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July 15, 2007


Hitler and Chamberlain would be an extra inappropriate example because Hitler actually wanted "to be snubbed". After the "success" of Munich he foamed that those d*mn*d English had spoiled his war. There are numerous examples of one side relying on the other side to be snubbish, so the own action would look justified because the other side simply "refused to come to the table".

Snubbing works in certain kinds of tightly structured hierarchical environments...like fraternities that choose to operate that way, for instance, and country clubs and churches that put a great deal of emphasis on physical positioning as a clue to status. It's a way of life no doubt intimately familiar to Bush, Cheney, and most of those around them. I'd guess that the emotional, as opposed to merely intellectual, awareness that this only works in certain highly unusual situation is very, very far from their minds.

It's probable that pressure from the government of China had more to do with NKorea's acquiesence on its nuclear program (political instability being bad for business, after all), but, since it happened on Condi's watch, I'd give her some credit.

As for the Hitler-Chamberlain analogy, I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean. Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland (and eventually, all of Czechoslovakia) was a done deal before Chamberlain even entered the picture. It was when Hitler re-militarized the Rheinland in 1936 when the British and the French could have reined him in. But they didn't, and that only fed his megalomania.

Has snubbing ever worked?

I’m not sure you can entirely discount its role in this very case. That is, a few years of snubbing may have led directly to this result. Given the principals involved, I don’t think it can be shown conclusively that the snubbing did not play any role in NK’s decision to reengage. NK has claimed to want normalized relations for some time. It may be the prospect of the easing of the snubbing that leads to this.

And don’t forget that snubbing here mostly consisted of insisting on multilateral talks. We engaged closely with China throughout this process, and China is the one with the real leverage, not us. I was always a little confused by the many people who could hold both of these opinions at the same time: “The US has been too unilateral, it must engage with the rest of the world on pretty much everything”, and, “The US is wrong to insist on multilateral talks in regards to NK, we have to engage them directly”.

South Africa?

I was a kid/teenager when it took place, but my memory of the situation is that sanctions had the desired effect. I would call sanctions a form of snubbing, but I am not sure how much other kinds of engagement were involved in the process.

I don't believe, as a general proposition, that it does work, which is why I have responded to recent conservative blathering for a "Democracy Caucus" to replace the UN as a really, really bad idea. If countries ask as they do when given the world diplomatic forum of the UN, imagine how they'll act when they're not even invited.

This, though, I can imagine some of the conservative responses to:

But history shows that engagement worked out pretty damn well. Same deal with China. Our willingness to engage has benefited both us and world stability more generally.
As, for example, Charles B. has argued in these very comment sections, a key part of the Bush Cheney Doctrine is that stability is not enough anymore. Stability brought us 9/11. Stability let Saddam gas his own people. Etc., etc., ad nauseum. They don't want stability. They want worldwide "democracy," by force if necessary.

OT, I'm pleased to announce that TiO is open for business. OCSteve's good question about what the US should do about North Korea will probably occasion a post this week. I've switched to the Nucleus blog engine, and it looks quite interesting. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to port the user names and passwords over, so you'll need to sign in again.

OCSteve: I dont think that snubbing can be said to have "worked" in this case, even leaving aside questions about whether it was us, the Chinese, or something else that got NK to shut down the reactor.

It was snubbing, in the form of Bush & Cheney's announcement that they were going to reevaluate the Agreed Framework, that started this whole thing. It was snubbing (or, at times, a standoff between the snub/no snub factions in our government, which Bush never resolved) that stood in the way of our doing anything about it for years, while NK got more and more plutonium. Supposing for the sake of argument that is was also snubbing that eventually got them to shut down the reactor, the best you can say for snubbing in this case is: it precipitated a crisis, as a result of which NK got the plutonium we had spent decades trying to deny them, and may or may not have got nuclear weapons (that work), and then it eventually got us back to an agreement that looks an awful lot like the Agreed Framework we originally had.

Some success.

I honestly don't get the point of snubbing. It involves voluntarily depriving ourselves not just of a whole lot of ways of affecting other countries' behavior -- all the ones that depend on, well, communicating -- but also ways of finding out more about who our adversaries are and how they work, ways of making sure that our views are communicated accurately, rather than via some process like those games of 'telephone' that we probably all played as kids, etc., etc., etc.

And for what?

And how is it supposed to work? Sanctions I understand, but I think snubbing has more to do with the refusal to talk to people than with sanctions. Snubbing seems to rely on the idea that there is something valuable to other countries about the mere fact of talking to us. And much as I respect our diplomats, I don't really see how being deprived of their company is such a huge sacrifice that it could be expected to change another country's foreign policy.

I happen to agree with OCSteve that the 'snubbing' drammaticaly affected our bargaining position today in both NK and Iran. Of course the snubbing can also be said to be helping those countries internally justify acquiring Nuclear abilities. I don't think this is really the case espicially for the NK. They had been acguiring the materials for years before we started snubbing them, it was only a matter of time until they completed it. Most of that build up happen during our time of engagement. The complications in Iran are a whole essay so I won't bother to over simplify that one.

I also want to take exception to snubbing being merely a stopping of talking to someone. Snubbing usually means no 'formal talks', though informal ones do continue, but more importantly it also means we aren't going to do any more business with you, trade, aid, etc. Snubbing is of course ridiculous with out sanctions. Snubbing is usually the result of a failed negotiating table. Snubbing is however never a final policy but only a delaying tactic so that you can return on more favorable days. Snubbing also has a way out for the snubbed, i.e. letting inspectors return, or dismantling such and such.

Now this does not mean that this means I agree with Cheney's doctrine. As far as I can tell, he would like to take snubbing as an end tactic, "we won't talk to you until either you collapse of after the war." I see no need to point out this tactic's weak points. The only benefit I can see to this stance is a posturing position for the more hardliners of our government that our diplomats could exploit during negotiations.

I can think of a personal case were snubbing can be said to have worked for people. Think alcoholic father being snubbed by his wife until he cleans up. She says I'm leaving taking the kids with, and you can have nothing to do with us until you clean up. Will it work, I heard of it doing so with people I know, but ultimately it depends on the drunk I suppose. But it was probably a move of desperation on the wifes part after failing to convince him otherwise. It should of course be noted that if it fails there is no coming back. Returning the family after snubbing failed to 'cure his ails' would surely result extremely badly.

This risk holds true for government snubbing as well of course.

Testosterone-fueled egotism from "men" too insecure to think anything but that discussion and potential compromise are weaknesses.

Hil: I dont think that snubbing can be said to have "worked" in this case

And I won’t suggest that it was a primary factor. I suggested that “I’m not sure you can entirely discount its role”. I think it’s a fair question: Might snubbing have played a role in all this? As well as doing something about his disastrous economic problems, Kim wants to be a player on the world stage. He wants to be seen as an equal among equals. Ignoring him may be one of the more painful and effective tactics to employ against him.

It was snubbing, in the form of Bush & Cheney's announcement that they were going to reevaluate the Agreed Framework, that started this whole thing.

Alternatively, NK has used the entire nuclear weapons/enrichment issue as a club to force the US and other nations into discussions that result in ending economic sanctions in place since the ceasefire. The “dud” nature of their weapons test tends to lead me in that direction.

Wiki blurb:

Some scholars and analysts have argued that North Korea is using nuclear weapons primarily as a political tool, particularly to bring the U.S. to the table to begin reestablishing normal relations and end the long-standing economic embargo against North Korea. A key point of this argument is the observation that the threat of nuclear weapons is the only thing that has brought the U.S. into serious negotiations. In a lecture in 1993, Bruce Cummings asserted that, based on information gathered by the CIA, the activity around the Yongbyon facility may have been done expressly to draw the attention of U.S. satellites. He also pointed out that the CIA had not claimed North Korea had nuclear weapons, but that they had enough material to create such weapons should they choose to do so.

I hate to think that we’ve been played for the last 14 years on this, but it’s an interesting thought.

I think it’s a fair question: Might snubbing have played a role in all this?

The effect of years of "snubbing" has been to get us back to roughly the same deal in place before we started the snubbing, now that we've stopped the snubbing. The only difference is that NK now has nukes, when they probably didn't before.

Tad: NK tried to get nuclear materials before the Agreed Framework was in place. The only time it might have successfully gotten plutonium was during the shutdown of Yongbyan during the presidency of Bush 1. Our reason for saying we were going to reassess the whole Agreed Framework didn't have anything to do with this.

Later, we alleged that they had been trying to get uranium as well. This was (imho) a stupid reason to suspend the Agreed Framework -- the AF stopped production of plutonium, which is a lot more difficult to get, and a lot quicker to use, than uranium. It was as though we wanted NK not to have automobiles, and we ditched an agreement shutting down all auto production lines because we were worried that they might be building cars by hand, piece by piece, in their basements.

But worse still, we have since backtracked on this:

"For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.

“The question now is whether we would be in the position of having to get the North Koreans to give up a sizable arsenal if this had been handled differently,” a senior administration official said this week."

I mean: NK is just not a success story for snubbing. Its one of its worst failures, since in this case, snubbing has let NK either get nuclear weapons or come a lot closer than it had before.

I want to emphasize a point Hilzoy made, which is that snubbing is entirely different from sanctions. Snubbing is about whether you have frequent, serious, official talks. It's entirely possible to have sanctions coupled with ongoing discussions about what's necessary to end them. Obviously, since snubbing is almost invariably coupled with sanctions, it's hard to distinguish the effects but I do think that it's somewhat possible.

With North Korea I think snubbing per se has hurt. NK has obviously used nuclear weapons primarily as a bargaining tool, and as OCSteve cited, appears to have used them to end the snubbing. Snubbing also raises the target's fear of attack. If anything, snubbing accelerated their nuclear weapons program.

With South Africa, I think you can make a case that snubbing helped. South Africa's sanctions had an outsized effect on their privileged class, which IMO is part of why they helped. In particular, there was a lot of focus on symbolic/cultural sanctions like sporting events. Snubbing South Africa plausibly helped with those sanctions as it attacked the diplomatic elite's wish to feel important and hang out with the big boys.

I think snubbing is only useful in the narrow context of putting pressure on a democracy or broad oligarchy when neither national interests nor economic interests are at stake. I doubt South Africa would have yielded if ending apartheid had been harmful to the country or to the elites. If you're dealing with a country across a big cultural divide (like North Korea or Iran) I think snubbing would be counterproductive because of the heightened risks of misinterpretations without a good communication channel.

Laura Rozen points to this blog entry at China Matters on North Korea, sanctions, and the use of Executive Orders that I found quite fascinating.

It is easy to claim that NK acquired weapons because we snubbed them. But this claim is really unfair, NK was clearly trying to get them before through both the Uranium and Plutonium routes, think AQ Khan. I think the case can very easily be made that the snubbing motivated them to step up their efforts, but only the uniformed would say their efforts before hand were minor. It is untrue the we snubbed them and they suddenly decided to go with Plutonium, they were on that path for some time. Though once they kicked out inspectors their production and supply of plutonium was much greater.

The way I read them I can rephrase your comments in another way 'the snubbing, not the sanctions resulted in NKs bad behavior. I can think of zero justification for this belief. I can come up with 'fear of the US' or the 'sanctions effects' being internal justifications for their behavior. But not being talked with directly by someone who doesn't even have the most influence over them, no I don't see that.

Ultimately I am not saying that snubbing produced the results it desired, it clearly didn't prevent the NKs from getting the weapons it desired. But this is a far stretch from saying it is the cause of them acquiring the weapons. It has ultimately contributed to placing the NKs into a position today 'claiming' to be 'willing' to 'possibly' dismantly their weapons and facilities...maybe they will. I rarely get to use sentences with that much ambiguity.

Personally, I think our snubbing of NKs lack of direct positive results is more due to the fact that a snub from us does not result in the NKs having something they can't live without. Now if the Chinese were to snub them, the consequences to the NK would be extreme. Snubbing 'might' work if you can take something important from someone, i.e. the family for a drunk, or international recogniztion and business from South Africa. But snubbing can also lead to major failures.

I think your greater point/question however is more than perfectly valid, could we be getting the same or better results via sanctions alone without the snubbing? Concerning NK, I would argue talking would have resulted in much the same results. Given the tone the Hawks running things would have demanded I have an extremely hard time believing things would turn out much differently.
In the case of Iran where personal freedoms are much greater than that of NK I think things would possibly be better for us. Perhaps we'd get better press inside the country, make connections with diplomats, possibly influence future elections, etc.

Maybe I'm wrong, hindsight is 20/20 not because of added insights, but because we get to assume the results go the way we say they would.

Tad: they were certainly trying to get plutonium long before we started snubbing them; and they might or might not have gotten some during the Yongbyon shutdown under Bush 1. However, the Agreed Framework shut down their means of getting it. And this wasn't a shutdown we had to take their word for: it was verifiable, via the IAEA, which had the rods for the Yongbyon reactor under seal. Had they tried to build another reactor, that would of course have been detectable via satellite. They could have tried to get plutonium on the black market, but that's a lot harder than making it in your very own reactor.

I don't think we're responsible for NK's behaving badly, in the sense that they would have been angels had we not meddled. I think it's more like: they were in prison, we let them out, they did something bad. Clearly we are not responsible for their bad behavior just because we let them out of prison. However, if we had every reason to think that they'd do something bad if let out of prison, then letting them out would be a pretty stupid thing to do.

Basically, I think: due to snubbing we let them out of prison; they left the NPT and started up Yongbyon again, and probably got enough plutonium for a bunch of nuclear weapons, which they would not have except for snubbing; then eventually they agreed to go back into prison again due to a process in which snubbing may or may not have had a role.

Some victory.

I might disagree with exactly weather the US is responsible for letting NK out of prison, or they were breaking out via th Uranium route....besides the fact that I believe it is a combination of the two this is rather beside the point. I don't want to give the impression that I ultimately disagree, in fact I think I'd agree with your bottom line in the case for snubbing NK. Some victory indeed.

But this is not so say I think 'Snubbing' should be characterized as never works. I think that it can be contributing tactic in diplomacy, international or otherwise. Like all other techniques it has strengths and weaknesses and is by no means destined to work once initiated.

It is unfortunate that we have focused on NK for this discussion, as the case for a snub victory is iffy. Others have given examples after all.

Bush and the Republicans snubbed the Democrats, and the Democrats kept offering better deals. It works when the other side is so desperate to make a deal that they start negotiating against themselves - or when you want to humiliate them.

It does NOT work when the other side can make a deal with someone else and cut you out - or just out-wait you.

publius: "To zoom down a bit, the snubbing strategy certainly doesn't work on a micro-level in social situations. When you snub someone and refuse to engage them, they generally get pissed off and small misunderstandings escalate unnecessarily."

A recent example from the real world:
At my neighborhood tavern (L.A., multi-cultural, multi-occupational) a loud, obnoxious guy with attitude stood alongside a group of us engaged in conversation at one end of the bar, and began making rude remarks about our looks, our dress, our intelligence, our clothes, and worst of all negative projections about the outcome of a Dodger game in progress on the TV, in which some of us had a rooting interest (and wagers as well).

Our collective initial impulse was, indeed, to snub him - but you're right, publius, that didn't work as a strategy, because it only encouraged him to higher levels of obnoxious interjection (lot's of yo-mammas, and imputations concerning our masculinity, our valor or lack thereof, and sneering disapproval of the frou-frou labels on the imported beer some of us were drinking).

So taking your advice, our bartender (a petite, charming, friendly, vivacious blonde young woman, eyes tinged with the lustrous color of green Chinese jade) tactfully engaged him, offering to buy him a drink if he moved away from us to the other end of the bar. Whereupon he rejected this diplomatic overture of sincere rapprochement, instead making some rather pointed references to her sexual organs, her body odor, and her parentage.

At that point, without further ado one of my companions, the one standing closest to the loud-mouthed jerk, promptly knocked him on his ass - he ended up there as the result of a hard hooking punch to the center of his breast bone, sending him in a backward stagger into the jukebox (causing the classic Lou Rawls 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life' record to skip and stutter past a phrase or two) and from there in a rubber-legged glissade onto his backside, where he sat staring up glassy-eyed: part confusion, part chagrin; the look of one whose uncalled for exhortations resulted in sudden unexpected consequence.

After the requisite flurry of movement from other attendant customers (some jumping closer or rubber-necking for a better view; others swarming in as intermediaries to smother additional confrontation) the annoying miscreant whose obnoxious utterances provoked the incident was hustled outside and eventually stuffed into a taxi and driven elsewhere.

Were there follow-up repercussions to the 'preemptive' punch? Yes. After a day or two to think it over, the fellow who was unceremoniously knocked down on his butt returned to the scene of his chastisement, offered apologies to the bartender for his behavior, and bought a round of drinks for everyone there, including the guy who decked him.

The moral of this particular story? Sometimes a good, well placed, controlled whack is more efficacious than fruitless palaver - micro, or macro (for instance the Libyan raid on Kadafi's living quarters in 1986 had a salutary effect on his belligerence).

I wonder, does the military have Google satellite coordinates for Ahmadinejad's back yard?

yes, but your analogy breaks down in that punching someone in the face isn't the same thing as military strikes, particularly ones that kill civilians and create refugees. i don't mean to be short, it's a legitimate point. I think eveyrone (myself included) has a tendency to treat matters of war like playground brawls when they're just qualitatively different (to say the least)

So are we talking about snubbing, sanctions, or shunning? I don't know about historical examples of effective snubbing (I certainly can't think of any offhand) but in normalized game and signal theory it would indeed be totally different from sanctions.

If "snubbing" is taken to mean "refusal to negotiate further until the other party makes one or more previously requested concessions" then all that does is lower the signal/noise ratio of communications between the negotiating parties, conceivably all the way to near-zero. I'm way too lazy to do any research, but offhand I would wager real money that the only consistently predictable impact of the "snubbing" tactic is to reduce the overall likelihood of a win-win outcome in non-zero-sum games.

Which makes Tad's "iffy" comment literally and mathematically correct. Snubbing doesn't have any independent statistical impact on whether the party using it "wins" or "loses." If your overall strategy benefits from delays, miscommunication, or reduced or asymmetrical bandwidth then it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Otherwise not. And at risk of resorting to anecdotes, that seems to be how things worked out with the DPRK.

Sanctions and threats of shunning are very different. Shunning would be a "refusal to engage in any interactions, period, regardless of future concessionary offers" which is something that never happens in politics. Sanctions happen all the time though. That would be "refusal to engage in some forms of interaction while continuing to negotiate." In theory, sanctions or the threat of shunning are just another kind of offer/threat token. It's not a signaling strategy, but an actual message that's being communicated. And as such it can't have any predictable impact aside from the impact of the message's content.

P.S. Since I'm out on a limb with "null impact of snubbing on user success rates in non-zero-sum games" I guess I should mention that I don't really feel safe making that assertion about fractional NZS games and I'm pretty sure it doesn't apply to multiplayer NZS games (like arms control negotiations). If I snub half of my co-workers, I will probably be fired irrespective of what's being negotiated. Same with sanctions.

publius: "yes, but your analogy breaks down in that punching someone in the face isn't the same thing as military strikes."

He didn't punch him in the face -- re-read the comment. He punched him in the chest, a controlled, limited response to the situation. Like Clinton's controlled response to Al Queda by trying to take out Bin Laden with cruise missiles, but not risking aircraft or troops (didn't work, but a good try). And yeah, punching someone is not the same as military strikes, but I was commenting off your water-cooler analogy as an extrapolation of real-world diplomacy -- and if you can 'zoom down a bit' to the 'micro-level in social situatations' to extrapolate actions at the UN (insinuating Dixie-cup gossip is the same thing as international diplomacy) my barroom shannagans are certainly as valid, if, as you said 'humans are humans.'

"snubbing" is not a very accurate description of the Neocon policy that Bush and Cheney employed in their first five or so years (until it failed so appallingly that they started calling for help from anyone they could contact).

No, the original doctrine was "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it."

Note: the tag-line was not "we snub it". Even that might have seemed marginally less hubristic, hysterical, and self-deluded.

No, the new policy was that instead of engaging with any enemies, we would simply defeat them, by the insuperable force of our righteous will-powers.

Unbelievably stupid. Foreign policy by toddler tantrum.

I mean, I'm basically on board with the thrust of your post. I just think that describing their reaction to the complexity of the world by saying that they planned to "snub" it, really gives them far more credit than they deserved.

From the point of view of NK, it is not altogether clear that we were snubbing them. Spartikus linked to China matters, but another argument given for our behavior towards NK was that they were poised to destabilize our economy thru the use of 'superbills', fake money that was so good, they were impossible to tell apart. This is the 2nd piece of a three part series about how there is very little evidence that the source of the bills is NK. from the article

First, surveying the official record of charges of counterfeiting and money laundering since the early 1990s, it is difficult to understand why the US government ever identified the DPRK or Macau as currency counterfeiting concerns in the first place. Difficult to understand, that is, unless the charges are politically motivated and rest on no solid evidentiary basis.

Second, ultimately, the US Treasury’s decision to impose the fifth special measure on Banco Delta Asia was not based on any regulatory, legislative or procedural shortcoming in Macau but on the "likelihood of recidivism" by BDA's owners and the "potential use of the bank for illicit purposes."

Third, US policy toward North Korea has been and remains deeply divided between approaches favored by the State Department and the Treasury, the former looking to negotiations to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat within the framework of the six-party talks, the latter directed toward regime change in the DPRK.

Snubbing implies that the snubber is going to simply leave you alone. From the viewpoint of NK, the US has done anything but.

Did snubbing even occur in this case? We insisted on multi-lateral talks because we had a demonstrated decade-long example of the fact that bilateral talks weren't working well.

..of course snubbing works. A scalpel does, too. Or a hammer, that works every time.


They aren't interested in "democracy. They want world-wide hegemony. Read Project for a New American Century. The neocons are quite open about this.

What about Cuba? That's the best example of how well snubbing works that I can think of. We've certainly done our best to ensure that Fidel Castro is the only power on that island.

Much more thorough advice here, for what it's worth, for any interested.

Oops, wrong thread. :-(

After more than 6 years, we are back to the original Clinton deal with North Korea. The only difference is that North Korea probably has a couple of working nukes now. That's one hell of a diplomatic triumph.

Wanna say thank you for this info.

Does Snubbing Ever Work? it so great

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