So does the rest of America.
The war you’ve already forgotten about, the one in eastern Ukraine pitting the government in Kiev against separatist Russian proxies, looks poised to enter a renewed period of fighting. This despite a shaky ceasefire and the occasional talks between Ukrainian negotiators and the Moscow-backed rebels that have been dragging on since February.
The Atlantic updates us on the current state of affairs with an article today headlined “Is this the end of Ukraine’s Peace Process?”
The answer is yes, and it’s pretty easy to understand why. Any peace process rooted in an effort to achieve some kind of negotiated settlement can only work when all sides realize they can no longer achieve their goals by any other means. If any thinks it stands a better chance of getting what it wants by returning to the battlefield than staying at the negotiating table, then the process will fail.
The logic of this was spelled out more than 30 years ago in the work of Johns Hopkins political scientist I. William Zartman who has argued that peace initiatives will only bear fruit when a conflict has reached the “ripe moment,” a concept which centers on the parties’ perception of a mutually hurting stalemate. Zartman explains the concept this way:
[Mutually Hurting Stalemate] is based on the notion that when parties find themselves locked in a conflict from which they cannot escalate to victory and this deadlock is painful to both of them (although not necessarily in equal degree or for the same reasons), they seek an alternative policy or Way Out.
As The Atlantic piece compellingly argues, that is definitely not where any of the parties in the Ukrainian conflict are at present. In fact, the current stalemate is of the most benefit to Kiev, which retains legal authority over the separatist-held Donbas region but doesn’t have to shoulder responsibility for governing, financing, or rebuilding the devastated region. The price that it is demanding to reintegrate the region is disarming of rebels, the removal of Russian troops and weapons, full control over the international border between Russia and Ukraine, an internationally supervised regional elections.
Moscow wants the region reincorporated into Ukraine too, but with the rebel leaders legitimized as its rulers, separatist fighters fully armed and turned into its police force, and with so much autonomy so as to be a Russian protectorate in all but name. This would give Moscow a perpetual ability to undermine and destabilize Kiev at will, preventing the Ukrainian government from moving fully into the embrace of the West.
Given these conflicting goals, there is no compromise position that can satisfy both Kiev and Moscow. And as long as the existing stalemate favors Kiev, Moscow understands that its only viable move is to break the deadlock. Exactly how that will play out remains to be seen. But you can bet it won’t be pretty.
And no one will mistake it for a peace process.
In an essay at The Atlantic this afternoon, Graham Allison, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, one of the grand old men of American political science with long experience of thinking and writing about arms control, lays out a list of nine reasons to support the deal with Iran to curtail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
He could have quit after the first one:
1) No one has identified a better feasible alternative.
That really ought to be the end of the discussion. As I tell my students when I teach international negotiation, the only way to evaluate an agreement is to stack it up against the alternatives to a settlement, not against the wish-list of things you wanted at the outset.
So while the rest of Allison’s analysis is worth reading (and it’s a nice, short, accessible read) you really could stop right there. But if you are so inclined, by all means read the whole thing. And there here are a couple of additional recommendations.
Friends of mine, like Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres have already written some smart analysis on the Iran deal and the tribal gut reactions that are passing for debate on the issue. Check out their stuff.
And David Lake, another prominent voice from my field, has looked at the agreement negotiated with Iran and come to conclusions that Allison’s piece today echoed. Given the alternatives, this is about as good as it gets.
I don’t have a lot to add to the conversation. Instead, let me urge you to follow the links and read the smart commentary listed above.
From the Alaska Dispatch News, a short film about a remarkable young man.
Every time I sing, I’m in my own little world, free from the things that are bothering me. I’m in my own little place.
You can find more of Byron Nicolai’s music at his YouTube channel.