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Living With a Nuclear Iran and North Korea?
June 21, 2007
Ivan Eland, Charles V. Peña, Trita Parsi, Doug Bandow


Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I’m Ivan Eland. I’m the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty, and thanks for coming today.

Today we intend to discuss, but go beyond the short-term options to deal with Iran and North Korea, two nations that had seemed bent on getting nuclear weapons, or retaining them, in the case of North Korea. None of the short-term options seem to be all that great to make Iran and North Korea given up their nuclear programs. The main options seem to be ratcheting up economic sanctions. What can be called “instrumental sanctions” on the nuclear-related items against both countries, which are already in place, can probably only delay or raise the cost of getting nuclear parts and components.

And evasion of sanctions is usually rampant, especially when big money can be made violating them. Further punitive sanctions on other than nuclear things—for instance, on Iranian trade, and on Iranian people unrelated to the nuclear program—won’t prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and they’ll have probably “a rally around the flag” effect, pushing the rest of the population into the hands of the regime.

Now, punitive sanctions against North Korean trade don’t prevent them from getting nuclear weapons either, and only make it more likely that they’ll sell these things to other countries, since they can’t make money on anything else.

Now, of course, air strikes that have been mentioned as a possible short-term option. And unbelievably, even after the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction intelligence debacle, and the Iraq quagmire, some in the administration apparently, at least according to the New York Times last week, have this option on the table—it’s under consideration by the administration. The Neo-cons of the administration are still pushing it.

However, there are some definite drawbacks to that policy. U.S, intelligence, as demonstrated in the Iraqi case, was unable to locate the facilities, and in fact, didn’t know there weren’t any weapons. Well, the same is true that we don’t have perfect intelligence on Iran. Hitting all the sites would probably be a problem. Many of these are probably buried, and some are put in heavily populated areas, even the ones that they know about.

So the U.S. intelligence thinks Iran is three to eight years away from getting a nuclear weapon, and air strikes, of course, could slow this down. But on the other hand, air strikes may cause the Iranians to redouble their efforts to get nuclear weapons, since one of the reasons that they’re getting them is to keep the United States out. That’s not the only reason, but it’s one. Also, air strikes would probably have an even more pronounced rally-around-the-flag effect than economic sanctions.

Now, the North Koreans already have nuclear weapons, or at least the material to make them. And any sort of air strikes could be dangerous, either a conventional response—a North Korean invasion of the south—or possibly even smuggling a nuclear weapon into the U.S. if they do have a weapon. It’s very dangerous to strike at nuclear power.

So it doesn’t seem like military strikes are a viable option in Iran’s case, and certainly, Mohammed el-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said military action against Iran would be, quote, “be an act of madness.” That’s a pretty blunt statement from the head of an international organization. Of course, air strikes are even less of an option with North Korea because of the nuclear weapons that it probably already has.

So the only real way to get rid of Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons, I suppose in the short-term, is to invade each country and take out the regimes. Well, of course, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, even the aggressive Bush administration is probably capable of learning that that’s not such a great idea. We don’t even have enough U.S. forces to secure Iraq, let alone Iran and North Korea. And, of course, invading and occupying North Korea and an even larger Iran, would make the invasion and occupation of Iraq look like a day at the beach.

So in contrast to using sticks, some people have advocated yet another option, and that is to achieve a grand bargain with Iran and North Korea. To get them to give up their nukes, you give them carrots instead of sticks—a non-aggressive pact with the U.S., saying that we wouldn’t invade these countries, restoring full diplomatic relations and end of sanctions, and full reintegration into the world economy.

Now, this is a bit of what the agreement with North Korea is designed to do. But I think that we shouldn’t get our hopes up that Iran and North Korea will actually get rid of their nukes, even if we negotiate with them. And I’m not discouraging negotiation, I just think that we have to be a bit realistic. I think these countries both have seen what happened to non-nuclear Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Serbia, Iraq, etc., etc., and may not believe a U.S. non-aggressive pledge, simply because they tend to be paranoid, and also, there may be in this case some reason for their paranoia.

As I mentioned earlier, they’re not just getting these nukes to keep the U.S. out. There are also neighbors that they’re worried about, in the case of Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia—who may be looking for weapons of mass destruction—and, of course, North Korea has Japan, which could go nuclear any time it wanted to, really. And of course, you have China and others. And Taiwan is even potentially a nuclear weapons state there.

So North Korea, of course periodically gives us hope, and we’re undergoing a current period of hope right now, as we see the unfreezing of North Korean assets leading to the North Korean promise to let IAEA inspectors back in, and Christopher Hill’s visit to North Korea. But even if they fulfill their pledge to stop their nuclear program in exchange for assistance, there’s a lot of doubt as to whether they’re going to fulfill it, since they cheated on the previous agreement with the Clinton administration.

Even if they agreed to that, of course, they haven’t firmly agreed to get rid of all the fissionable material they already have, which U.S. intelligence says may be as many as eight or more weapons. The agreement is very vague on the eventual stages of disabling nuclear facilities, abandonment, and nuclearization. Those are the terms that are used, but it’s a very fuzzy language. And this is the plutonium program. What about the parallel uranium enrichment program that is alleged to be there as well?

And, of course, the nuclear explosive tests seem to indicate that North Korea was declaring itself a nuclear power, a nuclear weapons state. And so all these short-term options, which I have just skated over in the interest of time, I encourage our panelists to explore these short-term options in more detail, and to disagree with me if they think I’m off-base on that. But I would also like them to address what the United States should do if none of these are viable, and the United States, in the long-term, has to accept a nuclear Iran and North Korea.

Lots of people avoid this subject, both on the left and the right, for their particular reasons, and I think we may have to begin to address this, and we should start talking about it.

Our panelists today are very distinguished. And I’ll just introduce them all at once, and then I’ll just turn them loose to speak here.

Chuck Pena is a senior fellow here at the Independent Institute. He’s the author of: The Un-War: A New Strategy for the War on Terrorism. But he’s written a paper for the Institute, which many of you have in your packet, on what do we do about dealing with nuclear Iran and North Korea? So his paper is right on the subject that we’re talking about today.

Our second panelist is Trita Parsi. He’s president of the Iranian-American Guild and author of the forthcoming book: Treacherous Triangle: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel, and the United States. And he’ll speak specifically about Iran.

Our third speaker is Doug Bandow, who is the Vice President for Policy at Citizen Outreach, and author of the new book, Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire. And this is just off the presses, so you should get a copy. And he’s also written another book, which is specifically on Korea—The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea. So he’s an expert on East Asia, and specifically Korea, and he will address the North Korean problem.

So with that, I’ll let Chuck start it off here. Thank you.

Charles Pena
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Thanks, Ivan. The goal is to keep our remarks relatively short, ten minutes. So I’m going to, while speaking to you, also try and keep one eye on my watch. Because I know actually, the best part of this is not listening to us talk at you, but you all asking us questions so that we can answer them and really dive into the issues.

I always have to do this every time I get up and speak. I need to do a standard disclaimer, because as Ivan said, I am a senior fellow with the Independent Institute, as my think-tank affiliation. I do have a day job. I am not standing here in front of you representing my day job, because some of my clients include parts of United States government, and I’m not speaking on behalf of the United States government, or my employer. I’m here today as a senior fellow with the Independent Institute.

Let me also start off—and I think it’s fair to say I’ll speak for all of us. None of us are arguing that proliferation is a good thing, or that Iran or North Korea should have nuclear weapons. I mean, you need to understand that starting off. Because I think some of the remarks, certainly you’ll hear from me, probably from Doug, probably from Trita, might be misinterpreted if taken out of context.

So I think it’s vitally important that people understand that I’m not standing up here in front of you today saying, yeah, it’s okay for Iran and North Korea to have nuclear weapons and I want to encourage the development of those two countries acquiring nuclear weapons.

In fact, I think we should be taking every reasonable effort to try and dissuade those countries from acquiring that capability—in the case of North Korea, giving up their ambitions. But—and what my paper is all about—given the reality of the world that we live in, for better or worse, we may have to accept the fact that either or both of those countries—and perhaps others—are going to eventually acquire nuclear weapons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a current U.S. policy of regime change.

In fact, while the Bush administration clearly has decided to act forcefully upon it, is not just germane to the Bush administration. The Clinton administration is just as guilty of military intervention to depose leaders that the United States government, or leaders in the United States government, didn’t like and didn’t think should be running a country.

So if you put yourself in the shoes of people like the regime in Tehran, like the regime in Pyongyang, and look out at the world, and you see the way the United States acts, it’s easy to understand—and again, I’m not endorsing their actions—but it’s easy to understand why they would want to pursue a nuclear weapons capability as a way to prevent the United States from engaging in military regime change.

So that’s part of it. There are a whole host of other reasons, and I know Doug and Trita will get into more details as to why countries would want nuclear weapons for reasons other than prevention and deterring the United States.

But let me throw out a couple of things as food for thought, and then we can hopefully in the Q&A get into some of these issues a little deeper.

One thing that I think is vitally important, particularly when we talk about Iran, is that the conventional wisdom—certainly the wisdom portrayed by the Bush administration in its rationale for conducting what it calls preemptive war, what I characterize in my paper as preventive war against Iraq—is this notion that if regimes like Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the Mullahs in Tehran acquire nuclear weapons, they’re going to give them to terrorists. Then terrorists will have easy access to the ultimate weapon. And of course, that’s why President Bush and others in the administration have from time to time conjured up the image of a mushroom cloud going up in a major U.S. city.

And that is, quite honestly, certainly post-9/11, the biggest fear—that terrorists might acquire a nuclear weapon and detonate it in an American city.

Let me start with this. I said this in Berlin last week when I was with Doug at a conference. As an analyst, and that’s what I’m trained as, we have to understand that a nuke going off in an American city—as terrible and as tragic and as unwanted, certainly, as that would be—it’s not the end of the world. It really isn’t. The end of the world is when the Soviet Union could rain down thousands of warheads—just as Russia still can today, by the way, if they wanted to—on the United States, and obliterate us as a country. That’s the end of the world.

A single nuke, small yield nuke in particular, going off in a major metropolitan area, resulting in possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths—catastrophic, yes. Certainly order of magnitudes larger than 9/11, but not the end of the world as we know it. We could recover from such an event. In fact, during the Cold War, we had plans for recovering from thousands of Soviet warheads landing on the United States.

So there is a certain perspective that we have to have, that as much as we don’t want that catastrophic event to happen, that we do have to understand that it really wouldn’t be the end of the world. There are other worse things that would be much more catastrophic that could occur on U.S. soil. So that’s one thought.

The other thought is this: while it’s popular to paint this picture that regimes like the Mullahs in Tehran would give a nuclear weapon away, I think there is another side to that story that doesn’t get told.

One is, there is no history of any of these regimes, so-called rogue-state regimes, who have acquired so-called weapons-of-mass-destruction capability—and we lump chemical and biological weapons in with nukes and call them weapons of mass destruction, even though a nuke really is the only sort of massively destructive weapon, at least by single detonation. Biological weapons, particularly contagious pathogens, can cause lots and lots of deaths over time, but not instantaneously. And chemical weapons are really, really nasty, but hardly massive in scale. Yet they all get lumped together as weapons of mass destruction.

We know that at one time Saddam Hussein actually did have chemical and biological weapons. We know that he used them against hapless Kurdish villagers in his ongoing war against Iran. But here’s the other thing we know. Despite the fact that Saddam did support terrorist groups, he never gave those groups chemical or biological weapons. In fact, there’s no history of any regime that has acquired chemical or biological weapons, let alone nuclear weapons, giving away those kinds of weapons to terrorist groups that they support. They may be more than willing to finance them. They may be more than willing to give them conventional explosives and other types of weaponry, small arms. But they seem very reluctant to give away what we have now called weapons of mass destruction.

So you have to ask yourself, okay, we say that they would give these weapons away, but there’s no history of it.

Now why do we say that? Well, part of it is, I think, because we’re ignorant in the sense of misunderstanding particularly the Muslim world. We assume Saddam Hussein is from the Middle East, and at least sort of Muslim in some way, shape or form, that therefore, he’s in a league with the terrorists, or the Mullahs are in a league Hezbollah, therefore, they’re the same and Hezbollah is simply an arm of the regime in Tehran; so, of course, the Mullahs would give these weapons to Hezbollah to attack the infidel enemy—the Great Satan, as Ayatollah Khomeini once characterized the United States.

But the part of the story that we don’t talk about so much is the fact that groups like Hezbollah, or Hamas, and other terrorist groups that are affiliated with regimes largely in the Middle East, is that they’re not controlled by these regimes. There’s a reason they’re non-state actors. They are not part of the state. They have overlapping interests, and they may both have a great hatred for the United States, or at least an animosity towards the United States. But these groups are not 100 percent controlled by the regime in power.

In fact, in Iraq, Saddam, to the extent that he supported terrorist groups, kept them on a pretty short leash. I mean, he understood that in some respects they were potentially a threat to him, as much as they might hate a common enemy, whether it’s Israel or the United States.

So if you’re a regime, and there is this amazing phenomenon, that when you come to power, you sort of want to stay in power. I mean, that’s true for American politicians, it’s true for leaders everywhere around the world. So the odds that they will engage in what amounts to suicidal behavior. If they had a nuke, launching it at the United States, knowing that we could retaliate with the full force of our strategic arsenal—I mean, deterrence kind of works, at least nuclear deterrence seems to work, and I think we tend to discount the power of our nuclear deterrent. I think we could still reduce the number of weapons we have in our arsenal and be very secure. And that’s a debate for another day.

But the point is that against other nuclear-armed countries, deterrence seems to work, and certainly served us well during the Cold War, worked against the Soviet Union, and seems to be working against China. And unless we believe the regimes in North Korea, Iran, and other places are actually suicidal—that they would just launch a weapon willy-nilly knowing that they would be destroyed as a result of doing that—I think deterrence would continue to work even in the undesirable situation where North Korea and Iran eventually acquire nuclear weapons.

If the regime gave away a weapon to terrorists and the terrorists actually used it, the short list of who we, the United States, would consider guilty, is really short. Although some people might want to point to the French, it’s not like we’re going to look to the French (or the British), and say, you gave away a nuke to terrorists and they detonated it in New York. We’re going to be looking at the regimes in Iran, and North Korea, and other such places.

And these leaders know that, and they know what the consequences are likely to be. In fact, there’s an irony. If one of the reasons that they’re acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place is prevent regime change, the last thing you want to do is give a nuclear weapon away to a group that you don’t control who can then take an action that would result in the United States doing exactly what you are trying to prevent in the first place, which is regime change.

The other thing is that if you gave a nuclear weapon away to a group like Hezbollah, what are the odds that Hezbollah would say, hey, this is a great way we could take over the country? Not our country here, but Iran. I mean, you’ve given away the ultimate weapon to a non-state actor that you don’t control, and suddenly they’re tempted with the possibility of hey, we can run the country. Where they’re not running the country now. They’re simply one group with some overlapping interests.

And, in fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why Saddam kept the terrorist groups that he did support on a relatively short leash. These groups, given enough power and the ability to do certain things, become just as much a threat to the regime that gives it to them, as they would with the United States.

So since I’ve used up almost all of my 10 minutes, those are just some food for thought. We can get into a discussion. The paper that I’ve written talks about this in a lot more detail.

But the bottom line, is that, again, not that we want North Korea or Iran to be nuclear powers, but they may be, and there may be nothing we can do, short of what Ivan said, deciding to invade more countries, take them over and run them, which we’re not doing such a great job of at the moment, and for which we don’t have a tremendous amount of capacity to do.

We may have to accept that they become nuclear powers. And so our non-proliferation efforts have to then start focusing on what do we do, then, including working with regimes that we might have hostile relationships with, but where we have common concerns, say, over safety and security of weapons. By the way, the North Koreans and the Iranians don’t have a history of understanding safety and security of these weapons. Maybe it has to take place completely below sea level, in other words, not in the public eye. Are there ways that we might work with these regimes, just as during the Cold War, we were adversaries with the Soviet Union, but we maintained embassies in each other’s countries? We had a hotline between the two capitals. We communicated with each other.

And I think there’s a lesson to be learned, that even with countries that are our adversaries or have hostile intentions—that we still have to talk to them, which is something that we’re not doing so well, either with North Korea or Iran. And we may have to look for ways of cooperative effort, even if it’s cooperative effort that’s not seen in the public light, where they might be open to some possibility of finding ways to make these things safer, knowing that it’s in their interests to do so.

And we need to start thinking about these things now. That’s really the point of my paper. That even though we don’t want Iran and North Korea to get nuclear weapons, if all we do is focus on keeping them from getting weapons, then we’re unprepared for when we fail. And we have to accept that we might fail in that goal of preventing them from having nuclear weapons.

So what’s plan B? If plan A is to prevent them from getting weapons but that doesn’t work out so well, what’s plan B? Is the only plan B to invade them and take over? Or are there other plan Bs that we can look at?

And let me very quickly leave with this last note. Of all the countries we should be paying attention to, it’s not North Korea, it’s not Iran, it’s Pakistan. Pakistan is sitting on top of nukes. The Musharaff regime is in a relatively fragile position, at least tacitly an ally in the war on terrorism.

But President Musharaff will not be around forever. There have been several attempts on his life. What are we going to do if a more radical Islamic regime takes over Pakistan and is sitting on top of live nukes? I don’t have access to all the privileged information, but I hope we are exploring all sorts of creative possibilities with Pakistan.

One that I mention in my paper is that we give the Pakistanis technology and training to do render safe of their weapons, so that the regime, if they thought there was about to be an imminent coup, could possibly render safe all the weapons so they couldn’t be used. That’s one thing to do.

The other is—which is again, not a very popular thing, or not one that I’m saying should be our first choice—but I also hope that the military has an off-the-shelf plan to take out Pakistan’s nuclear weaponry if that’s the only option left at our disposal. And one thing that would certainly help is if the Musharaff regime would engage in some unprecedented cooperation to help us understand where those weapons might be so that we could target them in the event that the regime fell into the hands of radical Islamists.

But of all the countries I think we really need to worry about, it’s less North Korea, less Iran, and much more so Pakistan. And it’s unfortunately, a country we have not been quite so focused on. Thank you.

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Guild

Thank you. It seemed like you were talking for me. I don’t know if you were talking for Chuck.

Thank you so much, Independent Institute, for organizing this. I’ll keep my remarks brief as well, as I know that the Q&A is going to be the most interesting section.

Let me say a couple of things. I think we’re facing a situation in the Middle East right now, particularly a situation between the United States and Iran, in which we may believe that we have a lot of options, but we don’t. Most of these options, most of these different policies, are illusionary at best, and they will deteriorate into one out of two different directions: either comprehensive negotiated agreements between the United States and Iran as well as other countries in the region, or a military conflict.

All other policies, all other options, are not going to be stable, and they will, sooner or later, deteriorate into one of these two. Unfortunately, the longer we wait, the more we pursue other illusionary policies, the higher the risk will be that the policy, and the direction we will end up in, is the military one.

And let me explain a couple of reasons for why I think that is. Time is not really on the side of diplomacy, or on the side of ideas such as sanctions. The pre-condition that the United States put in order to negotiate with Iran, that Iran must end all of its enrichment activities before the United States will join the talks, have been utterly counterproductive. Just take a look at the track record. The Iranians had approximately 164 centrifuges last May when that offer was made. Today, they’re sitting somewhere close to 1,800, and they will probably reach 3,000 in the next couple of months, and 3,000 has been set as this arbitrary line in which the Iranians will have a small-scale enrichment program.

The argument at the time was you cannot negotiate while the Iranians are enriching, because that would be like negotiating while they have a gun to your head. Well, in retrospect, we can see the gun has been pointed in the other direction, because the absence of negotiation is exactly what won the Iranians time, and enabled them to continue with their program and put together far more centrifuges than they had when at first things started.

Now clearly, both sides have invested a tremendous amount of face into this process. It’s not just Iranian pride that is driving this process, there is a tremendous amount of Western pride involved as well. It’s going to be very difficult to be able to get to the negotiating table and pretend as if that precondition wasn’t there.

One potential solution would be a concept that was thrown out in various track two discussions about a year ago, an idea of freeze-for-freeze instead of suspend-for-suspend. Suspend for suspend would basically mean that the Iranians will have to suspend all their activities, basically backtracking their program—which is obviously more and more difficult the more centrifuges they put in place. And on the other hand, the West would suspend and backtrack on the sanctions that they have put in place.

Freeze-for-freeze would be a different concept. The concept would be that instead of any of the states backtracking, what would be prevented would be that none of the sides would be able to increase and improve their negotiating position during the time of the discussions, basically freezing any advancement. The Iranians would not add any new centrifuges, but they would have what they have, and the West would not introduce any new sanctions, but neither would they lift the existing ones.

And the attractive model with this is that it would potentially open up a way so that both sides can feel that they can come to the negotiating table. But perhaps most importantly, it would eliminate the one factor that is playing to the benefit of Tehran right now, which is time. As long as negotiations are not taking place, the Iranians are building more centrifuges, which strengthens their negotiating position. It would be much more difficult to enter into talks now, when they have 1,800 centrifuges, than what it was when they had zero. And freeze-for-freeze would delay and prevent them from being able to improve their negotiating position.

In addition, mindful of the difficulties that the United States had in imposing the sanctions to begin with, there is an attractiveness in the idea that you’re not actually lifting the sanctions. The sanctions that are imposed stay put. They’re not lifted, so you don’t have to go through the process of re-imposing them if talks break down.

But as long as we’re pursuing policies such as only focusing on more pressure and sanctions, we will obviously not be able to explore these opportunities. And the sanctions policy is not going to be effective either, I believe, because time, again, is not playing to the side of the West on this issue.

First of all, sanctions under the best circumstances will probably not be effective. But mindful of the shortness of time that the United States and the West currently have, it’s very difficult to see how sanctions on Iran, even the strictest financial sanctions that the United States is imposing on Iran unilaterally, how these would be able to offset the effect of continued instability and failure of the surge in Iraq.

There’re two things going on at the same time. It’s not just a cost that is being imposed on the Iranians, it’s also what is the cost imposed on the United States if its policies in Iraq continue to go in the wrong direction?

In six months time, when [overall U.S. commander in Iraq General] Petraeus is coming back to Congress to report on the effectiveness of the surge, sanctions may likely have imposed a major cost on the Iranians, but the damage done to the United States, and the political pressure over here, may offset that by quite a lot. And in relative terms, the Iranians may be in an even stronger position than they are now, particularly since they most likely will have 3,000 centrifuges by that time.

Then we have the Israeli factor, in which the Israelis are telling the United States that they would like to see a timetable for the sanctions. Sanctions should only be working, and given a chance to work, until the end of 2007. After that, other options, read the military option, should be considered. When Shoham Affaz was here about a week ago, according to Israeli TV, he also said that after that, Israel would take military action.

What that in essence is saying is that the military option is the one that is going to be pursued. But I don’t think there’s anyone, even in the United States government, that believes that sanctions, by the end of this year, in the next six months, will be effective. They have been utterly ineffective so far, and there’s no reason to believe that they would suddenly become successful.

The problem, of course, for Israel is that Israel does not have a military option. Israel’s option at this stage is to pressure the United States to take military action, because the Israeli calculation is that 3,000 centrifuges on Iranian soil, which would end up likely be remaining in Iran if there is a negotiation between the United States and Iran, would still pose a major danger to Israel whether Iran weaponizes or not.

And the reason being is that the balance of power in the region would fundamentally shift to the disfavor of Israel, and it would make it much more difficult for Israel, for instance, to be able to pursue unilateral peace deals, etc. It would be under much more pressure, and would be faced with situations in which it will have to make territorial concessions that it so far has been unlikely and unwilling to do. Not necessarily the fact that the capability, particularly the capability that is not even weaponized, in and of itself, would constitute an existential threat.

So you combine these things, and then you think about the third factor. In 2003, the Iranians sent a proposal to the United States, right after the fall of Baghdad, in which they put on the table all the various issues—except one very important one, which was human rights—that have been a contention between the United States and Iran. The offer was made. It was sent through the Swiss intermediaries to the United States. Basically within the framework of the negotiations, the Iranians offered to end all support for Islamic Jihad and Hamas, turn Hezbollah into a mere political organization, which means disarming them, opening up the nuclear program. And remember, at the time they had no centrifuges, no enrichment program. Cooperating against all terrorist organizations, above all, Al-Qaeda, and perhaps most importantly, signing on to the Beirut Declaration, the Saudi peace plan that is up in discussions once more, in which the entire Arab world would en masse recognize Israel, if Israel recognized the Palestinian state.

The offer was made, but it got no response. The Bush administration chose not to even give the Iranians a response, and this had devastating effects, of course, in Iran.

Now, the conclusion drawn on the U.S. side as to why Iran chose to make an offer in which they basically offered to change every policy the United States has had a problem with Iran, was that Iran was at the time very, very fearful, because the United States had just taken out the Taliban, and had taken out Saddam Hussein in three weeks, a task that the Iranians failed to do after eight years of warfare.

So if the conclusion is that the Iranians offered this because they were weak, the next step means that if you want to get a similar type of offer today, you need to, again, put the Iranians in a very weak position. You have to impose more sanctions, a military blockade, an economic blockade, perhaps wave the military option very vividly in front of them to make them understand that they can still lose in a war.

The problem with that reasoning is that potentially that could work if it hadn’t been tried before. But if you are in Tehran right now, and you have put all of this on the table, at your weakest point—and when the United States was at its strongest point—and it was still rejected, then the conclusion is that the United States is not interested in policy changes in Iran. The United States is interested in weakening Iran, period.

And if you once have been put in that position, and you made an offer to kind of get out of a confrontation, and it was rejected, then most likely, you will not have confidence that if you are put in that situation again, you will make the same offer. Because you don’t believe there is an interest on the United States side, for you to escape confrontation. On the contrary, having gone through that experience once, Tehran is far more likely to respond to pressure and threats of war by preparing for war, because it has no confidence that it can compel the Bush administration to give it a face-saving way out.

So if you add all of these things together, you can pursue sanction, you can pursue all these different options, but these will ultimately deteriorate into one of two options. Either there’s going to be comprehensive negotiations, or there’s going to be a comprehensive war. And when it comes to the negotiation, I think it’s very, very important to take the interest of the other states in the region into account as well.

Israel has a legitimate concern about U.S.-Iran relations, because there is a fear that in those negotiations, the United States would sell out Israeli security interests. The Saudis and other states in the region have the same fears. Unless the negotiations are comprehensive, so that these countries are also at the table, those countries will be given an incentive to undermine, or at a minimum, oppose, these types of negotiations. The same mistake that was done by the United States, in my view, in the early 1990s, in which it was pursuing a peace process in the region that excluded some of the most powerful states in the region and gave them direct incentives to undermine that peace process, which is exactly what they did through asymmetric warfare.

So, the bottom line is at this time, while we are hearing all other types of options, geopolitical forces are reaching a climax, and in that climax, there are basically only two possible solutions. Warfare, that I believe is going to be detrimental to all players, or a comprehensive negotiation. And all the resistance that is taking place here, as well as in Tehran against these types of negotiations, is only increasing the likelihood of war. Thank you.

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

I appreciate the opportunity to appear here. It’s a lot of fun to be with a couple of former colleagues, both Chuck and Ivan. I haven’t been on a panel with both of them for quite some time.

Now, the issue we’re discussing is obviously a very important one, and it’s clearly a complex one. If you take an issue where you mix North Korea, along with Iran, along with Pakistan, you’ve got yourself quite a package of geopolitical problems.

I think the irony we see with this administration’s policy is, it started out with an axis of evil, and it took out one of those, and it turns out it took out the one that was least threatening in terms of weapons of mass destruction. And what it’s managed to do, in doing so, is make it harder to deal with the other two. Because clearly, it’s created an incentive for the other two to move ahead, as well as the fact we have to deal, as Chuck mentioned, with Pakistan, which, of course, is the real proliferator. We are to believe that A. Q. Kahn was sending planeloads of nuclear materials around the world, and the Pakistani government had no idea any of this was happening. Perhaps that’s true, but I’m rather skeptical.

So the question is, what do we do in this world where we have a number of potential, if not rogue states, at least dangerous states, and a proliferation of nuclear weapons?

Well, my topic is to talk about North Korea, yet another one, a very unpleasant member of the international community. And there are certainly lots of good reasons not to want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. This is, after all, a brutal totalitarian regime filled with labor camps in which at least a half million, and perhaps more, people died of starvation in the 1990s. A very, very unpleasant actor. A very secretive regime, one where we don’t have very much insight—partly because we have no relations with them. Nevertheless, it’s not a regime that we understand very well, the decision-making process, what kind of incentives they have and respond to.

We’re also concerned about North Korea because it has sold missile material, so there is a concern about proliferation. If they have nuclear materials, would they be willing to sell those as well?

And there is also a concern about a further erosion of the non-proliferation treaty. As more countries which gain weapons, this clearly creates at least some form of encouragement or incentive for other countries to join the club. After all, if North Korea can join this club, there aren’t many standards out there, and one can imagine a number of other countries which would like to be in.

So obviously, there are lots of good reasons to want to dissuade North Korea from building nuclear weapons. The question, of course, is how?

One of the strategies has been the threat of military strikes. And indeed, there’s good evidence that the Clinton administration came very close to going to war with North Korea back more than a decade ago. It actually came very close to going to war without bothering to tell the South Koreans—which needless to say, went over very well in Seoul, the thought there might have been a war on their northern border 25 or 30 miles away from their capital city, which contains 20 or 30 million people. Not a pleasant notion for the South Koreans to find out about.

And there have been lots of proposals on this. Take out the nuclear sites. Or if you want to expand that, you take out the nuclear sites and try to blow up all the weapons along the DMZ. And then beyond that, simply try to decapitate the regime, or threaten nuclear retaliation if they retaliate.

The problem, of course, is all of this is a very dangerous experiment. I think the North Koreans would view a strike of any sort on their nuclear facilities in the context of regime change in Iraq, and threats of the United States and others over the years. They would assume that it’s part of a regime change, and probably would strike back at the South—either a tit-for-tat retaliation on Seoul, or simply launch an entire war.

And there are other consequences, of course, of war. Nuclear fall-out, depending on where the prevailing winds take anything. It’s not at all clear we could get everything the North Koreans have.

And the question of relationships within East Asia, especially with South Korea. South Korea would bear the primary burden of any war. They would not be very pleased to see us take that option. So military options is not a very good one in trying to deal with this.

There’re economic sanctions, as Ivan mentioned. This one isn’t very good as well. The problem with the North Koreans, of course, is they’re quite willing to accept hardship. That is, the regime itself is happy to accept hardship on behalf of its people.

So Kim Jong-Il does quite well and eats lobster and drinks Chivas Regal and a number of other things, but he’s quite happy to have half a million of his people starve. It’s not at all clear that we can impose sanctions sufficient to change that calculus that he has made.

There’s also a possibility of sparking conflict, to the extent that sanctions really work. One again could imagine a regime willing to strike out.

Most important, it’s not at all clear that China and South Korea are willing to go along. If you want sanctions to work against North Korea, you’ve got to deal with the two countries that currently provide the most benefits to North Korea. The Chinese provide food and oil. The South Koreans provide a whole bunch of benefits, financial benefits and others.

They recently—kind of astoundingly, to my mind—cut off rice shipments, because they were frustrated with the North Korean behavior, but it’s very rare for them to cut off anything for the North. South Korea’s behavior has generally been to ship lots of aid to the North, because they’re hoping to pacify the north, despite its past behavior.

So it’s not at all clear to me that sanctions get us very far when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons. To the extent North Korea decides that it wants nuclear weapons, the regime is probably willing to accept enormous economic hardship.

So we’re left with the diplomatic option, and the negotiations, and an idea of a grand bargain. And theoretically, it makes a lot of sense. The idea is you offer the North Koreans more or less anything you think a rational country could want—diplomatic relations, trade, aid, membership in international organizations, respect, inclusion, whatnot.

The question at the end of the day, of course, is how valuable does Kim Jong-Il view his nuclear program? Is he prepared to give it up, even if you come up with the right package of benefits?

For much of the Bush administration we had no idea, because the Bush administration refused to talk to the North Koreans. I find it kind of odd how one thinks one achieves much that way. So after six years of refusing to talk to them, suddenly the Bush administration decided, yes, let’s talk to them, after they had reprocessed enough plutonium, we think, to give them another eight or ten nuclear weapons. That is a rather curious policy, needless to say.

So we have the February agreement, which we’ve gone through a soap opera, over the last couple of months, of whether or not the North Koreans get their $25 million back. And apparently, we’ve finally gotten it to them through a Russian bank. They’ve invited in nuclear inspectors. So I’m waiting for the next round. You see, the North Koreans like to play this game, and there is always a little bit of progress, and then suddenly, there is a new demand, or a new problem, or something.

So we’ll see where it goes. It is at least conceivable, I’m quite prepared to admit, that this deal will work out. But past experience suggests that we should be rather cautious in our expectations. I think what we see is a worthwhile effort, but let’s have no illusions about the likelihood of it working.

So then, one can try to say well, are there alternative pressure points, alternative strategies? And to the extent there is an alternative strategy, it’s relying on China. Because China has the most influence. China has the most power. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago that argued what we should do is convince the Chinese to invade North Korea. And I thought, yes, that or the Martians may come as well, or whatever. I mean, I’m sure there are solutions out there, but we have to get real.

You know, China is going to act on its interest. China certainly is not interested in staging an invasion. The question is, is China willing to put enormous economic pressure on the regime, try to stir things up within the regime? But we would have to convince the Chinese that it’s in their interest to do so—kind of making bleating statements about the international community are not likely to move Beijing very far. And there are arguments to suggest that North Korea should be concerned, or that China should be concerned about North Korea’s behavior.

There’s an increased threat of war as long as North Korea is puttering around with a nuclear program. If nothing else, we’ve threatened it. So from China’s standpoint, that’s not a very good thing.

China also fears economic collapse, fears what might happen to a North Korean regime, just as the South does. The fears of millions of refuges pouring over the border. Today, China sends its refugees back to the tender mercies of Kim Jong-Il’s police and labor camps. But if you suddenly were dealing with not tens of thousands but millions of refugees, you know, China does not like that possibility.

And China presumably would not like the possibility of proliferation throughout the region. And I think that the best hook that we have to deal with China is to suggest that if North Korea decides to build a nuclear arsenal, wouldn’t it be a pity if South Korea, and Tokyo, and maybe even Taipei followed suit? And we wouldn’t have much inclination to stop them, because frankly, if the North has those weapons, why shouldn’t its neighbors have it as well?

My guess is that’s the kind of sentiment that China would not be appreciative of. Beijing certainly doesn’t want nuclear weapons in Tokyo. It certainly doesn’t want them on the island of Taiwan. It probably wouldn’t like to see them in South Korea. And that strikes me as being a low-key private kind of argument to make to the Chinese. But even so, again, does China have the wherewithal or the willingness to try to force North Korea? It’s not clear to me.

So in this case, if none of those work, then we’re stuck with the issue of living with North Korea. What do we do? Are we prepared for North Korean nuclear weapons?

In thinking about that, I think it’s worthwhile to ask why does the North want nuclear weapons? There tends to be an assumption, I think on the part of some folks, that obviously they want them for aggression. The North wants to build a bunch of bombs to drop them on people.

I think, in fact, that’s rather unlikely. The North Koreans are evil, not stupid. They certainly understand that an attack on the U.S. would earn overwhelming utter destruction, and so long as there is a nuclear umbrella over South Korea or Japan, the same thing would happen. So the North Koreans understand that. Kim Jong-Il, I think, is rational, though evil.

I think there are other reasons, one of which is deterrence. Let’s face it. Put yourself in the shoes of Pyongyang. You look across the border to the South. South Korea has 40 times the GDP, twice the population. It’s aligned with the United States, you know, the unipower, the great superpower.

And basically, it’s also aligned with the hated Japanese, and those South Koreans who’ve kind of been tools of the U.S. for all that time. And all your allies have fled. I mean, China and Russia aren’t going to save you. That’s all in the past.

So from a North Korean standpoint, having a couple of nukes is probably a good thing. It’s the best way to try to preserve your regime, or your system, as North Koreans once told me, their social system, as they referred to it.

You can certainly see a desire for deterrents against the United States. It would not be unusual for the North Koreans to look around the world and say, gee, the U.S. likes to bomb other countries. It can be Serbia. It might be Bosnia. It might be Iraq. The best way to make sure you move from the category of being bombed, to the country of doing the bombing, is to have nuclear weapons.

So again, I think the U.S. may have inadvertently encouraged the creation of nuclear arsenals in other countries because, frankly, that’s the best mechanism to ensure that the U.S. never, ever tries to engage in regime change in your country.

There’s also the matter of prestige. Let’s be frank. Who on earth would care what the North Koreans did unless they had nuclear weapons? Other than humanitarianism, which is a serious concern, but in a geopolitical context, who cares?

A country of 23 million people starving, isolated, absolutely no ability to influence events, not really part of the international economy—frankly, nobody would pay the slightest attention. Kim Jong-Il would be a comic figure but not really known. Today, he is a figure who sets the front pages alight in London, New York, in Washington, D.C., in Seoul, and Tokyo simply by making a pronouncement or testing a weapon. The whole world pays attention to this man. So he gains enormous prestige from the nuclear developments.

There’s clearly also a value here in attempting to get bribes. You know, if you want to get aid, if you want new power plants, if you want any number of other things, waving that nuclear weapon around may be very helpful.

And I think he also wants direct contact with the U.S. The U.S. has no diplomatic relations. Until recently, it refused to talk to the north. Again, the best way to try to confront and deal with and get attention of the superpower is nuclear weapons.

So all of those are reasons why I think they may want them. I’d still like to see us try to dissuade them from getting them. The question is what to do if they get them?

I think, number one, is it makes sense to have diplomatic relations with the North. We need a window into that society. We need a mechanism of dialogue. Diplomatic relations are really a very small price to pay. We had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union for decades. We had diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany. We’ve had diplomatic relations with virtually every ugly, nasty regime on earth. I think it makes sense. It’s not confirming the value of their system, it’s merely indicating that we need that window and that dialogue.

Second, I think we should pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. South Korea has the conventional means to defend itself. The worst thing in South Korea is to provide thousands of nuclear hostages for the North. What we conveniently do today is have tens of thousands of Americans within reach of a North Korean nuclear weapon. That doesn’t make any sense, and those troops are not needed on the conventional side.

We also need to make clear that there is a very clear red line, and that’s proliferation. You know, I think Kim Jong-Il wants his virgins in the here and now. I don’t think he wants to go to heaven to get them. If we make very clear to him that proliferation is a very bad idea, that if we find any evidence of transfer of those weapons, that we would view that as a casus belli and we’d be prepared to take out the regime.

And it would be the regime. It’s not just Kim Jong-Il’s palace, it would be the entire Korean Worker’s Party establishment. We need to make it clear to all of his friends and relatives that they also would suffer in that case.

I think the U.S. also wants to remind North Korea of the power of our arsenal, that we would certainly respond in a very negative fashion if he tried anything against the United States.

And I think we also ultimately have to rethink the question of our nuclear umbrella, and do we want to allow, if not encourage, nuclear proliferation in the region? Our challenge is, do we want a region where only the bad guys have nuclear weapons, or the potential bad guys? Do we like an East Asia where it’s North Korea and China who we worry about the future, and Russia, who we have some concerns about today, who have nuclear weapons, and nobody else? In which case, we are expected to use our nuclear arsenal to protect our friends in the case of any dispute, any potential concern.

That’s an issue I think we need to debate. Do we want to have the United States on the line in any dispute that comes out of East Asia? Are we likely to find participants in the region questioning that deterrent? Are we really willing to risk Los Angeles for Taipei, or Tokyo, or Seoul? Indeed, are we willing to? That’s a question we have to ask.

We also have to wonder about the impact of a nuclear deterrent on the behavior of our friends in that context. The question of Taiwan, for example. Is Taiwan more likely to pursue independence in the assumption we will defend them from China, including using nuclear weapons? Does that make Taiwan more aggressive? Does that set in motion a whole set of events that might be rather dangerous in the region? So that’s an issue I throw out.

I think we need to talk about that. We should talk about it before we come to that issue. Do we want to maintain an umbrella, in that case, or do we want to talk about democratic friends having countervailing arsenals? A very controversial argument, but one we need to discuss and confront, as opposed to sweep under the bed.

In the end, I would argue non-proliferation is a very useful goal, but it’s a tool. It’s a tool for promoting a more peaceful world.

So the question is ultimately, how do you promote it? How do you get there? I think using war to promote non-proliferation generally is not a very good and a very effective mechanism to do so. There are lots of ways we can try to dissuade North Korea from building nuclear weapons, but we also need plan B. We need to think about what to do if they move ahead with them. We need to look for creative strategies in terms of dealing with North Korea, both to dissuade them from building nuclear weapons, and to deal with them if they do so.

Living with a nuclear North Korea is likely to be very unpleasant, but it might not be the worst alternative that we face. We need to discuss those alternatives. Thank you.

Audience Members


Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I’d like to thank our three presenters for excellent presentations. And I’ll ask the first question, and then we’ll throw it out to the audience.

Whenever you go to a forum on international affairs, the discussion always seems to stray from what is the actual threat to the U.S. We say Iran’s going to get nuclear weapons, or North Korea’s going to get nuclear weapons. And since the U.S is the superpower, everyone expects that the threat seems to be very vague—the threat lacks specificity. And therefore, we seem to think that just because they do get nuclear weapons, they’re a threat to the U.S.

Now, our speakers have more specific, but I’d like to draw one thing. It seems, from the presentations, that the major threat to the U.S. of these countries getting nuclear weapons is not that they’re going to launch a nuclear attack against the United States, because we have a lot more warheads. We have thousands of warheads, and they’ll have a few warheads. Our warheads—we have command and control over them. They may not have very good command and control over theirs. So our system works a lot better than theirs will. So that may not be the biggest threat.

It seems that the biggest threat is that they will either sell or give these weapons to terrorist groups. Now the one way to deter that is, of course, to be able to trace this back. So if a terrorist group gets a weapon and blows it up on U.S. soil, we can determine who gave it to them.

Now in the case of North Korea, I think we have a good idea, although I’m going to throw this over to Doug and then to Trita. To what extent can we trace nuclear material from Iran and North Korea in case they would give it to a terrorist group? The fact that you could trace it would be a deterrent for them to do that in the first place, because they would then face the wrath of the U.S. nuclear arsenal on their soil. Doug, do you want to go first?

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

Sure. It strikes me that, yeah, the primary American interest involved in North Korean is nuclear proliferation. That is, further proliferation to non-state actors. We clearly can deter the North Koreans from acting directly against us.

The other interest clearly is a question of America’s allies, particularly so long as we have a nuclear umbrella, then we’re involved. So if you imagine a situation where the U.S. promises to use nuclear weapons to defend South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia—I don’t know, whoever else we want to throw into the package—and the North Koreans have a nuclear weapon, then we have managed to get ourselves in the middle of a rather potentially unstable messy situation. Even though I still don’t think the north is likely to use them against its neighbors, we’ve suddenly created a separate issue for ourselves that I think implicates our interest.

I mean, obviously, tracing what goes on an airplane, what goes on a ship is going to be imperfect.

I think the critical thing to emphasize is they could never be certain of getting away with it. And if they attempted and we found it, the regime would fall. I think that if you give them an alternative way to make money, that is, you enter into the international economy, and you do a number of other things, you can take care of yourselves. And you say, if you try to raise money this way, the penalty of failure is very, very high.

I’d prefer to have them not have nuclear weapons. But I think I would rely on deterrents that way, that they’d have to understand if they are found out, the penalty can be exceptional.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Well, I understand after their nuclear test, Bush made a pretty direct threat to them, that if they did cross the red line, and they did give it to any other nation, or group –

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

And they’ve indicated they understand that.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute


Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

Their rhetoric—they distinguish between having an arsenal and providing it to others.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Right. And I understand after the inspectors were in North Korea for a while, that they have a library that they can trace. I’m not sure about Iran. What about Iran on that? Do you know anything about how much of a library the U.S. has on their nuclear material?

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Guild

I don’t think much. But at the same time, I would say a couple of things that makes this scenario quite unlikely.

One, the Israelis have already signaled to Iran that any terrorist attack with WMDs, chemical, biological, or nuclear, that would take place against Israel, Israel will immediately retaliate against Iran. Even during the Lebanon war last year, the Israelis signaled that any attack by long-range missiles from Hezbollah on Israel against cities south off Haifa would lead to an Israeli retaliation against Iran. No long-distance missile was used by Hezbollah against Israel, even though [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah had promised that he would do it. And this was seen by people in Israel as effective deterrence against Iran.

So I think the Iranians, much like the other regimes there, they have a tremendous amount of problems. This is not an easy government to deal with. More than anything, it’s mistreating its own people worse than anyone else.

But, this is not a suicidal regime. If they were suicidal, they would have committed suicide in the past 28 years. They haven’t. On the contrary, they have achieved probably a stronger position now than ever before. That’s hardly the track record of a suicidal state.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I think we’ll open it up to the audience here. And please, wait for the microphone, and then state your name and your affiliation. We’ll go with Marie, right over here.

Audience Member

I’m interested in the panelists’ thoughts on what is most doable in Congress today to help prevent a military strike on Iran.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Anyone like to take that one? Trita?

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Guild

I think Congress can play a very critical role, primarily by not standing in the way of diplomacy.

Right now, the Bush administration, after six years, has finally made a rather important decision, which is to talk to the Iranians in Iraq about Iraq.

Obviously, diplomacy on such a narrow issue is unlikely to succeed, unless it is broadened. But there are many, many threats to this very, very fragile process of diplomacy right now. One of them is coming from the hardliners in front of Iran, who seem to have been motivated to arrest these four Iranian-American scholars precisely to poison the atmosphere and make it more difficult for diplomacy to succeed.

This is a pattern that we’ve seen in Tehran in the past. Whenever there’s been an opportunity for diplomacy between the United States and Iran, some elements in Iran who prefer the status quo have taken rather radical actions in order to make it as difficult as possible.

Congress is currently considering various sanctions acts, the same sanctions that have been imposed in the past that have not been successful. But under these circumstances, when diplomacy has taken its first small steps, to impose sanctions in the middle of that can very likely have the effect of causing another major threat, or undermining effort against this very fragile diplomatic process.

So right now, perhaps Congress should do nothing. And keep in mind that the Democratic majority in Congress right now was actually elected to prevent or stop the war in Iraq. That would probably expand also to making sure that another war is not started.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Okay. Right here?

Audience Member

I think that we’re stuck in a model of the past. First of all, we’ve relied on the nation state and the leadership too much. And the nation state sometimes separates from the interests of the people and the population.

Two, I think if we had spent the same amount of money we have on the defense in the Middle East on Israel, and so forth, on co-development projects between different groups of people—so they have something at stake and they would lose something—I think we would have been much better off.

Three, in the past kings and queens used to protect each other through intermarriage. They used to send their children here and there. I think we have to intermingle our populations throughout the world so that when somebody thinks of bombing somebody else, they’re thinking of bombing some of their own people, be it their children or whatever.

So the point I’m getting at is that we’re at a terrible point now where we really have to rethink.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Our speakers have mentioned some things that we could do besides simply deterrence. For instance, helping these countries, maybe even in secret, work on their safety and security specifics. If the Musharaff fell, if the Iranian regime fell, if the North Korean regime fell, and they had nuclear weapons, could they be able to render the weapons safe so that no group or individual would get a hold of the weapons? Also, improving their security of the weapons.

Doug mentioned diplomatic relations, reintegrating these countries into the world politically and economically. I think Trita was mentioning that perhaps sanctions, or isolating these regimes, is not the way to go.

And the third line is with the red line on proliferation. Is there anything else we could do if these countries get nuclear weapons that would help out along the reintegration lines?

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

Well, I think in general that economic sanctions are a problem, because they prevent private consensual contact below the level of government. I certainly agree that at times governments don’t represent their societies very well.

I think the challenge is that there are no easy answers on this sort of thing. Governments go to war. Nationalism is very powerful. I mean, look at China. Nationalism is very strong in China.

The people of China are probably more nationalistic, and at times, even more antagonistic to the U.S. than their government has been, for example, during the EB-3 incident—the spy plane, when it came down in 2001. To the extent we can measure popular opinion, the Chinese people seem to be irritated that their government was taking too soft a line with the United States. So even private person-to-person stuff doesn’t always work.

And while I appreciate the idea of intermingling populations, in World War I Kaiser Wilhelm ended up in war against his cousin, Czar Nicholas, and his uncle, the king, in Britain. So there were a lot of inter-marriages in Europe prior to World War I, and they still went off into a slugfest, killed 16 million people, ruined the continent and set the stages for another war. So we have an internal challenge, I think here, of dealing with war and peace, nationalism, and a lot of other things.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

What about this gentleman right here?

Audience Member

Thank you. One question that I wanted to get a little more on is this whole identification of a nuke that might be given to terrorists. I think the problem is wider than just the nuke. A. Q. Kahn, for example, provided a lot of technology, a lot of assistance on how to build a nuke. And the more nuke powers we have, the more of this kind of expertise is likely to filter down to terrorist groups.

Maybe they already have it. Maybe they’re already getting it on the Internet. But I think we’re a little bit too complacent. We don’t worry about terrorists taking advantage of it.

And another point, more specific on North Korea, and the suggestion that maybe we should be promoting more nuclear powers in Asia, like Japan and South Korea, and take away the umbrella—I think that would be a very dangerous move and that we ought to be thinking of some kind of creative new agreement, say, with Tokyo and South Korea, to give them more confidence in our nuclear umbrella, perhaps beef it up, but not take it away. Thank you.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Thank you. I think I’ll let Chuck deal with the first part, and maybe Doug deal with the second part. Go ahead.

Charles Pena
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I don’t think any of us are necessarily suggesting we shouldn’t worry about countries potentially leaking material or technology to terrorist groups. I just don’t think it’s necessarily the conventional wisdom doom and gloom picture that is often painted for us.

There’s some good news here. I mean, despite all that A. Q. Kahn did, the reality is, it’s really hard for a bunch of guys sitting in a dark room in some musty apartment, in wherever part of the world, to build a nuclear weapon. I mean, you look at what it takes to build a nuclear weapon—it takes a pretty decent infrastructure to build. I mean, you have to be a somewhat developed country, devoting lots and lots of resources.

The bigger fear is that terrorists get their hands on a ready-made weapon, not that they get their hands on the technology. You can go on the Web probably, and find out at least enough engineering-wise. And it’s just science. And the bottleneck is material, whether it’s highly enriched uranium, or weapons-grade plutonium, to build an actual weapon.

And so the good news is that it’s hard for a small group to build a weapon completely on their own, without state aid, and without access to the kind of infrastructure that countries have to build these things.

So yes, we need to be concerned, but again, I think the question is how you put that concern in perspective, and then what policies you put in place to prevent things from happening that you don’t want to happen.

You raise the question of nuclear forensics, and the like. Trying to trace back whether from detonation, or you believe that there is a loose nuke somewhere, is a needle-in-the-haystack type effort. The only way you will find out is sheer, dumb luck. That’s just the reality of it.

So the best thing you possibly can do, and where you should put most of your efforts, is stopping it at the source. We’re doing that with Russia, and the former Soviet Union, and for the first time, some states outside of the former Soviet states, with cooperative threat reduction.

In terms of thinking creatively, what are the things we can do that we’re doing in cooperative threat reduction that might apply to regimes like Pakistan, North Korea, possibly even Iran?

That requires very creative thinking because you’re talking about how you would cooperate, at least in the case of North Korea and Iran, with countries where their regimes don’t exactly like us, and we don’t exactly like them. Can we find some common ground that makes sense for both? To the extent that we have to be prepared for the failure of non-proliferation efforts, that’s what we have to begin to focus on.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Am I wrong? But Kahn sold his technology, I believe, to governments rather than groups, right? Because people in governments tend to do what they do with other people in governments, rather than to groups.

That’s not to say it’s impossible that he could have sold it to terrorists, but I think that even people who are doing these types of things kind of recognize the dangers of doing that. Doug, the second part of the question.

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

No. I recognize that to suggest that perhaps we should accept further proliferation can cause cardiac arrest.

Let me suggest the problem is, what is our underlying assumption? Is it that non-proliferation is the highest goal, or that American security is the highest goal? To my mind, we cannot assume that a priori non-proliferation is necessarily the highest goal. So maybe it is, but we have to sit down and think about it, think it through.

In some cases, I think proliferation is inevitable. I don’t believe there’s anything we could have done to India or Pakistan to stop that train once it started moving. And I think we’ve probably set ourselves back with the relationship with India by penalizing them to stop them from building weapons that they were going to build.

And I guess my thought experiment would be, would it make sense for the U.S. to go tomorrow to both New Delhi and Islamabad and say, I’ll tell you guys what. If you give up your bombs, we’ll offer a nuclear guarantee to each of you. Would we want to do that? Would we want to put the United States on the line in terms of guaranteeing the security of both of those countries, which have enormous kind of difficulties with each other?

I think my reaction is to say, no thank you. I’d want to stay out as opposed to get in.

Imagine in the year 2020 or 2030—and I hope this doesn’t happen—but let us assume a nationalistic aggressive PRC, one which people who write books like Showdown: Coming War with China seem to have in mind. So let us posit an aggressive nationalistic PRC, a nationalistic-fascistic Russia, and, as usual, an unstable, poor, messy, North Korea. They are the only ones who have nuclear weapons in East Asia. And the U.S. is expected to insure against them South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Do we want the U.S. to put the full faith and credit of its own cities, such as Los Angeles, on the line, to ensure that the Taiwanese don’t go and declare independence and get the Chinese mad, and the Chinese will decide we won’t defend them? Do we want to make sure we’re going to guarantee if the Chinese start shooting at the Filipinos over the Spratly Islands? Any number of things.

So I simply throw that out, that a nuclear umbrella is not costless. It is risky. So we need to debate whether that risk is greater or lesser than other options out there, including proliferation among Democratic allies.

I’m not saying that that is necessarily a good solution, but it’s not clear to me that our current policy is a good one, either.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I always thought it was interesting that even during the Cold War, when the Soviets had a big tank army in Europe, our policy was essentially if the tank army comes, we’re going nuclear first. It could escalate, and we’re putting our cities. So as bad as the Soviets invading Europe was, I think it would have been worse if we were going on the idea that we’ll never have to honor this commitment.

And we do this all the time. We’ve expanded NATO. We’ll never have to honor, it’s just a political thing. But sometimes, the cost of that can be pretty high.

The other thing is, some political scientists say that the more nuclear weapon states than we now have might be more stable. So this is not a half-cocked opinion at all. Right here?

Audience Member

I’m a social scientist, and I study cycles of violence, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism. And I think one of the reasons it doesn’t seem like there are good answers is because we’re operating in a paradigm that has no end game and provokes escalation. And we’ve seen that brought by threats, coercion, and even rewards and punishment, which creates unintended consequences, also increases fear, humiliation, which increase cycles of violence.

And even deterrence is not reliable. Sometimes it breaks down. It works best when it’s accompanied by drastic tension reduction, and you also have spiral theory. So we sort of have the combination of spiraling deterrents.

What Trita mentioned, the freeze-by-freeze, I think, is a step in the right direction.

In terms of being creative, rely on sound principles from conflict studies, where tension reduction is an organizing principle. And also, the Grand Bargain is consistent with a strategy known as GRIT—Graduated and Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension Reduction, which starts with a unilateral initiative that reduces tension.

And I guess my last point is that proliferation is inevitable as long as the United States doesn’t abide by Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As long as we have our nuclear weapons, we have to sort of look at the effect that we have on countries around the world, and paranoia –

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

I want to argue your last point with the panelists here. To what extent would reductions in our own nuclear forces be at least somewhat of an incentive for other countries not to adopt these weapons?

Charles Pena
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Well, I think, first of all, even though it’s certainly an honorable goal, a nuclear-free world—I think most people would agree that that might be a better world than we live in today. I just think we can’t get there. That’s not the real world, and there are reasons why countries are going to always have incentives to acquire nuclear weapons.

And in fact, I raise in the paper the sort of pragmatic question. If the United States chose to disarm itself—as did the other nuclear powers—who’s going to enforce the freeze? I mean, what happens when somebody cheats? The cheater then suddenly has the upper hand once they have weapons and you don’t.

So there are real practical considerations to the United States’ ability to honor the NPT. And in fact, I think the NPT is a false bargain. It’s worse than trying to sell somebody the Brooklyn Bridge.

Why would any country agree not to develop nuclear weapons that doesn’t have them now, in exchange for the United States and the other nuclear powers giving up something that they already have? That defies common sense. Nobody in their right mind would enter into that kind of bargain.

The NPT is sort of like gun control. Law-abiding citizens, law-abiding countries obey the law under the NPT. It’s the outliers that you have to worry about. And they’re not going to obey the law no matter how you structure the treaty. So we’ve just got to deal with that reality.

It might help if we reduced our arsenal. At least, it would be an act of good faith. But given the current environment, again, I think regimes say no, either I need them or I don’t need them, and they have reasons for them, not just that the United States behaved in a particular way.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Did anybody have a question on Iran?

Audience Member

Several of you talked about grand bargains, but also the importance of deterrence. How do you make a grand bargain with a country like Iran right now, without undercutting your deterrence at the same time? Don’t you need to show the stick, at least in some aspect? And how do you do that without marching towards war, without creating more instability?

We’ve seen the reports that Iran is aiding insurgents in Iraq that are killing American troops. If you offered a grand bargain now, don’t you completely undercut your deterrents? Or don’t you need to rattle the saber somewhat, so that they will actually agree to a bargain?

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Let’s let Trita answer, if you can.

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Guild

I don’t think anyone would have suggested that you completely get rid of your stick. The problem right now is that all we have is the stick. It’s not so that if there was a real offer to have comprehensive talks, that that would undermine the sick in any way, shape, or form. The stick is there. Everyone knows it. I don’t think the United States needs to prove it every five seconds. It’s there.

The major problem right now though, with focusing so much on the stick, is that there’s such a tremendous amount of distrust between the two countries. So even when an offer for negotiation is being made, both sides see that solely as a tactical maneuver in order to wield the stick later on, and exercise the stick.

So the more we continue to think that if we’re not constantly talking about the military action we come across as weak, we’re actually undermining our ability to be able to have credibility when we truly want diplomacy.

Doug Bandow
Vice-President, Policy, Citizen Outreach

If I could just add, I think especially in today’s context that where force has been used almost frivolously in Iraq—I mean, without planning, without consideration of consequences—we certainly want to think very carefully before threatening. That’s certainly one aspect, I think, of the discussion on Iran, is we need to be more careful because, frankly, the debacle in Iraq, and the way I think force was misused there.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Do we really have much of a negotiating hand with Iran anymore? It seems like Iran now holds most of the cards in this. They can disrupt our operations in Iraq, kill our people. We’re in a pretty weak position now vis-à-vis where we were before, right?

Trita Parsi
President, National Iranian American Guild

True. I think, compared to where we were before, clearly the Iranians are in a better position now.

But the lesson we should learn is, what is the cost of delay? When the United States was in a very, very strong position and the Iranians were in a rather weak position, the Bush administration chose not to negotiate. The argument now is, we want to get back to that situation in which we’re strong and the Iranians are weaker, before we negotiate. The problem is that while we’re trying to do so, we’re actually making the military option the most likely option to succeed. We’re undermining diplomacy.

And at the end of the day, we have to remember even though Iran is in a stronger position today than it was three years ago, the U.S. has weakened itself, the U.S. is still the world’s sole super power, Iran is still a third world country. Let’s not forget hat.

Ivan Eland
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Okay, I have to cut it off here. I promised our speakers that we would be out of here by 12:30 and into the refreshment phase. So I invite you all to join us for refreshments afterwards. And thanks for coming, and thanks for our speakers. It was fun.

Audience Members



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