Unilateral peace

War, said Clausewitz, is an ‘interaction’, ‘not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass but always the collision of two living forces.’ This is one of the things which makes it so difficult to manage. You can’t just do x, and expect y to happen, even if y happened last time you did x, because there are always others involved, with wills of their own.

If war is an interaction, so too is peace. Short of one party’s total destruction, war ends because both sides choose for it to end, either because they’re both exhausted and choose to negotiate, or because one side realizes that it’s defeated and gives up. In the latter case, it’s not the winner who decides exactly when the war ends, it’s the loser. Or, as Fred Ikle put it in his book ‘Every War Must End’, ‘peace is made by the loser’.

In short, even when you’re on top, you don’t get to unilaterally decide when and how to stop a conflict. The key is getting your opponents to agree to stop. This can be done through a combination of negative and positive inducements, or by negotiation. But at the end of the day, the other side always has to agree (even if reluctantly). 

Unilaterally-imposed take it or leave it solutions which involve the humiliation or total submission of one party are a bad way of getting this agreement. Given the loss of honour (at best), or of independence or even life (at worst), which such solutions involve, people won’t agree to them unless the negative inducements are extremely powerful (think Germany in 1945, for instance). Consequently, if you’re not prepared to put such extreme negative inducements into effect, you don’t really have any choice, if you truly want peace, but to talk with the other side. You have to get them to agree.

Somewhere along the line, sadly, we seem to have forgotten this (if we ever actually understood it). There’s this sense that great powers can draw up a peace plan for somebody else’s conflict and then force it down their throats without even bothering to  consult them. It’s odd, for the most part decidedly unrealistic, and more than a little arrogant.

And so it is that Donald Trump today rolled out his ‘deal of the century’ to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Notionally, this is an American plan, but it seems clear that the Israelis were consulted about it before it was unveiled, and they obviously don’t have any objections to it. The problem is that neither the Israelis nor the Americans bothered consulting the other party to the conflict – the Palestinians. Unsurprisingly, the latter have wasted no time in rejecting the plan, as well they might given that the map released by the White House shows that the planned Palestinian state would look like this:


The Palestinian response is hardly surprising. Short of extreme negative inducements, it’s hard to see why anybody would accept a state divided up into lots of little pieces which doesn’t even have access to water. The whole thing seems to have been designed entirely to keep one side happy, while not bothering at all about what the other side wants (the hope apparently being that they can be bought off with a lot of money). One shouldn’t be too shocked if it all turns out to be dead at birth.

Sadly, though, this isn’t a unique case. The American approach to the war in Ukraine has been rather similar. The official line has been to put pressure on the Russian Federation so that it will abandon Donbass, which will then be forced to accept whatever terms Ukraine chooses to give it. More moderate analysts instead propose cutting some sort of deal with Russia (e.g. recognition of the annexation of Crimea in return for the abandonment of Donbass). But either way, talking to the people of Donbass, let alone their notional leaders, is out of the question. However peace comes, it isn’t to be by means of agreement with the people doing the fighting. Peace must be unilateral, or there won’t be peace at all.

Which, of course, is nuts. As I said, it takes two make war. It takes two to make peace as well.




7 thoughts on “Unilateral peace”

  1. Well, with Palestine, perhaps the significant element of this plan is that the US is supposed to shell out a whole lot of dough, to bribe enough people and create a different status-quo.

    But I suppose it was the same idea with Ukraine. And it did work, if you look at the big picture, the last 30 years or so. Perhaps it worked as designed, perhaps not exactly, but it did change the paradigm, as they say.


  2. 2 thoughts.

    1) Sultan Danuld at-Trumphun abu-Ivanka al-Amriki just now discowered how to run “Microsoft Paint”. This would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad and dangerous, astagfir allāh!

    2) This:


  3. And now for something completely different.

    Professor, not that long ago, you posted your usual hue and cry, about how Russia dares to restrict the activities of your fellow Westerner academics on its sovereign territory. You wrote:

    “As a professor, restrictions on international academic exchange inevitably trouble me”

    Also, tangently related to the issue, is the fact, that any shy and conscientious member of the global intelligentsia finds it not just necessary, but imperative to devote a significant amount of wailing and gnashing of their teeth to the deplorable (to them) fact, that in the Soviet Union various members of intelligentsia, including those belonging to academia, were, in fact, repressed. According to these people, targets of the repression were a priori innocent of any wrongdoing on their part, simply by the fact of belonging to the higher caste particular social strata, which, btw, they share with these members of intelligentsia.

    Now, Professor – no one questions your bravery and integrity. After all, once upon a time you were an Officer in Her Majesty’s Forces. So one can assume, that you will, loud and clear, voice your solidarity, support and offer of succor to the now unjustly repressed members of the intelligentsia, which happens right now in the West. Please, Professor, will you stand with the unjustly persecuted Charles Lieber (Harward’s Chair of the Department of Chemistry), Yanqing Ye (a Boston University robotics researcher) and Zaosong Zheng (cancer researcher) of spying on behalf of China?

    P.S. Carefully worded passive-aggressive comment deploring the Great Democratic West is also acceptable, if you choose to be careful.


    1. What’s wrong with you? Withdrawal symptoms, nothing in the article that allows you to cherry pick? To then once again exihibit your utter disdain of almost everything the Prof writes?

      You must be either an absolute maschochist, or bored and frustrated, or you are paid.

      Anything I missed?


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