Home Winsights
No. 34 (October 1999)

Bringing Peace:  The Balkans,
Northern Ireland, and elsewhere

Building a long-term solution

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.

Are we about to intervene militarily in the nation of Colombia?
Stories now in the press are reporting polls which purport to show that 61% of Colombians favor our military's coming in to help sort out their mess with the Marxists and drug lords. Other stories are appearing, apparently to ready the American public for such an intervention. Is there more at stake here than simply the routine cost of Colombia's joining the long list of places where American troops now "stand in harm's way" as peace-keepers and as an occupying force?

There is strong reason to believe that our misunderstanding of the situation there will lead to greater and costlier blunders than our debacles in Lebanon and in Somalia, and approach the magnitude of a Vietnam.

True, our occupation seems to have done its intended job in Haiti and Grenada, but the jury is still very much out on Bosnia, Kosovo, and some of the unannounced situations in Africa, and Iraq is a bleeding disgrace to all concerned. East Timor is just underway, and there may not have been time there to build an alternative. We cannot and probably should not ignore such genocide.

But each of these military occupations is costly. We don't always know what we are doing there. Maybe the alternative would be costlier. But is there a better way than our military interventions as a means to build peace? And can we possibly consider such a better way before we take the plunge into Colombia?


A better way: mutually beneficial incentives
Rebuilding regional economies, so that people have a stake in social order, is a step in the right direction, but it is insufficient. You need also to have the various peoples involved to build a stake in one another's well-being. Here is how:

Very gently, set a series of special tax breaks and tariff breaks for the products and services of firms, to the extent that: these firms are jointly owned by members of the formerly conflicting ethnicities.

To take advantage of the tax and tariff breaks, more and more firms will seek out partners from the hitherto opposed ethnicities. More and more, the most powerful among each group will begin to seek out partners from the other group, Serbs and Albanians and Croatians, for example, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, Arabs and Israelis in various key sites, Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and Sufis in Kashmir, various embroiled tribes throughout much of Africa....

Over time, more and more, the most powerful and effective people of one ethnicity will find their own well-being at stake in the market and in the well-being of people in the formerly opposed ethnicity.

This would have to be a gradual process, not some dramatic diplomatic gesture which would be easy to oppose on an all-or-nothing basis. An incentive, to be effective, needs to be sitting on the margins of a million and one various decisions, not be the center feature of one great big decision.

Likewise, the tax and tariff breaks should not be dramatically large—two or three percent would more than suffice eventually. Conflicts build on the dramatic; peace builds on the mundane day-by-day accumulation of effects and mutual stakes. The incentive should be a (parenthetical) adjunct to development projects, not front and center on its own.

If the USA really wants to avoid the role of world policeman, and escape the costs of all these interventions and peace-keeping forces and occupying armies, it should quietly lead a move worldwide to amend the prevailing most-favored-nation tariff system to give that extra 2% to 3% break to firms which are officially in relation to regional development projects but in actuality limited to those which have shared ethnic ownership.

Alternatively, one could levy tariffs from the region 2% to 3% higher to pay for peace-keeping costs but exempt the firms which were jointly owned by the various ethnic groups involved. (I think the tax break would be easier to institute.)

We here in the States have seen first-hand the effectiveness of similar provision and preference for minority-owned firms, and for firms owned wholly or partially by women.

Our experiences here also have taught us that such arrangements need a "sunset clause." Fifteen years seem about right for a firm to be able to qualify for such provisions, followed by a gradual reduction of the preferential advantage to zero over, say, a further seven years.

Again, gradual is the word. Nothing dramatic, nothing to get anyone excited over it except the bookkeepers. But in that region, everyone's stakes would end up there, in the well-being of those who had been "on the other side."


The Win-Win Finder
Every conflict is different, each one a special case. The situation in the nation of Colombia, into which we now seem to be heading, may not be resolvable in that the USA feels both the drug lords and the Marxists are far too illegitimate and inadmissible for us to enter into such accommodative arrangements with them. (Also, the USA doesn't understand the situation there, in ways which could make our intervention there one of our worst mistakes ever.) But now that we've hung this general proposition out here to dry, perhaps we or perhaps you can come up with a way sufficiently ingenious to save both Colombia and the USA the costs and risks of the intervention which now seems imminent there.

To assure in most cases that this incentive plan or something like it will indeed succeed in building a peace, we strongly recommend running the Win-Win Finder process on it. Win-Win Finder is posted free to the world under "Techniques" on the Project Renaissance website.

As an example of what we can find with Win-Win Finder:—This writer ran several thinktanking groups through Win-Win on Northern Ireland. Each group independently discovered one crucial factor:

The people who felt important to their side in the community during the conflict, mostly have also got to feel important during the stages of building peace.

In Northern Ireland, the peace movement has largely centered in the churches on each side. What we found is that the funds for reconstruction and for rebuilding the regional economy have to focus largely through the churches there. The churches were of huge importance during the conflict. They have to feel important in the community now, or the advance of peace becomes very problematic. Mostly unconsciously, the people at the very core of the peace process who are based in those churches may, in all sorts of little responses, unknowingly lead to the undoing of that hard-won peace.

Do your own run of Win-Win Finder on Northern Ireland and see what you come up with!

(I conveyed this information several times to the Northern Ireland Desk at the U.S. State Department, but the Department seems somewhat less than enthusiastic about ideas or answers from outside its inbred walls. When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's astonishing successes in mediating, in Bosnia and elsewhere, were despised and castigated by U.S. State, I got the message and ceased my efforts.)

(Government in these United States no longer is for and by the people in the sense of individuals, only in the sense of organized masses, power and money. Nor are issues any more decided on their merits. Weep, oh Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Jefferson!)

Like Northern Ireland, special circumstances in each of many of the other conflict situations around the world may require something extra to bring and secure the peace. Win-Win Finder seems adept at finding it. And meanwhile, and generally, the above-proposed multi-ethnic ownership incentive could be working in countless small ways to build peace.


Let's end the Dark Ages
Here we are heading into the bright new millennium—haven't we had enough burning, bombing, maiming and killing? Do we still have to go through all this butchery, mass murder, ruining of lives and livelihoods, and unspeakable barbarities committed wholesale? How long are you willing to let these Dark Ages continue?

It seems to me that to enact a gradual general peace-building through tax and tariff breaks to multi-ethnic firms, and a widening practice (official or otherwise) of Win-Win Finder, instructions for which are posted free to the world, could resolve a majority of the conflicts in the world and lower your tax costs considerably, and let human beings get on with living human lives.

If this makes any sense to you, please bring this article to the attention of two additional people and discuss it with them. Thanks. Peace.


For further reading

Email to
Win Wenger

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