Posts tagged ‘peace’

May, 2014

Building “A Spiral of Trust” through GRIT

Professor Nicholas J. Wheeler

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Yesterday’s blog explored how peaceful/defensive self-images and ideological fundamentalist beliefs can generate security competition, even between states with peaceful motives and intentions. How, then, might a spiral of distrust be substituted for a ‘spiral of trust’. The latter idea was invoked by the US social-psychologist Charles Osgood in his 1962 book, An Alternative to War or Surrender. Writing nine months before the Cuban missile crisis which took the world the closest it has been to nuclear war, Osgood argued that such a virtuous spiral could be achieved if one side in an adversarial relationship broke the stalemate by making a unilateral conciliatory gesture. As I discussed yesterday, decision-makers operating with peaceful/defensive self-images always look to their opponent to make the first gesture of peace. But Osgood appreciated that if both sides in a conflict expect the other to make the first conciliatory move, then the result will be deadlock. Osgood called his strategy ‘graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension-reduction’ (GRIT), and its great virtue is that one side recognising this predicament, seizes the initiative and acts unilaterally to break the spiral of distrust.

Although the word empathy does not figure in the book (perhaps surprisingly given his psychological background), the book can be read as a direct appeal to US political leaders, politicians, and citizens to empathise with their Soviet enemy. Osgood argued that the United States was operating with a mindset of ‘ideological fundamentalism’ (though he used the term ‘Neanderthal mentality’ to describe the US ideological stereotyping its Soviet enemy) and that this was compounded by a US peaceful/defensive self-image. Osgood warned against US policy makers projecting their own ‘self-image of peaceful intent upon others and assume that they must see us the same way we see ourselves’ (1969: 140). This fed the US image of the Soviet Union as an implacable foe because Soviet hostility could only be the result of its innate aggressiveness to US values and interests. Ethnocentric thinking of this kind operated on both sides and it served to blind the two superpowers from understanding that their enemy also had legitimate fears and interests that had to be satisfied if humanity was to avoid nuclear Armageddon (1969: 18-36).

Increased empathy, and the exercise of security dilemma sensibility (see yesterday’s blog for this idea), is the first crucial step on the road to trust building, but this has to be translated into unilateral conciliatory moves that might build trust (Wheeler 2011a, 2011b, 2013). GRIT begins when one state publicly announces that it is planning to carry out a cooperative move as a way of promoting de-escalation, and then proceeds to implement this in line with the new strategy. These moves are designed to induce reciprocation and it is part of GRIT that the announcement of a unilateral initiative(s) is coupled with an explicit invitation to reciprocate.

What makes GRIT such a potentially important approach to de-escalation and trust building is that unlike most negotiation and bargaining strategies, it is not conditioned on reciprocation. Crucially, the strategy is not pronounced a failure if the other side does not immediately reciprocate, though the ultimate test of the strategy is securing reciprocation. Osgood believed that if GRIT was continued for a long enough period of time, and the Soviet government saw itself reaping the benefits from US concessions in terms of a decrease in tensions, then Moscow would come to reciprocate US concessions. Ultimately, Osgood saw no reason why, if ‘The Neanderthal Mentality’ could be broken, the superpowers could not develop an ‘atmosphere of mutual trust’ which would not only reduce tensions and the risks of war, but increase the likelihood of successful negotiations on ‘critical political and military issues’ (1969: 88).

The importance of Osgood’s case for de-escalation was hammered home only a few months later when the United States and Soviet Union went ‘eyeball to eyeball’ (in US National Security Advisor’s Dean Rusk’s memorable phrase uttered at the height of the crisis). Set against the risks that the Cold War could lead to this apocalyptic outcome, Osgood claimed that ‘GRIT balances limited risks extended over a long time-scale against at least the hope of ultimate survival and preservation of our way of life’ (1969: 158).

Few students read about GRIT these days (I’m pleased to say that Osgood’s book has an important place on the reading list of my module, ‘Theories of Global Cooperation’ at Birmingham) which is a pity because Osgood’s work deserves a wider audience. Although some scholars have argued that Gorbachev put into practice policies of GRIT, Gorbachev actually, as I will discuss tomorrow, went even further than Osgood had recommended, with far-reaching and highly beneficial consequences for international security. That said, the opening conciliatory moves that Gorbachev made towards the United States after he took over the leadership of the Soviet Union in March 1985 could be read as a textbook example of GRIT.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for President Obama’s outreach to Iran at the beginning of his first administration. Although as far as I am aware, no administration officials talked in terms of GRIT (perhaps reflecting the lack of awareness of these ideas in the wider diplomatic community), it could be argued that the Obama administration’s initial gestures of conciliation was an example of GRIT. The President took an important symbolic step in his March 2009 Nowruz message (marking the Iranian New Year) to the people and leaders of Iran by calling it ‘The ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’. This was language that no previous US President had used, and Obama called for ‘engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.’ At the same time, the Obama administration suggested that it was open to lifting the Bush administration’s precondition that negotiations on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme could only take place if Iran suspended its uranium enrichment activities first.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded to Obama’s New Year message by saying, ‘They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice.’ Khamenei viewed the US move as a propaganda gimmick designed to win Obama the moral high ground, and not as a genuine gesture of conciliation. I would argue that the Supreme Leader was operating – and continues to operate today – with what K.J. Holsti (see yesterday’s blog for this idea) called ‘an inherent bad faith model’ (1967: 26) of an adversary. Osgood was aware in relation to the Soviet Union that its most likely initial response to the US government announcing a strategy of GRIT would be to view it as ‘a Cold War trick.’ But he claimed that as each publicly announced initiative was followed by another, then the Soviet ‘bogey man conception’ or bad faith model of the United States would increasingly be at odds with US actions (1969: 104). Osgood’s lesson for Obama, then, would have been to keep pursuing low-level conciliatory initiatives that might break down the enemy image held by the Supreme Leader. But it was exactly this which Obama was unable to do. As Trita Parsi shows in his excellent book, a Single Roll of the Dice, US domestic politics and the need to reassure Israel that the United States was not caving in on the question of Iran’s uranium enrichment, made it extremely difficult for the president to continue in the way that GRIT would prescribe. The violence and crackdown following the disputed election in Iran in early June 2009 constrained Obama still further, and spelt the end of the administrations short-lived experiment with GRIT.

The perverse consequence of Obama’s experimentation with GRIT was that he and his advisers were disillusioned by the lack of Iranian reciprocation, believing that it showed that Iranian decision-makers, crucially the Supreme Leader, did not want to cooperate. This strengthened the hand of those in the administration, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who wanted to increase the diplomatic leverage against Tehran through stronger sanctions. That said, the administration did not give up pursuing avenues for de-escalation, but in the end, these failed to stem the pressures supporting a more confrontational posture. What is more, any subsequent cooperative initiatives were pursued in a multilateral context, and conditioned on Iranian reciprocation.

The case of Obama and Iran raises the question, which Osgood never satisfactorily answered, as to whether a strategy of GRIT could be legitimated in a US domestic political context, if it entailed making even limited concessions to an ideological enemy that were not immediately reciprocated. At the same time, because Osgood wanted to limit the type of concessions to those that would not jeopardise national security, the question has to be asked as to whether unilateral cooperative moves of this kind will ever be sufficient – even if repeated – to overcome the suspicion and distrust that is generated in the minds of decision-makers who adopt a ‘bad faith model’ of an adversary. Tomorrow, I will explore the possibility of building trust through what I call ‘frame-breaking moves.’ These are game changing actions, taken by one state in an adversarial relationship, that are aimed at decisively signalling its peaceful motives and intentions. Such moves, in contrast to GRIT, have the potential to convince decision-makers to jettison a previously held ‘bad faith model’ of an adversary.

Nicholas J. Wheeler is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies, and Director of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security at the University of Birmingham.

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December, 2013

Peace on earth?

Heather Buckingham

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When buying Christmas cards, I am sometimes tempted to go for the ones that say ‘Peace’. Why? Perhaps it is because I feel they strike a balance between being slightly less offensive to those for whom this is a period of celebration – but not of the birth of Christ – whilst still offering something more than a ‘greeting’ associated simply with the time of year.

On reflection though, peace is far from inoffensive. The peace that’s associated with Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible is not simply about the absence of conflict or loud noise: its meaning reflects that of the Hebrew word ‘shalom’. One translation describes shalom as ‘social harmony, peace, prosperity, security and well-being’. In the book Generous Justice, Tim Keller describes it as:

‘complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension – physical, emotional, social, and spiritual – because all relationships are right, perfect and filled with joy’.

Perhaps this doesn’t sound too controversial: some would dismiss it on the grounds of being too idealistic, but few would dispute that it’s an attractive vision. The offensiveness though, comes in the fact that it is relational. The prosperity it describes is about everybody having enough – maybe a bit more than enough – not some having plenty while others go hungry. The right relationships it describes may involve engaging with people some would rather neglect. It’s a demanding and costly vision.

What has this got to do with the third sector? Well quite a lot I think. Frequently, voluntary organisations are put in a box: they’re asked to do the bits of work that the government can’t or won’t; to provide the ‘glue’ in communities where that is lacking; to address the problems that families are unable to; to house those who are priced out by the markets; to feed those who are missed out by the benefits system. There is sometimes a sense in which these organisations are tasked with exercising compassion on behalf of the rest of society: making up for the lack of it in other sectors.

We might be able to get away with this if the problems in other parts of society weren’t so great. If the disparity between rich and poor was not so great, voluntary efforts might well be able to restore dignity and opportunities to a few who lacked them; if the benefits system were closer to being just, charities might well be able to pick up the few who fell through the gaps. But the reality is that the problems in our society are extensive. Expecting voluntary organisations to act as peacemakers between macro- economic, social and political systems and individuals suffering hardship is likely to be unrealistic unless both parties are willing and able to move towards each other. Voluntary organisations in deprived areas are struggling under huge burdens as demand rises and funding is cut ever more deeply. Even if volunteers and donors can summon up the strength, time and resources to keep everyone adequately fed and housed until the storm – we hope – passes, this will not be sufficient.

Wellbeing is relational in nature. That doesn’t just mean that we all need good relationships in our lives in order to be happy; it means that across every ‘sector’ of our lives and the economy, what we do affects other people. Much of our culture is orientated around individualism. Many organisations operate systems of targets, which – if achieved – denote success, regardless of their impacts beyond the immediate team or company. But the problem is that such a compartmentalised view is a wrong view, both of how things are, and of how they should be.

Institutions and organisations don’t work well if they don’t exercise care both for their clients and those that work within them: if employees and service users aren’t also understood to be parents, children, friends, and individuals. They also don’t work well if they are devoid of purpose beyond making money or meeting targets, or if there is a lack of public trust in them. These are amongst the reasons that politicians of all parties have given for turning to the third sector as a means of resolving the perceived crisis of the welfare state. However, the problem is that all sectors of the economy are inter-dependent. If more and more people become dependent on volunteers to feed and house them, more and more people will have to give up their jobs to do so. Then there will be fewer people paying taxes, and so on. Eventually, the people giving won’t have anything left to give… you see where I’m going.

We need to be willing to seek justice as well as wellbeing. At a time when millions are celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela and grieving his death, his story speaks poignantly of the costliness of forgiveness, reconciliation, and freedom. Making things right usually involves change in how things currently are. And change is often painful and uncomfortable: it upsets the status quo which, for many of us, is quite comfortable.

Let’s not be deceived that nice people who volunteer can sort it all out by themselves: they have jobs, families to care for and washing to do just like everyone else. There are people across all sectors of the economy who have the desire and potential – through different means – to make the world a better place. It is not that we need to delegate more and more responsibility for social needs to the third sector, but rather to ask what needs to change in the institutions of the state, markets, media, family and community life to reduce the incidence of these problems. Indeed, a key role for the voluntary sector could be in informing and supporting the processes of reflection, reconciliation and rebalancing that are needed. But if we want there to be peace on earth – or even just in the UK – attention will also need to be given to justice and mercy.

October, 2013

Peace

‘Make love not war’ was the slogan of the 60s. Surely one of the most effective ways to save humans is to ensure peace? Indeed, the United Nations primary purpose is to ensure international peace and security. It is at the heart of the modern system of international law and politics. But how does the pursuit of peace map across into international human rights?

In 1976 the Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution stating that there is a right to peace. Two years later the General Assembly with a Declaration on that same topic. In the same year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation declared that there is a right to peace to which each individual is entitled. But simply declaring a right does not mean that it exists.

There has been a growing trend towards viewing peace as a human right. A group of rather disparate and not necessarily connected academics, NGO activists, practitioners, government delegates and UN staff are setting out more and more evidence to place ‘peace’ within the international human rights framework. The reasoning goes that peace impacts upon the attainment and realisation of all other rights. So – the proponents say – if we develop and enshrine a right to peace then it will have a positive impact on the whole system.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? In an ideal world, we would all live in peace and that would help to ensure that our other rights were more easily realised. But that does not mean that the peace has fully entered the international human rights law system. There are no international or regional legal mechanisms that protect an individual’s right to peace. There is no redress or remedy, at those levels, for a violation of the right to peace. But there have been some positive developments in recent years.

The first case on this subject was brought in 2003 before a court in Costa Rica. Luis Roberto Zamora Bolanos successfully sued the Costa Rican government over its support for the invasion of Iraq and over its plans to extract and process nuclear materials. This led to legislation being annulled within that state. The grounds for the case were that the government was violating the right to peace. In 2006, Zamora brought another case challenging the Arms Decree on the grounds that it threatened the right to peace. The court used this case to discuss the ambit of the right to peace, saying it is more than just a duty to avoid war. The court found that there is a positive duty to actively promote peace and justice. This case formally established Costa Rica as the first country to recognise, legally, the right to peace.

The United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly have continued to discuss and pass resolutions on the right to peace. There is a growing body of evidence from these political bodies that suggests that many countries around the world recognise that there is a right to peace. Many countries, but not all. Almost every country voting against or abstaining on these resolutions are from the Global North. Most countries who take the floor during discussions support the right to peace, again with Western states being the exception. The ideological divide is clear –and that divide is an obstacle to ‘peace’ being enshrined within international human rights law.

There is merit to the argument that international human rights is expanding far beyond traditional notions and that newer rights, like the one to peace, threaten to dilute the system. That area increasingly includes subjects – such as politics, the environment and economics – that are difficult to protect or promote and that might better be dealt with through other frameworks.

But that expansion has occurred because there is a greater understanding of the overlap between different areas. Peace may be a political ideal, but it is also a fundamental tool for realising other human rights. Where peace is undermined, individuals’ rights cannot adequately be implemented or protected. There seems to be increasing awareness of the need to enshrine, promote and protect the right to peace, despite the right pushing against the boundaries of traditional understandings of human rights.

Follow Rosa Freedman on Twitter: @GoonerDr

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