Mizzima: Compromising With The Enemy

Mizzima News mizzima at ndf.vsnl.net.in
Tue Mar 23 18:46:07 EST 2004

Compromising With The Enemy

Aung Naing Oo
Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com)

March 23, 2004

Compromising with the enemy is a necessary evil.

It can end deadly and protracted conflicts. It can save lives. It may
even herald a process that leads to greater good in the long run. In
these things, the notion of compromise is revealed as noble and
pragmatic- it is the essential element in resolving conflicts.

However, the price of compromise is often high, and may even demand life
as collateral. Comrades can become foes, and organizations disband when
they cannot come up with a compromise acceptable to everyone. Indeed,
this progress is the often unavoidable factor in bringing an end to
deep-rooted conflicts. To resolve such troubles, sacrifice is the
mandatory and sometimes painful necessity.

For these reasons, compromise is hardly an easy process and not a
desired option. Perhaps easier said than done, this is what the
political and military leaders should bear in mind. For they face great
risks when going to the table where compromise takes center stage in
negotiation. Simmering internal dissentions often implode in their
faces, not only threatening organizations that they lead but also their
own lives.  Compromise can be understood as a true double-edged sword-
tiptoeing the fine line between making progress and yielding in weakness
to the demands of the enemy.

“Yitzhak Rabin was killed because of the compromise he made with the
Palestinians in Oslo in 1993,” noted Jan Egeland, an experienced
international mediator and former State Secretary of Norway. He was
referring to the assassination of the Israeli Prime Minister in 1995
during a peace rally. His comments were carried in a booklet on
international mediation published by the Olof Palme International Center
in 1999.

And sadly, Rabin’s legacy did not live on and Israelis and Palestinians
conflict continue to claim lives on a daily basis.

“Compromise is painful, especially when power asymmetry between
adversaries favors one’s side over the other,” said Min Zaw Oo, a
conflict management researcher. Indeed, the ultimate outcome of a
compromise is based on power imbalance.

Under this circumstance, one side gives up more than the other. It does
so mostly - like it or not - with the knowledge that only a portion of
the conflict is resolved. Even in conflicts in which both factions walk
away with 50-50 gains, it clearly means that 50% of the outstanding
problems remain to be solved. In conflicts where compromise cannot be
worked out, such as the Palestinian conflict and the political standoff
between the Burmese junta and its opponents, all 100% of the problems
stand to be tackled.

Compromise may result when parties in conflict cannot win over each
other militarily, such as in Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988. Disputants may
compromise when they feel it is better than continued conflict. They may
also arrive at a compromise solution when all available resources to
continue the conflict become exhausted. In more serious situations, such
as the truces in Burma, compromise is reached to avoid possible military
defeat by Burma’s armed forces. In other situations, leaders who stand
in the way of compromise are removed - mostly violently and by the use
of threat of force - paving the way for eventual compromise. Also, in
rare circumstances, compromise can be reached when leaders from both
sides of the aisles are far-sighted, flexible and forgiving, and
understand for the need to bring about a joint-gain.

There is also resistance to compromise. This may arise from the
possibility of losing one’s political standing and privileges if and
when compromise is reached. Tactical, strategic and ideological
differences may bar one from compromising. Sometimes it is an unyielding
attitude entering important discussions, or insistence that certain
conditions must be met before going to the table. This may prevent
positive responses before the process even commences, such as Iran’s
refusal to negotiate with Iraq’s Sadam Hussein. And sometimes,
compromise is not possible when parties at war, having shed blood and
tears, feel strongly despite the obvious fall of fortunes on both sides
and their refusal to budge.

Compromise is sometimes made with an aim to create an opening in a
system otherwise rigid, inflexible and uncompromising. “But closer to
compromise, the more internal tension surfaces within each delegation,”
remarked Jan Egeland in the same booklet, referring to the criticality
of compromise even in a small group of people negotiating on behalf of
an organization.   He claims that the intra-party tension among
delegation members from each side is as big as the inter-party tension.

Compromise may transform politics as well as the political culture. But
according to Min Zaw Oo, compromise can happen only when there is the
ability to think rationally. He said that one must also be able to
separate emotion and strategy, and see the consequences of alternative
to compromise. Further, he said, “one must have the ability to see what
the reality is.” Of course, along with these comes the willingness to
take risks, without which compromise cannot be realized and political
transformation may not take place.

Understanding the nature of conflict resolution is thus to understand
compromise. However, this is not the name of the game in Burma’s
political tussle. Since the news broke in October 2000 that the junta
and the National League for Democracy were negotiating, all negotiating
patterns have remained the same – classic positional bargaining
situation. This is the bargaining dilemma in which neither side wants to
come closer to the other in the hope of compromising. In other words, no
side is prepared to meet in the middle in order for compromise to
occur.  And the band plays on.

Burma has had a history of examples of compromises. Min Zaw Oo cited
General Aung San’s compromise with the British in 1947 and the Panglong
Agreement in the same year as prime examples of good compromises. But
will the protagonists in Burma’s conflict follow these examples? Will
the erstwhile enemies embark on a joint-problem solving journey? Only
they can answer these questions.

Aung Naing Oo is a political analyst living in exile.

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