Taming Rogue States

HAMBURG: Little frustrates parents more than a child that refuses to behave. Few challenges irritate modern states as much as countries that contravene the basic conventions of international conduct. But even more than parents of naughty children, the international community is often helpless in dealing with "rogue states" that refuse to conform. Like ill-tempered parents, it may also lose its cool.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is today’s chief rogue. Iran makes no bones about its desire to undermine the regimes of the Persian Gulf. It supports terrorists around the world. Only last April, a Berlin court concluded that Iran’s top leaders ordered the 1992 murders in Germany of four Iranian opposition leaders, and American investigators of the bomb attack on a US base in Saudi Arabia last summer seem convinced that here, too, Iran lit the fuse. Although party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran seeks technologies useful to building a nuclear device.

Like an old-fashioned teacher, America argues that punishment is the best educator. So Washington cancels diplomatic contacts, blocks US trade with Iran, and seeks international economic sanctions. If an element of revenge for the past humiliations America suffered from Iran intrudes, one cannot deny America’s logic: if a country refuses to play by the rules, it must suffer for it.

Europe and Japan, on the other hand, argue like modern pedagogues. A naughty child is only cured by dialogue and example. Because Europe and Japan are Iran’s major trading partners, instinct, inclination, and interests lead them to resist isolating Iran as the US urges. EU countries even refused to sever diplomatic relations after the Berlin verdict; true, with the exception of Greece, they recalled their ambassadors briefly, but more to placate their publics than impress Iran’s mullahs.