the United States cannot allow it to continue.

But these conditions are some time, perhaps years, down the road. The best possible estimate of this timeline is vital to our strategy.

The second question to answer when playing for time is: What are you doing with the time?

Part of the answer is suggested by the deployment of B-52s and B-1s to Guam. One should always seek to improve one's military options. The North has called this threatening. I, for one, am glad they see it that way. One would hope it has the sobering effect intended. It is a hedge against the failure of diplomacy. But it is also contributing to the conditions for diplomacy.

One of the necessary conditions for diplomacy to bring this confrontation to a remotely tolerable conclusion is that the hammer of U.S. military deterrence and enforcement in Korea be in the best possible shape. This will require time and the successful conclusion of the confrontation with Iraq.

The other requirement for success also needs time: The construction of a lock-step consensus among the United States, the ROK, Japan, Russia and China, on the conditions of bargaining and the content of bargains (carrots and sticks) with Pyongyang. Secretary Powell's trip to the region demonstrates that the Bush Administration is working on that at the highest level and priority (while recognizing that the Chinese are the biggest problem).

When and how this kind of a lock-step coalition can be created are uncertain. But it is an absolute requirement for a peaceful settlement in which the DPRK is verifiably de-nuclearized or rendered tolerable as a "semi-nuclear" state because it is reliably deterred, contained, and quarantined. It is not political cover or an excuse for delay by the United States.

Paradoxically, North Korea is also playing for time, or rather against it. One might think that time is on the side of the DPRK. But this is not so, except in the longer run and only if we (and others) are passive. As Kim appears to see it, he must try his utmost to extract a critical "win" in terms of political recognition, security assurances, and economic tribute while Washington and half of America's Army divisions are focused on Iraq and our needed partners are divided by the Iraq issue. After Iraq, Kim's window of opportunity is likely to be closed by the U.S. military recovery faster than it is opened by his nuclear buildup.

The great danger now is that Kim might overplay his hand from a sense of urgency that time is running out, forcing us to drop on him the hammer that we now have in place (which is big enough to assure, shall we say, regime change).

Making political concessions to the blackmailer now when conditions are bad and the real threat is some way down the road would be a big mistake. Opening formal, bilateral negotiations on security assurances and aid is the first concession the North Koreans demand, the first of many. We should probably make this concession eventually. But it should only be made when diplomatic and military conditions are better and make the prospects of a tolerable, peaceful solution at least plausible.

Critics of the Bush administration should stop yelling at the president and start whispering to Kim: "Calm down! We are working up a salad of carrots and sticks that you'll have to eat. But you'll love it!"

(Fritz W. Ermarth is the director of national security programs at the Nixon Center. He served several tours on the National Security Council staff, was chairman of the National Intelligence Council and retired from the CIA in 1998.)

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