Peace Through Diplomacy: Can It Work?

America is beginning to engage its enemies diplomatically. Will this approach be effective? Can diplomacy secure lasting global peace?

Mankind’s timeless and dogged pursuit of peace is a tribute to our perseverance and optimism. World leaders dedicate their lives to fostering peace. World organizations such as the United Nations exist to pursue global peace. Countless billions of dollars flow into efforts to quiet the drum of war. When these options fail, nations often seek peace through war.

Lasting peace is the ultimate, yet hardest to achieve desire of mankind. History declares the tragic inevitability of war. Every alternative has been tried, every path walked, but we are still no closer to learning the way of lasting peace. Today, though peace has never been more desperately needed, it has never been more elusive.

The Western world, America in particular, has been waging war to achieve peace for half a decade now. Public discussion in the United States rings with calls for an end to war-making and a revival of diplomatic efforts to achieve global aims. Peace through diplomacy has become a national catchphrase. Many public figures increasingly play down the need for force or military action, demanding that U.S. foreign policy be reconstructed around rhetoric, conversation—diplomacy.

Of course, it is infinitely preferable, whenever possible, to achieve foreign policy objectives through diplomacy. The question is: Is this a time when diplomacy alone can achieve the peace we crave?

It appears the present administration in Washington is coming to believe the answer is yes. After labeling Iran and North Korea as members of an axis of evil and Syria a rogue state and long maintaining a policy of refusing to entertain such nations in direct diplomatic talks, the president has lately shown himself willing to sit down with these same nations at a table laid with negotiation and compromise. In March, the U.S. held high-level talks with Iran and Syria on the future of Iraq, and scheduled a follow-up meeting for April. The same month, the assistant secretary of state met with North Korean officials in New York to discuss normalizing relations between their two nations—steps that could include removing North Korea from America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and opening a trading relationship.

As America launches this diplomatic offensive with its enemies—a foreign policy direction likely to be pursued more intensively in coming months and years—it is worth considering the art of diplomacy. What is the key to effective diplomacy? Is the U.S. in a position to employ high-quality diplomacy? More fundamentally, can diplomacy of even the highest quality secure peace in the long term? What is the way to lasting peace?

The Art of Diplomacy

Furthering national interest through peaceful means is the ultimate purpose of diplomacy. International relations expert Hans Morgenthau wrote, “Of all the factors that make for the power of a nation, the most important, however unstable, is the quality of diplomacy” (Politics Among Nations; emphasis mine throughout). High-quality diplomacy is one of the strongest weapons a nation can possess. Weak diplomacy, on the other hand, can thrust a nation into crisis.

What will be the quality of America’s diplomacy with Iran, Syria and North Korea?

Morgenthau explained diplomacy as the “art of bringing the different elements of the national power to bear with maximum effect upon those points in the international situation which concern the national interest most directly.” Effective diplomacy occurs when a government uses the elements of national power at its disposal—its political connections and influence, geographic situation, economic and industrial capacity, military might—to promote its national interests. Intelligent diplomacy, wrote Morgenthau, harnesses these qualities and pursues its objectives by three means: persuasion, compromise, and threat of force.

Effective diplomacy employs the power of persuasion, compromises at the right time and on the right issues, and—when necessary—uses the threat of military force. It requires the careful, well-timed blending of all three of these components.

“Rarely, if ever,” Morgenthau wrote, “in the conduct of the foreign policy of a great power is there justification for using only one method to the exclusion of the others.” The art of diplomacy consists of placing the right emphasis on each of the three means at its disposal at the right time. “A diplomacy that puts most of its eggs in the basket of compromise when the military might of the nation should be predominantly displayed,” for example, “or stresses military might when the political situation calls for persuasion and compromise, will…fail.”

Effective diplomacy requires that rhetoric be underpinned by military strength. “Diplomacy without arms,” as the Prussian king Frederick the Great stated, “is like music without instruments.”

The fact is, history shows that unless a credible military option exists, persuasion and compromise have little effect in dealing with hostile regimes. And whether America accepts it or not, Iran, Syria and North Korea are hostile regimes.

A Critical Case Study

Sept. 30, 1938, was a momentous day in the life of Neville Chamberlain. As he stepped onto the tarmac of Heston airport, he could barely contain his excitement. Clasped in his fingers was the fruit of a long process of hard-fought diplomacy. Jubilance filled the air. The sense of relief was palpable. Standing before the eager public, the prime minister considered the significance that history would award this day. Sept. 30, 1938, would be a glorious testament to the power of diplomacy.

It was on this day that Britain’s Prime Minister Chamberlain, waving the non-aggression agreement signed by Adolf Hitler, declared those infamous words: “Peace for our time.” During the conference in Munich, the power of rhetoric had prevailed and the clenched fist of war was thwarted.

Or so it seemed.

Less than a year later, Hitler flouted the non-aggression pact, fired up the engines of his military, and ignited World War ii by rumbling eastward into Poland. France and Britain declared war on Germany, and Chamberlain’s diplomacy was officially pronounced dead.

It is critical we consider the history of pre-World War ii diplomacy in the context of current events, and how American leaders are handling global challenges.

The story of the 1930s is of the failure of diplomacy because Britain did not demonstrate it was prepared to take action. Hitler laughed at the agreement because he knew Britain was not arming for war; he didn’t believe there would be consequences for breaking the agreement he had signed. What’s more, Britain had a track record of ignoring Germany’s aggression. When German troops occupied the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland in 1936, Britain did nothing. When Hitler ordered his troops into Austria in March 1938, there was no reaction. And with the Munich Pact itself relinquishing Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten territory to Germany, what possible incentive did Hitler have to halt his campaign to take over Europe? Diplomacy was rewarding his aggression.

Compare this with what is happening today with the U.S. Notice this opinion piece from Novosti, a Russian news agency: “This about-face [embracing hostile nations in diplomatic talks] of American diplomacy is all the more astounding since it took place in a matter of a month and a half. In middle January Condoleezza Rice reassured the Senate that the United States would not go for any bilateral diplomatic contacts with North Korea, Iran or Syria until they became reasonably flexible on disputable issues. The U.S. secretary of state described the policies of these countries as ‘extortion’ rather than diplomacy.

This ‘extortion’ is still in place, and it is Washington that has become flexible….Nobody could match Rice in the UN Security Council in her demands for tough sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear test in October. In the case of Iran and Syria, she also preceded the invitation to the conference in Baghdad with a package of confrontation-provoking speeches, and accused Tehran of collaboration with the Shiite militants in attacking U.S. troops. To sum up, each time dessert followed the bitter pill” (March 6).

The parallels with British diplomacy in the 1930s are disconcerting. Like Britain’s pre-World War ii appeasement and non-action, the U.S.’s track record instills no fear into rogue nations. For example, bombings of U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Tanzania during the ’90s met with virtually no response. After maintaining that North Korean nuclear capability would not be tolerated, the U.S. took no action when Pyongyang exploded its first nuclear bomb in a test last October. Iran’s ongoing support of terrorists, incitement of violence in Iraq, and pursuit of nuclear capability provoke little real action from the U.S.

Also degrading the deterrent capability of America’s military threat is the nation’s history of exiting a war theater once things get tough. America’s enemies have witnessed hasty retreats from Vietnam and Somalia, and are watching Iraq. In addition, antiwar Democrats and the mainstream media are playing a powerful part in undermining any threat of military force. Other nations know America’s government is isolated and would become even more so if it resorted to force against Iran, North Korea or Syria.

This all raises the question: As America begins to engage its enemies diplomatically, does it have a credible threat of military force? If not, then we can predict that its diplomatic efforts with Iran, Syria and North Korea will crumble and that violence and conflict will eventually prevail.

Unfortunately, it appears this is essentially the situation as it stands. In its enemies’ eyes, the use of force by America is extremely unlikely, hence rendering U.S. diplomacy largely ineffective.

Another Case Study

Theodore Roosevelt was the first U.S. president to see that America had the potential to be a world power. He knew that effective diplomacy was key to realizing this potential—and that threat of action was an indispensable component of it.

Speaking at the Naval War College in Newport on June 2, 1897, Roosevelt said, “Diplomacy is utterly useless when there is no force behind it. The diplomat is the servant, not the master, of the soldier. There are higher things in this life than the soft and easy enjoyment of material comfort. It is through strife, or the readiness for strife, that a nation must win greatness.” He made that comment at the dawn of American greatness.

The truth of his statement has never been more evident than in our danger-fraught world.

Iran, Syria and North Korea have a history of exploiting concessions, rejecting agreements and trampling on other nations’ willingness to compromise. Though America may come away from diplomatic talks with agreements in hand, what will it do if and when Iran or North Korea refuses to meet their agreements? If these countries are confident that the U.S. is not prepared to back up its compromise and persuasion with meaningful military action, how effective will the diplomacy be?

Entering into a diplomatic relationship with these nations will be a litmus test of the strength of the U.S. government. Will diplomacy further America’s national interest and secure a measure of peace? Or will it only serve to promote the interests of these rogue states and further ruin America’s power and reputation?

Gathering Dangers

Seventeenth-century English historian Thomas Fuller said, “[I]t is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf.”

The Middle East seethes with problems for America right now. Israel faces the possibility of a three-front war with Syria in the Golan Heights, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Syria and Iran are pushing for the downfall of the moderate, U.S.-friendly government of Lebanon. Iraq quakes with civil strife between the government and several competing militias. Like Germany in the 1930s, every sign says war is only getting worse across the Middle East.

How does America respond to these clear and present dangers? Yank the troops out, and let’s sit down at the negotiating table with Iran and Syria. Many American and British leaders, like Chamberlain, are sheep seeking negotiation with wolves.

The tragic result of such weak diplomacy is that we are moving into an era when the enemies of Western civilization simply do not fear consequences for their actions. Hence, Hezbollah starts a war against Israel; Hamas continues to launch missiles onto Israeli soil; North Korea tests long-range missiles and nuclear weapons; Iran continues to threaten to do the same; Iraqi and Afghan insurgents brazenly attack Western forces.

Increasingly, America’s enemies have no fear!

On that day in 1938, Chamberlain’s style of diplomacy strengthened the enemy and precipitated conflict. The only thing Chamberlain secured for the Continent was time: The people had 11 more months of relative peace—while Hitler had 11 more months of preparation—followed by a bloody and lethal war.

This perfectly illustrates the futility of diplomacy if a nation is weak and unprepared to back up its words. “Diplomacy without a realistic threat of significant action, in the event that diplomacy fails,” said Dr. George Friedman from Stratfor Systems, “is just empty chatter.” That statement summarizes American foreign policy today. When it comes to problems such as Iran’s involvement in Iraq, the policy of the American government is little more than empty chatter—conversations not underpinned by action. Thus, the diplomacy may buy some time, but the time will serve only the aggressor, not America.

The Ultimate Cause of Peace

Seeking peace without shedding blood is a noble aspiration. Sadly, history and human nature show that lasting peace cannot be secured through diplomacy, even if it is of the highest quality.

High-quality diplomacy in many cases may avert war and foster peace temporarily. But history shows it will never bring lasting peace!

Mankind dreams about peace, but lives by war! Why?

God says of mankind in Isaiah 59:8: “[T]he way of peace they know not.” Nations today cry out for peace; leaders throw time and money at trying to secure it; politicians and statesmen devote their lives to seeking and maintaining peace through diplomacy. But those efforts always fail eventually and war prevails!

Man simply does not know the way to lasting peace—individually, in our families, within our nations, or globally between nations.

God wants this discouraging fact to impress a critical and life-altering lesson upon our minds. The failure of human diplomacy and the tragic cycle of war teach that without God and His law, peace is impossible!

Mankind’s history of failed diplomacy—evidenced by the multitude of wars—vividly demonstrates the absolute vainness of mankind’s ways. Can we see that unless a Higher Power intervenes in our affairs, peace will forever remain elusive?

Your mind could come to no greater realization. The day you grasp your futility, your absolute nothingness—and the ineptness of mankind in general—could be the most rewarding day of your life. It is only when a person realizes his own futility that he can begin to grasp the magnitude, the perfection, the sheer glory, power and splendor of his Creator!

Our history of war and violence declares our desperate need for a relationship with the Being who created us.

The reason wars have plagued mankind since the dawn of time is that humans have rejected God and chosen to live in subjection to their own human nature. This ghastly nature despises God’s laws and glorifies the lusts and desires of the flesh (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 8:7). Human nature pursues self-interest, self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement above the interests of fellowman and God.

For almost three decades, many world leaders esteemed Herbert Armstrong as an authority on the subject of world peace, labeling him an unofficial ambassador for world peace. Here is what Mr. Armstrong wrote about the cause of war: “Nations never needed to go to war. Yielding to human nature is the cause of war. Rebellion against God’s law of peace is the cause of war.” Grasp this profound truth. All wars, conflict and violence are caused by humans rejecting God’s law and glorifying and promoting themselves above fellowman and God.

This principle is discussed in James 4. “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts…” (verses 1-2; New Revised Standard Version). The Apostle James shows that war and conflict occur when men, acting as slaves to their carnal lusts and desires, reject the law and knowledge of God.

The lesson: Disobedience to God leads to war!

Obedience to God’s laws, on the other hand, creates and nurtures peace. The law of God was designed to foster peace among men, as well as peace between mankind and its Creator. This principle applies just as much at the individual level as it does at the national level. Obedience to God’s law will bring peace into your life. To understand God’s law more deeply, request our free booklet The Ten Commandments.

Peace would flow over the Earth today if people understood and embraced the law of God. Wars explode when the interests of nations clash. Consider. If each nation’s interests were rooted in the same law, and if all men put obedience to the law above their selfish desires, there would be no conflict among people or nations. War would be impossible, and lasting peace would flourish!

God tells us in the Bible that such a world is almost here. Christ is about to return and establish this new world. God’s law will be the universal standard in this coming world; all nations will live by that law. In Hebrews 8, the Apostle Paul shows that at this time God will make a covenant relationship with His people. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8:10). God’s law will be indelibly etched into the minds of mankind!

The result: Peace will engulf the whole Earth!

Jesus Christ will be the King and supreme Leader on Earth during the World Tomorrow. He will be the ultimate Diplomat—a great Statesman motivated by love and concern for all people and all nations. He will seek to persuade people to submit to His law and government through diplomacy. His diplomacy will be underpinned by the threat of force—and men who reject His leadership will be corrected by His “rod of iron.”

Mankind’s failed efforts to achieve lasting global peace should not depress us. Diplomatic failures—even wars—need not discourage us.

Mankind’s hope for peace does not lie in the hands of politicians and diplomats. It lies not in guns and jackboots. Lasting global peace lies in the hands of God! He has a plan by which He will bring peace to your life, to your country and to this world.

God’s plan for mankind is explained thoroughly in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages—a book we will send you a free copy of upon request. Don’t invest your hope for peace in mankind; invest it in the all-powerful, all-merciful living God!