THOMAS NICHOLS: I should probably tell you who I am and my background as well. My name is Tom Nichols. I am the Chairman of the Strategy and Policy Department of the United States Naval War College. Previously I taught at Dartmouth College and Georgetown University. I was a Fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington. I was personal staff to the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania for foreign defense policy during the first Gulf War. I am currently a Fellow of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs in the Ethics and the Use of Armed Force program.
I originally trained as a Sovietologist, and went looking for work after 1991. And yes, I am a five-time undefeated "Jeopardy" champion. Actually sometime in the spring I'm going back on because they are having a tournament for former champions. The winners of the tournament will play Ken Jennings.
True story. When I was teaching at Dartmouth, a student walked up to me. Here I am, an Ivy League professor, wrote books, teaching, all that stuff. A kid walks up to me after he sees me on "Jeopardy" and says, "Professor, I never knew you were so smart." My heart sank with grief for the entire American educational system.
I have been asked to talk to you about two things tonight. One is the Naval War College and what it does, since that may not be familiar to a lot of you. The other is the research that I am working on right now under the auspices of the Carnegie Council. I should make clear that my opinions are my own and I do not represent any agency of the United States government.
Let me start with the outline of the Naval War College, or as one of my radical pals calls it, "Kill U." It is actually not that way. It sounds very ominous, but it is actually quite benign. We are the oldest war college in the United States, founded in 1883. It was founded by Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce to be, and I quote, "a place of original scholarship on all questions relating to war and to statesmanship regarding the prevention of war."
It is in Newport, Rhode Island, which has a very long tradition and association with the Navy. During the Revolutionary War, the fleet that took Washington to Yorktown was moored in Newport Harbor. One of the things we always ask our students is whether or not it was a great strategic blunder for the British not to try to attack the French fleet in Newport Harbor. It is kind of a great thing to be able to say to your students, "And the fleet was moored right there." So there is this great history.
In fact, during the Civil War—or for those of you who are so inclined, the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression—the U.S. Naval Academy was actually sited in Newport as well.
What happens at the Naval War College? Who goes there and why? During World War II, and before World War II especially, it really was the kind of thing you think you have seen in movies—you know, the guys with the long sticks moving the little blue boats around on the big grid. You know, every stereotype is rooted in truth somewhere.
That actually helped to win the war against Japan. In fact, Admiral Spruance later said, "After we had gamed out everything at the Naval War College, nothing the Japanese did in the Pacific Theater surprised us except for the kamikazes."
VOICE: What about Pearl Harbor?
THOMAS NICHOLS: The actual attack on Pearl Harbor surprised us, although there were people, even within the War College and outside of it, saying, "Gee, you know, concentrating our forces in Hawaii might be a dangerous thing."
But once the war began and we started executing previously gamed-out war plans, there really was very little that surprised us except the kamikazes. So it was a very operational kind of school—how do you fight battles at sea? The problem is that it became very isolated and was not really providing an education in strategic issues to tomorrow's military leaders.
Now, Admiral Zumwalt, the legendary Chief of Naval Operations, felt this was a very bad thing, and he turned in 1972 to Admiral Stansfield Turner, whose name may be familiar to you because he eventually became Director of the CIA under Jimmy Carter. Turner was sent up there. Turner had a Ph.D., which was a big deal among naval officers.
So Turner was sent there to Newport to kind of turn this place back into a school. What he found was guys arguing with each other vehemently about what went wrong in Vietnam—finger in the chest, pushing, shoving, yelling at each other kind of stuff, because everybody was upset, and it was understandable—you know, we were losing the war, guys were coming home in body bags, and no one quite knew why.
Turner did not know what to do with this situation, so he went to one of his old professors and he said, "What do I do about this? There are people shouting at each other in the hallways."
He said, "Make them stop talking about Vietnam. Make them read The Peloponnesian War and The Sicilian Expedition, and make them see that this is not the first time that a great maritime power got embroiled in something far from home."
That was the birth of the Naval War College as it exists today, and that was the birth of the course of which I am the course chairman, Strategy. What evolved was a three-course requirement for naval officers.
Strategy and Policy, which is my course, is a case study approach to enduring strategic issues. They come in and we make them read Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, Mao, Mahan, Corbett, some of the greats of strategic theory. We make them do case studies of the Peloponnesian War. In fact, we purposely pick case studies that they do not know anything about, like the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, because they are not invested in it.
This detachment from the cases is important. In fact a lot of the students always say to me as chairman, "How come we never get to do the Civil War?" I say, "Because I don't want to sit through three hours of a seminar with you guys all yelling at each other about how your great-grandpappy got killed at Pickett's Charge."
In fact, once a discussion about the Civil War broke out in my seminar. The Northerners were like, "Oh, this was about slavery," and the Southerners were, "This was clearly about states' rights." The African-American student sitting between them could have had a different take on things. It quickly devolved into something other than talking about strategy.
So we purposely throw them curve balls. We make them study the wars of German unification. And we generally do not care if they retain the history of this. We do not test them on facts. We try to change the way they think. We try to change their ability to think critically about alternatives. We try to get them out of the idea of inevitability.
For example, they say things like, "Well, of course the Americans were going to win the American Revolution, duh," and, "Of course the Allies were going to win World War II—I mean come on."
And we say, "Okay, fine. Let's just step back for a second. Let's win the war for Hitler." Then they start thinking, "Well, I might have deferred the invasion of the Soviet Union here. I might have concentrated during the Battle of Britain on destroying British airfields instead of bombing London." And all of a sudden they start kind of saying, "Oh, these were close calls."
We say, "Yes, and they involved strategic decisions by people like you."
That is what we are trying to get them to do, to break out of a mechanistic mindset that says, "Everything happens the way it happens because it has to happen that way." We take them from the Peloponnesian War, through the Napoleonic Wars, through the world wars, right up through to the Gulf War, to what happened yesterday. We do case studies, even a terrorism case study. But we don't let them immediately study al-Qaeda, and it drives them crazy.
First, we make them study the Russian revolutionaries at the turn of the century. We make them study the Shining Path in Peru. We make them study the Algerian insurrection in the 1950s. We make them study the Irish—and being Irish-American myself I can say this—the Irish terrorists, or freedom fighters, depending on whether you are Orange or Green, in the 1920s.
We say, "Look, put yourself in the position of the terrorists. What do you want? Why are you using this method? What do you think could defeat you?"
They sometimes find it very uncomfortable because we're basically making them think like terrorists in a way as a means of thinking about alternatives, thinking about ways to defeat terrorism. So that's my course.
They also have to take National Security Decision-Making, which is a more modern-events course: how does Washington work? How does the budget process work? How do programs get through the system? What's the international context of decision-making in Washington? It is very like political science. They have to think about: if you have a national policy that says X, how do you structure military forces on a big scale at a strategic level to meet the objectives of that policy?
I've taught that course. I like it. It is a great course. And then they have to take a much more nuts-and-bolts course called Joint Military Operations. That really is how do you create a battle plan for a theater, which is something they need to know.
They take all of these together. Now, one thing I should tell you is that since 1986 joint military education, professional military education, is mandated by law, so they have to get it somewhere, and we are one of the places in America they can get it. Army War College, Air Force War College, Joint Forces Staff College, are a few other places they can get it.
So they get their certification that is mandated by Congress and they get a Master's Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies. And they take electives during the year, and participate in other things as well. But that is the core of the program and that is what we do in Newport.
At the intermediate level the students that come in are lieutenant commanders and majors. At the senior level they are captains and colonels. We are probably going to have a new course, a very short course, for admirals soon.
Questions about the Naval War College before I go on to the other stuff? The faculty is retired military, active duty military, civilian Ph.D.'s. My department has fifteen civilian Ph.D.'s and fifteen military faculty with whom they are paired up in class, so the class is run by a senior military officer and a renowned and respected Ph.D. Turner thought that was very important, particularly in that course, to show civil-military interaction and discussion, because Turner's big thing was avoiding another civil-military failure like Vietnam. He said that the military must produce strategists that are the equivalent of their civilian counterparts or the military will lose control over their profession. I think he was absolutely right.
So I feel very proud of what I do. I have gotten emails from guys in places like Afghanistan and Kosovo and Iraq saying, "Boy, I'm better at what I do because I have been in the War College, and I understand the bigger picture." So that is my plug for the school.
No questions about that? Okay. It is about 400 Americans and 100 international students, so we have students from all over the world. They sit in our classes. They don't get a master's degree, but they do participate in the life of the school and in the life of the classroom.
VOICE: So what is your student body? Are these all people in the Navy?
THOMAS NICHOLS: No. In fact, by law they cannot be all people in the Navy. Congress mandated something called joint education, so about half our student body comes from the other three sources, and there are selected civilians from the Executive Branch of the U.S. government as well. So it is a mix, and it is meant to be a mix.
The military has a great expression for it: "It is meant to make you more purple." If you mix Navy blue and Air Force blue and Army green and Marine olive, you get purple. So it is meant to kind of "purple" you up.
QUESTION: Can you have any peace studies component, or peacekeeping, peace enforcement, any prevention of war aspect? I know that you are a war college, but—
THOMAS NICHOLS: We do talk about peacekeeping operations. For a while we called them "operations other than war," which nobody likes. As one of my colleagues said, "If they are shooting at you, it is war." And we also talk about insurgency and counter-insurgency and things like that.
We do not take a position in the issue of war and peace—obviously we think peace is better, but we assume that by the time we get the call, somebody way above our pay grade has already decided war is a good idea.
Now, what we do teach is: How would you advise someone who is thinking of going to war about how to assess the risks and issues involved—things like net assessment, knowing the enemy. One of the things we drill into their brains is Clausewitz's injunction that you should not take the first step in war without understanding the last. Sun Tzu: "Know your enemy, know yourself."
Again, we are not training these guys to be leaders of coups d'?tat, to supplant the President and make these decisions. We are educating them to be people who can advise people above them, to say, "You need to think about this, you need to think about that; here are the issues," instead of just saying, "Oh, you want to do that? Okay, all right," or, "You don't want to do that? Okay."
We train them to think about alternatives, alternatives, alternatives, all the time.
VOICE: Are there similar courses at the Naval Academy?
THOMAS NICHOLS: Not quite. The Naval Academy is undergraduate education. At the Naval Academy you can go get a B.A. in history if you want, or English, or whatever.
But the Army War College and the Air War College—again, no false modesty here—have more and more over the years emulated the program we have at Newport, right down to accrediting themselves for Master's Degrees. We were the first to accredit for a Master's Degree.
Should I get to the other stuff? The project that I am working on with the Carnegie Council is called "Conflict and Order in the New Age of Preventive War." I will just 'fess up at the outset that I believe we are headed pretty much inexorably into an era where preventive war will be an acceptable feature of the international system, that the norm against preventive or discretionary military action is rapidly being eroded—and not because the United States invaded Iraq. I believe that this norm has been eroding consistently since the end of the Cold War. It had its roots in humanitarian interventions, which I will talk about in a moment. And, given the nature of new threats in the international system, we are already seeing in many countries a move toward a policy that says, "We will not ask for international permission; we will not wait until threats are imminent; we will not obey the previous traditional injunctions about the resort to self-help in the international system; if we find a threat, we will snuff it out at our discretion."
I think you would be surprised at the number of countries that are actually starting to talk that way, including France, Russia, Australia, Japan, not least of which is the United States.
Now, in 2002 the United States government published a document called "The National Security Strategy of the United States," which is a document mandated by law. It is produced every year. It said point blank, "We will take preemptive action."
Now, let me talk for a minute about the words "preemption" and "prevention," because they get muddled up in this discussion.
Preemption: you go into a bar and a drunk walks up to you and he says, "I don't like your face and I'm going to rearrange it," and he starts to pull his arm back. You, being sober and quicker, smash him right in the mouth and take him out. The cops arrive. Everyone tells the cops what happened. You are home free. You are allowed to do this in domestic law. You are allowed to do this in international law.
The classic case in recent international practice was the 1967 Six Day War with Israel versus her Arab neighbors. The Arabs had said, "We intend to destroy Israel." It is always a bad thing to say that, because you don't get any cover for it later under international law. "We intend to destroy Israel; Israel must be pushed into the sea." They started mobilizing their forces.
The Israelis said, "No thank you, we'll go first." While there was a certain amount of griping about this in the international community, there was really no serious censure of the Israelis, and even today that is pointed to under international law as a kind of classic case of justified preemption.
Let's go back to the bar. You walk into the bar and you recognize a guy that you have had words with before. He doesn't like you. He is sitting at the bar and he is getting drunker and meaner by the minute.
You say, "You know, I better just go over there and kick the living daylights out of him before he gets up. Sooner or later he is going to punch me out. Right now I've got the advantage. He is sitting down, he has had a few drinks. I'm feeling good. It is going to be a long night. Let's just do it."
That is prevention. Traditionally in the international system, this has been completely unacceptable, because it is based on a putative threat. It would be like going to your house and—Have you seen a Spielberg movie "Minority Report"? It's like "Minority Report": "The Department of Pre-Crime has decided that you are going to commit a murder one day, so we are going to arrest you now."
And again, the Israelis were a classic case of the international community not allowing this when in 1981 the Israelis decided that the Iraqis were getting too close to developing nuclear material and they raided an Iraqi nuclear facility and took it out as a preventive move, saying, "Down the line this facility will produce nuclear weapons; we are just going to deal with this right now." The United States and everybody else in the world said this was a bad thing.
Now, I will add my own opinion about this, which is I found there was a certain amount of hypocrisy in the world's condemnation of Israel. You know, the censure of Israel went something like this: "That was a terrible thing you did, and we hope you never do it again—[applause]—and you are being condemned by the United Nations," with sort of an eye roll.
In practice—and this is where you already start to see this norm about nonintervention and preventive war starting to unravel—there was a kind of collective sigh of relief that the Iraqis had been pushed away from this.
Now, why is this norm eroding now? Well, part of the norm against preventive war was always rooted in the Westphalian state system—that is, the state system that was created in 1648 by the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years War, which was this bloody, horrible religious struggle that just laid waste to Europe. The crowned heads of Europe got together and said, "Okay, look. You want to be Protestant, you want to be Catholic, that's your business. Let's agree that our principalities now have one principle: we do not interfere at home. If you do something abroad, that is fair game for war and conflict, but whatever I want to do to my own people—if I want to put the Jews on the rack or kill the Muslims or convert the Protestants, whatever it is—that is none of your business."
The Thirty Years War had been so horrible, they all said, "Good idea. Let's just leave each other alone." Well, that principle of absolute sovereignty became pretty much enshrined in the international system, with some exceptions. Still, who was going to go to war against Hitler because of what he was doing within Germany? It was only when it became foreign aggression that it became a casus belli.
During the Cold War, even though the superpowers intervened, almost at will, in smaller countries, it was almost observing that norm in the breach, saying: "Well, we really should not intervene in the sovereign affairs of other countries," unless it is like in the Dominican Republic or it is Afghanistan and they are going the wrong way. But by and large, it was understood that it is a shameful thing, it is outside of this norm of nonintervention, and it should not be done. Who was it who said "hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue?"
That nonintervention norm was maintained primarily by the rigid bipolar structure internationally, with the United States and the Soviet Union. Why didn't we go in during the Ethiopian famine and just shoot the Ethiopian leadership, who were just hideous human beings? Because they were a Soviet client and we couldn't. Why didn't the Soviets behave more menacingingly toward West German governments that they didn't like? Because they were allied to us and they could not.
At the end of the Cold War two things happened. First of all, there was no longer any constraint, on American actions at least, and second there was a withdrawal of the superpowers from various areas. You know, the Cold War made us nuts in a way. We and the Soviets found ourselves really, really fired up about what was going on in places like Angola. The former Soviet Ambassador to the United States later wrote: "Soviets and Americans confronted each other in regions of the world that twenty years from now only historians will be able to name." I think he has a point.
If you want to know why, by the way, in part it was because geo-strategists were sitting around in dark rooms saying, "Ethiopia is a crucial supply line. It is a dagger pointed at the heart of Malaysia," and other such nonsense.
As I wrote some years ago, the theme of the superpower relationship in the Third World was "Whither thou goest, there I will go." All of a sudden, Nicaragua is absolutely crucial to our security, because we have all seen "Red Dawn." I love that movie by the way.
But as the superpowers withdrew from these areas and said, "Okay, now you're on your own," these areas all became failing states, like Somalia. And so what happens? We have horrendous humanitarian disasters in the offing.
Rwanda becomes a crucial test for the United Nations in 1994. Haiti had been a test before that, but because Haiti is so close to the United States, we said, "We have to do something. Let's kick out the bad guys and put in the other bad guy and then we'll leave," which is exactly what we did. We felt we had to do something. That was the beginning of it, getting rid of the Haitian colonels. We did that with gunboats off the coast, and we said, "You are not sovereign over your own affairs."
I have a certain frustration here about the accusations against the Bush Administration in 2003 doing regime change, because we were doing regime change all through the 1990s. I mean, Bill Clinton did it, it was okay; Bush did it, it was bad. Clinton basically went to Haiti and said, "You guys, out. This guy, in." And that is what we did.
Rwanda—no one acted. And Clinton, to his credit goes to Rwanda and says, "I did not know. I could not act. I screwed up basically."
After that, a kind of "never again" mentality starts to take hold among some UN members. When Kosovo starts to loom on the horizon as a potential genocide, we realize—we, the Americans and our allies—that for a lot of bad reasons there are people in the UN who will veto action in Kosovo. The Russians are going to veto it for a myriad number of reasons. The Chinese are not happy.
NATO does something very dramatic that basically scares the hell out of Kofi Annan, and says, "If it is okay with NATO, it is okay, and we will not go to the UN Security Council because we know there will be a veto." Instead, NATO makes a great show of unanimity and says, "Nineteen of us in NATO trumps you five Permanent Council Members and your assorted hangers-on in the Security Council."
That is a real "uh oh" moment for the UN. That is the moment when Kofi Annan afterwards steps forward and says, "Okay. Well, this norm of intervening for humanitarian purposes, perhaps we ought to embrace it. It is challenging, it is difficult, but absolute sovereignty should not mean that you can hide behind your crimes, that you can use sovereignty and state borders to hide behind when you commit crimes against humanity."
So now something very important has happened: the prohibition on violating absolute sovereignty has been officially broken, for the first time in 350 years, and it happened almost with a whisper.
Let's jump forward to 9/11, or even before 9/11, as people are starting to realize that failed and failing states are becoming breeding grounds for people that can do bad things. Operation Enduring Freedom was not the first time the United States attacked Afghanistan. Bill Clinton bravely sent in cruise missiles against terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before that, including that pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, if you recall, at which point—and again, memories are short—UN Ambassador Bill Richardson asserted that the Sudan operation had to be done because of a potential link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. And if you don't believe me, I have the transcript.
Bill Clinton then gives a speech that says: "Iraq has WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction] and they are developing more, including nuclear weapons, and if they get them, sooner or later they will use them or give them to a terrorist organization."
Now, I bring this up partly because I enjoy reminding Bush's critics of how Bill Clinton was just as bellicose as George Bush, but also for a more important intellectual reason, which is to say that this did not begin with Bush. This was something that was spreading throughout the American defense community long back when George Bush was still in Texas. This is not something that happened yesterday.
It is something that started to happen because of again—and this is where I am speculating, the research is still in its early stages—certainly in the American case after 9/11, the emergence of mass-suicide terrorism as a real threat, coupled with the increasingly rapid potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, together means that the traditional notion of preemption, which is to wait until just before the punch is thrown, is becoming intolerable.
We used to think: "Weapons of mass destruction, we can deal with that because that resides in states." That was one tough but tolerable threat.
But terrorism is different. You are not going to be able to stop a car bomb in Nairobi or you are not going to be able to stop somebody ramming the U.S.S. COLE. By the way, this is controversial within the military community, but I have always argued the attack on the COLE was not terrorism, that it was an unconventional military attack.
Anyway, you cannot stop that kind of thing. But that was what one of my colleagues calls terrorism at a "nuisance level." Yes, people got killed and it was a tragedy, but it is not something traumatically altering to your society.
But all of a sudden you take these two things and they start coming in proximity to each other, and that means that old ways of doing things become intolerable. The French Defense White Paper of 2002, which was published on September 11, 2002, says, point blank, that yes, France will act to prevent threats. It will use diplomatic means, but also if it finds a threat that it feels is a threat coming from a rogue state or a failed state, it will act in a preventive capacity.
Now, what does that mean? That is part of the work I am doing here because I want to know what that means. The Russians have said, point blank, especially after Beslan and the deaths of some 300 schoolchildren, "If we think that are more Chechean terrorists hiding in Georgia..." Now, some of this is to intimidate Georgia, a country they want to get their hands on, but also they are serious. They are not going to ask permission. They are going to take them out.
The Japanese have said, "If North Korea starts fueling their missiles, it is equivalent to a state of war. If the North Koreans even prepare their missiles, it is equivalent to a state of war."
For people who were hoping that Bush's stance on the war on terror would get him defeated, there was a similar movement in Australia because of John Howard's alliance with the United States and his tough stance on terrorism, and Howard just got reelected too. Howard said, "Let's amend the UN Charter to allow preventive strikes on terrorists."
Something is going on here, and I think it is because the nature of the threat has become so dire. There was a piece in last month's Foreign Policy by a political scientist named Stephen Krasner. Krasner, as far as I know, is no conservative. But even he says if there is a string of nuclear terrorist incidents—let's say simultaneous terrorist bombs in New York, Berlin, Paris, wherever—the major powers will reorganize the international system tomorrow. Sovereignty will disappear. The great powers will form a kind of Concert of Europe all over again and they will say, "I dub you a proliferator, you are out"; "You have terrorists on your territory, stand aside and you won't get hurt."
That is basically what we said to the Taliban: "You have terrorists on your territory; hand them over and we will leave you alone." People forget that the Taliban could be in power if they had just coughed up Osama. There didn't have to be a war in Afghanistan. We gave them an ultimatum.
But my argument is we do not need that string of nuclear attacks. I argue we are heading there already, in fact I think we are going there inevitably, because the disparity between the civilized states of the world that can control and manage their own affairs and these weak states that just cannot control their own territory to the point where they cannot cease breeding threats to others is becoming intolerable.
When you start seeing similar movement in policies of the major powers, such as the United States, Russia, France, Japan, Australia, and others—and look at how many countries signed on to the Gulf War with the United States. Although only four or five sent troops initially, and it is sometimes forgotten that the Australians fired shots in anger, the Poles carried out special operations—but look at the number of declared signatories of support. Most of Europe supported what the United States was doing. Just not Germany and France, leading to Donald Rumsfeld's comment about "old Europe."
Now, I haven't taken a normative stance on this; I have not said whether I think this is a good or a bad thing. I just think it is. But when you start getting that level of unanimity in the system, that should pique your interest and make you think that something tectonic is happening in international politics.
I will end with my normative feeling about it. I do not want to see a world ruled by the Law of the Jungle. I do not want to see every major power saying, "If you happen to look at me cross-eyed, I'll kick your ass."
On the other hand, I find the current situation in international politics intolerable, and I particularly find the structure of the United Nations intolerable. The idea that petty dictatorships like—well, I will not even be prejudicial and name them; we all know who they are—that they have a voice equal to the great democracies of the world in deciding what to do about terrorism, I personally find revolting.
While the principle of "one state, one vote," goes all the way back to Rousseau—you know, Geneva is equal to Russia—well, guess what? Geneva is no longer equal to Russia. I think that the character of a state—how it treats its own people, how it organizes its own government, what it believes in—is more important than where it is, how much power it has, and so on. I am getting very sympathetic to arguments such as Stanley Hoffman's at Harvard who made an argument that there should perhaps be a kind of buffer organization made up solely of democracies, that if the Security Council deadlocks, then something that looks like a bigger version of the G8 or something takes matters into its hands.
And look; there is no way around this. There is a moral exceptionalism involved in this, and I am okay with that. When people say, "Do you think your country is morally superior to other countries?" Yes. Do I think my country is morally superior as an organized form of state action than Libya or Syria? Yes, absolutely. Do I think that we should have more of a say in whether or not innocent people are being slaughtered than—I don't know, pick your favorite scummy dictatorship? Yes, I do, because to think otherwise offends my moral and common sense.
Now, how you translate that into a system of international governance I do not know, and I admit that. I am not done with the book yet. I'll get back to you. But something has to change because you cannot create a situation in which—I mean, we have to sit in the Security Council and listen to high-minded speeches from Syria!
That is the kind of "cognitive dissonance" moment that during the Cold War and immediately after the Cold War we could put up with. We could live with that. We could say, "Okay, here we are at the Security Council. Syria is a Soviet friend and client. And we have to sit here and listen to this stuff."
That sort of irritation has now translated into something else, where we're saying, "Hey, there may be weapons of mass destruction in that country that could be transferred to terrorists. It's not a joke anymore." And suddenly, saying that Syria—and I am picking on Syria because that is an easy case—but saying that Syria is equal to the United States, or Canada or the Netherlands, in terms of their international standing I think is starting to offend most people's common sense.
I attended a foreign policy roundtable here at the Council last night and I think one of the things that really scared a lot of the people who attended was saying, "Gee, there are people in the world, especially a lot of Americans, who seem to think preventive war is okay." I raised my hand and said, "Yeah, they're scared. They're not willing to take the first punch anymore, because the first punch could mean anthrax or nuclear weapons or something more hideous, or a school full of 300 children in Russia. That's what taking the first punch has come to mean."
During the Cold War, as awful as it was, and as close as we came to nuclear annihilation, fortunately, we and the Soviets did have similar values. Yes, it turns out the Russians love their children too and didn't want them to die any more than we do.
Now we have people who say, "Seventy-two virgins; sign me up, I'm in." With the Soviets we could say, "Nuclear war means you'll die too," and the Soviets would say, "We don't want death." Now we say "You'll die, too," and our opponents say, "We're okay with that." That mindset is leading people to say that they can't trust the traditional notions of deterrence anymore, in which you rely on the rationality of your opponent and that your opponent's rational self-interest and instinct to live will see you through a crisis.
I will stop there. Let me open it up to any questions.
Questions and Answers
VOICE: I am actually here this evening because I have been reading a book by a former colleague of yours, Thomas Barnett, called The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century, which is really the first book that I have read that gave me a real glimmer of hope that there were visionaries within the Pentagon and the defense establishment.
One of the points that he makes, as you know and perhaps some people here know, is that he makes a distinction between those nations in the core and those nations in the gap. The core nations share democratic norms and have responsibility, whereas the nations in the gap are the failed states essentially.
I think on the policy of preemption, the United States has demonstrated without a doubt that it has the ability to preempt and, to use George Bush's phrase, "with catastrophic effect." But in terms of strategy, that is one part of the strategy. I think one of the lessons that we are learning with regard to the Iraq War is that in order for preemption to be a success you must also focus on what Bush in 2000 contemptuously regarded as nation-building. Of course, now the United States is in the business of nation-building big time. So I think Iraq illustrates the principle—
THOMAS NICHOLS: You break it, you own it.
VOICE: Exactly. And so I would like to know if the Pentagon and those who you are now teaching are learning that lesson and recognizing the necessity actually of post-conflict stabilization and peace-building and all of that.
THOMAS NICHOLS: First, let me allay your fears about that. In the curriculum at the War College, we spend a lot of time talking about war termination, how do you get out of the war; and what do you do after? We use the first Gulf War as a good example: "Hey, we won, he's out of Kuwait, everything is all right now."
I don't much care for Barnett's book actually. I found it to be a lot of repackaging. He called it "core" and "gap." I remember when studying in the 1970s it was called "center" and "periphery." It is not just that in the core we share democratic morals. He makes the point that anybody who is not connected to globalization is a danger. Well, the Chinese are connected to globalization and I think they are plenty dangerous. I just don't find that to be a particularly useful idea.
It is sort of like Huntington's "clash of civilizations." It sounds really good, you can put it on a chart, it looks cool, but I just do not buy it.
With that said, this idea that somehow you have to do something about the states that are not catching the ride on globalization, so to speak—what can you do about that? Well, the answer that I think a lot of people shy away from—and that Krasner in his article did not, and I give him credit for that—is we are going to have to go back to concepts of trusteeships and protectorates.
This is where I think the people who oppose the Gulf War in the international community have been particularly petty, because the fact of the matter is that an Iraq that is in turmoil is a danger to everybody. And while the French may enjoy seeing America in a tough spot now, down the road, an Iraq that is not stable is as much a danger to France as anybody else. I just found it to be petty and childish. I think we should just say Iraq is basically under American trusteeship, which it is, and get to work.
Now, the problem is you are rightly raising the point that if we go into these places and we fix these failed states, then we really have an obligation to do something. The problem is from smaller powers that immediately brings the finger pointing of "great white father paternalism, neo-imperialism, they are pushing us around, they are imposing their cultural values on us."
Well, you know, which is it? Are we going to go in and stop genocide and create trusteeships and try to put these countries back together? And then what, leave so they can become authoritarian regimes?
Again, here is the moral exceptionalism problem. Do I think democracy is better than anything else? Yup.
VOICE: Part of my point is that if there was an achievement of the United Nations in the 20th century, it was the development of universal norms, such as human rights as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as collective security.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Theoretical collective security.
VOICE: Yes, theoretical. Well, it is theoretical. Well, why is it theoretical? It is because the establishment of the norms is one thing, but the enforcement of norms is entirely another.
THOMAS NICHOLS: But there is something else, and I think this is important to point out. Let's say that the United Nations is really going to be about collective security and it is going to enforce norms about things like dictatorial regimes, the murdering of innocents. Well, the problem is all the dictatorial regimes get a vote.
Let me just remind everyone that Libya was going to chair the UN Human Rights Commission. These are things that fail the "laugh out loud" test. You know, at some point—
VOICE: It is true, there are serious defects. And yet, the United States was also a country that enforced the rule that there must be unanimous consent, that one state can veto.
THOMAS NICHOLS: And sure, hypocritically we enforced that rule because most of the states used to be on our side back in the 1950s.
VOICE: If you talk about the UN institution, it seems that in the case of Afghanistan the U.S. had asked for UN support and NATO support, which was rejected. It seems to me that the war in Iraq, if anything, has undermined very dramatically the case for Just War, preventive war, because the rhetoric of the Administration for the imminence of the threat was not true, it didn't exist.
THOMAS NICHOLS: First, let me agree with you that the failure to find WMD in Iraq has undermined the idea of preventive war. I would argue that some of that now has been papered over by the success of the elections.
The issue of imminence, in particular, needs to be thought about, because the international legal definition of acceptable preemption dates to an 1837 case between the United States and Great Britain. It means that states have to pass what's called the "Caroline test." This is great if you ever go on "Jeopardy," or if you just want to seem more interesting at a cocktail party.
The "Caroline test" comes from Daniel Webster accusing the British of acting preventively against a U.S. ship carrying arms to rebels in Canada. He said preemption has to be against a threat that is imminent, you have to have no other choice, you have to respond instantly, etc., etc.
Well, what a lot of people are arguing now is that imminence has to be lengthened based on the potential effect of the threat. That is to say yes, preemption is okay if somebody is about to attack your ships at sea. But what if they are going to plant a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city and make all of lower Manhattan uninhabitable? Then imminence has to be stretched out to mean months, years, because once these terrorists run and go to ground, it will be years before you will ever get a chance again, and once they pop up it is too late.
And this is what drives me crazy. Clinton made exactly the same arguments about Saddam, almost word-for-word, that Bush made and people forget that. Clinton actually went on "Larry King" and defended Bush after this happened, because Clinton was saying, "If Saddam is not acquiescing to the UN's demands, then he is hiding something, and something bad is going to happen."
You can already see Clinton and later Bush starting to kind of unpeel that imminence issue, to say, "Well, he is not about to attack us tomorrow, but if he does it will be so awful that right now is the only chance I have to get him." I am not saying it is an argument you have to buy, but this is part of my general argument that we are moving that way, and we have been since even before 9/11.
VOICE: There is one big difference here. I agree with you completely, the Clinton Administration said very clearly the UN has to go back into Iraq, it has to be sure that they are not developing WMDs. In fact, we bombed them because they were not allowing them back in.
The difference between then and 2002 is that the United States had no support in the international community. In 1998 they had a 15-0 vote in the Security Council and they had the acquiescence of the Iraqis to allow the inspectors back in. So it seems to me that the example does not really track here.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I am going to say something that I have no empirical evidence for, but I think a lot of what happened in the UN this time around is just a general personalized disdain for George W. Bush, I really do. I mean the hostility toward Bush in Europe had reached, in my opinion, even before this, even before the Iraq War, hysterical proportions.
One of my colleagues suggests that one difference is no one thought Clinton was serious, and so they gave him a 15-0 vote knowing he would not do a thing with it. I cannot prove that. The other is that in 2003 the other wild card was Chirac, who knows Saddam, and we have some evidence that Chirac said, "I don't care what Bush finds, I am not going to allow Saddam to go down."
So I think there are some other phenomena at work here. The part of your comment I didn't comment on and I should come back to is North Korea. Just to indicate my own consistency on this issue, I was advocating preventive war against North Korea in 1994. When we had the crisis with the Koreans in 1994 and they said whatever the Korean equivalent is to "pfft" to our demands, I thought—again, Bill Clinton, a President I did not like, was not particularly comfortable with in his stewardship of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. armed forces—but I was saying, "Okay, Mr. President. do what you have to do."
In fact, what we did was buy off into blackmail. The North Koreans blackmailed us. And what is the one iron lesson of blackmailing? If you pay the blackmailer, he will come back for another bite. That is exactly what the North Koreans have done.
Now, the problem is, the difference between now and ten years ago, is that we think Kim Jong-il has nuclear weapons, and he is testing three-stage ballistic missiles. Three stages means reaching North America.
I think it is unfair to criticize Bush for not acting the same way at the beginning of 1994 because Bush was not there in 1994. That was the beginning of the crisis. We are sort of a midpoint now. The real question is: can Kim Jong-il be deterred? I do not know.
VOICE: But the crisis worsened in the years since he became President.
THOMAS NICHOLS: But think about what he inherited. "Mr. President, nothing has been done for six years. By the way, we think he has nukes. Over to you."
The last best chance to stop this was 1994. Now we are in a whole other ballgame; and by the way, the other problem is that South Korea is hostage. If the North Koreans attack, we will defeat them, North Korea will cease to exist as a country, and their army will be shattered, but not before they have laid waste to that thirty miles inside the perimeter where they get Seoul and they overrun it and then we have to push them back at immense human cost. So I think it is a totally unfair criticism to say, "Why aren't you going in and kicking the North Koreans in the teeth?" Because the North Koreans can do a lot of damage in the meantime.
The guy I blame for that—I'm sorry if this sounds partisan—is Bill Clinton, because all he did in 1994 was kick that can further down the road. He said, "It will be a problem one day, but I will not be President."
VOICE: The point I'm making is that you say the problem is that they are holding South Korea hostage. That was true in 1994 also. That was true in conventional war.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I would rather play out that game conventionally than figure out what to do when a couple of nuclear weapons go off.
The South Korean Sunshine Policy and that appeasement policy that the South Koreans were pushing so hard failed. The North Koreans took the money, said they would sign off on any agreement that we wanted. It was all happiness and light after 1994, and then ten years later they said, "Oh, we forgot to tell you we were lying and we developed nuclear weapons anyway."
Even Graham Allison, who is no fan of this Administration, wrote a year ago that if nothing else works, we would have to consider a military option in North Korea. Now, when you get former Clinton Administration guys talking about the need to take out the North Koreans, something scary is happening there.
VOICE: I think there were the six-way talks that happened in Japan and China among all the Asian countries, where the United States basically stepped away from it and said, "All right, we haven't been able to do anything with this, the North Koreans are not listening to us, our policy has failed, we are stepping back, we are letting the Japanese, the Chinese, the South Koreans handle this."
They were not wildly productive, but it opened up a dialogue, and that was a dialogue that had not been opened up with North Korea for a long time, so at least they are at a table talking. And also I think the South Korean government might be really scared of the North Koreans, but the Korean people I think in general, do not care about North Korea, they are not scared about North Korea at all. Maybe that is ignorance, but maybe—
THOMAS NICHOLS: Their biggest fear is—
THOMAS NICHOLS: No, I think their biggest fear is that reunification will happen fast and they will have to pay for it. I'm serious. I mean that is what the South Koreans worry about, that North Korea will collapse and they will get stuck with this $50 billion bill, because what they do not want to have happen is what happened in Germany.
VOICE: That's partly true, but I was there last year and I talked to a lot of people, and a lot of them really still have this feeling of kinship and brotherhood. If it collapsed and they had to take the financial burden, I think most of them would just be happy that (a) they have their great-great-grandfather's cousins back with them, and (b) that they didn't have to worry any more and that there wasn't going to be a threat.
They don't like the U.S. over there. And so if North Korea collapsed and the U.S. withdrew its military, they would be really happy, even if they had to pay the debt. So I think that a lot of what you are saying is right, but I think there are definitely a lot of other things going on.
VOICE: I just want to say that I think that after the collapse of the Soviet Union the world has really changed. I pretty much agree with the notions of Samuel Huntington about a clash of civilizations and that the West is now the civilization that is really leading the world in terms of democracy, source of culture, economics, technological progress.
You have now other civilizations in the world, in particular Islam and Muslim civilizations, and if you have read the Qur'an you still do not come really to everything that the modern Western civilization stands for. That is why it is impossible for us to even have a serious dialogue with the Muslim world, because look for example at Iran, with its nuclear proliferation policy. They totally deny that there is any type of enrichment program.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Another striking success for European diplomacy.
VOICE: But the world, in particular within the United Nations and the European countries, is still driven by an antiquated polemic of a sort of post-modern view of culture, a sort of post-colonialist argument. You know, Edward Said said that the West is this terrible oppressive force that has really aggravated the Muslim world, that has been oppressing it for 200 years. I had a long internship at the United Nations, and it reminded me of my experience of living in the Soviet Union twenty-two years ago.
THOMAS NICHOLS: One big corrupt socialist bureaucracy is just like another, right?
VOICE: I would come out of the building and I would be in the middle of New York City, and I would say, "Oh my God, it is 2003 and I am in New York City," after listening to all the things that are going on there. I think that this whole post-colonial polemic should be just thrown out of the window.
THOMAS NICHOLS: The kind of cognitive dissonance that this represents, a lot of people are having this. What you saw in the UN has now become publicly embraced, where people are going through exactly what you are, saying, "But on what planet is Libya on a nuclear disarmament committee? How many foxes can be on the henhouse committee?"
There is a famous Russian story about the Moscow Zoo, where they say, "Look at this achievement of Soviet science, that the lion and the lamb lie down together in the same cage."
The visitor says, "Wow, that's amazing. How did you do that?"
"New lambs every month."
But I want to take issue with you. As much as I agree with you about the UN and Said, that we will never be rid of his baleful influence, this isn't about a clash of civilizations, in my view. What I do think is that the big clash is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash between civilization and barbarism.
Whatever my disagreements with Russian policy, I actually think of Russia, to take an obvious example, as a fairly benign country. We have our problems, we do not get along about certain things, but one thing we agree upon is that it is bad to massacre children. No matter what disagreements Moscow and Washington ever had, you are not going to get anybody in the Kremlin or White House saying, "Maybe we ought to kill 300 kids and that will get their attention." We are finally facing an enemy who does not share those values.
VOICE: That is not a fair comparison.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Why not?
VOICE: For a lot of reasons. I think if we had [inaudible] in our country that were killing innocent people [inaudible] also. I do not think that is representative of a population or religion or a [inaudible].
THOMAS NICHOLS: I don't think it's representative of religion either. I am not making this about Islam. I am saying that there is a totalitarian strain of Islam that to me is fundamentally uncivilized.
You know, Putin said something that I actually agree with, so I kind of feel freaky about this. I actually said something once that was quoted in Pravda approvingly, so I am always worried when I talk this way. Putin said the real enemy should not be Islam or any faith; it should be anybody who is willing to use these methods. I am in accord with that.
VOICE: I do not think Putin is someone you can hold up as a standard.
THOMAS NICHOLS: And I think the Russian military has committed war crimes.
VOICE: There is no doubt about that. But he is President of Russia.
THOMAS NICHOLS: But I don't think that as a matter of policy the United States military or the British military or even, God forbid, the Russian military have been given orders saying, "I want you to go and kill the toddlers first."
VOICE: What about the incident with the theater where the Checheans were holding people hostage and what the Russians did is they gassed their own people, so they killed everybody? I mean they killed their own people. And that was a policy coming down from the army.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Actually, I think gassing the theater was the very best option they had.
VOICE: But they were killing their own people.
THOMAS NICHOLS: As opposed to what? They were not intentionally killing their own people. They were taking a gamble, is what they were doing, saying, "This is our call."
VOICE: But the place was wired. They had explosives.
VOICE: The point is they did not have very many options.
VOICE: There were innocent people there.
VOICE: A lot of the terrorists are put into that same spot. No one wants to kill themselves, no one wants to be a suicide bomber, no one wants to go hold a school hostage. They don't want to, but they are that desperate.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I'll tell you what, I will agree with you that the Russian government is that bad when the Russian government rounds up 300 children and says, "No more insurrection or we kill the kids."
VOICE: That is not a completely fair comparison, but you said that it would not be the Kremlin's or the White House's policy to kill their own people.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Wait. You misquoted me. To intentionally target innocent people.
VOICE: But I think if the United States were in that same position, they would not have done that. They would have done something else. They would not have gassed their own people.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Wow. If the Kennedy Center were being held by a bunch of fanatics with pressure triggers and the building was wired to go ... you think we wouldn't pump gas in there, even if somebody would be saying, "Mr. President, there is going to be a certain number of losses," you think we wouldn't do it? I think we'd do it like that [snaps fingers].
VOICE: You're now arguing theoretics.
THOMAS NICHOLS: We have done it. Like in Philadelphia years ago, when police stormed a building that was being held by radicals. There are going to be some losses, and yes, that was a little heavy-handed. But the idea is that you always brief the boss and say, "In an anti-terrorist operation, when you're going in, some of the hostages will get killed. Now, do you want to lose some of them or all of them?" That was the choice the Russians were facing: lose some of them or lose them all.
Now, the more scary possibility—and I have no evidence for this, and if the evidence comes up, I will turn my back on defending the Russian government in this. There have been people who have argued that the Russian security services allowed this to happen so that they could ride in and be the heroes and make the case for more power. I don't see the evidence for it and I do not believe it, but there is a theory out there that they were complicit. If that turns out to be the case, we are in a whole new ball game, and yes, then I can say the Russians and the Checheans deserve each other.
But in the short term, as awful as the behavior of Russian forces has been, what distinguishes civilized military organizations from barbarians is even though innocent people get killed in military operations, they are not a target of military operations.
VOICE: Thomas, let's take two or three questions.
VOICE: You mentioned before that you thought American democracy was the best system, which I agree with entirely. But I am curious as to your opinion on—
THOMAS NICHOLS: I didn't say American democracy.
VOICE: Well, democracy. You may not have cited the best one. The democracy message I agree with, and I find it hard to believe anyone wouldn't agree with. I am curious to know your opinion about the spread of democracy and whether that is a good thing. There are certainly countries that personally I would rather have not be democracies. I am curious as to what your take on that is.
VOICE: I was wondering about the practical application of preventive war. Since recruitment is down, it seems like a lot of rhetoric to talk about going into North Korea, going into Iran, when we are over-extended already in one country; and that was probably a lot easier to win than it would be in either Iran or North Korea.
VOICE: My question is about the Arab world. If there is such a problem and they have such a different viewpoint, why not bring them into a dialogue and ask why they do what they do? Try to understand where they are coming from. Even if you understand their history, they have a different mentality. It is not just that they believe in another religion, and it varies per country. But maybe trying to understand where they are coming from, why they are ecumenical, and why they are willing to die for such a cause.
They are given an enemy, and they hate America. They really don't have the basic rights. Give them a notion, a movement, something to believe in, which is something that their governments may not be giving them.
VOICE: I wanted to ask if you could identify your criteria for preventive war. You have mentioned WMDs, but are there other criteria to intervene?
THOMAS NICHOLS: I will start at the top. The spread of democracy, spreading democracy by force. I think that it is basic. I agree with the President that people just want to be free. I think freedom is the natural state of a human being. I do not think you have many cases in history where people said, "No, no, tell me whether or not I can worship God and who I can associate with, please."
On the other hand, your comment about there are places that you'd rather not be democracies. You remind me of a friend of mine who studied American politics and she said, "Thank God for voter apathy."
But there I am just going to fall back and say yes, I agree with you, and that is why I think we need to revive the issue of trusteeships.
And it sounds paternalistic, but you know what? I think we have to stop with the prejudicial language about this stuff, this Edward Said kind of narrative, "Well, you're being paternalistic and you're being ethnocentric." The fact of the matter is people want to be free, but you need a certain basic level of literacy abnd development.
As for this issue of imposing our values, let me relate a a classic moment I had in class some years ago. I was getting a lot of static one day from a young woman who was a multiculturalist, but also very proud of her feminist credentials. She said, "Other countries, we can't judge them by our standards, and who are we to say ?" And on and on.
I said, "Whatever other countries do, that is their culture, that is their belief system, that is their history?"
She said, "Yes. We can't judge that."
I said, "So the ritual of genital mutilation of young girls in Africa is okay with you?"
She said, "Oh no, that's bad and should be stopped."
The whole class just kind of stopped and just looked at her in this obvious contradiction.
I said, "So you would stomp on certain cultures and eradicate certain behaviors just because they happen to be offensive to you?"
She said, "I have to think about that." And the exchange stopped.
So I think we should just let go of this whole idea that we are being paternalistic and say, "Look, there are parts of the world—and a lot of it is our fault, our the West's fault, and let's shoulder up to it." Sudan was given its independence and it didn't work out, so let's just admit that we screwed up in this rush to de-colonize and we're going to say to the Sudanese government, "No more killing."
A diplomat that worked on the Sudan problem once reported an exchange he had with a guy there who is part of this genocidal activity. This was an educated guy. He had been to the West.
He said, "What will you do if these people"—because they were working on agreements—"what are you going to do if the people after this choose not to convert to Islam or see things your way?"
He said, "Well, we'll just have to go out and keep killing them." And this was no savage, this was an educated guy.
I think at that point you say, "No, and you are not in charge anymore. End of discussion. Maybe twenty years from now we will reopen this."
But that is going to mean a huge investment of money and time from the great powers and from the industrialized West, and we better just suck it up and do it. So that's my answer to that question.
Over-extension—yes, talking about attacking the North Koreans right now—to paraphrase Zell Miller, "With what, spit balls?"
On the other hand, I think one place the Bush Administration could do a better job is to go back to the table with our allies and say, "Okay, we didn't see eye-to-eye about Iraq, but there are some other places. Realize your own raw self-interest in this. Nobody wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons, so let's play ball."
Now, Iraq is not going to last forever, and eventually those guys are going to come home. I also think that once we face up to reality, we will probably have a bigger military somewhere down the line. But I say that with fingers crossed.
VOICE: Will there be a draft?
THOMAS NICHOLS: There is not going to be a draft. There is never going to be a draft. I always get this question. Nobody in the military wants a draft, nobody in Washington wants a draft. The people who want a draft, ironically enough, are liberals.
VOICE: But how can you make a bigger military?
THOMAS NICHOLS: Better pay, better conditions. You can get a bigger military, there's no question about it.
VOICE: Strategic thinking. Get rid of some of these multibillion-dollar weapons systems for an enemy that doesn't exist anymore.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I agree. I don't know why we build B-2 bombers. When I worked in the Senate, I advised my boss to vote against it. I think there are a lot of people who want to serve in the military. Part of the reason they are not is because of the military's cap. It is not that we cannot get people to join; it is that we will not allow them to join. Liberals are the people who want a draft, because they think if there is a draft any use of military force will lead to a public outcry. It is a very clever argument, with conservatives saying, "No, no, drafts are bad," and liberals, who were antiwar protestors twenty-five or thirty years ago, saying, "We need a draft." But that is because nobody is being honest about why they really are taking those positions.
A dialogue with the Arab countries: I hate this "root causes" argument stuff. The nineteen hijackers of 9/11 were educated, middle-class guys. I do not think terrorism is bred by a particular kind of poverty.
I have some theories about terrorism. I think this particular brand of bin-Ladenism actually has social roots among wealthy and middle-class young men too. These are wealthy young men who were living very dissolute lifestyles and they got religion as they got nearer their forties.
It is almost like how Hitler projected all of his self-hatred onto the Jews. I think most psycho-historians say Hitler said, "I am dirty and I have all these kinds of issues. I'm going to project them on the Jews."
I think that bin-Laden and his followers, deep inside, might be saying, "I am so attracted to that decadent culture that the only way that I can find redemption and purity is I have to destroy it. It must be destroyed for my salvation." Remember the night before they were going off, the 9/11 hijackers were doing vodka shooters at a strip club. Now, these are the soldiers of Islam, right, and they are pounding back Stoli and stuffing five dollars in G-strings.
That tells me that they see our culture as alluring but poisonous—the Ayatollah Khomeini used the word in Farsi that I am told—I do not speak Farsi—that translates as "West toxification," literally like they are being poisoned by the West. Apparently there is a big "Baywatch" cult in Iran, and can't you just see the Mullah saying, "We want to watch it too?" The only way to stop this temptation is to destroy the source, the West. I don't think you can have a dialogue with people like that.
VOICE: I just think that it would be better to understand the Arab culture than just saying what they do is wrong.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Wait, wait. I think you are throwing a red herring into this. This is not about Arab culture. I do not believe that suicide terrorism is an inherent part of Arab culture, I really don't. I think that is tarring an entire people.
VOICE: I don't agree because it's a by-product.
THOMAS NICHOLS: No. I think it is a by-product of a particular ideology called Wahhabism that got started in the 1920s and the 1930s under particular historical conditions that now is the outlet for people. And again, this comes back to studying democracy.
Fifteen out of nineteen of the hijackers were Saudis. Because there is a group of people there who have education, they are middle class, and they have no prospects because the country is basically a poor country where if you're not part of the "in" crowd you're part of the "out" crowd.
I think this a big part of the mentality of suicide bombers and terrorists in general. They say, "Well, it can't be because I am a loser, so it must be because some big conspiratorial force in the world is holding me down and screwing up my life. Well, who would that be? Who is the most powerful actor in the international system? It must be the United States."
You cannot reason with that. What I think you do is you have a dialogue with the Saudis saying, "Open up your society before it is too late." Yes, I am interested in understanding Arab culture, but not as a solution to this problem.
VOICE: But they have a different mentality than Americans or the Western countries. They view the world differently.
THOMAS NICHOLS: You are selling them too short. You are treating them like children.
VOICE: I am not. I live with an Arab. I know how he thinks.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Ba'athism in Syria and in Iraq, where it used to be the dominant party, does not have its roots in any kind of Arab culture. It is basically a socialist import based on a Soviet model of organization. Understanding their culture does not help you understand Ba'thism.
VOICE: I don't mean just the Arab culture. It's their mindset, and that is not a cultural thing.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Let me ask you a question. Why does this always boil down to "we have to understand their mindset"?
VOICE: Because it might help us.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Why does it never boil down to they had better start understanding our mindset?
VOICE: Because they are in danger.
THOMAS NICHOLS: But so are we. And I think Saddam Hussein would probably say we were the danger to him at this point.
To go back to discussing the conditions for preventive war: I say, somebody douses New York with anthrax, make sure you have enough antibiotics. That kind of threat I don't think triggers my presumption for preventive war.
I think nuclear weapons are my immediate check in the box. If you are developing nuclear weapons, you are developing them for a reason. You know, you do not develop them to see if you can contain them. You do not develop them to say, "Hey, look, we blew one up in the desert! Wow, we can do this! We'll never do it again."
Nuclear weapons are so hideous in their destructive capacity. If someone blows up a nuclear weapon in downtown Washington, we are going to have a new capital city somewhere. I also think that certain other checks have to be satisfied, not just a nuclear weapon.
- It has to be a country that has shown itself to be a serial breaker of agreements.
- It has to be a country that has shown itself as beastly to its own people.
- It has to be a country that has shown that the leaders, for example, are unaccountable and have shown a willingness to engage in significant risks.
Somebody brought up the issue that Saddam was deterred. Saddam was not deterred after the Gulf war, he was contained, and we were bombing him every day. That is not deterrence. Anybody who launches missiles at Israel in the middle of a war is not someone who is deterrable.
Somebody recently said to me, "Well, he is a very prudent risk taker." I said, "Look, if I take all my money and all my mortgage and I go to Atlantic City and I put it all on red and I win, that doesn't mean I am a good gambler. It doesn't mean that I am a sensible risk taker. It means I am a jackass who got lucky and walked away with a lot of money."
So these are the kind of boxes, and I keep coming back to them in terms of the criteria, and also the criteria for membership in international organizations.
What is the nature of the regime that we are talking about? In Saddam's case, the factors were all checked: the guy was using weapons of mass destruction against his own people, he was totally unaccountable, it was a totalitarian government, taking wild risks, a serial breaker of agreements. I mean at some point you just say, "I've run out of options and we should do this sooner rather than later."
Now, ironically, some of those criteria are from a very good article that was written by a Canadian scholar. This was a Professor Emeritus at a Canadian university saying, "Here is my Canadian perspective, because we believe in international law and organizations. So if we are going to have criteria, let me take a whack at establishing them."
And finally, am I a neo-con? No, I am a paleo-con. I do not believe in moral or cultural relativism. I am to some extent an American exceptionalist, or maybe a a Western exceptionalist. I believe that the Jeffersonian belief that rights are inherent in people by virtue of their existence as human beings, and not something granted by social compact or government, is pretty much the highest level of political belief there can be. I do not think there is anything after that. And you don't even have to bring God into it. The fact that you exist as a human being means you have rights.
For me the fundamental argument of political philosophy ends in 1776 and is just footnoted in 1789 and 1783 and onwards, 1945 at the end of World War II, and so on, right up through 1991.
I believe that the United States is largely a force for good in the international community, even though we have done demonstrably stupid and even evil things, particularly in the cause of the Cold War, when we would do all kinds of things to defeat the Soviets. We felt ourselves to be in a death struggle with an evil regime, and we stooped to their level on more than one occasion.
I know this must sound like the "I believe" speech in the movie "Bull Durham"—you know, "I believe in the hanging curve ball, I don't believe in the designated hitter rule". but since you asked: I also believe in using terms like "good" and "evil" in international relations. When Bush talked about the "Axis of Evil," and everybody went, "Oh, that word, there he goes again"—I remember when Reagan talked about the Evil Empire. Soviet dissidents were cheering when they heard that Reagan said that. One Soviet dissident later said, "I couldn't believe that America finally had a President with the courage to call something by its name," and they actually took heart and hung in there during the very dark days of the early 1980s during the Cold War. I think "good" and "evil" are terms that work.
I don't know what neo-con means because I don't understand the way opponents of the neo-cons use this word. I say the neo-cons share my beliefs about very muscular foreign policies, that they are values-driven. Condoleezza Rice says that our values should be part of our essential national interest. I am not averse to that.
VOICE: But would you have advised Bush to go into Iraq?
THOMAS NICHOLS: I was arguing for invading Iraq in 1993, and I would have done it on humanitarian grounds, in response to the massacre of what they call the Marsh Arabs, to take one example.
And then, when it was clear that Saddam had financed a plot to kill the first President Bush, I said that in any rational world up until now, when one country conspires to kill even a former leader of another, that would be considered a cause for war under any textbook you consider.
In the end, I just do not know what a neo-con is. I know that I am different from a liberal, or whatever a liberal is today. I don't believe, as somebody said to me here last night, that the United States is the most dangerous threat to peace in the world. I do not believe that we are essentially a racist and ethnocentric nation, and so on and so forth.
VOICE: I might be reading into some of the things you said a little too much, but I am going to throw it out there. You made a comment about the French getting their thrill at watching what was going on in Iraq and the fact that some of the members of the UN, just because of their disdain for Bush, took the stance that they took. You haven't really spoken about France and Germany and what they did when it came time to vote. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it was as simple as that?
THOMAS NICHOLS: No, no, no. I think it was multifaceted. I think a lot of the French public is enjoying watching Bush flounder in Iraq, even though innocent people are getting killed and we are trying to do the right thing. I think that some of what we did after the war was incompetent, but it was well-intentioned.
But let me start from the most petty reasons why I think the French government opposed it. The petty reasons were things like the fact that it now appears that some officials were being bought off by the Oil-for-Food program promotions. You know, it is amazing what $2 million can do to your ethics. I mean that alone could tank the legitimacy of the United Nations. So far Kofi Annan has deflected a lot of it, but you have a certain layer of corruption that is just a direct result of the Oil-for-Food program in my opinion.
I think some of the opposition to the United States was about showing that Europe cannot be pushed around by an ignorant cowboy. "Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. Who the hell is George Bush? He's a moron, right?" That is the way some Europeans look at him: a cowboy.
But on a strategic level, I also think the French—the Germans I think made a bet that they later regretted, because they tried to mend fences faster than the French did—the French made a calculation, saying, "If we do this, we are really establishing our leadership of the EU as a counterweight to the Americans." You'll remember that it was French Foreign Minister Vedrine who referred to the United States as a "hyperpower" — not just a superpower, a hyperpower.
They said, "This will take the Americans down a peg if we show them we're not just Bush's lapdog, like Blair"—the idea being that Blair is Bush's poodle, as he was called in the press—"and that we on the continent, the French, will set forth some leadership."
This was conveniently neglecting that Portugal and Holland and Poland, a whole passel of European countries, had already said, "No, we agree with the United States." In fact, that is when I think you really saw inside the French attitude about this, when the French President told the Eastern European nations to sit down and shut up. Do you remember this? What is the word he used?
VOICE: You're out of your place.
THOMAS NICHOLS: You're out of your place, you should know when not to speak, or something, to Hungary and Poland and Bulgaria. It was a serious thing. The President of Poland, who represents 40 million people and a burgeoning Central European power, did not appreciate being told to go back to the card table with the little kids while the grown-ups were talking. I think we really saw what Chirac was after there, which was to say, "France speaks for Europe and France counterbalances the United States."
VOICE: There is a huge Muslim population in France.
THOMAS NICHOLS: And I think Chirac is scared to death of them.
VOICE: And he should be, because it's growing, it's huge.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Four million.
VOICE: It is the biggest [minority]population in France. So it is not just for political or any other reasons, and power, and standing up to the United States, which I personally was very proud of Chirac for doing, because he actually did what his people wanted.
VOICE: Democracy in action.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Tony Blair had a population that was not behind him and he made the case and rallied his people. That is leadership. Simply saying, "I've got a whole lot of Muslims here, and okay, whatever you want"—you know what? That is not leadership.
The real question for the French President is are those French Muslims going to integrate as French citizens? And right after that, Chirac realized he had gone too far, because then he gets into this standoff with the French Muslim population about head scarves in schools, precisely because he has been accused of pandering to the Muslim community in France, which is exactly what he did.
VOICE: I can tell you that I have many friends in France, and I have spoken to a lot of them, and I have lived there for years. No one approves of we've done in Iraq.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Let's talk about democracy and leadership for a minute. Is leadership in a democracy just doing what the majority always wants? Is that what it boils down to? I don't think so.
VOICE: I think part of it is doing what people want.
THOMAS NICHOLS: How many people in America wanted to go to war in 1940 against the Axis? The Selective Service Act passes by one vote in Congress, while Hitler's tanks are rolling across Europe and the extermination of the Jews has already begun. You know, they said, "Look, hey, Nazis are bad, but some guy in Nebraska doesn't want to go, so he doesn't have to." To me that is not democratic.
VOICE: I am not saying that the French are all political, but they are well informed in a general way, and they are humanitarian people. They feel very strongly about human rights and about upholding certain values that the United States is trying to end by its occupation of Iraq.
THOMAS NICHOLS: The French feel very strongly about nonintervention in other people's affairs unless it happens to be their former colonies. These are the people who bombed a Greenpeace boat as a matter of government policy. So let's not wax on romantically about the French, okay?
QUESTION: I don't. I have lived among the French and they are not romantic people. But as far as people being informed about what their government is doing and being active in their society, they put Americans to shame. They are active in their political life, and if Chirac reflected that, then I think he reflected what the people wanted.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Can I breach protocol and ask you a question? If the majority of Americans wanted to go to war in Iraq, which they did when we did, is Bush a better leader for going to war?
VOICE: I know what she is going to say: They were too stupid to know better, they were lied to, and they didn't have all the information.
VOICE: No. With Colin Powell sitting before the UN and presenting everything as he did, did we not all want to believe that the United States would not go into it for any other reason but to defend a possible attack? No.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Nobody said when we were going to go to war against Iraq, "He might not have WMDs. Maybe you should hold off and let them." Everybody said, "Oh, this guy has them or he has gotten rid of them by selling them to terrorists or doing something bad."
VOICE: Even Blix said that.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Because he had them in 1992 and then he said, "Oh, we don't have them anymore." The UN said, "Okay, but can you show us?" He said, "No, but just trust me. I don't have them. But don't check over here." He didn't want the UN inspectors to come in. And he said, "Well, don't check that eight-square-mile area over there."
VOICE: I think this is a good point. I am still concerned about the idea that leadership in a democracy means just doing what everybody wants.
VOICE: She has a legitimate point, which is that an informed electorate did not want to go to war. In hindsight, knowing what we know now, how off were they? There were no weapons of mass destruction, we were being sold a bill of goods at the UN. George Bush never sold it as we are doing nation-building and democracy-building and we're going to change the heart of the Middle East. So how wrong is she? If he had presented it the way that it actually ended up today, we wouldn't be there right now.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I think Bush made a tremendous mistake hinging everything on WMD. In fact, in the pages of the Carnegie Council's journal Ethics and International Affairs, I actually wrote an article saying, "No, no, no, there are all these good reasons for taking out Saddam and they are all worthy of going to war." I used Just War criteria as my criteria. So I think Bush made a tactical error in selling the war based strictly on WMD.
My equivalent population that I visited doing all this stuff for my work was in Greece, a country that we saved from Communism—thank you very much—and now has a lot of people who hate our guts. I get talking with the Greeks, and what they really cannot deal with is not being a power.
You know, Hedley Bull had a great expression once, "You have to beware of the arrogance of power, but smaller countries have to beware of the arrogance of impotence." Go back to the 1970s. The Greeks would say to me, "We know that the CIA plots against Cyprus. We know the Turks are there as your allies." And these were educated people. I finally said, "Do you understand that 98.99 percent of the U.S. foreign policy establishment doesn't care about Cyprus? We have this other thing going on called the Soviet Union. We have these other issues."
At that point a Greek student actually said to me, "You think Soviet missiles aren't pointed at Greece?"
You do not know what to say to that because countries like Greece and France, in my opinion, feel the need to matter. Opposition to the United States puts you on the map. Andreas Papandreou in Greece made a career of this. Greece became a player in NATO politics because Papandreou's reflex answer to everything was "No, I will oppose the United States." It was literally like that every time, and Papandreou suddenly emerges as this kind of power. He did it cynically. But you know, my Greek friends and relatives adored him.
VOICE: But I don't think the French have the same "fight, fight, fight" attitude that Americans have.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Oh no, no, unless it's in Chad or Sierra Leone or against nuclear testing protesters in the Pacific.
VOICE: But are they currently doing that? Is that part of their policy? Do all the European states feel that same way?
THOMAS NICHOLS: The French intervene anytime it is in their interests.
VOICE: The French, for example, just recently intervened in Cote d'Ivoire. They destroyed their navy and their tiny little air force.
French politics are that way, but I believe that the French people typically are not "fight, fight" people.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Okay. There is a historical record there.
VOICE: Maybe in the past they were, but as they currently are, they are people who push humanitarian ideals in general.
THOMAS NICHOLS: That may be true of the French people. I find French foreign policy to be cynical.
VOICE: What about the argument that these smaller rogue states could perhaps work even harder now to get nuclear weapons of mass destruction, because of the fact that there is a perceived notion that we haven't done anything to Korea, because they actually have them?
THOMAS NICHOLS: I think you are right.
VOICE: I think it is interesting that we have not really talked about capitalism at all in the conversation. Money has not come up on any level. To me really as I look at France and Germany, I have anecdotal evidence that some larger corporations in Germany have a very vested economic interest in not having the war in Iraq happen.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I think the oil companies here were against it, which no radical protester believes, but it is true.
VOICE: But I would believe that big business in the United States was for it.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Maybe some of the defense contractors, I don't know, but my understanding is that the oil companies were not.
VOICE: So for me, looking at it as an economic question, what we are doing, the amount of money that we are spending, and not having any support from our allies who have money to help us reconstruct and potentially make money out of this entire metric, is not economically sound, it doesn't make sense, and it is not supportable.
VOICE: I just find that although it doesn't mean necessarily getting in the mind of the Arabs and Jews, I do not think that you can discount the United States' policy in the Middle East. Looking at the struggling over that part of the world, trying to keep dictators in power who are oppressing these people, how can we be surprised that we incurred frustrated young men who see America as a threat? I can see myself in that situation.
It doesn't take a lot to see that kind of step-after-step causation. I think our policy is so clear with the Saudis, who you said are corrupt, and our relationship with them is corrupt. And so I guess I just do not see us as an independent kind of actor that is free of guilt in this. I think a lot of it has to go back to the economics argument. Frankly, I think that being kicked out of Saudi Arabia, we are probably going to set up shop in Iraq so we have some kind of military presence as China industrializes to try to control some of the huge oil reserves.
I do think it is a valuable exercise to try to put yourself in the minds of other people in the world, like the French looking at things for what they are, not wanting to go to war. I don't think America would have gone to war if George Bush had been honest. Now, whether or not we should have gone, I think he had to sell it, and he sold it, and he did a great job. But I think that if he had been honest, just like the French—their press was saying different things—we would not have gone.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Frankly, I think the President could have done a better job explaining the need to go to war. Instead, I think what he did was take advantage of the fact that the public sentiment in America for almost fifteen years now has been, "Why isn't this guy dead?"
VOICE: I don't think the average American knows were Iraq is.
THOMAS NICHOLS: I don't mean to insult you, but I think that is a sort of sneering East Coast kind of condescension to average Americans.
VOICE: It definitely is, but I do not think that is a misplaced perception. Now, until we started sending troops, I don't think the average American would have cared what we did with Iraq, just like they really don't care what we do with a lot of foreign policy.
VOICE: I think that he sold it because he said, "If we don't do this, they are going to get you." That is something the American mentality could understand. After 9/11, the feeling was, "I'm going to get hit next, let's take this guy out."
THOMAS NICHOLS: There is no question that American interest in foreign policy increased dramatically on September 12, 2001. I think saying the average American was a moron about foreign policy before then is selling them short.
VOICE: I'm giving them more credit and saying if they actually understood his total argument, we would not have gone to war. He didn't sell it like that.
THOMAS NICHOLS: As a counterfactual we will never know. But let me answer your question about this idea of keeping dictators in power. We played footsie with Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War because we felt that the enemy of our enemy was our friend. You know, that is ironic. People say, "We propped up Saddam and we are responsible for that." Okay, so now we are making it right and taking him out. Isn't that a good thing? This is more than a hypothetical. Look what we did to Marcos in the Philippines, right? During the Cold War we propped up Marcos, who was a bad guy, there's no doubt about it. We got into bed with some really ugly people during the Cold War.
VOICE: People in the region don't forget.
THOMAS NICHOLS: And then what did we do when the democratically elected government of the Philippines was in trouble after the end of the Cold War? We sent aid, and we sent military aid.
VOICE: That was in our best interest.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Why is that in our best interest? If you really want to be cynical about this, our best interest was to have a string of petty dictatorships around the world that are totally beholden to us for their military power.
VOICE: Which is what we got for fifteen or twenty years.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Now, that is an overly cynical reading of the Cold War.
VOICE: During the Cold War did we not prop up numerous dictatorships around the world?
THOMAS NICHOLS: We did prop up some dictatorships. And we also made sure that that if there was going to be a son of a bitch in power, it was going to be our son of a bitch, as FDR supposedly once said, because the option was not between democratically elected leaders. It was the choice of dictators. We chose ours. So that is an important thing to remember, because it makes it seem as if during the Cold War there would have been all these democracies flowering all over the world if we simply hadn't just gone and stepped on them. There was an enemy that was shadowing our steps, making sure that if it wasn't going to be our tyrant, it was going to be their tyrant.
Now, I hate speaking this way because I believe in a values-oriented life and foreign policy. But these were the hard, cold facts of the Cold War. And I think that, again, part of what I see of this issue of spreading democracy is we owe some debts around the world and we should pay them.
The Philippines—what's our strategic issue in the Philippines? What do we care about the Philippines? Democracy? The Philippines are easier for us, in terms of transit rights and bases and all that stuff, to deal with in a dictatorship. Dictatorships are inherently easier to deal with. There is no public opinion, there is no media, there is no parliament. You just know the guy in charge.
So it makes it inherently more difficult for us when we defend democracy in a place like the Philippines. But I think that people, being so cynical, forget that what a lot of Americans do—just like the French or any other democratic country—is really based on values, that we do want things to be better for other people in the world.
But I take your point. We did a lot of bad things during the Cold War. But we also did a lot of good things, and I think we stopped some things. I think toppling the government of Grenada was a good thing. We took a bunch of Marxist thugs and we kicked them out of power and basically turned Grenada into an American protectorate or trusteeship for a time.
VOICE: The opposite of Guatemala. I am just saying that people in regions don't have the kind of mindset that political science has. And if you are a Middle Eastern teen or in your twenties or in your forties, you don't remember the United States' good deeds. You remember what they did to oppress you and your family for the last twenty years.
THOMAS NICHOLS: But I also think you are giving them too much credit for long historical awareness. I think, for example, a lot of what is happening in the world these days is more like, "I am nineteen or twenty, I am about to graduate from college, I don't have a job, I don't have any access, and yeah, I think the United States has something to do with it." But the problem again is when kids in Greece for instance, cannot find a job, who do they blame? They blame us. I'm not kidding.
VOICE: But there are also exceptions to the rule. In Iran, for example, they want—
THOMAS NICHOLS: Let's talk like political scientists for a minute. In your analysis, the United States and its foreign policy is always the independent variable, and the whole rest of the world is merely one big reaction to whatever the United States does. I think that is selling short what goes on in other countries. It is too ethnocentric.
Take China, for example: is China going to build up its nuclear forces? The Chinese are all sitting there saying, "Well, if the United States builds missile defense, we will have to." Well, the Chinese are going to build and modernize their nuclear forces no matter what we do; just as Al-Qaeda is going to try and make a strike no matter what we do.
As far as we have traced back the trail—for example, 9/11 was in its planning stage when Bill Clinton was dragging the Israelis and the Palestinians to Oslo. Bill Clinton, I would argue is the most pro-Palestinian president the United States has seen in a long time, and there he was knocking heads together and arm-wrestling the Israelis to accept concessions. To al-Qaeda it didn't matter a bit; it had no impact on al-Qaeda's planning phase. I mean look at all the incidents of al-Qaeda terrorism that happened while Clinton was president.
As for capitalism and this issue of corporate influence on foreign policy—I think again it becomes a kind of reductionist argument to say, "You know, corporations are always in favor of war because they profit from it." Well, corporations like stability. That's what they like more than war. They like peace and quiet and order and predictable transactions.
VOICE: And opening markets.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Yes. But, you know, I can't imagine that anyone thinks that the Iraqis are going to be a market for anything in the near term.
VOICE: How about security infrastructure?
THOMAS NICHOLS:I just don't think you can reduce it to saying corporations are driving this.
One of my colleagues at another university has done a lot of study. The guy would actually describe himself as fairly left-wing, but he sort of went where the data took him. He has actually come to believe multinational corporations are a force for development in the Third World and that in their way, they are a good thing. There are people in our discipline who don't talk to him anymore because that is anathema, it's heresy. I am agnostic at this point on this question, because I just think the data is too varied to reduce it to saying "capitalism does this" or "capitalism does that" when it comes to issues of peace.
And finally, your point about nukes, are other countries racing towards nukes because North Korea is getting away with it? I think so, although there was a report recently that one of Saddam's nuke guys said that Saddam didn't try to get nukes in earnest until the Israelis bombed the reactor. So maybe.
But on the other hand, now we find out the South Africans, who were not being threatened over this, had six nuclear weapons. The apartheid regime of South Africa had six nuclear weapons, and if things went badly in South Africa, they were going to literally set them off and claim the Soviets had done it, and pretty much touch off World War III.
But in some cases I think you are right, that there are some countries. On the other hand, Libya probably took the cue, looking at all those troops in Iraq, and said, "Okay, this isn't a smart thing." So I don't know. I wish we had solved the Korea problem ten years ago. But I agree with your analysis.
VOICE: Can I just ask one very last question? We had Stephen Flynn in here, and he said that it is a wonder that no one has set off a dirty bomb in Times Square yet. Do you agree?
THOMAS NICHOLS: I wouldn't state it as strongly as he has, although I think it is more likely to happen than not. The thing about dirty bombs is it is not as easy to get that material as people would like to think.
In the early 1990s, there were Russians trying to make money smuggling nuclear material. We always knew those guys because of the big patches of their hair falling off, missing teeth, because literally they caught one guy, I think it was the Russian police working with Interpol, and the guy was storing it in a canister under his sink. So when you are talking about something like plutonium, it is hard to walk around with that stuff without leaving traces.
VOICE: He [Flynn] said follow the drugs.
VOICE: He said it's a wonder that it hasn't happened yet, but unless policies change, it could happen within the next decade.
THOMAS NICHOLS: Yes, I agree with that. I agree with him about our policy. And that is a bipartisan failure. The Nunn-Lugar money that is meant to secure this stuff, somebody told me that they can't give it away, they can't spend it, there are no programs to spend it on, and so it just sits there. I am worried about that.
But on the other hand, I am also amazed that in the fourteen years since the fall of the Soviet Union, no loose nukes or material have made their way into enemy hands, which I think is remarkable. You know, the security safeguards on all this stuff were a lot worse after 1992-1993.
VOICE: Is that definitely the case, though? Are they accounted for 100 percent?
THOMAS NICHOLS: They're not accounted for, they are not turning up anywhere else either.
VOICE: But how do we know that?
THOMAS NICHOLS: Well, we can't find them and they don't seem to be here.