2002 September 27 Friday
Kenneth Pollack on Containment, Deterrence, Preemption

In an essay in March/April 2002 issue of Foreign Affairs Kenneth Pollack (author of the recently released The Threatening Storm) reviews the decay of the efficacy of sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime and their failure to prevent him from acquiring militarily useful technologies (technologies needed to develop WMD being of greatest concern), the unlikelihood that the containment approach can be improved, and the inadequacy of deterrence as a fall-back position:

Ironically, in practice the smart sanctions probably would not do much more than briefly stave off containment's collapse. Right now the U.N. uses its control over Iraq's contracts to determine what goes into and out of the country legally. The system is policed through U.N. (read U.S.) scrutiny of every Iraqi contract -- a cumbersome and glacially slow process that still fails to stop Saddam's massive smuggling activities. The Bush administration's proposal would shift the enforcement burden away from the U.N. and onto Iraq's neighbors and try to shut down illegal trade by buying the cooperation of those states through which it would have to pass -- Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). The problem is that all these countries profit from the smuggling, all have populations opposed to enforcing the sanctions, and all except the GCC and Iran are now highly vulnerable to Iraqi economic pressure. So no matter what they may say publicly, none of them is likely to help much in blocking the flow of oil, money, and contraband.

Saddam does not calculate risks in the same manner that advocates of deterrence rely upon in their arguments:

Nevertheless, Saddam has a number of pathologies that make deterring him unusually difficult. He is an inveterate gambler and risk-taker who regularly twists his calculation of the odds to suit his preferred course of action. He bases his calculations on assumptions that outsiders often find bizarre and has little understanding of the larger world. He is a solitary decision-maker who relies little on advice from others. And he has poor sources of information about matters outside Iraq, along with intelligence services that generally tell him what they believe he wants to hear. These pathologies lie behind the many terrible miscalculations Saddam has made over the years that flew in the face of deterrence -- including the invasion of Iran in 1980, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the decision to fight for Kuwait in 1990-91, and the decision to threaten Kuwait again in 1994.

It is thus impossible to predict the kind of calculations he would make about the willingness of the United States to challenge him once he had the ability to incinerate Riyadh, Tel Aviv, or the Saudi oil fields. He might well make another grab for Kuwait, for example, and once in possession dare the United States to evict him and risk a nuclear exchange. During the Cold War, U.S. strategists used to fret that once the Soviet Union reached strategic parity, Moscow would feel free to employ its conventional forces as it saw fit because the United States would be too scared of escalation to respond. Such fears were plausible in the abstract but seem to have been groundless because Soviet leaders were fundamentally conservative decision-makers. Saddam, in contrast, is fundamentally aggressive and risk-acceptant. Leaving him free to acquire nuclear weapons and then hoping that in spite of his track record he can be deterred this time around is not the kind of social science experiment the United States government should be willing to run.

The rest of the article goes on to describe the many differences between the Taliban regime and Saddam's regime and why an attack patterned after the attack on the Taliban would not overthrow Saddam.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 27 02:22 PM  US Foreign Preemption, Deterrence, Containment


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