… And Then There Were No Rogue States

A few days ago, Chatterbox pointed out that the term “rogue state” would be difficult to apply to North Korea if Kim Jong-il continued down the path toward reconciliation with South Korea. Yesterday, Chatterbox pointed out that even if North Korea remained a rogue state, it would be awkward to use North Korea to justify building a Star Wars-type missile defense because a Pentagon-appointed panel doesn’t think said defense can become successfully operational before 2005, the year North Korea’s nuclear missiles are projected to be able to strike U.S. soil.

Chatterbox’s solution was to invite readers to find a new rogue state that could justify building a missile shield. (In the end, the honors went to Djibouti.) The State Department, however, chose a different line of attack: eliminate use of the term “rogue state” altogether! Henceforth, naughty countries will be labeled “states of concern.” (Chatterbox prefers Kausfiles’ proposed alternative, “louche states.”) Here is Secretary of State Madeleine Albright unveiling the new policy yesterday to interviewer Diane Rehm on National Public Radio:

Rehm:Well, you know, the U.S. has called North Korea a rogue state. Is its leader, Kim Jong-il, a rogue leader?Albright:Well, first of all, we are now calling these states “states of concern” because we are concerned about their support for terrorist activity, their development of missiles, their desire to disrupt the international system. They remain–North Korea remains on the terrorist list, and we are going to really be looking at how this relationship develops.Things don’t change overnight, Diane. This is clearly an important development. We want to see how the North-South relationship evolves from the statements that they signed. We have to make sure that North Korea is not a threat.But one thing that has happened, we agreed in September of last year to ease the sanctions, and they are being eased. We have an announcement now in the Federal Register for consumer goods to go in. Nothing that can be used for strategic purposes or dual use. And some American businessmen are looking at some small investment deals, so there’s a possibility here of change, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

According to the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson (who could scarcely contain his mirth), it fell to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher to elaborate:

Boucher said, however, that purging “rogue states” from the official lexicon did not mean the Clinton administration was going soft on the States Formerly Known As Rogues.“If we see a development that we think is in U.S. interest, we will respond–if we see ‘states of concern’ that continue to be of concern because they are not willing to deal with some of the issues we are concerned about,” he said, narrowly circumventing a state of confusion. “Whew!” he added.

The main benefit of the change is that it will allow the United States greater flexibility in dealing with bad-guy countries. The main drawback to the change is that it catches advocates of a missile shield with their pants down: Now, in addition to not having North Korea to justify building a missile defense system, they don’t have any other “rogue states” either. Just picture the president of the United States trying to justify abrogating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by citing the threat from “states of concern”! A “rogue state” is a dangerous rascal. A “state of concern” is merely one whose behavior is (to borrow a favorite parenting weasel word) “inappropriate.” It is a nation that should be sent to bed without any dessert.

The change will surely dismay Defense Secretary William Cohen, who, Mufson reports, used the term “rogue nations” on Russian state television just last week. It will probably be mocked by George W. Bush, who three days ago referred to “rogue nations and terrorist threats, the spread of weapons of mass destruction” in a speech to the Florida chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars. But the new lingo seems to please the State Department. Why? Well, maybe Madeleine Albright doesn’t want to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Maybe she thinks that the alternative to international law is international anarchy. Maybe she thinks the whole idea of rushing to approve a missile shield is dictated more by election-year politics than by common sense. If so, she’s right.

[Addendum, June 20: Chatterbox should have noted that at yesterday’s State Department press briefing the missile shield issue was brought up. Boucher’s response was a stream of bureaucratic gibberish apparently intended to leave President Clinton, publicly, maximum leeway to decide however he wishes about the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Here’s the exchange:

Q: This is more than just semantics, partly because this administration, in justifying publicly the need for a national missile defense, was that it would guard against “rogue states,” not against the former Soviet Union, for example. Now, since it was the category, and it was the justification for a national missile defense, does the term of reference for national missile defense change at all?Boucher:  No, absolutely not. The threat that the president–one of the four criteria the president’s going to have to deal with is not based on what term we’re using for places, it’s based on the fact that there are nations out there who are developing missile capabilities who do not appear to be bound by the traditional strategic stability that exists, for example, between the United States and Russia, because of the network of treaties that are involved.Therefore, we need to look at other ways of dealing with that new threat that’s emerging, and the president will look at the threat and the cost and the feasibility and the nature of the international arms control regime, as we’ve said, in making that determination. This is not a cookie-cutter approach; it’s an attempt to say that we have to deal with each situation as it comes.]

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.