An overview of my reflections.
Today is the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the crashing of the 4th hijacked plane as a direct result of the heroic actions of some passengers in order to prevent further death and destruction on the ground. This set of pieces is a wide-ranging reflection borne out of what 9/11 represents and the lessons that can be drawn from it to resolve present day conflicts. 9/11 changed the world in a specific way. It also brought certain realities into sharp focus, and raised awareness and consciousness of these realities.
A reflection on the events that 9/11 signifies and subsequent events on the international stage compel me to also reflect on the implications of the recent uprisings in various Arab countries; the threat of a conflict between Israel and Iran; the current strain on the 1979 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt; the unfolding events in Syria; the impacts of a possible wider conflagration in the Middle East. We are often told that those who fail to learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Since this is not a particular area of competence, I will attempt to discern the historical roots of these tensions and conflicts through the eyes of those who have studied these issues in greater depth and leave you to come to your own conclusions. In the process, I will necessarily have to examine the nature of these conflicts – seen through the prism of the events that resulted in 9/11. 9/11 is a major reference point for freedom-loving individuals, societies, and civilizations. It is one they ought not to forget, or can forget only at the risk of great peril to themselves.
My training in the Camp System of Negotiation, my experiences, and my world view makes me see these conflicts in a very specific way. From that perspective, I could be accused of writing a very political piece. My intention however is not to seek or create conflicts where none exist. My ultimate aim is to highlight the ineffectual means that are being and have been employed to resolve these conflicts. Ineffective negotiation frameworks – despite being accompanied by the best of intentions – causes only a temporary lull until the conflict erupts at a later time and place, one that will not be of our choosing.
It is expected that in a pluralistic world, there will be legitimate differences on how these conflicts are understood and diagnosed. A lack of a shared understanding of the true nature of the conflict hampers the ability to resolve it in a stable and ethical way, resulting in much ‘kicking the can down the road’. People with greater expertise than me in these issues have shown how conflicts surrounding certain fundamentals – in free and democratic societies – provide an added burden on attempts to resolving the larger historical conflict in which 9/11 was an egregiously evil flash point.
In a particularly poignant way, 20th century history shows us that rivals conception of right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error, justice and injustice, freedom and oppression, and moral, immoral, and amoral are not harmless or benign. Putting up objective truths for a majority vote has real and often tragic consequences.
In 1925, Mahatma Gandhi listed 7 social sins that lead to violence:
Politics without Principle
Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge without Character
Commerce without Morality
Science without Humanity
Worship without Sacrifice
He wrote out this list and passed it on to his young grandson a few months before he was assassinated. His grandson, Arun Gandhi, in turn added an 8th one.
Rights without responsibilities.
Where does negotiation come into the picture?
Many of the forces that play a role in the international stage are beyond the control of individual actors, including individual nation states. I find a lot to think about in the writings of George Friedman and his team at STRATFOR (www.stratfor.com). STRATFOR’s geopolitical view of reality shows the constraints and limits to human actions. But as this conversation between him and Robert Kaplan demonstrates, there is a space within which human actors can act and shape human affairs. This is the space in which negotiated agreements can and ought to be reached.
In this space, human history shows the clash of truth versus error, good versus evil, and freedom versus tyranny playing out resulting in conflicts of various kinds, degrees, and durations. We see the human spirit’s unquenchable thirst for ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ encountering man-made obstacles. These obstacles have taken (and continue to take) the form of tyranny born of a thirst for power or born of ideologies. I freely admit that some national and international disputes are over resources or to redress certain injustices. Many however, are not.
Fashioning a just peace and a just socio-political and socio-economic international order often requires negotiation. There are hundreds of academic programs devoted to ‘conflict resolution’, ‘dispute resolution’, ‘peace studies’ and more. Numerous books have been written along those lines including various handbooks on these subjects. ‘Bargaining with the devil’ was written by Prof. Robert Mnookin of Harvard and released in 2010 to facilitate such efforts.
The Camp System is at odds with some of the ‘what’ and almost completely of the ‘how’ that Harvard teaches on negotiation, conflict resolution, and dispute resolution. It is however not an opposition born of chutzpah. Rather, it is born of a profound realism of how human beings actually interact with each other, how they make decisions, how they influence decisions in others without infringing on their legitimate freedom to disagree, and how to identify and solve the real problems that stand in the way of a stable and just peace. There can be no genuine and lasting peace without justice.
Wars are brutalizing and cause untold human misery. It is necessary to explore negotiation as a first, second, and third means of responding to the threats against liberty and justice. However, negotiation is not the only legitimate means to resolving conflicts or disputes. I am neither in favor of war for any and all reasons, nor of pacifism nor of denial in the face of evil. Sometimes, the only available manner to halt tyranny and aggression, one that has no intention of stopping itself and turning away is a military response. In such instances, Winston Churchill’s example of resisting Nazi evil is an example that many freedom-loving people draw inspiration from. At the end of the day, there are situations when every alternative to armed conflict has been used and exhausted. In such a situation, the only means to defend and uphold the innate, intrinsic, and inalienable value, rights, and dignity of the human person and of liberty is to engage it with force. Eternal vigilance is said to be the price of liberty. The cost is often a sincere effort to reach a negotiated agreement – using a valid negotiation framework and methodology – without sacrificing the demands of justice. Armed force can be legitimately used only when all alternatives to safeguard and defend the demands of justice have been tried, and have failed.
Negotiation and the demands of justice
A negotiation does not occur if a person or a group’s right to veto – the right to say ‘I don’t agree’ – is denied or minimized. In today’s politically correct world it appears that a form of discourse has arisen in which certain claims are delegitimized immediately they are made and because they are made. Sadly, they are delegitimized not only by people who don’t take the time to study an issue deeply before passing judgment, but also by those who claim to have studied an issue but disagree with a person who, after studying the same issue, has arrived at a different diagnosis or a different solution. To prove the point I wish to make, let me share a story from last year of an event which you may also be familiar with.
A person well known in negotiation circles on linkedIn stared a discussion I found rather interesting. He explicitly requested for comments and feedback. My memory fails me as to what the exact topic was. I wrote what I considered to be a thoughtful response, using arguments from a variety of the negotiation scholars and gurus I had studied up until that time. I remember attaching a link to a written piece from a respected negotiation scholar of international repute, to buttress the points I had made, and quoting another authority on the subject. (At the time, I hadn’t encountered the Camp System.) Sadly, the response of the individual who started the discussion was to delete my comment. Naturally, I was taken aback. Here was a negotiation guru who simply could not evaluate an argument on its own terms and offer a rebuttal. I’m used to innuendo, scorn, and emotional outbursts. I’m guilty of the latter, myself. This is something that one learns to anticipate and excuse in the world of those who are uninformed about a topic and resort to rants, innuendos, straw-men arguments, and even ad hominem attacks. To me, this was different. Here was someone with a reputation as a negotiator behaving like a bully, in a discussion he started, and was then proceeding to denying me the right to participate after throwing the doors wide open.
After becoming introduced to the Camp System and making the effort to putting it at the service of more and more people, I have had this same thing happen to me a few more times. The Camp System is contrarian and overturns conventional wisdom in a way that is deeply threatening to negotiation, conflict resolution, and sales gurus. And people who feel threatened are said to engage in either flight, fight, or fright reactions. Ideas that are deeply threatening can conjure frightening visions. And those visions will drive decisions.
Hidden and not-so-hidden roots of conflict
This ritual and routine of my misadventure on linkedIn plays out endlessly in the public square and the international arena whenever there is an overt or covert attempt to deny another person, group, or even civilization their right to veto. It is a deep-seated human tendency that latches on to the cultural forces at play in today’s world. These cultural forces translate to political forces that are hostile to genuine pluralism. A constricted devotion to ‘my truth’ that goes on to automatically delegitimize what others hold as true is tyrannical. But it also raises the prospect of widely varying conceptions and claims of truth. If what everybody feels, thinks, or believes to be true is actually true, then opinion becomes truth, doesn’t it? This piece highlights one of the dangers facing free societies where free dialogue is shouted down. To resolve these conflicts, I often choose to assess these competing claims in the light of of those rights that were powerfully and admirably articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I greatly admire George Orwell. I read his book ‘Animal farm’ when I was 11 so obviously, I missed the deeper truths he wished to convey in it. I went on to read ‘1984’ when I was a teenager and still missed the point he was trying to make. It is over the past few years that I have succeeded in connecting the dots. In ‘1984’ Orwell states ‘In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act’.
Are we living in a time of ‘universal deceit’? Reason, emotion, intuition, history, my instinct for self-preservation, my study of various schools, frameworks and systems of negotiation, coupled with my desire to contribute towards building a just and ordered society and international order and thereby live out the Mission and Purpose of the Camp Negotiation institute, compels me to answer ‘Yes, we are, and we are doing so at multiple levels’. We often fail to identify the real threats and enemies to human liberty, and don’t know how to engage them, appropriately. As a result, we have conflicts that fester, or lie low only to burst out into the open at a later date.
For ‘straightforward’ conflicts – over resources, opportunities, injustices, and the like, a negotiated agreement is likely to result if for no other reason than that war is expensive and cannot be continued indefinitely. But conflicts born out of ideological differences are much harder to resolve. Like the demise of European Communism, these must be fought at multiple levels. Whatever negotiations occur must not minimize or ignore the essential ideological differences. In the next piece, I explore how these ideological differences can be tackled and how negotiation is only one building block of a larger strategy to resolve them.
Please share your thoughts.