Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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President Obama’s statement announcing the framework agreement reached with Iran this week outlined the three options the world has for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal — like this one — and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East, and setting back Iran’s program by a few years — in other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back.  Meanwhile we’d ensure that Iran would race ahead to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones, and hope for the best — knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated but instead has advanced its program, and that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.  In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action, because we’d have no idea what was going on inside of Iran. 

The three options are familiar to many people embroiled in conflict, and basically boil down to (1) accepting an imperfect agreement, (2) escalating the conflict, or (3) maintaining the status quo. As the president points out, the third option may be unstable, and is likely to lead back to a decision to escalate the conflict. Thus, most of the time, efforts to resolve conflict devolve to only two options: deal or no deal, war or peace, acceptance or rejection.

I wrote about this problem in a prior post, but it bears repeating: Those who are opposed to the deal on the table only cloud the issue when they compare it to some hypothetical perfect deal. To be honest, they should acknowledge that the only real alternatives to the deal are escalation of the conflict or maintenance of an uneasy status quo.

That doesn’t mean parties should always take the deal. But they should understand that rejecting the deal means that they are choosing to perpetuate the conflict, rather than resolving it.