Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Dangers of Peacemaking

All too often the goal of diplomats and other peacemakers is to achieve a document which somehow addresses or fudges or constructively circumvents all the issues over which a set of parties are seriously disagreeing, perhaps even warring. The assumption is that if all sides sign on the dotted line at the bottom of the document, the issues will stop hurting and everyone will get on with life minus the squabbles. With major squabbles, the architects of the document may even have a shot at a prize from Oslo.

And then?

What if it doesn't? (Make the issues stop hurting and go away?) What then?

The point being that for all the sometimes fiendishly complicated matter of forging an agreement, ultimately the entire effort is merely the prologue. The real effort is changing the reality to reflect the agreements.

This wasn't always so. For most of history, wars were fought and won, at which point the side which had won dictated most of what it wanted, and the side that lost grimly accepted; sometimes wise heads on either or both sides left the vanquished enough wriggling room to fend off irredentism. It didn't always work.

In the supposedly better world in which we now live, however, wars and war-like conflicts are not supposed to run their bloody course; rather, they're to be negotiated away. Whether this really works, and if so if it's really an improvement, are questions I'd need to think a lot more about before answering. The best I'd say right now is: perhaps. What should be clear, however, and mostly isn't, is that the intervening outsiders bear far more responsibility for the ultimate outcome.

What happens if they shun its consequences? Mostly, like nature once it overcomes artificial barriers, the conflicts erupt again, or perhaps never ended in the first place, no matter how many accolades were sung and prizes handed out. As someone with personal experience of living in such a post-success-disaster I can tell that it's not pleasant.

Do the peacemakers learn from their mistakes so as not to repeat them (see my previous post)? No. Not as a rule. Here's the glum story of how the peacemakers in Sudan in 2005 failed dismally to keep their attention once the ceremony was over, and it's not they who are paying the price.
But these planned elections have fallen victim to a general malaise that has permeated the CPA from the beginning. The deal was imposed on Sudan largely due to the relentless pressure of foreign countries, principally the United States. If it was to succeed, it needed outsiders to keep up the same degree of pressure after it was signed. Yet the war in the western region of Darfur, which reached its most violent stage as the CPA was being finalised, has eaten up most of the foreign diplomatic and financial resources that were promised to bolster the north-south agreement. So the implementation of the CPA, an extraordinarily complex document, has fallen far behind schedule. Little of the cash promised to build such things as joint military units, bringing together the forces of north and south in order to build confidence between the two sides, has materialised.


Anonymous said...

"an extraordinarily complex document"

once you have that you may as well declare process failed because it when it gets complexer and complexer it means that the parties insert all kinds of loopholes i.e. obligations that can be re-interpreted, lawyered away etc.

Here is somebody interesting on the "Verdict of Battle" and what happened to it - Silke

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately Mr. Lozowick, you are rational. Sadly, those who intervene in this way are far more interested in assuaging their guilt than in learning useful lessons from their failures.