Think tanks wrap-up

April 3, 2003 at 5:56 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 3 (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.

The Brookings Institution

WASHINGTON -- The risks of playing 'Who's next?'

by James B. Steinberg

Some 40 years ago, folk singer and satirist Tom Lehrer parodied contemporary fears of nuclear proliferation in a song entitled "Who's next?" Today, even before the disarmament of Iraq has been achieved, the same refrain can be heard with increasing frequency in Washington, spurred on by recent comments by secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell, as well as the chief U.S. non-proliferation official, John Bolton.

Only this time, the question is not what country will be the next to acquire weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, but which country is the next target of an aggressive strategy to disarm current or potential WMD states.

Numerous statements from President George W. Bush and his senior advisers have made clear that the campaign against Iraq should be seen as part of a wider strategy. In his 2002 State of the Union speech, Bush singled out Iran and North Korea as part of an axis of evil along with Iraq. Later that year, in his West Point commencement address, the president announced a new doctrine asserting that, in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world, the United States would need to act against rogue states and terrorists who sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction even before they posed a direct threat to the United States. This expanded concept of preemption (or more properly termed, preventive war) was enshrined in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.

The administration clearly hopes that the decisive military action taken against Iraq will serve as an object lesson for other states of concern -- such as Syria and Libya, as well as Iran and North Korea -- and lead them to reverse course and abandon their WMD aspirations. In some cases, the administration has also held out the prospect (explicitly or implicitly) of improved economic and political ties should the regimes in question halt their WMD programs -- although, in the case of both Iran and North Korea, the preconditions for improved ties go far beyond WMD-related concerns.

For Iran, this principally involved halting support for terrorist groups, while in the case of North Korea, the administration has pinpointed North Korea's conventional military capability as an issue that must be addressed.

It is conceivable that the weaker of these regimes, such as Syria and Libya, will be forced to alter their calculations, in part because even an implicit military threat by the United States may be sufficiently credible that it must be taken seriously. But for the two countries of greatest concern, Iran and North Korea, the response to the Iraq invasion is more problematic.

Will they conclude that the American show of might threatens to put them next in U.S. cross hairs? Or, on the contrary, will they judge that Iraq's mistake was not its attempt to get nuclear weapons, but rather its failure to get them soon enough? In other words, will they attempt to accelerate their nuclear programs in that hope that the risk of nuclear retaliation will deter U.S. pre-emption?

The administration's ability to capitalize on the "fear factor" arising out of Iraq will be complicated by questions concerning the credibility of the military preemption threat. There's not much Syria or Libya could do in the face of a U.S. attack. But in the case of North Korea, a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea's nuclear facilities could lead to a full-scale war on the Korean peninsula.

Optimists might argue that North Korea would never launch a war that it was sure to lose. But many of the advocates of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor doubted Japan could win a war against the United States -- and yet they launched one nonetheless. And as the coalition's experience in Iraq has shown, it is to risky pin all hopes on the assumption that the United States knows in advance how adversaries will respond. These very concerns led Secretary of Defense William Perry to caution great wariness before threatening a military response to North Korea's nuclear program in 1994.

For Iran, the credibility of a military threat is also problematic. Even if the United States could identify and successfully strike Iran's nuclear facilities, what would be the repercussions? The most immediate risk would be attacks on U.S. facilities in the Persian Gulf, not to mention coalition soldiers in Iraq.

It's unlikely that any nations in the Gulf that are supporting the United States against Iraq would be as accommodating of a strike against Iran. And more likely they would feel pressure to end the American presence and distance themselves from the United States at the very time when America is seeking to restore its standing and support among the people of the Arab and Islamic world. The threat of terrorism would also increase, and the long-term prospect of improved relations with the Iranian people, who themselves are seeking democratic regime change, would be dealt a severe blow.

Military action against North Korea or Iran would also have a profound impact on international attitudes toward the United States. Although most countries have disagreed with our decision to use force, many recognize that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's blatant defiance of the Security Council -- from Resolution 687 in 1991 through 1441 last year -- gives at least a colorable claim to the legitimacy of our action. But without having laid the groundwork against either Iran or North Korea, global fears about U.S. intentions would intensify, hindering U.S. efforts to gain support on a broad range vital national objectives ranging from the fight against terrorism to the long-term effort to stop the proliferation of WMD.

For now, the administration continues to insist that it is not pursuing a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem of proliferation, focusing on diplomacy with North Korea and efforts to get Russia and others to halt their support of Iran's nuclear program. But it would be unfortunate, and dangerous, if the hoped-for success in Iraq emboldens the Administration to recklessly play the game of "Who's next?"

(James B. Steinberg is the vice president and director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute

(CEI is a conservative, free-market think tank that supports principles of free enterprise and limited government, opposes government regulation, and actively engages in public policy debate.)

WASHINGTON -- A backwards step in U.S. energy policy

by Marlo Lewis Jr.

Which climate-related initiative poses the biggest threat to America's economic future?

Is it:

(a) The Kyoto Protocol, with its growth-chilling restrictions on carbon-based energy use;

(b) Sen. Jim Jeffords', I-Vt., "Clean Power Act," which would impose Kyoto-like carbon dioxide controls on the electric power industry; or

(c) The McCain-Lieberman "Climate Stewardship Act," which would cap CO2 emissions from the electric power, manufacturing, and transportation sectors?

Surprisingly, the most toxic climate policy is none of the above headline grabbers but rather one most people have never heard of -- "transferable credits" for "verified" greenhouse gas reductions. If enacted, this plan will mobilize corporate lobbying for Kyoto and dozens of kindred energy rationing schemes like McCain-Lieberman.

Also surprisingly, the chief sponsors of this political force-multiplier for the Kyoto agenda are three anti-Kyoto stalwarts: President George W. Bush, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nev., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. The motives of these honorable men are not in question. However, on this issue they have been deplorably advised.

On Feb. 14, 2002, Bush directed several agencies to transform the Department of Energy's Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Program, or VRGGP, into a program awarding "transferable credits" for verified greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Responding to the president's initiative, several months later Hagel introduced an amendment to the Senate energy bill directing the Department of Energy to expand the VRGGP into a crediting program -- only to withdraw the amendment a week later due to lack of support.

However, Domenici's recent staff-drafted energy bill revives the Hagel amendment. All of which just goes to show that bad policy ideas never die; they just get recycled.

Originally known as "credit for early action," transferable credits began as a strategy to win corporate and congressional support for Kyoto-style regulation. The strategy's chief architect was the pro-Kyoto activist group Environmental Defense. President Clinton endorsed the idea in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, headed by former Clinton-Gore Kyoto negotiator Eileen Claussen, marketed the plan to corporate America. Kyoto-leaning Sens. John Chafee, R-R.I., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., introduced early credit legislation in the 105th and 106th Congresses.

The basic idea was simple: Award credits to companies that begin to comply with Kyoto before it is even ratified, and allow those companies to sell or use the credits to offset future regulatory obligations. In effect, participating companies acquire Kyoto stock that bears dividends if -- but only if -- Kyoto or similar regulation is ratified or enacted. Credit-holders thus acquire cash incentives to support Kyoto, or lobby for its domestic equivalent.

Although touted as "voluntary" and "win-win" (good for business, good for the environment), transferable credits create a coercive system in which one company's gain is another's loss.

Tradable credits have value only in relation to an emissions reduction target or "cap." If the cap is not broken, then every credit awarded for "voluntary" reductions in the "early action" period must be subtracted from the total available in the mandatory period. Thus, for every company that gains a credit in the early action period, there must be another that loses a credit in the compliance period.

Consequently, companies that do not "volunteer" will be penalized -- forced during the mandatory period to make deeper reductions than the cap itself would require, or to purchase credits at higher prices than would otherwise prevail.

The scheme has a vast potential to corrupt the politics of energy policy. Because it penalizes non-participants, many businesses will "volunteer" just to avoid getting shoved to the shallow end of the credit pool later on. The calculated political result is a critical mass of companies holding energy rationing coupons -- assets that mature only under Kyoto or comparable regulation.

When it comes to climate policy, Lieberman, Environmental Defense, and the Pew Center on Climate Change may be wrongheaded, but they are not naïve. They all advocate: (a) energy rationing -- carbon "cap-and-trade" programs -- and (b) government-certified energy-rationing coupons -- what Domenici's draft bill calls "transferable credits with unique serial numbers for verified reductions." The two policies are so clearly linked that it's embarrassing to hear Bush advisers try to deny it.

When will the Bush administration and its pro-energy allies on Capitol Hill wake up? If they embrace Chafee-Lieberman, America will get stuck with McCain-Lieberman. If they create energy rationing coupons, America will end up with energy rationing.

Credits for early reductions are the pre-regulatory ramp-up to an energy constrained future. They have no place in an energy bill worthy of the name.

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