Finally, we should remember that anything done to Qaddafi is being done to someone who had given up terrorism. Much has been said about what lessons other authoritarian regimes in the region will draw if the Libyan ruler is allowed to use force to stay in power. We also should think about the lessons that will be drawn if someone who gave up not only terrorism but also his unconventional weapons programs in return for normal relations and acceptance in the international community is made a target for regime change [bold mine-DL]. The lesson that the mullahs in Tehran and others will draw is that it would be useless to reach any agreement with the West about terrorism or nuclear weapons because the West is really interested above all in regime change and, regardless of any agreements that may have been reached, will seize the first opportunity that comes along to try to realize that goal. ~Paul Pillar
Prior to the start of the Libyan war, I frequently said that the U.S. had nothing at stake in Libya, and I still think that’s basically correct. However, Pillar correctly points out that turning against Gaddafi will have some significant security costs for the United States that could have been avoided. This isn’t just a matter of direct blowback from the Libyan war in the form of Gaddafi-sponsored attacks or attacks by jihadists inspired to strike by the intervention in Libya. The costs also come in the form of all the opportunities for anti-terrorist and non-proliferation efforts that have been squandered by targeting the chief example of a rehabilitated proliferator and terrorist sponsor with military action and eventually regime change.
Gaddafi’s example will not only give authoritarian rulers every incentive to seek a nuclear deterrent, but it will convince those that have active nuclear programs that they should not bargain away their ability to create one. The attack on Libya will also encourage authoritarian rulers that cannot afford to build a functioning nuclear program to pretend that they are for the sake of strategic ambiguity, so we can expect many more regimes to engage in elaborate bluffs to create the fear among Western governments that they are developing unconventional weapons to deter attack. Hard-liners in every regime will cite Libya as an example of why Western governments cannot be trusted, and why their governments should not engage in appeasement of the West. They will reckon that negotiating disarmament or the repudiation of nuclear weapons opens their countries up to outside attack that will be justified on ideological grounds. The Libyan war will have significant, negative consequences for U.S. policies elsewhere whether or not the war is a success.
Update: Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at ArmsControlWonk has noted the North Korean reaction to the Libyan war.