By Wim Laven
President Obama said: “If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and you are arguing either that it does not or that even if it does, it’s temporary, then you should have some alternative.”
He is right, there are ultimately two approaches to resolving problems, as Obama said, “… diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force. Through war. Those are the options.” This reality is worthy of further exploration.
As a peace professional who has worked in conflicts from small claims court to Sri Lanka, and as a doctoral researcher in conflict transformation, I can agree with the president – as a starting point.
War is the ultimate in assertiveness combined with the complete absence of cooperation. Received wisdom assumes that war is how we win. Indeed, abject surrender is the ultimate in cooperation, but that is transmogrified into aggressive vengeance over time – it is the manifestation of social passive-aggressive behavior. This seesaw produces a terrible dynamic of destructive conflict re-ignition.
In the context of the Iran deal, the game-changing opportunity now exists. The cycle of endless enmity and hostile expectation is not necessarily over, but it is interrupted. The question now is, for how long? The longer it is broken, the more chance we, and Iranians, have to begin to act like mature civilizations rather than behave endlessly adolescent.
Trust is a big component of conflict and resolution. As a practitioner, I’ve become quite accustomed to telling parties, “Trust is built when we make and keep agreements.”
Sometimes parties change their minds, sometimes they cannot live up to their promises, but generally speaking they will follow through on their agreements. As a scientist, however, I can say that there is ample evidence supporting the claim that parties are less likely to back out of agreements from which they have something to gain.
The Iran deal is good diplomacy because it meets the interests of both sides; collaboration – “win-win” – is better than compromise because nothing is sacrificed except ego. Getting to win-win usually takes more work and it means letting go of puerile attachment to humiliating the opponent.
If people understand that and reward elected officials who support the deal, it will provide what we need and what Iran needs and will thus produce a healthier security environment at home and abroad.
Wim Laven has a graduate degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University and is working on a doctorate in international conflict management at Kennesaw State University.