Monday, February 27, 2006

Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea and whatnot

Mr Lamb argues that “One very basic fact exists within conflict resolution; to be resolved a conflict requires an interest by either one of the engaged parties or an outside party for it to be resolved.”

I am not sure that I completely agree with that statement, since often times the entire world would like to see a conflict resolved that one or the other player in the conflict is content to keep going, and the conflict keeps going. If an outside observer wants a conflict to end, that outside observer has to be prepared to “put its money where its mouth is” so to speak. There have been times in the recent past when the US has been willing to intervene in conflicts in which it does not have a direct interest, such as in Bosnia. Venezuela is a little different. The side with the biggest problem with Chavez and his rule in Venezuela is not the US but a substantial portion of the Venezuelan people themselves. However, it is not in the Chavez’ interest to endlessly berate and castigate these opponents to his regime (although they do come in for a certain amount of his opprobrium) so instead, Chavez has picked a proxy for his complaints. That proxy is the United States. The problem for mediating this conflict is that the US government has been studiously unwilling to clash with him in return.

Part of the reason is that overt engagement of the United States in Central and South America has a negative connotation for many in the region. Many immediately think of gunboat diplomacy, the overthrow of Allende or as Chavez himself likes to mention, the “terrorism” of sanctions imposed on Cuba. Having these examples thrown up into the face of US diplomacy makes the US understandably reticent to come down strongly on one side or the other on a dispute. Should the US be seen as anything other that neutral with regard to Chavez, it plays into his criticisms and strengthens his stand.

The other reason for the United States’ seeming indifference to provocations from Chavez is that experience shows that Central and South American dictatorships do not have a long lifespan. Time and again we see fiery anti-American rhetoric from dictatorships that spring up from both right and left in South America, but some years later, after failing to deliver on promises to the people, those dictatorships are gone. Sometimes the go peacefully, other times, more violently (and sometimes, with a push from the US, as recently with Panama), but always, they go. Cuba may seem to be an argument against this policy, but Cuba has not really been a threat to US interests since the fall of the Soviet Union. Castro is more a threat to his own people that he will ever be again to the US. Benignly waiting them out, until they do something truly against American interest, like directly running drugs, seems like a much better policy than responding to every provocation or being dragged into negotiations for the purpose of embarrassing the US.

This policy perhaps explains the patience that the US has shown to North Korea. Evidence has shown us that sclerotic Communist regimes are unlikely to start wars, directly. Survival within the bureaucracies attendant to these governments is predicated on one’s survival instinct and ability to forge consensus around the status quo, not taking big chances going off into a new direction. Second and beyond generations of communist dictatorships have shown no interest in directly challenging their enemies. These aging dictatorships are willing to fight by proxy, to sell arms to lunatic regimes, to work actively to undermine their enemies secretly or to engage is bellicose threats because these are status quo behaviors. Actually starting a war, however, is risky and risk is something that no communist bureaucrat is willing to countenance. The best way to handle conflict with these types of regimes is to watch them warily, stay strong in the face of their threats, and wait them out. Negotiating with these types of regimes, as Mayer points out, is assigning them the “perception of power” that they otherwise do not possess. The US has rightly gauged that North Korea won’t attack, so there is no need to negotiate, and actually reward them for power they don’t possess. They have no power, nothing to offer in negotiations, so they can’t give anything up to get anything in return.

Jimmy Carter, and by extension, the Carter Center, have miscalculated the nature of the North Korean’s power. The Carter Center looks at the claims of North Korea having nuclear weapons and sees the array of arms pointed at the South and assumes this equals power. Given this assumption, it is understandable why they would attempt negotiations with the North Korea but these negotiations have failed, primarily because they have nothing to give up, as I mentioned above, but also because they have acted in bad faith. Mayer points out that “although some people may feel that lying to people, misleading them, and intimidating them are acceptable behaviors in negotiation, these behaviors to do not promote mutual problem solving, effective communications or rapport.” (Mayer, pg153.) Unfortunately, these behaviors pretty much sum up the North Korean approach to negotiation.

The counter argument to continuing to negotiate with a partner who acts in bad faith, and has no real power to begin with, is that there is a certain transformative power in the peace process itself. Coates argues that “the means of change will create new community, and this is why we must focus on the process as much as (if not more than) the outcome.” This sentiment is not uniquely held, in fact, many ascribe to the belief that by talking and talking, eventually attitudes will change and thereby actions will change as well. So far, in the case of Central American dictatorships, North Korea, and recently, in Iran, we have not seen any proof of this assertion.

Coates, Susan. “Peace Feminism in International Relations.” University of Denver: ( Date unknown.