Problem Management — principles

Diplomacy without arms is like music without instruments.
— Frederick the Great

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
— Winston Churchill

Dictionaries say that diplomacy is the management of international relations by negotiation. But more than that, it is an art that requires careful well-timed balancing of three elements: persuasion, compromise, and threat.

To achieve desired goals, a negotiator must be able to use all three modes, shifting from one to another as circumstances dictate, never relying on one to the exclusion of another. All three must be present at all times, even if, or perhaps especially if, only very subtly.

One type of person difficult to deal with is the bully. But it isn't always easy to tell when someone is bullying or not.

Suppose a neighbour is upset and demanding that you make reparations for damage to his garden caused by your dog. If your dog truly is responsible and the demands aren't ridiculous, agreeing is the best response, since you really are legally and morally responsible. Once the issue is settled, you and your neighbour can return to being friends again.

But suppose there is more to it than that. Once you have settled the issue, the neighbour might enjoy the power he had over you and make more demands over other issues. Giving in is easy, but it will mark you as a willing victim and will only encourage his bullying.

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned triumphantly from negotiating with the German leader, Adolph Hitler. He proudly waved the non-aggression agreement in the air declaring peace for our time.

But of course, almost a year later the two countries were at war. Chamberlain had failed miserably as a negotiator. Yes he used persuasion and compromise to get Hitler's signature, but neglected to use the threat of force. All the agreement did was to give Germany another year during which it could build up its troops and armaments while Britain complacently watched, unprepared for and seemingly unaware of what was about to happen.

Hitler knew that Britain would do nothing. It had done nothing in 1936 when Germany occupied Rhineland's demilitarized zone, and nothing when Germany moved into Austria. And even in Chamberland's triumphant Munich Pact, Britain had compromised by simply giving Chechoslovakia's Sudetenland to Germany. British diplomacy had only served to encourage Hitler's aggression.

During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel inadvertently captured and occupied the Sinai Peninsula. Diplomatic negotiations eventually returned the land to Egypt. The land was rightfully Egypt's, not Israel's, and Egypt wasn't demanding more than it was owed. A just solution was found and for many decades since the two countries have been more or less at peace. Israel was not bullied by the Egyptians.

But negotiations between Israel and some of its other neighbours don't go nearly as well. Every time Israel makes concessions and compromises with the Palestinians (land for peace agreements), more is demanded. The Palestinian constitution even calls for the total elimination of Israel, so it should be obvious that any agreement made between the two parties will not really resolve their differences. This is bullying behaviour, and Israel ignores that fact at its own peril.

Well-meaning people from other countries that tell Israel to sit down and negotiate peace really don't understand the situation at all.

The United States was the most powerful nation on Earth for most of the twentieth century, but it has lost its pride in that power and its willingness to use it.

Bullies like North Korea, Iran, and Syria act with impunity because they know from experience that American threats are ineffective. Whenever they violate agreements, the United States rattles its swords but ends up sitting at negotiating tables, spending years discussing the format and agenda of the negotiation process and achieving nothing. Meanwhile the bullies simply continue their behaviour.

In January 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate that there would be no bilateral diplomatic contacts with any of those three countries until they dropped their inflexible attitudes towards disputable issues, describing their diplomatic policies as extortion. Yet less than two months later, with no change in anyone else's position, she was back at the negotiating table. Most Americans don't seem to realize the significance of this flip-flopping, but the other countries recognize it as weakness and regard it as their victory.

As with Hitler and Chamberland 70 years before, these countries know that any threats from the United States are not to be taken seriously.