Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store has a terrific piece titled “Why We Must Talk” in a recent issue of the NY Review of Books. In it, he makes a strong argument why “we”– in this case, I think, western advocates of democracy– need to start talking seriously to, among other, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Here is the core of his argument:
- Many of those who most strongly oppose dialogue in international relations prefer to live in a world they wish existed. Some of them believe that imposing a particular political system in other countries by the use of force is worth large expenditures of wealth and of life. Others take the view that a “clash of civilizations” requires us to build walls to protect our society from an inevitable global threat. Some maintain that the willingness to negotiate and compromise will be interpreted as a sign of moral and military weakness. None of these approaches points to a plausible way forward. And the cost of pursuing any of them is high.
In contrast, defending and employing dialogue is neither a naive nor utopian strategy. It shows strength to be willing to talk to the adversary. It is not weakness. And it is not cowardice to debate your opponent and try to persuade the world to follow you by speaking your values. It may take some courage.
In this sense, the defense of dialogue springs from a perspective best described as principled realism—an approach that attempts to find solutions that both improve the world and recognize the constraints of the current global order. As defenders of dialogue, we always keep open the option of walking away rather than talking. But we also believe that we shouldn’t be so quick to do so. The fact that there may be some positions and conflicts that cannot be resolved does not mean that the possibilities of dialogue shouldn’t be actively explored. Dialogue is more important to our globalized world than it ever has been. We must therefore defend it all the more strongly. At a time that seemed far more dangerous than our own, John F. Kennedy formulated the principle that has since been too often disregarded: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The essence of democracy, after all, is the proposition that political differences must be resolved through discussion and deliberation based on mutual respect and the key notion of the equality of all human persons, rather than through the application of brute force or the application of superior power. And this is not just the case at the domestic level: It also applies between nations.
I am so glad Store made this case– which is very similar to the case made by Turkey’s current leaders, too, as well as by many Swiss officials. If these important actors in the community of democratic nations are making this case, why is it so very hard for politicians in the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world” to see the value of these arguments?