An earlier version of this essay was presented as the Glasmacher Lecture in Ottawa on 3 February 2011, at the Symposium on Conflict Resolution, Centre for Research on Conflict of Saint Paul University, Department of Law of Carleton University, and the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa. The author thanks the symposium's organizer, Vernon Neufeld Redekop, and commentators Andrea Bartloli, Heather Eaton, Merle Lefkoff, and Jo Ann St. Lewis, as well as several conferees for criticisms and comments; also Stephen Advocate in New Haven, Daryl Moriani in Brisbane, and Yurim Yi, Peter Zaitsev, and Victor Kava in Boston for their close readings and suggestions.
Can – Should – Must We Negotiate with Evil?*
Article first published online: 2 DEC 2011
© 2011 Center for International Studies, Inha University
Volume 26, Issue 3, pages 316–335, December 2011
How to Cite
Clemens Jr., W. C. (2011), Can – Should – Must We Negotiate with Evil?. Pacific Focus, 26: 316–335. doi: 10.1111/j.1976-5118.2011.01067.x
- Issue published online: 2 DEC 2011
- Article first published online: 2 DEC 2011
- arms control;
- North Korea
How should the USA and its allies deal with regimes that abuse their own people and threaten world order? Are some regimes so evil that it is wrong and unwise to engage with them – even on matters of shared concern? The answer depends not only on the “facts of the case” but also on priorities and frames of reference. Thus, two Soviet citizens, each a Nobel Prize winner, disagreed on whether Western governments should treat the Kremlin as a viable partner in negotiations to control the arms race. Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn said “no,” because a regime that oppressed its own people could not be trusted. But Andrei D. Sakharov answered “yes,” because the stakes for humanity were so high. Solzhenitsyn put human rights first; Sakharov, the survival of humanity.
Today a similar choice confronts Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo as they face leaders in Pyongyang moving to expand their nuclear and missile capabilities. President George W. Bush placed North Korea on an “axis of evil.” He loathed a leader who permitted more than a million of his subjects to starve. But even if this repugnance was justified, did it serve US and allied interests to end the dialogues that, in the Clinton years, offered hope of limiting and perhaps terminating the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs?
“We are good and they are bad” is dangerous as an approach to foreign affairs. But it is also wrong and reckless to assume that all actors are equally flawed. Still, if a cruel dictatorship is willing to negotiate security arrangements likely to limit arms competition and make war less likely, democratic governments should engage and seek verifiable arrangements.