It is easy to be a cynic listening to some of the more nonsensical chatter coming out of Congress. Despite the most comprehensive international agreement between the United States and its P5+1 partners (the members of the UN Security Council and Germany) with Iran on its nuclear program, the calls to bomb Iran are still too loud for them to be dismissed. In a less publicized speech last week, informed leadership by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley points to a simple yet powerful truth: diplomacy works. Merkley argued, without dismissing the absolute need to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program, that the most effective strategy to achieve this outcome is a verifiable, negotiated process. Almost simultaneously, 150 House Democrats wrote a letter supporting the administration’s negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, urging the exhaustion of every avenue toward a verifiable, enforceable diplomatic solution in order to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
This is more than just Congressional politics and debate. We are experiencing a shift in the larger debate about the effectiveness of diplomacy versus war. We are more secure through diplomacy and negotiated agreements, because they are superior to military intervention and war. Therefore it is crucial that diplomatic efforts continue and that we disregard military options which are guaranteed failures in the short and long-term.
There is a poor track-record of military intervention to achieve the stated outcomes. Or to put it differently – wars don’t work. This is especially true for the more recent wars and military interventions in the Middle East. The voices still claiming success in the two major US-led Middle East wars are increasingly shrinking. The war in Afghanistan was an ill-conceived response to the criminal attack of September 11, 2001. The 2003 invasion of Iraq turned into the Iraq War. Astronomical costs, a violent insurgency, the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and immense casualties and suffering of civilians sum up the current situation.
Diplomats and negotiators are not acting in uncharted landscapes. There is a body of knowledge on why negotiation and other conflict resolution approaches are superior to military options. Negotiation is not a zero-sum game where one party wins at the expense of the other parties. The possible and expected outcomes are mutually acceptable agreements. In multilateral negotiations – in this case the P5 + 1 framework – the potential for more lasting agreements grows substantially, as more groups and interests are interdependent and have to be reconciled. Negotiation is a critical tool to restore and repair broken relationships as well as creating space for agreements in other areas. Whether we like it or not, Iran is a major player in the Middle East and beyond. Foreign policy issues around Syria, Iraq, Yemen, oil, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be addressed constructively when Iran is an involved participant in creating a path forward.
In a time where people and governments worldwide are calling for nuclear disarmament, there is an understandable fear of a nuclear-armed Iran. Some might argue that swift military air bombardment against Iran is the best option to achieve this goal. This is a purely political statement and out-of-touch with history and expertise of military leaders. Adm. Mike Mullen (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, “As of today, there is no more credible path of reducing the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon than this potential deal. Those who say the risks are too high with the current deal offer no constructive path forward save the high potential for war.” Due to absolute superiority of U.S. conventional military force, even the threat of military intervention would be an incentive for Iran to actually acquire nuclear weapons and create as much secrecy as possible around those efforts. The tone in Washington’s foreign policy and intelligence community has changed. Having personally sat through briefings with officials from the State Department, the intelligence community and other state agencies recently, I can attest that there was a strong consensus that any application of hard military power leads to uncertain and uncontrollable outcomes and that diplomacy and cooperation with partners was the preferred course of action.
The stakes in P5+1 and Iran nuclear negotiations are high. The only path forward is to seek negotiated agreements based on oversight and control. In doing so, we can prevent war and the inevitable human, social, economic and environmental costs. We can avoid putting American men and women in harm’s way, who then would cause harm to Iranian men, women and children – that’s the nature of war. The way we understand and constructively address global conflict and war now has changed. Senator Merkley has shown that he recognizes that negotiation and understanding its environment is the new realpolitik which makes us more secure. The media and the public have a responsibility to protect and emphasize such voices.
Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., Hood River, OR is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.