When does diplomacy become appeasement?

Diplomacy is the best way to conduct relations between countries to avoid direct confrontations, military or economic. It’s diplomatic relations that help countries channel their views and coordinate them for a collective or bilateral actions.

Appeasement shouldn’t be just face-saving for the weak party. It should be based on solid grounds to last. Saddam gave in to Iran when he was weak. But once the new Iranian regime was militarily weak, he launched military actions that lasted till his invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

After the Second World War the USA and its allies made peace agreement with their enemies Italy, Germany, and Japan based on turning a new page and helping them to become powerful again without threatening world peace.

Currently, appeasement should be based on helping the weak side to have the possibility to stay in power on condition of honouring the agreements to keep a balance of power. Seeking to annihilate an enemy outright can prove impossible, if that enemy has the means to rise from its ashes. In Iraq, there are reports of arrests and death of terrorist resistance key figures, but violence isn’t over there. Afghanistan still has no-go areas even for the heavily armed international forces operating there.

Countries with uneasy relations have different means to talk. Either directly at different levels from the level of ambassadors to that of head of states. There is the means of intermediation as it happened in Qatar between the Lebanese. The most failed intermediations are between Hamas and Fatah despite efforts by many Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen. For these, they can agree just to talk at best without honouring their agreements, especially those signed in Mecca. This is the result of the interference of outside forces like Iran.

The other level of talk can be carried by international organisations like the UN. There have been some successes about this, at least for appeasement. Morocco and the Polisario Front were at open war from 1976 to 1991, the year in which they agreed to a ceasefire, holding up to now. They started direct negotiations last year. The problem isn’t resolved. But at least diplomatic initiatives have put a brake to their military confrontations. There were no causalities from either side since 1991.

The success of diplomacy depends on the will of the parties to have normal relationship. They can discard military actions to solve their problems if that proves to be costly for both sides. But there are other means to perpetuate the conflict by having no bilateral cooperation or economic exchange. The US has used economic embargo against Cuba as a means to fight its communist regime. Talking to any Cuban politician is still considered a crime.

Diplomacy becomes appeasement only when the parties find military confrontation is of no good to either side, despite the possession of the weapons and the soldiers to do so. Diplomacy in many cases becomes a stick and carrot to solve a problem. The case of Iran shows this when the West has used economic incentives to dissuade it from pursuing its nuclear programme, while at the same time it is imposing gradual sanctions on it, when the US politicians are blowing hot and cold about a possible military strike.

As long as countries that are the centre of major international diplomatic crises are piling weapons and sophisticating them, there is no guarantee that there will be no temptations to use them as a gamble to solve a situation that diplomacy has failed to do.

Appeasement can be possible when all parties see eye to eye. But as there are deep divergence between the parties that can’t live side by side, skirmishes, bomb attacks and wars will remain an inevitable outcome in a world that historically has innumerable record of wars.

No one has a magic wand to put an end to armed actions as long as there are military and diplomatic options. Each option is valued according to the results it can yield. Appeasement and confrontations will remain the reality governing the thinking of politicians, either for their survival or the survival of their countries.

Diplomacy, if it can’t solve problems and make things better, should keep “safely” bad situations the way they are before they become dangerously worse.

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