The concept of "rogue States"


The concept of "rogue state" plays a pre-eminent role today in policy planning and analysis. The current Iraq crisis is only the latest example. Washington and London declared Iraq a "rogue state," a threat to its neighbours and to the entire world, an "outlaw nation" led by a dictator who must be contained by the guardians of world order, the United States and its British partner. The concept therefore merits a close look.



“As we work for peace, we must also meet threats to our nation’s security — including increased dangers from outlaw nations and terrorism.”

Bill Clinton, “State of the Union Address”, January 19, 1999 (italics added).



“We are here to discuss the emerging threats to America’s security as we reach a new century. How do we respond to the threat of terrorists around the world, turning from bullets and bombs to even more insidious and potent weapons? What if they and the rogue states that sponsor them try to attack the critical computer systems that drive our society? What if they seek to use chemical, biological, even nuclear weapons? The United States must deal with these emerging threats now, so that the instruments of prevention develop at least as rapidly as the instruments of disruption.”

National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, “On Keeping America Secure For the 21st Century”, January 22, 1999 (italics added).






I. Definition and criteria of rogue states.


In the most general sense, a rogue state is a state that abides neither by international law nor international standards of proper governance and behavior. States that have the label applied to them are typically ruled by authoritarian regimes that severely restrict human rights. They are generally hostile to the West and its allies, and are often accused of sponsoring terrorism and/or seeking to acquire or develop weapons of mass destruction.


Six criteria may help qualifying a state as a rogue state:

-a rogue state squanders national resources for the personal gain of the rulers, caring little of the needs and desires of the general population

-a rogue state exposits little or no regard for international law, threatens its neighbors, and callously violates international treaties to which it is party

-a rogue state posseses or is determined to possess weapons of mass destruction and/or other advanced military technology, for use in an aggressive manner

-a rogue state sponsors global terrorism

-a rogue state is irrational to the extent that conventional methods of negotiation are ineffective; it lacks diplomatic communication with other states

-a rogue state finally rejects basic human rights, and often develops openly genocidal practices


II. The concept of rogue state as a political tool.


The term of “rogue state” is used almost exclusively by the government of the United States and has not gained wide acceptance.The U.S. has used the alleged threat posed by rogue states to the security of other countries to justify its foreign policy and other initiatives; for example, renewed interest in and funding of anti-ballistic missiles programs are, according to U.S. officials, grounded in the concern that a rogue state may launch a weapon of mass destruction against the U.S. and not be deterred by the certainty of retaliation. North Korea and Irak have been suggested as "rogue states," along with Iran, Syria, and Libya. In the last six months of the Clinton administration, the term "rogue state" was temporarily replaced with the term "state of concern," however the Bush administration has preferred the less euphemistic term. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the term rogue state has been supplemented in the United States by the term “axis of evil”, adopted (January 29, 2002) by President Bush in reference to Iraq, Iran and North Korea.


The alleged existence of “rogue states” has justified the undertaking of policies and regulations by American policymakers. Different types of sanction have been used :

-Economic sanctions are commonly employed against rogue states (for example, Libertad sanctions and the Helms-Burton Act against Cuba, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, and UN sanctions against Iraq).

-Political sanctions are also employed. The United States has made efforts to undermine political stability in rogue states (for example, the Iraq Liberation Act, the Cuban Democracy Act, and federal moneys allocated to fund opposition groups in Iran and Iraq).

-International action has finally been pushed forward by the US. The United States has indeed pushed hard for the adoption of certain international agreements and treaties under the argument that their existence would be of benefit in limiting the flow of dangerous materials to so-called rogue states (for example, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Wassenaar Arrangement).



III. The critics of the concept of rogue states.


-Some critics charge that "rogue state" merely means any state that opposes the U.S., but does not necessarily pose a wider threat.

-Others accuse the U.S. of being a rogue state itself, whose foreign policy is sometimes accused of having the sort of brutality and capriciousness of those it considers "rogue states." The book Rogue Nation claims that the U.S. is as much of a "rogue state" as any other, even by its own standards. Many critics have applied the label to the United States for its “unilateralism”, noting its skirting of several major international treaties including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (from which it withdrew), the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (which it did not ratify), the International Criminal Court (did not ratify, and refuses to accept its jurisdiction) and the Kyoto Protocol on the Environment (signed, but did not ratify). Even more worrying to critics is the tendency of the U.S. to take armed action against governments it dislikes virtually on its own, particularly the 2003 invasion of Irak and its history of bypassing or ignoring the United Nations.

            -The labelling of “rogue states” has furthermore been said to be incoherent. There are indeed many instances in which roguish behavior has not elicited the application of the “rogue” or “pariah” label by American policymakers. Or it would have seemed logical to assume that the pursuit of the policies such as WMD capability, terrorism, a challenge to the international norms and a global or local threat, serves as a set of criteria for the determination of rogue status. Those states which pursue the roguish behaviors become the so-called rogue states. However an effort to determine who are the rogues solely on the basis of the policies listed above would ultimately fail. Regarding the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, it could be argued that the greatest challenge to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the 1990’s did not take place in countries such as Libya and Iran but instead occurred in South Asia where both India and Pakistan not only have acquired, but detonated, nuclear devices. From a security standpoint their possession of such weapons of mass destruction is at least as great a threat as wmd programs amongst the listed rogue states. Yet, neither India nor Pakistan have been characterized as rogues or pariahs even at the time of their nuclear detonations in 1998. In fact, Secretary of State Albright, though critical of these states for the tests, went out of her way to explicitly state that they were not to be characterized as pariahs nor made into outcasts.

Similarly, Egypt and Syria do not appear as rogue states in the rhetoric of American policymakers despite U.S. government reports that they both are actively engaged in the pursuit of missile technology and Syria is reportedly actively seeking to further develop its chemical weapons capability. Some states which reportedly act as suppliers of weapons of mass destruction, such as China and Russia, also have escaped the designation of rogue state, though others, such as North Korea, have not.

With regard to the policy of allegedly sponsoring international terrorism, again we see that engaging in this roguish behavior is insufficient to garner the rogue label. This is most clearly seen in the case of Syria, which has been cited as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in the annual report “Patterns of Global Terrorism” issued by the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State, for each year, at least, of the Clinton Administration. Such “state sponsors” are defined as those “governments [which] support international terrorism either by engaging in terrorist activity themselves or by providing arms, training, safehaven, diplomatic facilities, financial backing, logistic and/or other support to terrorists”. Yet Syria has not been named by a member of the Clinton foreign policy team as a “rogue state”.




§         "Rogue" States and NMD/TMD : policies in search of a rationale ? - Ahrari, Ehsan . Mediterranean Quarterly (2001,Spring) vol.12:n°2

§         Rogue states : the rule of force in world affairs / Noam Chomsky. - Chomsky, Noam (1928-....) London : Pluto Press, 2000 

§         Rogue states and nuclear outlaws : America's search for a new foreign policy. - Klare, Michael T. New York : Hill and Wang, 1995

§         Rogue states and US foreign policy : containment after the Cold War / Robert S. Litwak. Washington, D.C. : The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2000




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