Fred Friendly on Libya? Nuclear Diplomacy vs. Regime Change


centrifuges libya.jpgWhen I was getting hooked on the public policy world, one of my on-ramps was the “Fred Friendly Seminar” series initiated decades ago by former CBS President Fred Friendly. These encounters of real world public policy hands, former and current government officials, social leaders, and others worked through simulations and decision-making scenarios on a wide variety of complex public policy challenges. (photo depicts centrifuges Libya had acquired from Pakistan; National Nuclear Security Administration)

I think we need one today that takes a look at the Libya invasion. The question few seem to be taking seriously but which is very much in the background is what the US and allied force strike against Gaddafi does to our efforts to persuade other nations to either avoid the nuclear weapons track, or once on it, coax them off.
Gaddafi gave up his efforts to build a nuclear weapon stockpile in Libya in return for other commitments from the West. He invited IAEA inspectors in to do unfettered inspections — and this has been an enormously important benchmark of success for President Obama’s broad efforts to restore a nuclear weapons-resistant global commons.
But now, because of humanitarian considerations, the US and allies have essentially invaded Libya. As Vice President Joe Biden said, when a leader commits acts of mass violence against his own people, that country and leader forfeit their sovereignty, or so many argue.
But Libya is only one of many possible countries that may take up nuclear weapons as a security measure. Nations that have nukes don’t tend to get invaded. Look at North Korea.
Iran’s own probable nuclear weapons appetite seems clearly tied to its fears about regime change machinations from other countries.
It’s very hard for me to see how the US and the West succeed down the road in getting any totalitarian country with nukes to give them up — particularly after seducing Gaddafi to do so and then invading the country.
That’s not to say that the humanitarian intervention was wrong. I understand and sympathize with the President’s impulse.
But this doesn’t make the question any less legitimate and important. What is the higher priority? Proliferation of nuclear weapons or humanitarian assistance and protection.
It’s terrible when such choices have to be made, but that does seem to be the fork in the road that we came to on Libya — and we decided to forfeit what President Obama was working to achieve in rebuilding greater global allergies to nuclear and other wmd weapons.
This would make perhaps a vital Fred Friendly Seminar.
— Steve Clemons


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