The role of America’s involvement — or lack thereof — with “rogue” countries was the subject of debate Tuesday evening at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, where students filled an auditorium to listen to opposing perspectives.
The debate, titled “Playing with Fire: The Perils and Pluses of Engaging with Rogue Regimes,” focused on how the U.S. should handle negotiations with countries that might be considered rogue, namely the North Korea, Iran and Syria.
The debate was the inaugural Spring Semester event of the OSU chapter of the Alexander Hamilton Society, a student organization with a goal to foster constructive dialogue of contemporary national and international issues.
“The topic of diplomatic engagement with hostile or rogue regimes is extremely timely and crucial given that our government is pushing to negotiate a ceasefire with the Assad regime in Syria and because of the recent Iran nuclear deal,” said Martin Lopez, president of the Alexander Hamilton Society OSU chapter and a third-year in political science.
The debate featured Michael Rubin, an author and scholar from the American Enterprise Institute, and Alexander Thompson, an OSU political science associate professor. The debate was moderated by Randall Schweller, another professor of political science.
Rubin argued that the U.S. should be hesitant to engage with rogue regimes, which he said aren’t always sincere and don’t “play by the same rules (non-rogue states) play by.”
“Short of having the stars align, when you engage in diplomacy you engage in dialogue in the hope that you can create a situation in which a door will open and you will have a diplomatic breakthrough,” Rubin said. “And what I would argue is that that seldom works.”
Rubin criticized what U.S. policy has been in regard to Syria and Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“What I see happening in Syria, it’s almost as if someone diagnosed a cancer at stage one, and we sat around debating whether or not to prescribe an aspirin while it metastasized to stage four,” Rubin said. “So ultimately, it’s all well and good to say we should engage and have our door open to engagement, but if it’s not done in conjunction with harder power, then the problem can metastasize.”
When it comes to North Korea and Iran, Rubin said he is hesitant to trust either country.
“What I worry about is the big loophole in the Iranian nuclear agreement, which is off-site work on the military aspects,” he said. “You can detect if Iran tries to dismantle centrifuges, but if they are doing mathematical modeling or warhead design, that can be cleaned off in about a day, and there is every indication that they are already doing that sort of thing in North Korea.”
Thompson, on the other hand, argued that the U.S. should be open to engagement with rogue regimes.
“Engagement has flexibility. Once you have used force, it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle and return to a more constructive relationship,” Thompson said.
A major advantage of engagement, Thompson argued, is that it is relatively cheap compared to the cost of economic sanctions or the use of military force, which are often the alternatives to engagement.
“Maybe you should try opening the door first before turning to more costly plans,” Thompson said. “A diplomatic approach is the best way to keep options open. We underestimate the value of engagement because engagement is usually a very long process.”