On Tuesday July 14, 2015, Iran and a group of six nations, including China, and led by the United States of America (USA) after about 20 months of intense negotiations, reached an agreement to significantly limit Iran’s nuclear development programme.
This pact is considered historic on several fronts, but perhaps what is most eye-catching is that USA under President Barack Obama administration, decided against the traditional American approach of employing force or war to end any international dispute which it had interest in, and instead opted for negotiations.
He has endured very harsh criticism from American hardliners within the Republican Party, and Israel, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described the accord as “a historic mistake that would create a terrorist nuclear superpower.”
Iran has always insisted that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but some people through out the world do not believe this assertion. Strictly speaking, the geo-politics of the Middle East and its surrounding countries provide cause for countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to shudder.
Israel, in particular, considers itself to be in a very hostile territory, and to have a nuclear power with the ‘support’ of USA as a neighbour is unthinkable. However, President Obama’s response to the skeptics of this accord is that “the agreement is not built on trust – it is built on verification.”
Iran’s reward for reaching this agreement is the lifting of international oil and financial sanctions on the country. For US and its allies, the sanctions and perhaps something more would be triggered if Iran breaches any part of the agreement. The rest of the world would sigh relief and peace for now, and possibly reduced oil prices in the future.
For countries and people against the accord, what are the options available aside negotiated settlement to deal effectively and comprehensively with this issue without the use of violence, force, bombs and war? Already, the conservative hardliners have labeled President Obama, a weak President, because of his approach to conflict management and resolution, particularly regarding North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.
The fact, however, is that the Americans and their allies were able to ‘Shock and awe’ Saddam Hussein and Iraq with their firepower, but never won the war on ‘the hearts and minds,’ and today Iraq is in turmoil far worse than it found itself at the beginning of the ‘weapons of mass destruction war.’ Afghanistan is a never ending story.
The thinking of some world powers has been that the moment leaders like the late Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan President, considered dictators, are removed from power, democracy, peace, and prosperity would prevail. But today Libya has been torn apart and the peace and democracy promised the people have been replaced with anarchy and lawlessness.
President Assad of Syria is fighting on two fronts: His opposition or rebels supported by America and the Western allies on one side and Islamic State (IS), a common enemy to both President Assad and the Americans and their allies on the other.
There is an uneasy calm in Egypt, and Tunisia is simmering. The effect of these wars and rebellions is the exodus of displaced people and migrants escaping the mayhem and lawlessness in their countries with little or no regard to the risk of death awaiting them crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The European Union now has a challenge in containing this exodus.
Perhaps the most disturbing challenge arising out of the Middle East instability is the rise of the IS, which is poised to create a Caliphate throughout the Arab states. IS is capturing territories in all these unstable countries. IS is ruthless in its approach to handling anything they see as obstacle to the propagation of their brand of Islam and objectives. IS is also using skillful organisation, technology and propaganda to lure adventurous citizens of America and their Western Allies, (mostly youth) to their fold, to fight and support a” just cause for Islam.”
This has the potential for creating ‘home grown terrorists’ as well as creating sleepless nights for governments and their security agencies. The IS is a challenge to all the Arab countries in and around the Middle East, America and its Western allies, and perhaps to world peace and stability.
Somehow, USA and its Western allies operate under the principle that they do not negotiate with terrorists. Iran is part of President George W. Bush’s ‘axis of evil’. However, we are also aware that some of the dreaded hostage releases have been secured through backdoor negotiations with the tacit approval of the governments’ involved. Sanctions in most respects remain largely difficult to monitor and to some extent ineffective.
America and its Western allies hate to see the sight of body bags arriving at their air bases from war fronts.
This is the balance sheet for the ‘cowboy’ mentality in dealing with conflict management and resolution in our recent past. Do we continue with this approach and cause more havoc and destruction, pain and suffering to lives and property? What options are available?
In my humble opinion, President Obama drew the line between facts and reality and on hindsight opted for the common sense approach. He was honest and being honest is not a sign of weakness.
As President of the most powerful and richest nation in the world, he allowed the common sense position to prevail over his ego and America’s firepower, in order to give peace a chance. President Obama saw the big picture.
President Obama chose to negotiate, because given the circumstances it was the most appropriate dispute resolution mechanism.
For Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practitioners, it is a massive boost and enhancement for a dispute resolution process that has attracted little attention in this country.
It is an exposure that ADR practitioners should grab with both hands. Litigation, power play, show of force and for that matter war are not the only conflict resolution mechanisms available for conflict management and resolution: be it relationship, corporate, local or international. Litigation, use of force, power play and war should not be the first choice option in conflict management and resolution.
ADR provides mechanisms to be employed by dispute resolution practitioners through negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration to mention a few. The advantages of ADR include the following: ADR is basically voluntary; it means the parties must be willing to talk. In the case of the accord, Iran was willing to talk to the enemy so the chanting changed from “Death to America” to’ let’s give peace a chance.’
ADR is private and confidential, litigation is not, and war is simply put kill, destroy and ‘show where power lies.’ For those who followed the negotiations, Israel was at a point accused of an alleged spying over events in Vienna, Austria. This is only to buttress the confidential nature of the process
ADR processes are informal and flexible. Litigation is formal, inflexible and procedure based. This is the reason why the parties to the negotiation were able to extend their deadline for reaching agreement over and over again.
The parties to an ADR process control the process and the outcome reflects their will. This makes ADR a win/win process. Parties to an ADR process end with a handshake and do not proceed to plan the next line of action to continue with the dispute.
In an ADR process, the parties select the venue and representatives (if required) and the environment of an ADR process is not as intimidating as one will find in a Court of Law. In some cases, the hostility of some Lawyers in a typical cross-examination before a large gallery can blunt a thought process and consequently affect the outcome of a case.
ADR process saves time, money and the stress of having to live with a formal litigation over a period of time – in some cases years. It took about 20 months to finally settle on the Nuclear Accord with all its technical detail and complexities. More importantly both parties were happy with the outcome.
Perhaps, the most important attribute of ADR is that it preserves relationships. Most parties to litigation, irrespective of the outcome end up never talking again till death. Sometimes their children and families take over. In effect the litigation is handed over from generation to generation.
We cannot continue to live forever with such acrimony over issues that can be resolved with a little patience respect, and understanding. Today the British Government is considering re -opening its High Commission in Tehran and already dreaming big about business opportunities. A war stance would not have provided this platform.
President Abraham Lincoln of blessed memory in 1851 said: “Discourage litigation (war), persuade your neighbour to compromise where you can, point out to them how the nominal winner is often the loser … in expense and waste of time.”
Conflicts are created when parties involve disagree and perceive a threat to their being, needs, concerns or interest. Most often, the agents of the disagreement are misunderstanding, misinformation, mistrust, ignorance, ego, threats, abuse of power and wealth.
The ADR practitioner has been trained to understand, identify and handle conflict issues in an informal and personalized manner. Conflict resolution and management is about understanding and appreciating the issues, human dignity and their values. This is the time to tell the world and let everybody know that there are options to litigation, power play and violence.
It takes courage and conviction to negotiate a controversial issue of such magnitude. For twenty months, President Obama, America and their allies and even Iran were walking on tight ropes with some observers waiting for the negotiations to collapse and trumpet war songs.
President Obama succeeded where many people predicted failure. It, therefore, behoves all and sundry to strive to give peace a chance, bearing in mind that the US President’s move is not a sign of weakness, but it is simply a common sense approach to settling disputes.
By Sam Bannerman-Wood