[OUTLOOK]In the footsteps of Qaddafi

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[OUTLOOK]In the footsteps of Qaddafi

The last few weeks have brought a spate of good news for Americans ― and none too soon for the Bush administration, whose public approval ratings fell like a rock in November. Saddam Hussein was captured, cowering in a hole, and now awaits trial. Former Secretary of State Jim Baker’s debt relief mission brought welcome pledges of help from friendly governments.
Iran announced the suspension of its uranium enrichment activities, at least temporarily, and accepted more rigorous spot inspections by the IAEA. And, most satisfying of all, Colonel Qaddafi, the West’s chief North African bogeyman for decades, agreed to scrap his weapons of mass destruction program, acquiesced in strict technical limits on his missile force, allowed intrusive verification of his weapons of mass destruction activities by U.S., British and IAEA inspectors, and promised to join in the war against terrorism.
Beyond this, his intelligence service has evidently been collaborating with Washington and London in fingering terrorist operatives and exposing the clandestine supply chain that has long supported illicit nuclear activities of “rogue states.” Already, revelations from Tripoli have impelled Pakistani authorities to acknowledge that yes, their scientists, acting out of greed or misguided nationalist zeal, have indeed assisted Iranian, Libyan, and North Korean weapons-related activities.
All in all, very welcome news. And the Libyan agreement has been particularly satisfying in Washington. European leaders like Javier Solana have gone out of their way to characterize the agreement as a diplomatic triumph, implying that it was a superior alternative to U.S. force in Iraq. But diplomacy does not unfold in a vacuum. No one can be certain what mixture of motives prompted the unanticipated change of heart. But in all likelihood it included fear of sticks as well as the lure of carrots.
It is noteworthy, for example, that negotiations with Tripoli commenced at roughly the moment when the U.S. attack on Iraq was imminent. It is also intriguing that Mr. Qaddafi chose as his interlocutors not the UN or the IAEA, but the British and the Americans.
Having put more than eighteen years of effort and resources into his weapons of mass destruction program, moreover, he could not have pulled the plug lightly. The economic impact of prolonged sanctions, the political effect of protracted diplomatic isolation, and the growing internal pressures from Islamic extremists may have persuaded Mr. Qaddafi that the survival of his regime required a dramatic change of course. The promise of Western investment, diplomatic recognition, and other forms of help presumably sealed the deal.
Still, what is striking is that London and Washington insisted on prompt and thorough verification of the colonel’s promise to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction before implementing concessions of their own. In the end, the administration is likely to give a bit itself ― not least, perhaps on the principle of “regime change” itself.
Pragmatists will acknowledge that striking a deal with a notorious tyrant may be a price well worth paying in the interest of garnering Mr. Qaddafi’s cooperation in the struggle against both terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Is that deal likely to inspire emulation in Pyeongyang? It is hard to say. There are, to be sure, some apt comparisons between Colonel Qaddafi and Kim Jong-il. Both are brutal despots who have displayed scant regard for the well-being of their peoples. Both have flirted extensively with terrorism as a tactic, and have even acknowledged this publicly. Both have invested heavily in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and have paid a high diplomatic and economic price for this.
Yet, there are dissimilarities as well. North Korea’s nuclear program appears far more advanced than Libya’s. The “Hermit Kingdom’s” threshold of pain also seems substantially higher.
And Pyeongyang is arguably less isolated from its immediate neighbors and capable of greater troublemaking in its region than is Tripoli. And bereft of oil, North Korea seeks hard currency by selling or bartering more dangerous commodities ― e.g. drugs and military equipment ― to anyone willing to pay hard cash.
Whatever Kim Jong-il’s current mindset, Mr. Qaddafi’s decision is timely, as is the Colonel’s warning to leaders of other “rogue states” that they should give up weapons of mass destruction or face “tragedy.” It is a reminder that negotiations can yield impressive results if the right incentives ― both positive and negative ― are in place. It could net a treasure trove for struggles that depend critically on intelligence. And it supplies a plausible alternative to Pyeongyang’s extortionist diplomacy for escaping isolation, enhancing security, accelerating economic growth and possibly providing life support for a fragile regime.
One can hope that Kim Jong-il may find the Colonel’s example intriguing. But one shouldn’t count on it.

* The writer, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, is a professor at Stanford University.

by Michael H. Armacost
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