Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Netanyahu's 'red line': Does drawing a line actually work?

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drew a 'red line' on a simple diagram of Iran's nuclear program. How have red lines worked out in the past?

By Robert H. ReidAssociated Press / September 28, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb as he addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Enlarge

Berlin

In a dramatic gesture, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew a "red line" on a diagram of Iran's nuclear program and called on the world to do the same to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons — a step the Iranians insist they don't intend to take.

Skip to next paragraph

Red lines, Netanyahu declared, "don't lead to war." Instead, he argued Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly that "red lines prevent war" by making clear the limits of international tolerance.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Bar Ilan University, said red lines are considered less severe a warning than an ultimatum, which includes a threat of consequences.

History shows that the effectiveness of such warnings often depends on a country's resolve to follow through and accept the consequences.

Line in the sand

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sent soldiers and tanks into neighboring Kuwait and annexed the tiny, oil-rich nation as Iraq's 19th province. Six days later, President George H. W. Bush told Americans that "a line in the sand has been drawn" and ordered U.S. troops to Kuwait's neighbor Saudi Arabia.

Armed with a U.N. Security Council resolution and congressional authorization to use force, U.S. and allied jets launched air attacks on Baghdad and other Iraqi targets. The ground assault began Feb. 24 and within days the Iraqis had been driven out of Kuwait. Iraq accepted a cease-fire on March 3 and Kuwaiti sovereignty was restored.

Cuban missile crisis

One of history's most dangerous red-line moments came in October 1962 when U.S. President John F. Kennedy revealed to the world that the Soviet Union had been installing missile sites in Cuba, and demanded that Premier Nikita Khrushchev remove them. For 13 tense days, the world seemed headed for nuclear war. Kennedy declared a quarantine on all offensive military equipment headed for Cuba — effectively a "red line" around the Caribbean island nation — and threatened to turn back any ships carrying armaments. For their part, the Soviets tested a 300-kiloton hydrogen bomb as a reminder of Moscow's military might.

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Editors' picks

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!