All politicians are human. All humans are capable of compassion. Let’s use that to create peace.
We’ve all been getting caught up in the tunnel vision of war these past few weeks - who was responsible for the chemical attack? When’s the next North Korean missile test?
It’s easy to lose sight of what we’re actually aiming for here, diving headfirst into kneejerk reactions, without any clear vision of an end point. Defending our own side and their actions, without any thought given to right or wrong. We forget this isn’t about us and our egos, but the people suffering the consequences on the ground.
The US Ambassador Nikki Haley at the UN Security Council last week, talking directly to her Syrian counterpart, asserted:
“To Assad and the Syrian Government. You have no friends in the world after your horrible actions. The United States is watching your actions very closely. The days of your arrogance and disregard for your humanity are over. Your excuses will no longer be heard.”
How much closer does it get us to peace? In what way does it ease the tensions that have caused the civil war in the first place? What about when we have to sit down, after the fighting, and make amends?
Six years into the Syrian conflict, over 11 since North Korea’s first nuclear test, and we’re still no closer to a deal on either. If anything, we’re further away. Hurling partisan taunts across the room at eachother hasn't helped that process.
Mandela didn’t negotiate the end of apartheid by insulting his opponents, he did It through building a relationship of mutual trust between sides. In Northern Ireland too - peace wasn’t reached through bombs and heated rhetoric, but through meaningful dialogue.
In the end, all politicians and diplomats are human.
Even Assad and Kim Jong-Un are on some level, at some point, capable of compassion and remorse. Even just fleetingly. No matter how caught up we get in the tangles of power and political structures, everyone has moments of stepping back, taking a look around, and wondering what the hell’s going on.
Let’s use that to our advantage. Even just little changes in how these organisations work, bringing out the humanity in our leaders, could yield game-changing results. A moment to bridge the gap, realise we have far more in common than we do in disagreement.
Why shouldn’t we apply this to our foreign policy? Even something as simple as a minute’s silence before negotiations could help our diplomats see past the party lines, and consider what we actually have to gain as a society from conflict and confrontation.
Maybe even a message from someone on the ground they’ll be deciding the future of - bring the discussion down to earth. Appeal to the human inside of them.
We do politics through politicians. Politicians are people. People have good days and bad days, ups and downs. If the fates of entire populations are going to be so dependent on individuals and how much they get along, we’ve got to design the structures to suit the results we want.
Imagine how much closer to a peace deal on Syria we would be if all our diplomats actually got along? Hell, we could even be there already - 100,000s of deaths could have been avoided.
Maybe if we actually engaged positively with Jong-Un - offered to lift the sanctions, gave him the option of maintaining popular support via economic prosperity rather than playing with nuclear fire - maybe then we would find some kind of agreement.
In the Brexit negotiations too. The UK Government throwing all its toys out the pram and running off in a huff isn’t going to help anyone, either side of the Channel. A simple moment every day to remind both sides what their common goals are, get a bit of perspective, could make all the difference to the final deal.
Perhaps an independent Scotland would pioneer this as a foreign policy, maybe a Labour-led Government would. Whatever the source, even just one country taking this approach as a mediator in discussions could transform the lives of millions of people.
Conflict and weapons might be satisfying in the short term, but they’ll never get us anywhere in the long run. If the end goal really is peace and reconciliation, we’ve got to start acting like it, right the way up to the top.