TCS Daily

Dictators and Double Standards Redux

By Greg Buete - September 5, 2003 12:00 AM

The timing of Mohammed ElBaradei's comments could not have been a more apropos reflection of the misguided mindset of his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or its parent, the United Nations. Even as the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had admitted to receiving foreign assistance in building a secret and illegal uranium enrichment program, IAEA Director ElBaradei was preoccupied with the dangers of American, not Iranian, nuclear capability.


During an interview with a German magazine, ElBaradei censured America, saying, "The US government demands that other nations not possess nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, it is arming itself." Among ElBaradei's complaints were the continued US development of missile shields and smaller "bunker-buster" nuclear weapons. ElBaradei concluded, "In truth there are no good or bad nuclear weapons. If we do not stop applying double standards we will end up with more nuclear weapons."


Leave it to a UN official to compare a liberal democracy to every run of the mill, self-appointed lifetime tyrant. True, there are no good or bad nuclear weapons, for they are just things. But there are most certainly good or bad forms of government, which is why people should worry when the head of the international nuclear watchdog deflects scrutiny away from the Ayatollah's nuclear program in favor of the always-popular cause of bashing the Bush administration.


Is there, as ElBaradei whines, a nuclear double standard? One most certainly hopes so!


Countries that trample upon the rights and liberties of their own people should not enjoy the same privileges of those countries that uphold them. Indeed, this goes to the very heart of why the UN, under it's current system, will always be an incompetent organization -- any oppressive regime enjoys UN representation, including those regimes not legitimately representing their own populations.


Conversely, liberal democratic regimes govern consensually. They neither bestow nor deny free speech, press, assembly and similar liberties because by very definition these liberties are inalienable human rights; we're born with them. If the citizens of liberal democracies wish to remove their leader -- or for that matter their nuclear arms -- they can do so through frequent and peaceful process.


The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and all other liberal democracies are entitled to nuclear weapons because they are for the protection of their people, whom the governments lawfully represent. Tyrants or councils of fundamentalist oppressors, to the contrary, would use nuclear weapons to hold and spread their everlasting illiberal domination.


In a liberal democracy there are checks and balances to ensure such arms cannot be used except in the direst of circumstances, and only after much thought and consent. They are therefore much less likely to use their nuclear arsenal, or conventional arsenal for that matter, than the tyrant or illiberal democracy.


The latter distinction -- illiberal democracy -- is important because people have slowly warped the word "democracy" to mean something other than Western-style liberal government. Sure, Iran is technically a democracy. But it is illiberal -- lacking in many basic liberties. Better to live in a liberally undemocratic state than an illiberal democracy. Don't believe this? Where would you rather live, undemocratic Taiwan under a liberal British rule circa 1980, or in "democratic" fundamentalist Iran during the same period? And therefore, which is the greater threat -- a nuclear North Korea, or a hypothetically nuclear South Korea or Japan?


This segues to the next point: liberal democracies are exponentially more stable than illiberal regimes (whether technically democratic or not). The latter group must spend every resource to retain control through population oppression. This fuels inevitable instability and creates a greater chance that rebellion could arm even less representative parties, such as terrorists, with nukes. That's why the Bush administration doesn't demand the IAEA inspect France -- although it would be humorous.


Beyond the philosophical or political, there is a practical reason that the US does not follow ElBaradei's request to disarm by example. It is totally naive to assume that were the US to rid itself of its nuclear weapons the slew of despots would discontinue their nuclear pursuit. Illiberal regimes known for denying their populations' basic independence, such as access to free information, cannot be trusted to keep international agreements. That point is historically made over and again.


How comical to advocate an agreement of trust with dictators. In the end it is nothing but paper. What absurdity is next? Maybe the UN will copy the useless model of gun control, and advocate waiting periods for nukes. Instead of three days, Iran and North Korea could apply for a nuclear-arms license under a three-decade waiting period. During the wait the UN could gain assurances from North Korea that its nukes would never be used to bully South Koreans into producing Kim Jong Il's communist Godzilla trilogy.


Kidding aside, don't expect the UN delusion-mats to address governmental differences in their morally equivalent view of the world. Unconditional UN membership and legitimacy will thus continue to reinforce the behavior of despots who childishly reason, "Me too!"


America's reply to ElBaradei should be that the regimes pursuing nuclear development may do so without challenge by the United States after fulfilling one simple condition -- that they establish a liberally constitutional or parliamentary form of democratic government, with all the checks and balances thereof, and which is dedicated to free market economies and to the support of basic rights and liberties no matter race, sex, or creed. Until then, ElBaradei should get used to working lots of overtime.


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