29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Previously known as rogue
By Thomas Gorguissian
There are no "rogue states" anymore. The United States government, which has used this tag to name, blame and demonise specific countries since the mid 1990s, has decided to drop it. In its place the more palatable "states of concern" will be used. Announced on 19 June, this semantic shift coincided with Washington's decision to ease sanctions on North Korea to permit trade and investment with the communist former "rogue state" for the first time in a half century.
Ahead of her final diplomatic tour to the Far East, Europe and the Middle East under President Bill Clinton's Administration which ends in January 2001, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explained this discursive shift in an interview with Diane Rehm of National Public Radio. When asked about North Korea, Albright replied, "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..."
That same day State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, having declined to list all the countries that are now to be termed "states of concern," defended the change in language saying "It's not really a change in behaviour or policy or what we're doing as much as it is finding a better description, ... because a single description -- 'one size fits all' -- doesn't really fit any more."
The list of states deemed to be supporting terrorism now comprises seven countries -- of which five are in the Middle East. Along with North Korea and Cuba; Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Sudan are now to be called "states of concern."
"Rogue states" began to make its way into official lexicon in 1994 when it was used by then-National Security Adviser Anthony Lake in an article in the journal Foreign Affairs . In that piece, Lake asserted and delineated what he viewed as the responsibility of the US as the sole superpower in "confronting backlash states." According to Lake such states were characterised by the "chronic inability to engage constructively with the outside world."
As is always the case with "the echo chamber" effect in Washington, the term "rogue states" came to be used on a regular basis by members of Congress, too. The Washington Post reported that references to "rogue state" or "rogue nation" in the Congressional Record increased from three during the 1991-92 session, to 12 in 1993-94, 58 in 1995-96 and 75 in 1997-98.
When discussing specific states in relation to the terminology change, Boucher attempted to make the case that the shift is a positive development while downplaying speculation that it indicates a substantive shift in policy. "It's just a recognition that we have seen some evolution in different ways in different places and that we will deal appropriately with each one [state] based on the kind of evolution we're seeing." Mentioning Iran and Libya as states in which improvements had occurred, he hailed steps toward democratisation in Iran, while in the case of Libya he was more guarded. "We continue to stress the importance of Libya meeting the UN requirements on cooperation with the trial [of Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie bombing], even as we've noted in our terrorism report that they've taken a certain number of steps -- but not complete ones yet -- toward distancing themselves from certain terrorist groups." Notably, Boucher failed to discuss other former "rogues" such as Iraq.
As for Syria, the death of President Hafez Al-Assad was expected to delay the exertion of pressure on Damascus to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. But State Department diplomats were recently quoted as saying they would continue to pressure the new Syrian leader, Bashar Al-Assad, to end the presence of "terrorist groups" in his country, referring to Palestinian organisations opposed to the peace process.
As the term "rogue states" was being retired, detractors seemed eager to voice their criticism that its use was politically motivated, and counterproductive. Robert Litwak, author of Rogue States and US Foreign Policy, said in an interview with USA Today, "It was politically selective, not accepted by US allies, and made it look like a major contradiction when we sought to engage these nations, having put them all in a box."
Many observers in Washington caution that changes are not likely to be imminent in US dealings with those states "previously known as rogue" -- the State Department spokesman's precise phrase. While the old label is not there, those states, including the Arab ones, now have to contend with being called "countries of concern."