The Failure of the Diplomatic Mentality

Revolutions rarely compromise; compromises are made only to further the strategic design. Negotiation, then, is undertaken for the dual purpose of gaining time to buttress a position (military, political, social, economic) and to wear down, frustrate and harass the opponent. Few, if any, essential concessions are to be expected from the revolutionary side, whose only aim is to create conditions that will preserve the unity of the strategic line and guarantee the development of a "victorious situation."
Mao Tse-Tung Samuel Griffith, in his inroduction to Mao Tse-Tung's On Guerrilla Warfare, cited in Col. Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone.

European-style diplomacy (which is largely the model for American diplomacy) is premised on two sides coming to a mutually tolerable agreement, involving gains and concessions, in order to avoid a larger conflict. Such an agreement is then expected to constrain the behavor of both sides going forward. A necessary precondition for such a system is that both sides must be operating in good faith; each side believes that it has achieved the most beneficial likely outcome, and therefore has an interest in protecting the stability of the agreement.

What has been overlooked is that a diplomatic agreement only has value when there are significant incentives for all parties to keep it. In Europe, the incentives had become implicit and overwhelming (i.e., breaking agreements would lead to economic consequences in an interdependent system, and sometimes war). Therefore it became possible for diplomats to neglect actively thinking about the consequences of bad faith, and to begin to ascribe an intrinsic, quasi-mystical power to the diplomatic agreement itself. That an agreement is signed (goes the unexamined, subconscious premise) guarantees that it will be followed.

The naiveté of such a premise comes to the fore when we must deal with a class of people who treat negotiations not as a way to avoid conflict, but as another tool in that conflict. The long history of diplomacy surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian war is an example of excellence: the Palestine Liberation Organization ostensibly agreed to end warfare against Israel and Jews around the world, but in practice this amounted to little more than mouthing empty platitudes of peace and toleration at black-tie functions. In exchange for this wrenching concession, the new Palestinian Authority was given administrative control over several million people, billions of dollars in international aid, large stores of weapons along with the training to use them—and most important of all, international legitimacy that served as a powerful shield against Israeli action. The PLO proceeded to use these gifts to mount a second Intifada, as well as turning a blind eye to the efforts of other terrorist groups such as Hamas and Jihad Islami.

The same class of behavior is on display with Iran. Iran's stated goal is the development of nuclear capability. In non-diplomatic settings, the Iranian government has openly alluded to its aim of a nuclear bomb. In pursuit of this goal, Iran has broken nearly a dozen separate agreements that the European powers painstakingly negotiated over a period of several years. These agreements have been very useful to Iran, even as they were being flouted: they often came with financial inducements, they served to keep the Western powers divided and bickering among themselves over the proper course to take—and most importantly, they bought time, lots of time.

To the serious observer whose brains have not been addled by the diplomatic fantasies so adored by most Western governments, it becomes obvious early on when an oppposing party is negotiating in bad faith. The most important early warning is when the aggressive party achieves tangible gains through negotiation, in exchange for concessions that are entirely symbolic or else of minimal importance. This pattern has been confirmed in the farcical negotiations between Israel and the PLO, between Columbia and FARC, between Pakistan and the Taliban forces of Waziristan, and (at the risk of invoking Godwin's Law) the Munich 1938 agreement with Hitler.

So then why do the assorted diplomats of the world continue to make the same errors over and over again? I have argued before that a major flaw in the structure of our government is that diplomats have a single responsibility (i.e. diplomacy) and the military has a single responsibility (i.e. warfighting) that is not called upon until the diplomats throw in the towel. We need to take an integrated view towards interactions with other governments, so that out actions are not divided into discrete categories but fall along the same continuum.

I am not necessarily advocating open war with Iran. There are easier ways to accomplish our goals. For one thing, there are indications that the Mossad has begun assassinating key Iranian scientists in their nuclear program. I find these reports entirely believable, given that Israel assassinated several ex-Nazi scientists working on Egypt's ballistic missile program in the early 1960's. And it is far more difficult to replace a scientist than it is to replace physical infrastructure. Given that, and given the recent isolation of Iran by America and our allies, it is entirely possible that the Khomeinist government of Iran could fall before they achieve nuclear capability. (There is still the issue of their continuing support for terror operations in Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.)

But the larger point is that we need to look at our diplomatic activities with a jaundiced eye. Why on Earth should we engage in negotiations with a power operating in bad faith, if the only party that will benefit is our adversary?


UPDATE 4:31 PM: With impeccable timing, Wretchard has posted a news item from the Phillipines about a delegation of negotiators sent to talk to the Moro National Liberation Front, a supposed "peace partner," who were promptly taken hostage by a supposed "breakaway faction." Perhaps in the same sense that Black September was a "breakaway faction" of Fatah, i.e. an organizational fiction meant to provide plausible deniability.

No comments: