Raised in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, today’s college students have never meaningfully related to a global security climate that predates ongoing tensions in the Middle East. In a world where constant armed conflict has become a permanent part of collective memory, current events often influence conceptualization of peace as well.
“I think that most people think of peace as the absence of war, and when they talk about peace agreements, and think of civil war, that's what they mean,” University of Texas at Dallas political science professor Paul Diehl told KGOU’s World Views. “There are other forms of peace that bring in greater cooperation, integration across states. Even other kinds of definitions refer to justice, economic development.”
According to Diehl, who has written over 150 articles and 13 books on international peace and conflict, the United Nations, European Union, and strong states like the U.S. play a crucial role in navigating conflict and mediating peace deals.
“Mediators provide the communication channels and the negotiations that will help facilitate the peace, and stronger mediators can provide carrots and sticks that change some of the cost-benefit analysis to those involved, and make them more likely to come to an agreement,” Diehl said.
Ultimately, constructing peace, Diehl argues, is not just an absence of conflict, but an active movement towards cooperation and stability.
“The cessation of conflict or hostility is almost a prerequisite, and most relationships in the world fall into that category of negative peace. A smaller set of those, and the ones we often aspire to, such as between the U.S. and Canada, go far beyond that,” Diehl said.“It isn't just that there's the absence of war, but in the most peaceful relationships, war and violence is unthinkable.”
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On mediation and the Syrian crisis
It almost really depends on the context, for things like that. I think third parties, for the most part, can't force peace, even negative peace, on two warring sides. I think you see some of that illustration in Syria, on the limits of even two of the most powerful states in the world getting many of their allies to stop. ... So imagine that you had some type of ceasefire that occurs in Syria, or someplace else--it may be that third party is the one who provides some assurance or guarantee they're going to be followed. Because almost by definition, the warring parties aren't going to trust each other to keep the agreement. You need some type of third party guarantee.
On the US, the UN, and political power
The UN has been successful in achieving ceasefires, facilitating elections as far back as Cambodia, in the late 1980s, but in the other cases, they've been repeatedly unsuccessful in the Middle East between Israel and her neighbors, largely because Israel doesn't trust them. A UN guarantee isn't very meaningful to either side. It takes a superpower like the United States to be able to pressure both sides and to deliver on a commitment.
REBECCA CRUISE, HOST: Paul Diehl, welcome to World Views.
PAUL DIEHL: Thank you.
CRUISE: You are a scholar looking at issues of war and peace, so maybe just to start out, I think this definition of peace would be interesting to explore just a little bit. Is peace simply the absence of war, or is there a broader definition that we should be thinking of?
DIEHL: I think that most people think of peace as the absence of war, and when they talk about peace agreements, and think of civil war, that's what they mean. In some of my most recent research, we think of "peace is the absence of war," of negative peace, as really just a starting point, and that there are other forms of peace that bring in greater cooperation, integration across states. Even other kinds of definitions refer to justice, economic development-- Those kinds of things. I think it's useful to think of a broader definition of peace because the alternative is you start lumping things together, such as the US and North Korea relationship with that between France and Germany. Neither of them are "war"--
CRUISE: --quite different.
DIEHL: --but we wouldn't characterize those as the same, or belonging in the same category.
CRUISE: So it's really a process. It's not simply the cessation of conflict. It's almost a building process.
DIEHL: Yeah, the cessation of conflict or hostility is almost a prerequisite, and most relationships in the world fall into that category of negative peace. A smaller set of those, and the ones we often aspire to, such as between the US and Canada, go far beyond that. It isn't just that there's the absence of war, but in the most peaceful relationships, war and violence is unthinkable.
CRUISE: Well, and you mention the US and Canada--a very friendly relationship, very hard to attain. There are other situations where there are perhaps third parties that are involved. You've done a lot of research on mediation and how third parties can help build this more positive peace, if you could maybe talk a little bit about that, and maybe which third parties you're talking about, or who's most effective.
DIEHL: It almost really depends on the context, for things like that. I think third parties, for the most part, can't force peace, even negative peace, on two warring sides. I think you see some of that illustration in Syria, on the limits of even two of the most powerful states in the world getting many of their allies to stop. I think when we talk about mediation, that's something different as a third party. I think mediators can play an important role in helping parties to come to peace, but, like they say about psychology patients: they have to want to change. Mediators provide the communication channels and the negotiations that will help facilitate the peace, and stronger mediators can provide carrots and sticks that change some of the cost-benefit analysis to those involved, and make them more likely to come to an agreement. And once there's an agreement, it's often those third parties who can guarantee that agreement. So imagine that you had some type of ceasefire that occurs in Syria, or someplace else--it may be that third party is the one who provides some assurance or guarantee they're going to be followed. Because almost by definition, the warring parties aren't going to trust each other to keep the agreement. You need some type of third party guarantee.
CRUISE: So, these third parties--in most cases, they would be states? Or would you suggest organizations? I know you've studied the UN quite a bit. Is that a role the UN can successfully play?
DIEHL: They have in the past, in a number of cases. The UN often appoints a special representative to do that. The advantage of other a UN mediator or someone from the European Union is they're often perceived as more legitimate than a state, and considered oftentimes more neutral, or less interest-involved in that. That's the advantage. The disadvantage is when you move into having UN representatives. They don't necessarily have the political clout or resources to provide those kinds of carrots and sticks. So, it's something of a tradeoff. The UN has been successful in achieving ceasefires, facilitating elections as far back as Cambodia, in the late 1980s, but in the other cases, they've been repeatedly unsuccessful in the Middle East between Israel and her neighbors, largely because Israel doesn't trust them. A UN guarantee isn't very meaningful to either side. It takes a superpower like the United States to be able to pressure both sides and to deliver on a commitment.
CRUISE: What might those sticks and carrots be--what might be some examples?
DIEHL: Well, in one case, the carrots would oftentimes be financial aid. So in some of the agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the US had promised Israel additional military aid, and provides economic aid to the Palestinian Authority, and things like that. So those are the things--if you sign the agreement, if you do this, we will provide that. The carrots often come in the form of sanctions--
CRUISE: --the sticks.
DIEHL: --yeah. Withholding carrots, or not giving carrots for that. So that can be kind of economic kinds of sanctions, withholding kinds of military aid, not giving political support, things like that. I think those are often not quite as effective as the others, and if the United States is, for example, going to threaten Israel that it will reduce aid if it doesn't stop settlements in the occupied territories-- Well, first Israel has to see that it's enough to change its behavior, and second, it has the believe the US will actually do that.
CRUISE: Right, because there are domestic--
DIEHL: --involved. It would require acts of Congress on the yearly foreign aid budget, and other political implications go with that.
CRUISE: You mention Syria, and as we know in recent weeks, months, Russia and the United States have attempted to get involved, to serve as third parties, to be mediators on some level. I suppose that we still don't know if this has been successful, but what tactics have they taken, and what should they be doing?
DIEHL: Well, what's a little bit odd is you actually have the United States negotiating with Russia, to try and influence the behavior of all the other parties in the Syrian conflict. One can be assured that the US and Russia will coordinate according to the agreement--won't bomb certain areas, take certain kinds of actions. The odd thing is, we're depending on Russia to deliver the cooperation and behavior of the Syrian government. Russia is depending on the United States to have various rebel groups also follow the ceasefire in the given areas.
CRUISE: So you have your mediators trying to mediate each other.
DIEHL: Yeah, I'm not even sure if it's a mediator. Usually you think of a third party between two sides. US and Russia are not really what we call third parties, but primary parties, because they're actively involved in the conflict. Russian military is there, and the US is close with special forces and providing aid to the rebels. So like I said, it's a very odd situation--as if they're negotiating for the groups they support. And then you have others like ISIS, who are supported by neither or who are not part of the negotiations, and aren't covered by the ceasefire.
CRUISE: So that was another question I was going to ask you. We're talking about the United States, Russia, earlier you mentioned Canada, France--these are state actors. And we've talked about IGOs, the UN, the European Union. What about the non-state actors? What about your terrorist organizations? ISIS comes to mind, but also the recent agreement that Cuba brokered between the FARC and Colombia. What kind of role can third party actors bring when we're dealing with non-state actors?
DIEHL: I still think that they can. A lot of the peace agreements that take place in a civil war context--state actors as well as international actors can play important roles. It's often behind the scenes, but I think the third parties you're talking about in those contexts are not necessarily going to be as mediators--non governmental organizations such as humanitarian relief agencies, or others, because their role is for the implementation of a peace agreement, then facilitating it. To me, it isn't the identity of the mediator that makes non-state actors coming into agreement difficult. The difficulty is, in many civil war contexts, you have multiple actors. To the extent that you don't have them all at the table. You have those that are outside of it, and potential spoilers. Even non-state actors are not like national militaries, where there is strong command and control over the actions of a traditional military unit. Many of these rebel groups are made up of 15 to 20 year old boys who aren't necessarily under the full control of the commanders. So even if you had the commanders that would give a rebel organization-- The degree to which they can stop the kind of violence that is taking place by those who are acting under their name is much more limited than if you have a traditional military, and a leader or a general orders them not to take certain actions or move on a common area. So it's a much more difficult kind of context to get all the right folks to the table, get them to agree, and finally, to implement the agreement. And each of those three steps are fraught with perils.
CRUISE: How do you get them to the table? You said they have to agree; they have to want there to be peace--there's also this confusion about who represents who, and getting people to follow. What sort of recourse is there, short of what's been tried?
DIEHL: Getting them to the table-- Political pressure from third parties can work, but of course just getting them to the table doesn't get you an agreement. I think those who study the process of starting negotiations, and assuming the parties are sincere about coming to a peace agreement, find that it's most common in protracted conflicts where each side sees what we refer to as a "hurting stalemate." Neither side can win at that point, and is incurring lots of different kinds of costs. In the move beyond that, if you're in the kind of situation where you have a stalemate-- You can see some of that in Syria and elsewhere, where neither side looks like it can win. You have the potential there, but the negotiations have to offer a potential agreement that provides a way out for the particular parties involved. I think that's the kind of incentive to at least get them to talk, but then the hard parts come about. What would the agreement look like? Who's going to guarantee it?
CRUISE: And what's it going to look like five, 10, 15 years later--I think that's the other question: how do you maintain the momentum, if we're thinking of peace as a long-term project. Your third party actors, whoever they may be, often are much more interested with go in, try to resolve, go out, and in my mind, I'm thinking of the Balkans in this instance. We were very involved--the United States was very involved, and international organizations were. There is no violence there--the conflict there has subsided, but there are certainly a number of issues that remain.
DIEHL: There's not necessary, in the aftermath of the former Yugoslavia, what I would term as "positive peace." You have had a lot of the refugees and others repatriated and resettled, but in many cases, they haven't gone back to their original villages and cities. They've gone back to areas which are much more homogenous in terms of ethnicity and things like that, and you have, within Bosnia-Herzegovina, two sub-states, one by the Serbs, and one by the Bosnian Muslims, that operate kind of independently, with an extremely weak national government.
CRUISE: Perhaps laying the groundwork for future conflict.
DIEHL: It's certainly better than people killing each other and genocide, but it falls short of the kind of aspirations they had for putting that country back together.
CRUISE: So third parties that want to be involved have to think more holistically, more long-term, and that's a hard sell.
DIEHL: That is, and there's lots of other factors that can happen in the long term. I also don't think that, when it comes to stopping a civil war, most leaders and negotiators think about what those long-term arrangements are. I think their priorities should be stopping the fighting. And then most of what you can put in a peace agreement are provisions that deal with the short-term, which may be the disarmament, mobilization, and reintegration of rebel force. It may be the scheduling of elections, and it may be other short-term security arrangements. It's difficult to project out five or 10 years and build out conditions which you never may reach. First of all, they're hard to envision; but second, they may be complicated in getting to the initial agreement if you try to put too much into the peace agreement.
CRUISE: Absolutely. Well, I think complicated is definitely the word here. We will continue to watch and see what happens in the former Yugoslavia, and certainly what happens in Syria, five years into a civil war there, and we will see if the third party actors can get it together and maybe some sort of peace or a cessation will occur. Thank you so much, Paul, for joining us today. We appreciate your time.
DIEHL: Glad to do it.
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