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June 19, 2012, Tuesday

Dilemmas of peace and war

The world has become “more peaceful” for the first time since 2009, according to the 2012 Global Peace Index. This assessment might seem surprising -- but the reality is that in some parts of the world, peace can be seen in terms of the ongoing debates. Indeed, in the Caucasus region, local and international level discussions on peacemaking have made tremendous progress in the past years, and this trend is continuing.

Recent deadly clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan along the line of contact (LOC) have increased the risk of an “accidental” war, as predicted by political analysts and pundits. The Caucasus has long faced this threat, and the recent tensions with Iran have added a new dimension to security concerns. What these debates demonstrate is that peace is not merely the absence of violence. However, there has been a general failure to identify the particular dilemmas along the path to peace.

What is it that makes it easier to predict war rather than peace for the Caucasus? A century ago Russian scientist V.L. Velichko observed, “The Caucasus had never had peace, neither internal, nor external.” (“The Caucasus: Russian Affairs and Intertribal Problems,” St. Petersburg, 1904.) It is not easy to suggest such things -- and in fact, our recent history suggests that we have come close to peace. Taking an example from 1997, Armenia’s first post-independence president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, who, following his acceptance of a peaceful resolution plan for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was forced to resign by the diaspora and other political groups, wrote an insightful article titled “War or Peace: Time for Thoughtfulness.” Even in his resignation speech, he put forth the pragmatic observation that “it is not possible to maintain the status quo for a long period of time because neither the international community nor Armenia’s economic capabilities will permit it.” This is still true.

The next golden moment in the Nagorno-Karabakh peaceful resolution came in 1999: It was said that Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his then-counterpart Heydar Aliyev were due to sign a peace deal at the December 1999 OSCE summit in İstanbul. This was thwarted by the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament by a local former journalist, which left eight political leaders dead.

We can look to other examples of peaceful resolutions to security challenges in which the immediate dilemmas of peace were not discussed, which in turn jeopardized the long-term success of the agreement. This illustrates not simply the dilemma of peace, but the larger concern that peace is in dilemma. Until now, most commentators have misunderstood Karl von Clausewitz’s famous line that “war is merely a continuation of politics.” This is particularly true in the case of the South Caucasus conflicts, where analysis is conducted along the axis of “neither war, nor peace,” concluding with the observation that “war is close.” To paraphrase Clausewitz on the Caucasus, maintaining the status quo essentially supports the continuation of a non-solution.

In the short term, the dilemmas the region faces before peaceful resolution is achieved are as follows. First of all, what is the price of peace? How far should the conflicting parties compromise? This is a question that sometimes deadlocks negotiations. The second dilemma is whose peace it will be; in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, for example, will peace be brought by the OSCE Minsk Group as the neutral mediator or by the parties themselves?

The dilemmas of war pose similar challenges; if there is no peaceful resolution, in the event of war, what will be the price of war? Again, taking the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an example, the consequences for the region will certainly be negative. What kind of conflict will follow the end of the current war? The main question for Baku since the 1994 ceasefire agreement has been how to buy Russia’s “positive neutrality” in the event that Azerbaijan decides to liberate the occupied territories.

The dilemmas of peace are multidimensional and constantly shifting. If the conflicting parties are truly committed to finding a peaceful solution, there will be four dilemmas:

The first dilemma is the parallel dilemma -- the tension between inclusion and exclusion of the leadership of de-facto authorities and interested parties. While inclusion can facilitate -- indeed, may even be necessary for a peace agreement, it may also be taken as a validation of past violence and could prevent any agreement.

The second, the perpendicular dilemma, relates to the decision of how much of the mass population to include in the peace-making process. Involving more people and more groups at all levels of politics is better for the legitimacy of the process, but ultimately can prove too unwieldy.

The third is the efficiency dilemma, i.e. whether the guarantee of peace should be controlled by third party nations or an international organization. In the case of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the big debate has not yet begun -- but it is clear that some regional players adamantly oppose NATO peacekeepers, other factions demand the involvement of the OSCE, still more are asking for a UN peacekeeping mission. This is a reminder that the post-conflict resolution process is one of the crucial challenges in play.

The fourth, temporal dilemma focuses on the conflict between long- and short-term effects of peaceful resolution. The timing of the post-conflict process and the length of international peace-building missions can affect levels of violence and the transition to the post-conflict period.

The concept of peace is easy to grasp; the dilemmas of peace are more complex, and the implementation of peace even harder.

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