As the two peace processes bog down in obvious failure, we are being urged not to acknowledge the fact or inquire into reasons for it, but instead to press on, in the hope that what is not working now may work in future. Against thinking of that kind, there is a relevant and precious counsel of Edmund Burke's. Burke was speaking in Parliament in 1774, when George III's American policy was running into serious difficulties. The previous speaker had counselled perseverance at all costs. Burke replied:
He asserts that retrospect is not wise: and the proper, the only proper subject of inquiry is not how we got into this difficulty, but how we are to get out of it. In other words, we are, according to him, to consult our invention, and to reject our experience. The mode of deliberation he recommends is diametrically opposed to every rule of reason, and every principle of good sense established among mankind. For that sense and that reason, I have always understood, absolutely to prescribe, whenever we are involved in difficulties from measures we have pursued, that we should take a strict review of those measures, to correct our errors, if they should be corrigible; or at least to avoid a dull uniformity in mischief, and the unpitied calamity of being repeatedly caught in the same snare.
Amen to that.
So what went wrong? That is the first question, and there is no sign that it is being addressed, even yet.
Widely different though the situations in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East are, what went wrong with the negotiations is basically the same. What went wrong initially is that the fundamental question which must be asked before entering serious negotiation was either not asked or wrongly answered. That question is: does the other party have the will and the capacity to deliver what I want from him, in the event of negotiations leading to an agreement?
In the case of the Middle East, it is manifest that Arafat, even if he has the will, does not have the capacity to deliver 'peace in exchange for territory'. He cannot - and does not try to - control the terrorists within the territories allotted to him under the 'self-government interim agreement'. And by his signature on that agreement, he forfeited whatever influence he may once have had over terrorists in the rest of the territories, and throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Worse than that, his otherwise useless signature on that agreement stimulates those terrorists - and terrorist-harbouring governments like that of Iran - into demonstrating that the agreement does not bring peace. They demonstrated that in Buenos Aires this month and in London this week. And there is nothing in the relevant peace process that will induce terrorists to desist from further demonstrations of this sort. Quite the contrary.
In the case of the Downing Street Declaration, Britain's co-signer - the Dublin government - has the will, but certainly not the capacity, to deliver peace in Northern Ireland. But of course the party which the Declaration was designed to placate is the Provisional IRA. The IRA does not really have the capacity to deliver peace in Northern Ireland - since the loyalist paramilitaries also have to be considered - and it most certainly does not have the will. Yet the two governments convinced themselves and one another not just that the IRA has the will and the capacity but that the insertion into the Declaration of a formula including the blessed word 'self-determination' would result in 'a permanent cessation of violence'.
What has actually happened since the Declaration of 15 December is a considerable increase in violence: the IRA kept up its campaign without diminution (in fact, a slight increase) and the loyalist paramilitaries, in direct and predictable response to this peace process, sharply stepped up their own violence.
Psychiatrists should study the genesis of the Downing Street Declaration. It is a rare case of political folie a deux. Yet this peace process continues to have its charms. After last weekend's Special Conference of Sinn Fein had refused to endorse the Downing Street Declaration, the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, claimed to detect some 'positive signals' coming from that Conference.
In relation to terrorism, the conclusion of agreements with parties who do not have the will or the capacity to deliver what is agreed is not just futile. It is pernicious, because it demonstrates a craving for peace so strong as to induce the governments concerned to behave irrationally. Terrorists are on the alert for symptoms of such a condition, and where the symptoms are developing, the morale and efficiency of the terrorists increase in proportion.
For the IRA, for example, the Downing Street Declaration's reference to self-determination represented a crack in the determination of the British government in relation to Northern Ireland: a crack brought about by their own armed struggle. The thing to do with a crack is to hammer away at it to produce more cracks with the intention of bringing down the whole edifice, which is precisely what the IRA is now doing.
People say the terrorists are 'trying to disrupt the peace process' and 'must not be allowed' to do so. In reality, the terrorists are not disrupting the peace process. They are exploiting it. In Ireland, nobody is more ecstatic about the peace process than Gerry Adams. The more cracks there are to be hammered at by the IRA the better, from the point of view of this particular peace processor.
The idea of a 'political solution' to terrorism is an illusion. In certain circumstances, a political agreement may help: in others, it may hinder. Mostly, the quest for a non-existent political solution distracts attention from the harsh necessity to meet increasing terrorism with more stringent security measures.
In the meantime, the peace process continues. This week, the British government continued to transfer IRA prisoners from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland. The reasons given are humanitarian. The reality is an attempt to appease the IRA. The appearance of yet another crack will encourage the IRA to hammer harder. It is time to stop appeasement.Reuse content