Talking With The Devil?
Chamberlain may have done more damage to diplomacy with his umbrella and papers held aloft than any other moment in history. Since then, terms like appeasement and negotiations have come to have as strong a negative connotation as a positive one. However, should we completely discount diplomacy, even with our worst enemies?
There is a fine line to walk in diplomacy. In the majority of historical cases, diplomacy and engagement has resulted in more positive gains. For instance, if the United States had never engaged in secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese, its anyone’s guess as to how long the war in Vietnam would have worn on. The same argument could be made for the Korean war, where some sort of endgame was finally reached because the UN forces were willing to engage the Chinese and North Koreans, states which had incredibly limited international recognition at the time.
A more longterm example would be the Hallstein Doctrine. After the formation of two German states in the early Cold War, the Federal Republic of Germany refused to recognize not only the German Democratic Republic, but any state that recognized the East German state. For a few years, this sibling rivalry worked. West Germany had the legitimacy, and the unbending refusal to allow the Communists a single gain essentially isolated East Germany. However, it soon became apparent that this was an untenable stance. As the Cold War began to thaw, and Germany was at the heart of attempts by the West to build some sort of understanding as both sides took a step back from the nuclear brink. West Germany began to reach out to states like Bulgaria and Hungary to contact the East Germans, which Eventually, the Hallstein Doctrine was abandoned outright and both Germanys even came to recognize and negotiate with one another. When the Berlin Wall fell, these connections proved invaluable as Germany unified peacefully.
Germany provides the perfect example of the opposite, though. There was never any option for negotiation with Adolf Hitler, no matter what people like Rudolf Hess were proposing. There was no option other than unqualified, complete surrender when negotiating with a man who has flagrantly marched over country after country.
This is a recurrent theme throughout history. Nations, states that do not enter into dialog with one another find themselves lost when confronting their enemies. Although deriding at times by some talking heads and politicians, a long-standing dialog allows states to discover not just what they are pursuing, but what might be potential triggers for full-blown conflict. Henry Kissinger once famously described the Soviet Union and the United States as two paranoid men, armed to the teeth, stumbling around a pitch-black room, each afraid the other has somehow managed to draw a bead on their head. It was only after the United States engaged the Soviets in negotiation and recognized the Communist regime in China that there was some sort of normalcy and predictability in the Cold War. Whereas the crises of the early Cold War involved tanks lining up at point-blank range, the latter crises involved strongly-worded diplomatic communiques being exchanged. Compare the two to one another, and the latter is clearly preferable.
Speaking with your enemies will always raise political firestorms. After the death of Kim Jong-Il, the testing of a North Korean missile and rumors of a nuclear test, engaging the North Koreans poses a serious quandary. Re-engaging the despotic regime might be seen as way for Pyongyang to gain legitimacy, as a major gain without having had to make any commitments or prove good intentions otherwise. However, in the past these negotiations have established limited gains, including a temporary stop to uranium enrichment. Iran has had similar, limited success. Today, the issue with Iran is not civilian nuclear power. It is with the enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade levels. It is easy to forget, with the spy drama of assassinated scientists and hidden centrifuges, that the Bushehr nuclear power plant is almost completely controlled by Russians who remove uranium from the power plant when fuel rods are spent. This crucial agreement was made through long, protracted negotiations, the kind many want to abandon outright.
It is often repeated, ad nauseum, that force is always an option. Time and time again, events and leaders have shown us that it is more important to always leave discussion as an option.
Image Credit: Bettman/CORDIS, 1973
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