Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International
Tuesday, April 14, 1998
East Asians, Too, Should Note the Anglo-Irish Way to Peace
By Gerald Segal International Herald Tribune
LONDON - The Asia-Europe summit that ended on April 4 in
London was dominated by expressions of European concern for Asian woes.
Little attention was paid to the most intense discussions at the summit
- those between the British and Irish prime ministers as they coordinated
positions on the peace deal for Northern Ireland that was finally concluded
Asian leaders might have paid more attention, for the deal has
some of the hallmarks of Asia's supposedly distinctive forms of conflict
The Anglo-Irish conflict, like most others, is seen by its protagonists
as unique. Yet no conflict is fully unique, and there is usually something
useful to be learned by watching how others negotiate. Asians will be intrigued
by the ''Asianness'' of key parts of the Anglo-Irish deal.
East Asians are constantly trumpeting the virtues of their informal
diplomacy designed to change long-term attitudes rather than reach intricate
legal accords. The Anglo-Irish agreement certainly falls into the category
of ambiguous accords. Its terms are so vague that each side can interpret
it liberally and still believe that the force of history is on its side.
East Asians will also recognize the virtue of a deal negotiated
with intense informality, behind closed doors and with senior leaders using
their very personal styles to reach agreement.
The accord may have more than 60 pages, but it was the personalities,
especially of the prime ministers, that made the deal possible. The protagonists
will count on the personal commitments of the leaders to ensure that it
works in the long term. The agreement was the result of what East Asians
call the rule of men, not the rule of law.
Although there was no external power that imposed a deal, there
was a very useful role for external facilitators and mediators. East Asians
and others might learn from this. By common consent, former U.S. Senator
George Mitchell played a pivotal role, and his Canadian assistant, General
Jean de Chastelain, was a valuable go-between.
As East Asians contemplate the value of the ''good offices'' of the
chairman of the ASEAN Regional Forum in preventive diplomacy, there is
something to be learned here. Those who claim that the need to base any
agreement on the comfortable consent of the parties should now see how
the good offices of a sensitive chairman can make an accord more achievable.
There is also something useful to be learned from the careful
ways in which cross-border arrangements are being established for narrow
technical issues, such as fisheries. The idea is to build confidence by
doing small-scale practical things.
As East Asians consider whether the Regional Forum should undertake
serious confidence-building measures to help buttress stability and security,
they should study the Northern Ireland precedent. Slow but steady institutionalization
of diplomacy that constantly stretches the limits of agreement clearly
has its virtues.
Participants in other conflicts might also reflect that the Northern
Ireland agreement shows that democracies can make peace. The presence of
men of violence does not require authoritarian rulers to impose peace.
Nor does all the violence need to stop before the negotiators
can agree. (Jerusalem, take note.) One of the implicit strengths of the
Irish deal is the recognition that true peace will take generations to
build, and that in the meantime some violence is likely.
The problems of Korea, Cambodia, the South China Sea and China-Taiwan
relations are obviously very different from Northern Ireland. There may
be more appropriate lessons for the combatants in the Arab-Israeli dispute,
and especially in the Cyprus problem.
But the fact that so much progress has been made in a centuries-old
conflict in a remote corner of northern Europe should be encouraging to
those seeking solutions to their supposedly unique and intractable troubles.
The writer is director of studies at the International Institute
for Strategic Studies and director of Britain's Pacific Asia Program. He
contributed this comment to the Herald Tribune.