The Search for Peace: A Century of Peace Diplomacy

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Hurd, D. (2000), "The Search for Peace: A Century of Peace Diplomacy", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

The Search for Peace: A Century of Peace Diplomacy

Douglas Hurd

Douglas Hurd was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, obtaining a first-class degree in History, and was President of the Cambridge Union. He joined the Diplomatic Service, serving in Peking, New York and Rome. He was Political Secretary to Prime Minister Edward Heath, was elected to Parliament in 1974 and served in the Cabinet as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary. In 1997 he was created Baron Hurd of Westwell.

Please note: Douglas Hurd: republished by kind permission of the author and publisher.

The Search for Peace: A Century of Peace Diplomacy. Published by Little, Brown and Co., London, ISBN 0 7515 2673 8 (softback) £7.99; 228pp., 1997.

Keywords History, Politics, War

The threat to peace has changed - changed but not disappeared. There will always be those, after some sudden turn of events, who hope that the pressures of suffering have actually forced human nature into a new mould, squeezing out the greed, hatred and fear that in history have been the main incentives to violence and war. But looking across the international scene today I can see no evidence that this has occurred, no ground for hope that in this world the lion will lie down with the lamb.

The threats remain, but are of a different kind. Between 1814 and 1989 individual states, sometimes alone, sometimes in alliance with others, pursued their national objectives. Wars occurred when one or more of those nation states judged that their objectives could no longer be pursued by peaceful means. This type of threat certainly remains, though in modified form. Future wars between nations are less likely to result from a clash of giants pursuing national objectives than from adventurism, probably of a medium-sized dictator possessed of the instincts of a gambler. The attack by the Argentine military dictatorship on the Falkland Islands was followed eight years later by the attack of Saddam Hussein on Kuwait. The failure of both these adventures is a good sign for the future. It was not easy in the autumn of 1990 to put together the wide international coalition against Iraqi aggression, and it was even harder to keep it together. Of course the blindness and bloody-mindedness of Saddam Hussein made it difficult, though not quite impossible, for anyone outside Iraq to argue for compromise. But the quality of President Bush's leadership carried an important and hopeful message for the future. That American leadership was not itself adventurist. President Bush, like Margaret Thatcher, concluded soon after the invasion that war would be needed to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. But he instructed Jim Baker, his shrewd Secretary of State, to lead the rest of us in a search for a diplomatic solution through the UN which could have averted the bloodshed. Moreover, the President stayed constant in his objective, even at the end when the Iraqis had been beaten. If the Americans had then changed objective by adding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to the liberation of Kuwait, then trust in American leadership would have dissolved in the Arab world and in Russia, and with it the coalition that won the war and has contained Saddam Hussein ever since. The steadiness and good sense of American leadership throughout the Gulf crisis made a deep impression on those of us who had to join in deciding what share of the risk we ourselves would shoulder.

Neither the Argentine military nor Saddam Hussein used nuclear or chemical weapons, though the latter had done so earlier against Iran. We have yet to face a threat from an adventurer who has acquired the knowledge and the material with which he could threaten his enemies with a nuclear attack. We shall be lucky if we get through the next few decades without some such threat. The reasoned anxiety about North Korea makes the point.

The threat to peace may not come from a state at all. The nineteenth century was familiar with terrorism but not on a scale or with the complexity with which we live today. We are better at analysing terrorism than defeating it. It may be fired by fanaticism as, for example, with certain types of Islamic fundamentalism. It may be induced by greed, for example by the appetites of the drug barons. Or it may simply be a device, as with the terrorists in Northern Ireland, to achieve by killing people what they have failed to achieve by persuading them.

But the most pervasive spoiler of peace in recent years has been neither the adventurist dictator nor the terrorist. The most virulent plague has been civil war - the more depressing because we are not in sight of a cure. Collective security can halt the adventurous dictator. Rigorous international co-operation can do something to check the terrorist. But outsiders cannot compel people to live at peace with each other within their own country. Nor can governments in this world of free markets effectively control the huge quantity of cheap weapons now available to anyone who wants to kill his neighbour or is fearful of being killed by him. There have been 90 civil wars since 1845. Two dozen were in progress in the middle of 1996. There is something particularly desolate about a country in the grip of civil war. The most pitiful capitals that I visited as Foreign Secretary were Beirut, Mogadishu and Sarajevo.

It is usual to say afterwards: "You should have stopped it before it started". It is easy to generalise about the need for preventive diplomacy. But each civil war is different in its origin and character. In Lebanon political and religious differences came together to explode the carefully constructed constitution that had kept Christians and Muslims together. After the Lebanese had destroyed much of their country in civil war their natural Lebanese commercial instinct began to reassert itself in favour of compromise and peace. But by this time Lebanon was caught up in the quarrels of Palestinians, Israelis and Syrians so that the Lebanese are no longer in charge of the future of their own country.

Africa is particularly subject to civil war because of the nature of African frontiers, often drawn in the last century by European statesmen anxious to compose their own differences, like noblemen negotiating the boundaries of their personal estates. It would not have occurred to Lord Salisbury or Bismarck or Delcassé that they were drawing the frontiers of future nations. Yet when the colonial empires were dissolved the Organisation of African Unity proceeded to insist on the old colonial boundaries. The new African leaders saw clearly enough that only rarely in Africa could diplomats find tidy frontiers containing peoples with enough shared identity and interest to hold together. It was better to make do with the haphazard frontiers drawn by the colonial powers than to start a task of revision that was bound to be unrewarding and dangerous.

The result, perhaps inevitably, has been a rash of African civil wars. Some, as in Nigeria, Namibia and Mozambique, have been in the end composed by a mixture of exhaustion and outside diplomacy. Angola has teetered for years on the edge of a settlement, Congo on the edge of disintegration. Liberia has virtually collapsed and so has Somalia. In both countries the struggle is not one of tribes or ideas, but of warlords who succeed only in destroying what they are attempting to conquer. They make a desert, but cannot even call it peace. Western aid cannot restore collapsed institutions and public services so long as there is fighting among the ruins. In 1997 and again in 1998 Albania showed that this was not purely an African illness.

Bosnia was something else again. Tito drew the boundaries of the different republics inside Yugoslavia in a way that left large numbers of Serbs living outside Serbia in Croatia and Bosnia, and large numbers of Albanians living inside Serbia in Kosovo. It is facile to say with the benefit of hindsight that Yugoslavia, or indeed Czechoslovakia, were failed creations. They were attempts to solve particular ethnic problems in the centre of Europe and they succeeded for several decades in the middle of the century. When Czechs and Slovaks decided to live apart the separation was quick and peaceful because there was little or no ethnic intermingling. No such neat solution existed in Yugoslavia. A Yugoslavia divided on purely ethnic lines would have left only a small Muslim state in Bosnia and a patchwork of districts in Serbia. The international community came to roughly the same conclusion as the OAU in Africa - that it was better to recognise existing frontiers, however imperfect, than to try to redesign them. The Bosnian Serbs, egged on by Belgrade, refused to accept that they should live in peace as a minority alongside Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims inside a state called Bosnia. I have never thought this was inevitable. It is unfashionable to say so, but Yugoslavia may have been within a decade or two of reaching break-even point, that is the point where too many people had too much to lose in terms of prosperity for civil war to be feasible. But Yugoslavia by enforced authority failed before Yugoslavia by consent could become a reality. As one Yugoslav friend put it to me, the peoples concerned carried too heavy a burden of history for their ship to reach harbour. Slovenia escaped with a ten-day war. Kosovo is in turmoil as I write; Macedonia has so far survived uneasily. The war between Serbia and Croatia, being essentially a war between countries, was brutal but not sustained. The war in Bosnia, being essentially a civil war, lasted for three savage years until brought at least temporarily to an end by exhaustion, effective sanctions against Serbia, and increased Western military intervention. The Bosnian War was not the most destructive in the world in terms of lives lost or blighted, but being fought between Europeans its horrors and crimes aroused particular shock and frustration as they were relayed night by night into every Western living room.

These, then, are the main dangers that the international community now has to face. International community is a handy phrase - does it mean anything? A large part, probably the greater part, of international diplomacy now takes place within the framework of one or other of the international institutions made familiar by the initials of its cumbersome full name. Do these institutions add value to the nation states of which they are composed - or are they simply a series of stages on which the member states play out their ancient games? As often happens in life, the cynical answer is no longer the realistic one. The UN, NATO, the EU, the WTO are all painfully and slowly building a character and an influence that go beyond the elements of which they are composed. They are still far short of turning into reality the rhetoric that surrounded their birth and fills their founding documents, but one by one they are gaining useful weight.

This weight is gained by the wish of their members. They remain fundamentally organisations of member states. Their battalions, their dollars, the influence of their resolutions depend on decisions concerted in New York, Geneva or Brussels, but originally taken in the capitals of member states and in particular of the great powers.

The concept of nations coming together to negotiate agreements has been familiar since nations existed. What is new in this century is the decision of nation states to establish international institutions to carry out those agreements. Institutions are not monsters hungry to eat up the nations. They are designed by nations to carry out agreed purposes that individual nations know they cannot accomplish alone.

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