Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says 'red lines' stop war, but do they?

Robert H. Reid

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 9:25 p.m. MDT

In this Sept. 11, 2012, photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borissov, not seen, in Jerusalem.

Associated Press

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.

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.

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.

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.

Ultimately behind-the-scenes negotiations produced a deal to avert nuclear holocaust.

Berlin Airlift

In 1945, the victorious allies divided the Nazi German capital into Russian, American, British and French zones, with each occupying power getting full access to the entire city. The Soviets considered West Berlin, located 110 miles into the Communist-controlled east, as a thorn that should be eliminated.

Three years into the occupation, the Soviets began restricting Western rail, road and canal entry to West Berlin.

In response, the U.S. and its allies began flying in thousands of tons of food, fuel and other supplies. The blockade was lifted in May 1949.

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