Diplomacy is not appeasement. Opinion

Sitting in the same room with an adversary and trying to come up with a mutually acceptable agreement is one of the most painstaking, mind-numbing tasks in international politics. Engaging in months-long negotiations in search of a diplomatic solution is the essence of leaving predetermined prejudices at the door, letting go of personal rancor and focusing all energy on the task at hand. Sometimes, all the tension, anxiety, and bloodshot eyes associated with an extensive conversation bring color—and the world is better for it. In other instances, the situations are irreconcilable, the interlocutors begin to doubt each other’s sincerity and the whole enterprise falls apart.


Often, however, the idea of ​​negotiating with the enemy is denounced as a foolish or futile attempt for America’s times. Every diplomatic effort has its opponents and doubts. When former President Ronald Reagan was negotiating missile limits with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, some of his most loyal supporters in Congress were so fiercely opposed to the agreement that they asked to discuss this again in the Senate. A central argument against the Obama administration’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran was the belief that Washington should not speak with the Iranians first. And when former President Donald Trump decided to meet directly with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (eventually summit) got separated), some respected analysts in Washington, DC thought the Trump administration was a brutal human rights abuser.

In all three cases, mainstream commentary had a powerful, albeit unhealthy, habit of confusing white-knuckle diplomacy with white flag-waving. We are seeing this kind of mentality play out again, as the Biden administration negotiates with Russia to prevent another Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some high-profile pundits continue to scoff at the idea of ​​diplomatically engaging with Moscow, calling it Similar to modern-day appeasement, circa Neville Chamberlain in 1938. To paraphrase the exiled Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is a ruthless thug who must be different And outcast like his fellow dictators, not as a legitimate politician. Even some anonymous European diplomats are not particularly happy with the way Washington is handling the ongoing talks with Moscow, with a Catch That Biden’s decision to bless Putin with a video-summit over the summer had “brought Putin to victory from the start.”


People who sprinkle negativity over conversations or completely resist them are usually the loudest in the room. It takes extraordinary calmness, patience, discipline and patience for governments to move forward in this type of environment. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that one of the hardest parts of a conversation is starting it in the first place.

The final question is: why? Why is engaging in direct dialogue with an adversary such as Russia or Iran often considered beyond ambiguous? And why do observers make illogical leaps from simply initiating the conversation to surrendering to it?


President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin are shown in this combination of photos.
Mandel NGAN, Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

A large part of the reason, I suspect, lies in an assumption about state power in the international system. For example, we believe that the more military, political and economic power a state has, the more likely that state will be able to make others see a problem in their own way. Simply put, the strong dominate the weak, and the weak either have to adapt to survive or see how little power they have. In such a world, there is no need for diplomacy, as stronger powers can use excessive amounts of pressure (economic or otherwise) to intimidate a weaker party into subordination.

However, the world doesn’t work that way. Even the weakest forces do not like to roll over to the stronger ones. Iran can be an economy size of oklahoma and a soldier who spends About 3 percent of what America does on the rescue every year, but Tehran also has core security interests that it is unwilling to give up (such as maintaining an indigenously produced nuclear enrichment program after decades of investment and opportunity costs). Russia may have a long-term wife, structural difficulties in its economy and watching as your neighborhood is in the midst of many troubles (The latest of which includes massive anti-government protests in Kazakhstan), but the Russian government is still prepared and able to take military advantage to ensure that NATO does not expand too close to Russian borders. Venezuela may have changed from One of the richest countries in Latin America One of the poorest, however, is Nicolas Maduro, the autocratic president of Venezuela (who is the U.S. President). haven’t recognized in years), unprepared to meet American political demands today, when it was Washington oil restrictions imposed country three years ago

None of these disputes deserve a military settlement. While the United States remains the world’s most capable power, American officials in Washington can’t bank on more economic pressure to resolve them. The least common denominator for managing them without unnecessary bloodshed is to do what many people on editorial pages are afraid to do: sitting down, staring enemies in the eye, and bargaining.


James Baker, one of the most celebrated US Secretary of State in modern history, once said, “You speak not only to your friends, but also to your enemies.” “If you’re tough and you know what you’re doing, you don’t necessarily reward your enemies by talking to them.”

This statement is no less true today than it was when it was first made in 2006.

Daniel R. Depatrice is a Fellow at Defense Priorities and a Foreign Affairs columnist newsweek,


The views expressed in this article are those of the author.