This current deal, unthinkable a month ago, would not have materialised were it not for the threat of American missiles
’The military option must remain, otherwise there will be no pressure,’ said President Hollande last night, referring to the deal being brokered to remove chemical weapons from Syria. He is right: the threat inherent in hard power has initiated this process.
Putin’s opinion piece last week in the New York Times was the conclusion to an important lesson in diplomacy. While Britain, France and the USA sought to strike Assad for the regime’s despicable actions in gassing its own people, Moscow, with the latitude which belongs to those who hold the key, was able to define an alternative.
However it’s important to see that, while the debate on the validity of the interventionist agenda will continue, this current deal, unthinkable a month ago, would not have materialised were it not for the threat of American missiles. To understand the real diplomatic power of aircraft carriers and submarines is to understand that their silence speaks volumes.
Their potency, consolidated offshore, brought reaction from Damascus and provoked Russia to innovate beyond its staunch opposition to Western action on Syria. The result is an unforeseen option that can achieve what the Western powers wanted, and saw a mandate for, without force. All sides can claim a victory and, crucially, the commitment to win peace remains.
Think hard, act hard
Western intervention failed in Iraq because Washington and London ranked the use of hard power over the threat of hard power backing up diplomacy. Last week proved that good diplomacy comprehends how one complements the other. The threat of missile strikes forces talk and puts a premium on peace whereas actually striking forces only polarisation and negates all political options. Sadly the normalisation of violence inside Syria has already half-buried political options. However, taking chemical weapons out of the equation peacefully shows what can hopefully be achieved.
Hard power is fundamental but so is the diplomatic maturity to use it as a threat to pressure for peace before a threat to war. The courage to win peace requires the conviction to win war. Hard power enables that but only if it is used properly: idle but still a threat. Poignantly last week also saw the world’s biggest arms fair in London, exhibiting the products of an ’11.5 billion a year industry. They are evil things but still necessary as the big stick prudent diplomacy must carry.