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James B. Steinberg

James B. Steinberg is University Professor of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law at Syracuse University, where he was dean of the Maxwell School from July 2011 until June 2016. Prior to becoming dean, he served as deputy secretary of state (2009 to 2011). From 2005 to 2008, he was dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. From 2001 to 2005, Steinberg was vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Steinberg served in a number of senior positions under President Bill Clinton, including deputy national security advisor and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.

Steinberg’s most recent books are A Glass Half Full: Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century, both with Michael O’Hanlon.

Steinberg has an A.B from Harvard University (1973) and a J.D. from Yale Law School (1978).

Author's Articles

The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland

The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland

The 1998 Agreement that ended Northern Ireland's bloody civil war has often been attributed to many of the remarkable individuals involved in the peace process. But how much of a difference did they really make? James Steinberg explores this question by…

Too Much History: American Policy and East Asia in the Shadow of the Past

Too Much History: American Policy and East Asia in the Shadow of the Past

East Asian countries have a tendency to recall their historical grievances with rival nations, thus increasing the risk of eventual conflict. American policy toward East Asia, on the other hand, tends to have too short of a memory.

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                    [post_content] => Twenty years ago, Northern Ireland’s bloody civil war ended with the signing of the “Good Friday” Agreement.[1] The scale of the conflict may seem small in terms of absolute numbers of those killed and wounded when compared to larger tragedies of the 20th century.[2] Nevertheless, its duration, spanning nearly 30 years from the onset of the “Troubles” until the Agreement was signed in 1998, and its pervasive impact — not just on Northern Ireland, but on the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even the United States — more than justifies the importance attached to the achievement of peace. Since 1998, implementing the Agreement has proved difficult and the peace remains fragile, tested now by the fallout from Britain’s “Brexit” vote. Yet, the Agreement remains one of the most important examples of how a decades-long sectarian conflict can come to an end.[3]

There have been many books and articles written by participants, journalists, and academics that have sought to describe the process leading up to the Agreement and to explain why it came about.[4] Peace, like victory, has a thousand fathers, and studies of the peace process have identified a wide range of factors that arguably contributed to the outcome. Why then yet another article on this topic? My contribution seeks to “bridge the gap” between two complementary perspectives: the viewpoint of a diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations and that of a teacher and scholar of international relations and conflict resolution.[5] My goal is twofold: to help practitioners think about how to orchestrate the various tools of diplomacy in support of current and future peacemaking efforts,[6] and to contribute to the long-standing academic debate among historians and political scientists about causal explanations in international relations. In particular, I want to examine the interaction between structural factors (such as demographics, economics, and the end of the Cold War), the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process.

In any analysis of this kind, the question of agency looms heavily. The Northern Ireland peace process involved many remarkable, dynamic individuals, in and out of government, who populate the narrative. It is relatively easy to describe the decisions these individuals made, while it is somewhat more complex to explain their motivations and calculus (although memoirs abound, there is always danger that the accounts are self-serving).[7] More challenging is the question of how much, if any, difference these individuals made, or whether the deeper economic and social forces at work would have led to an end of the conflict independent of the peace process itself. The very vividness of the first-hand accounts of events and the colorful personalities of the central players may contribute to over-attribution of causality. Almost every major actor in the drama has, at one point in time, been “nominated” as the “indispensable” figure in making the Agreement possible, from David Trimble and John Hume, who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to Gerry Adams and his co-negotiator Martin McGuiness, George Mitchell, Tony Blair, Bertie Ahearn, Bill Clinton, Monica McWilliams, May Blood (of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition), and even the shadowy MI5 agent who helped broker key talks between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government in the early 1990s.

For this reason, I begin my analysis by examining the broader, structural factors, before delving into the specifics of the negotiators and the negotiation. I then turn to the motivations and goals of the principal actors: the political parties in Northern Ireland, civil society, and the three governments involved (the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States).[8] Next, I look at the negotiating process leading up to the 1998 Agreement. Finally, my analysis turns to some conclusions about how to assess the impact of the various factors and the potential implications of that analysis for future peace processes.

The Historic, Economic, and Social Context

The conflict in Northern Ireland — the Troubles — in its violent form spanned three decades, from about 1968 to 1998. It led to the loss of thousands of lives and even more casualties, affecting Catholics and Protestants; paramilitaries and civilians in the North; British security forces serving in Northern Ireland, England, and on the European continent; and British civilians who were victims of IRA attacks in England. The violence caused billions of dollars of economic harm and left deep social and psychological scars. It had its roots in the complex history of Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain, especially the settlement that led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the partition of the island into the Irish Free State and the “province” of Northern Ireland, the six northern counties on the island that opted out of the Irish Free State under the provisions of the treaty. The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic. While Catholics made up most of the island, Protestants composed the majority in the six Ulster provinces. For historic and geographic reasons, the counties of Ulster were more industrialized and prosperous than the more rural south, and wealth and political power was largely controlled by Protestant elites.[9] Thus, class, religious and ethnic distinctions, as well as a legacy of de jure and de facto religious discrimination against Catholics in the North all combined to set the stage for sectarian strife. But just as the violence erupted in the 1960s, societal and economic forces began to change this equation. Differential birth rates and patterns of emigration led to a relative increase in the Catholic population of Ulster. Immediately after the partition in 1921, the percentage of Catholics in Ulster was just under 35 percent,[10] but by the time of the 2001 census the proportion had risen to 40.2 percent, compared with 45.6 percent non-Roman Catholic Christians.[11] Equally important, Catholics make up an even greater share of the younger population, a plurality in all age groups up to 39 in the 2011 census, with predictable consequences for the future makeup of the Northern Ireland electorate. The growing Catholic population meant that Catholics — if they chose to participate — would have a growing voice in the politics of the province, even under a pure majoritarian governance model without a formal power-sharing arrangement. Thus, provincial self-governance provided, at least in theory, an alternative, or complementary strategy to empowering the Catholic/nationalist community in Ulster. Perhaps even more significant, it opened up the prospect that at some time in the foreseeable future, a majority in the North might favor leaving the United Kingdom and joining the South, a possibility that both the Irish and British governments foresaw and implicitly endorsed by enshrining the principle of “consent” in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.[12] [quote id="1"] Changes in the economic fortunes of the two parts of the Irish island also had an impact on the course of the conflict and the eventual peace agreement. During the second half of the 20th century, the economy of the Irish Republic was transformed, fueled to a considerable degree by the entry of Ireland and the United Kingdom into the European Union in 1973.[13] This trend began to take effect in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s with the emergence of high rates of growth in the South, earning the Republic the sobriquet “Celtic Tiger.” At the same time, demographic and economic forces, combined with negative impact from the Troubles on investment prospects in Ulster, led to a relative decline in the economic performance of the North.[14] The result was a growing convergence in living standards between the two parts of Ireland. By 2018, GDP per capita in Northern Ireland was less than half that of the Republic, although this figure, in part, reflects the outsized role of multinationals in the South. But even by more conservative estimates, the standard of living today is at least relatively comparable, North and South.[15] The improved economic fortunes of the South enhanced the attractiveness of the Republic as an economic partner for Northern Ireland, especially among the business community, increasing interest in cross-border cooperation. This was particularly true for border districts, which were among the poorest parts of both North and South. This trend accelerated with completion of the Single European Act in 1993, which both deepened economic ties among E.U. members and diminished the significance of the border between the North and South.[16] It is also important to consider how the wider international environment might have contributed to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. Some have suggested that the end of the Cold War reduced the salience of the U.S.-U.K. relationship and thus opened the door for greater U.S. engagement — including American President Bill Clinton’s willingness to incur British Prime Minister John Major’s anger by granting Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams a visa to visit the United States. To some extent, progress in solving other, arguably more difficult, conflicts — including the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the Dayton Agreement, which ended the fighting in Bosnia — put pressure on the Northern Ireland protagonists to take similar “risks for peace.” Finally, growing international attention to the problem of terrorism posed challenges to the IRA’s ability to arm itself through ties with other terrorist organizations, such as Spain’s Basque separatists and Columbia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as through its previously vital ties to Libya under Muammar Qaddafi’s rule.[17]

The Actors

The Northern Ireland Political Parties The political landscape in Northern Ireland leading up to the 1998 Agreement consisted of two key parties on the Catholic side — the republican Sinn Fein (the political wing of the IRA) and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party[18] — and two on the unionist side — the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party[19] — along with smaller loyalist parties associated with Protestant paramilitaries,[20] and one non-sectarian party, the Alliance Party. The Catholic Side Sinn Fein, as a party, has its roots in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, but its deep involvement in Northern Ireland dates from the 1960s, and particularly from the 1969 party conference when the IRA split between the “official” wing,[21] which favored peaceful political measures to protect Catholics rights and bring about the unification of Ireland, and the “provisional” wing, which sanctioned the use of violence (both to protect the Catholic community and to force the British to abandon Northern Ireland). The “provos” viewed efforts to introduce reform measures in the North or power sharing as simply a means to perpetuate British colonial rule.[22] In the early 1980s, Sinn Fein shifted to a dual-track strategy known as “the ballot box and the Armalite”[23] — participating in parliamentary and local elections (IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands was elected to the British Parliament in 1981) while continuing its campaign of violence. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), formed in 1970 out of several smaller parties, was also committed to a united Ireland, but foreswore the use of force and focused much of its attention on the civil and political rights of Catholics under British rule. The SDLP believed that simply forcing the British out would not solve the problem — without the support of the unionist community, unification would simply continue the violent civil war (albeit under Irish rather than British sovereignty). The party emphasized the necessity for the Republic of Ireland to play a formal role in decision-making for the North. The SDLP saw this as a way  to give expression to nationalists’ sense of Irish “identity,” to complement their British “citizenship” as residents of the United Kingdom. The two parties (and their charismatic leaders, Adams and John Hume, respectively) were political rivals in the 1980s, contesting local elections in the North. Although Sinn Fein had some electoral success in its early efforts, its share of the nationalist vote fell throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and, despite early fears, Sinn Fein was not successful in overtaking the SDLP until after the signing of the 1998 Agreement.[24] During the late 1980s, Sinn Fein’s views about the long-term prospects for achieving republican goals through violence began to shift. Analysts and historians have offered a number of complementary explanations for this crucial development. These include the “Ulsterization” of security, which reduced the number of British military targets and forced the IRA to attack indigenous Northern Irish security personnel;[25] the increasing effectiveness of British intelligence and security operations; and the inherent tensions in the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy, as IRA attacks, especially those resulting in non-combatant causalities, cut deeply into Sinn Fein’s electoral support, both in the north and south of Ireland.[26] Adams publicly described this evolving perspective in an interview in 1988, in which he seemed to rule out the prospect of a military solution to the conflict.[27] This set the stage for a series of meetings between Adams and Hume leading, in 1993, to a joint agreement which included two key provisions:
As leaders of our respective parties we have told each other that we see the task of reaching agreement on a peaceful and democratic accord for all on this island as our primary challenge. We both recognise that such a new agreement is only achievable and viable if it can earn and enjoy the allegiance of the different traditions on this island, by accommodating diversity and providing for national reconciliation.[28] (emphasis added)
The discussions between Sinn Fein and the SDLP took place in parallel with secret discussions between Sinn Fein and the British government.[29] This signal from Sinn Fein (and thus implicitly from the IRA itself) helped trigger a series of events — including the Downing Street Declaration and the decision by Clinton to grant Adams a visa to visit the United States, both discussed below — that were crucial to the 1998 Agreement. Most importantly, they led to the IRA ceasefire of 1994. Although this was not the first announced ceasefire, and although it did not last (the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing brought it to an end), it was seen both then and subsequently as a decisive shift in the trajectory of the conflict. Sinn Fein’s turn toward taking a political approach was, in part, a response to the improved prospect that its goal of unification might be achieved through peaceful means. It may also be attributed to backlash against IRA violence and Sinn Fein’s continued electoral difficulties.[30] One of the key barriers to including Sinn Fein in the peace process was the nature of its ties to the IRA, the paramilitary organization responsible for most of the attacks on British and Ulster security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, as well as a number of high-visibility attacks in England, including a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that killed one of her aides. The exact nature of the ties between the two groups was (and remains) hotly disputed, both in the lead-up to the Agreement and its implementation. Sinn Fein leaders always insisted that the two were separate and that Sinn Fein could not speak for the IRA.[31] To some extent, this was a kind of deniability designed to give the IRA flexibility to explore what was possible using Sinn Fein as a “cut out”  to explore possible outcomes of the negotiations without actually committing the IRA to accepting the political route.[32] At the same time, there is good reason to believe that at crucial moments the Sinn Fein leadership did not have sufficient clout within the IRA to bring about Sinn Fein’s preferred outcomes, particularly on the issue of the IRA decommissioning its arms.[33] But here, too, it is impossible to rule out the judgment that this was a familiar negotiating ploy designed to persuade the other parties (unionists, Dublin, London, and Washington) that Sinn Fein had reached the end of its flexibility. Reg Empey, a key Ulster Unionist Party negotiator and unionist member of parliament, called the argument that Sinn Fein and the IRA were distinct a “charade.”[34] The Unionist/Protestant Parties The dominant Protestant party in Northern Ireland for much of the 20th century was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which, as the name makes clear, had as its central tenet preserving the union with the United Kingdom. Led from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s by James Molyneux, a strong figure who served as a member of parliament in Westminster, the UUP held uncompromising attitudes on the important issues facing Ulster: It opposed greater involvement and a greater voice for Catholics through power sharing in Ulster institutions (including in the short-lived provincial parliament, created in 1973), reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary (seen by many Catholics as a sectarian force), and giving the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland affairs.[35] Although the UUP had strong ties to the Conservative (Tory) Party in Great Britain, there were also tensions, stemming from history, cultural differences, and economics, as well as an abiding fear that unionism was more important to the UUP (and Northern Ireland Protestants generally) than it was to Tories. This fear was stoked by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which opened the possibility that Ulster’s ties to the United Kingdom could be sacrificed through the political process.[36] The 1990 statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Brooke that “The British government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland” further stoked these fears.[37] [quote id="2"] This unionist anxiety about depending on Westminster to protect their interests led to increasing unionist focus on autonomy and self-governance for Northern Ireland, in contrast to the arguments of “integrationists” like Enoch Powell, who argued that Ulster should be governed directly from Westminster, no different than the rest of the United Kingdom.[38] Some unionists placed their hopes on Tory Prime Minister John Major’s dependence on the votes of unionist members of parliament to maintain his parliamentary majority following the 1992 elections. That hope was undercut first by Major’s decision to support the Anglo-Irish “Frameworks” document of 1996, seen by unionists as a sellout to the Irish, and later by Labour’s victory in 1997. The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement, as Empey later explained:
We had been dying death by a thousand cuts for 30 years. Unionism had been excluded from the decision-making process since 1972. Throughout that period, direct rule [by the U.K. government in London] had worked against Unionism. Policy decisions had been taken on a whole range of issues that were not in the interest of Unionism.[39]
The growing focus on autonomy as a way to protect unionist/Protestant interests in Northern Ireland played an important role in the rise of David Trimble as the head of the UUP. Although Trimble had a long history in unionist politics, he was largely overshadowed by other prominent UUP leaders, both among unionist members of parliament and constituency figures. His involvement in the Drumcree Orange Order parade in 1995 propelled his rise to the top, burnishing his apparently hardline unionist credentials by ostentatiously defying the British attempt to limit a Protestant parade through a Catholic neighborhood.[40] This association helped sustain his credibility with unionists, who, during the negotiations, were required to abandon traditional “red lines,” including participating in talks with Sinn Fein in 1997 without prior decommissioning and, ultimately, signing the 1998 Agreement without decommissioning. Although Trimble secured a majority of his party’s council in support of the Agreement, the decision triggered a split within the UUP and ultimately contributed to the UUP’s electoral eclipse by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The second leading party on the unionist side was the DUP, formed in the 1970s. Led by the fiery Presbyterian minister, Reverend Ian Paisley, the DUP was even more rigid in rejecting any accommodation with either the nationalists in Northern Ireland (especially through power sharing) or with the Irish government in the South. The DUP largely boycotted the peace negotiations, in part because it insisted on a complete and credible renunciation of violence and prior decommissioning before sitting down with any of the parties linked to paramilitaries (republican or loyalist). Ironically, following the Agreement, the longest period of stable devolved government in Northern Ireland came during a time when the DUP shared power with Sinn Fein (2010–17).[41] The other key parties on the Protestant/unionist side were those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries. They were, in many respects, the counterparts of Sinn Fein/the IRA. These included the Progressive Unionist Party, headed by David Ervine and associated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Ulster Democratic Party, headed by Gary McMichael and associated with the Ulster Defence Association. Although the loyalists were, during the 1970s and 1980s, the most militant of the Protestant groups, they also suffered the most from the fighting — and their decision, much like that of the IRA, to turn from violence to political negotiations gave significant momentum to the peace process. The first evidence of this new orientation emerged in the form of a split between the two principal loyalist groups, the Ulster Defense Association, which remained committed to violence, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which began to advocate for negotiations. Ultimately, both groups declared a ceasefire shortly after the IRA ceasefire of Aug. 31, 1994, and, in the ensuing years, became an important advocacy group within the Protestant/unionist movement at difficult moments in the negotiations.[42] Non-Sectarian Involvement The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 as a pro-union, but non-sectarian, party. The Alliance was the only political party that sought votes from both the nationalist and unionist constituencies.[43] It received an estimated seven to 10 percent of the vote in the 1980s and 1990s and it participated in the Northern Ireland Forum (from which the participants in the negotiations for the 1998 Agreement were chosen) and won six seats in the first Northern Ireland Assembly election. Its leader, Lord John Alderdice, was an active participant in the all-party negotiation. One Alliance official later described the party’s contribution as a “weathervane” — making sure that proposals were neither too pro-union nor too pro-nationalist and advocating for the integrity of the process, particularly the commitment to exclusively peaceful means.[44] Civil Society Groups A variety of civil society organizations functioned as peace advocates and ultimately were involved in the talks that led to the Agreement through the election of representatives from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition to the Northern Ireland Forum and, as a result, the formal peace talks. These groups frequently complained that their representatives were excluded from key discussions, both formal and informal. It is hard to assess their specific impact on the signing of the 1998 Agreement. To some extent, they represented a concrete expression of underlying public sentiment, which yearned for an end to the violence, that would have had an impact on the traditional political leaders even in the absence of the groups’ formal participation in the talks. Some analysts have argued that civil society organizations contributed by acting as honest brokers, broadening the agenda, and building public support for the Agreement’s subsequent ratification and that their involvement helped make the Agreement more durable.[45] Skeptics like Fred Halliday, however, have challenged the importance of civil society in the Northern Ireland peace process:
[W]hen it comes to internal conditions, the central issue remains the intentions of the main military and political players….Protest, denunciation, scorn may play a role, but this is not enough to sway the ‘hard’ men and women….it comes through a decision by the nasty people that it is, at that particular moment, more advantageous to pursue peace than war.[46]
Religious leaders were involved at various stages of the peace process, beginning as early as the 1960s, though as institutions they largely resorted to exhortation. Individual clergy, notably one Catholic priest, Father Alec Reid, did at times play a significant role.[47] The referendum that followed the signing of the Agreement revealed the differences between the two communities — while virtually all nationalists/Catholics voted to approve the Agreement, only about half of unionists voted “yes.” In the subsequent decision to go into government without decommissioning, the UUP ruling council split 58-42. But even on the Catholic side, a small splinter maximalist group, the “Real IRA,” continued to oppose the Agreement, including through the use of violence. The Governments The British Government During the early years of the Troubles, the British government’s strategy centered around a strong commitment to the “union” and a conviction that peace could only be achieved through a tough security posture. This approach was crystallized when Edward Heath’s Tories replaced the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1970.[48] In an attempt to quell the violence, in 1972 Heath abolished the Protestant-dominated Parliament of Northern Ireland, known as the “Stormont” Assembly,[49] which had exercised limited self-government in Northern Ireland since partition. In 1973, the British government proposed a new approach, the Sunningdale Agreement, returning most of the previous powers (other than security) to a reformed Northern Ireland Assembly, which would take decisions under a power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists. Sunningdale also included a role for the Republic of Ireland in the form of North-South bodies designed to foster cooperation across the island. Each of these elements were to feature prominently, 25 years later, in the 1998 Agreement. While Sunningdale was narrowly embraced by the UUP under its leader Brian Faulkner (as well as by the SDLP), grass roots unionist opposition crushed the agreement and pushed Faulkner from his leadership role. Heath’s successor, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was strongly unionist both by personal inclination and by Tory politics. Her hardline instincts were reinforced by the 1984 IRA attack on the Tory party conference in Brighton in which she narrowly escaped and a key advisor was killed.[50] Nonetheless, Thatcher’s decision to conclude the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement without consulting unionist leaders was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment toward launching the peace process. Although her goal was to gain Irish support for a tougher crackdown on the IRA, her willingness to accept an Irish role in Northern Ireland affairs stunned unionists and helped fuel a sense that devolution (regional self-government) and power-sharing, rather than dependence on Westminster, was a more reliable means of protecting unionist interests. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, was less personally wedded to unionism, and some credit him with making the major decisions — including the Downing Street Declaration and the Anglo-Irish Frameworks document[51] — that ultimately led to the 1998 peace agreement. Major indisputably demonstrated considerable courage in engaging with his Irish counterparts (and indirectly with the IRA). But these actions further deepened unionist suspicions, and Major’s dependence on unionist votes for holding onto his parliamentary majority constrained his room to maneuver, which led him to emphasize a permanent cessation of violence and prior arms decommissioning as pre-conditions for Sinn Fein entering peace talks, tests that nearly collapsed the process. It was thus somewhat ironic that the 1997 election of Prime Minister Tony Blair, from the more traditionally “green” Labour Party, helped pave the way for the 1998 Agreement. Although unionists historically mistrusted Labour, Thatcher’s and Major’s actions had damaged unionist faith in the Tories. Moreover, during his first weeks in office, Blair made a major effort to demonstrate his support for the “consent” principle, which was fundamental to the unionist approach.[52] In addition, Blair’s broad support for devolution (for Scotland and Wales as well as Northern Ireland) helped ease unionist fears that self-government for Northern Ireland was a first step toward leaving the Union or being given second-class status within the United Kingdom. The Irish Government The issue of Northern Ireland has played an outsized role in Irish politics. The identities of the major political parties in the South were built on their approach to unification. Fianna Fail, the party of Eamon de Valera, rejected the partition of Ireland and the continued ties to the Irish crown in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State. Fine Gael was the heir of Michael Collins and the pro-Treaty forces, who acquiesced in the exclusion of the six northern countries from the Irish Free State. Fianna Fail’s subsequent 1932 electoral triumph led to the enshrinement of a constitutional claim (in the 1937 Constitution) of sovereignty over the entire island of Ireland, a key point of contention in the 1998 negotiations until the very end. Fine Gael, by contrast, took a much harder anti-IRA line, opposing direct talks with Sinn Fein or the IRA. Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist. This was reflected in the approach of Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charles Haughey and, later, Albert Reynolds (who replaced Haughey in 1992), who worked hard to get Sinn Fein into the peace process. By contrast, Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton (1995–97) took a tougher line on decommissioning that was much closer to the British view and was considered more sympathetic to the unionist view on the importance of consent.[53] [quote id="3"] Initially, the elevation of Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahearn in 1997 seemed to presage a throwback to greater support for more maximalist demands of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, although Ahearn made gestures designed to reassure unionists.[54] This more traditional Fianna Fail approach was reflected in the draft agreement Blair and Ahearn presented to the peace conference in the crucial final days of negotiation, which leaned heavily toward the nationalists’ insistence on strong and quasi-independent North-South institutions. The tabling of this draft nearly caused the talks to collapse. However, in the face of unionist revolt, Ahearn agreed, against the advice of his aides, to radically dilute these provisions in order to secure unionist agreement — a decision which has led some to nominate Ahearn as yet another candidate for the “indispensable actor” award.[55] The United States Two competing forces shaped U.S. policy toward Northern Ireland during the early years of the Troubles. On the one hand, the United States and the United Kingdom shared a strong political bond, with historic roots reinforced by the Cold War. These ties inclined Washington to defer to London on what the United Kingdom saw as a domestic conflict. Pulling in the opposite direction was a large and active Irish Catholic diaspora that sympathized with the plight of the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Irish Americans were largely in favor of Irish unification, though divided between those who came to support Sinn Fein/the IRA (IRA sympathizers in the United States provided substantial financial and material support to the group)[56] and those who opposed violence and supported the SDLP. The latter group had strong adherents in the U.S. Congress (including leaders such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Sen. Ted Kennedy) but the executive branch largely prioritized U.S.-U.K. ties. Clinton had no prior involvement in the issue before taking office, but, in an unscripted moment during the presidential campaign, indicated his openness to granting a U.S. visa to Adams, who had been denied entry in the past because of his links to the IRA.[57] As a result, unionists were apprehensive when Clinton was elected. Despite the campaign statement and the presence on Clinton’s National Security Council staff of former Kennedy aide Nancy Soderberg, during his first months in office, Clinton initially adopted the pro-British line of the State Department, which opposed granting Adams a visa without the IRA first renouncing violence. But in January 1994, Clinton decided to grant the visa at the urging of Irish Taoiseach Reynolds, members of Congress (including Kennedy, who himself changed his position at the urging of Hume), and Clinton’s White House staff. Clinton had been persuaded that it was more likely to achieve an IRA ceasefire by granting the visa without pre-condition, a judgment that seemed to be vindicated by the IRA ceasefire in August 1994, although at the time Major was furious with Clinton.[58] U.S. involvement following the issuance of the visa followed two tracks. First, there was an effort to promote economic development and investment in Northern Ireland to demonstrate the benefits peace could confer to both communities.[59] This was followed by more direct diplomacy through the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell to lead the negotiations and Clinton’s own personal involvement. During his dramatic visit to Belfast at Christmas 1995, Clinton went out of his way to emphasize his consultations with Trimble, leading one former unionist member of parliament, Roy Bradford, to observe at the time that the visit “significantly changed the feeling among unionists that the American agenda is exclusively nationalist.”[60] Clinton’s willingness to lend support to unionist positions came into play again in the peace process end game, when, in a phone call with Trimble, Clinton backed up Blair’s commitment to “bring down” the power-sharing agreement if the IRA did not begin decommissioning following Sinn Fein’s entry into government.

The Peace Process

The Formal Process During the early 1990s, momentum began to build for launching a formal peace process for the first time since the failed Sunningdale conference of 1973. Initial talks began in 1991 (the inter-party or Brooke-Mayhew talks) involving the moderate parties — the two main unionist parties (the UUP and DUP), the SDLP, and the Alliance Party — and excluding the parties associated with the paramilitaries — Sinn Fein and the loyalist parties. The British government began a secret back channel dialogue with Sinn Fein in 1990 but the initiative failed and was shelved in 1993 because the British government insisted on a permanent end to violence as a condition of Sinn Fein’s participation in the peace process.[61] Following a wave of violence in October 1993, and with talks on the brink of collapse, the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland issued the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993. The declaration addressed a number of the key principles to govern any settlement and opened the door for Sinn Fein to participate in formal talks following a renunciation of violence, including a “handing over of arms.”[62] In response, the IRA, in August 1994, announced “a complete cessation of military operations,” but the two governments insisted that the action was insufficient and that the IRA had to commit to a permanent renunciation of violence and arms decommissioning to participate in negotiations. In an effort to break the stalemate, the two governments established an international body, chaired by Mitchell, to look into the decommissioning issue. The group produced a report that concluded that the IRA/Sinn Fein would never accept decommissioning as a pre-condition,[63] but proposed instead that all parties be required to affirm a set of principles (“the Mitchell Principles”), which included, inter alia, a commitment to total disarmament. The report provided the British government a way out of the decommissioning stalemate, and the governments in London and Dublin announced that they would convene talks in June 1996 that would be open to all parties that accepted the Mitchell Principles (but without a decommissioning pre-condition). They did insist that the IRA restore its ceasefire (which the group had broken in February 1996) in order for Sinn Fein to participate, which happened in 1997. The process of selecting delegates was a complex formula based on elections to a Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue. Delegates to the negotiations were chosen by members of the forum in a way that ensured the negotiations would be dominated by the major parties but would also guarantee the participation of smaller parties, including those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries, as well as women, Labour, and the Alliance Party.[64] The process included arrangements for expelling any party that violated the conditions of entry. The hardline unionists (the DUP and the United Kingdom Union Party) walked out at the outset, in part, in protest of the selection of Mitchell to chair the negotiations. But the UUP stayed in, partially because it didn’t trust the British government to protect its interests.[65] The hardline unionists walked out again when Sinn Fein was admitted to the talks in July 1997. Mitchell believes that their absence gave the moderate UUP room to negotiate, and that, had they stayed, an agreement might not have been possible.[66] The talks were divided into three strands: The first, chaired by the United Kingdom, was focused on governance issues for Northern Ireland. The second strand was focused on relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and was chaired by Mitchell and Harri Holkeri, a former Finnish prime minister.[67] The third was focused on Irish-U.K. relations, and was chaired by the two countries’ governments. Decisions were taken on the basis of “sufficient consensus.” For Strands Two and Three, this required a majority of each side (unionist and nationalist) separately, plus an overall majority of all delegates, as well as agreement by the two governments. Strand One had similar requirements, except the Irish government had no vote.[68] This arrangement meant that, at least theoretically, the UUP and SDLP could do a deal without either Sinn Fein or the DUP. Blair and Adams met following Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks, the first time a Sinn Fein leader had met with a British prime minister in 76 years.[69] The negotiations were protracted and by late 1997 were largely at a stalemate. This was followed by a rash of sectarian killings, which threatened to derail the process.[70] In January 1998, the British and Irish governments tabled a short document that had been negotiated with Trimble.[71] In March 1998, Mitchell announced a deadline of April 9 for conclusion of the talks. The choice of date was not entirely arbitrary, as the legislation that established the forum was due to expire in May 1998.[72] In addition, Mitchell believed that the agreement had to be completed, and a ratifying referendum held, before the “marching season” in July, a time of high tensions in Northern Ireland.[73] The parties reached an agreement on Good Friday, April 10, 1998, after side interventions by Blair (in the form of a written letter) and Clinton (in the form of a telephone call with Trimble) designed to assure the unionists that the agreement would not be implemented if the IRA failed to move forward with decommissioning. All told, the formal talks lasted 21 months. The Informal Negotiations The formal peace process unfolded in parallel with a complex set of inter-related secret and informal negotiations. These included talks between the British and Irish governments; between the British and Sinn Fein/the IRA; and between the Irish and various parties, including Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and the unionists. They also included dialogue that took place in Washington in connection with various parties’ visits to the United States and frequent contacts in Northern Ireland between U.S. diplomats and all the Northern Ireland parties.[74] Notably, there were almost no secret negotiations between the Northern Ireland parties themselves, with the notable exception of the Hume-Adams dialogue in the late 1980s. The secret talks allowed the parties to escape the pre-conditions barriers that impeded public dialogue with “terrorists,” but at the same time, the periodic exposure of the secret talks did pose challenges to the governments’ credibility and angered the moderate parties who felt their anti-violence stance was undermined by the governments’ willingness to negotiate with parties associated with active paramilitaries. The Agreement and Its Aftermath The Agreement mirrored the three-strand approach of the negotiations. Strand One established the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. “Key decisions” could only be taken by “cross-community” consent defined as:
  1. either parallel consent, i.e., a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting; or
  2. a weighted majority (60 percent) of members present and voting, including at least 40 percent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.
The Executive is run by the first minister and deputy first minister, jointly elected on a cross-community basis under the same rules for making key decisions in the Assembly. The jurisdiction of the devolved government was initially based on areas previously within the scope of the Northern Ireland government departments but could be enlarged with the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Strand Two represented the North-South dimension: It created the North–South Ministerial Council and the North–South Implementation Bodies. The Agreement provided three different mechanisms for “all-island” actions: through the adoption of common policies, through coordinated policies implemented separately by the Northern Ireland and Irish governments, and through actions by North-South “implementation bodies.” To provide nationalists some confidence that the North-South dimension would not be subject to a unionist veto, the Agreement provided that the council had to agree on at least 12 “matters” for cooperation through cross-border institutions, drawn from a list of permissible subjects.[75] [quote id="4"] Strand Three established the East-West dimension: the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The council consists of the two national governments plus the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with a focus on “practical co-operation” on issues within the competence of the devolved governments, while the intergovernmental conference involves only the two national governments and was designed to give the Irish government a voice on non-devolved issues, in particular, security issues. The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. The Republic of Ireland agreed to amend its constitution to eliminate claims to sovereignty over the North,[76] while the British government repealed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which, in fact, provided a British veto over the status of Northern Ireland. The Agreement protected the option of dual citizenship for residents of Northern Ireland, irrespective of whether, in the future, Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom or became part of Ireland. It additionally included human rights provisions that specifically addressed some of the major Catholic concerns, including the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. There were also hortatory provisions on issues such as economic development and linguistic diversity. The Agreement largely sidestepped several of the substantive issues underlying the conflict. Although recognizing the importance of reconciliation and the need to address victims of violence, the Agreement established no mechanisms for this purpose. It deferred to subsequent decisions by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning on matters relating to the timing and modalities of decommissioning.[77] Similarly, the parties deferred to a newly created Independent Commission on Policing with regard to questions of policing and justice. Finally, the Agreement included no timetable for the withdrawal of British security forces and emergency powers. The implementation of the Agreement has faced significant challenges over the past two decades.[78] During the first decade following the signing of the Agreement, the British government twice had to restore direct rule, in 2000 and 2002, the second time for a period of five years. The first devolved government was led by the moderate parties (the UUP and SDLP) but subsequent elections have promoted Sinn Fein and the DUP to the fore. On the plus side, paramilitary violence has largely disappeared, though dissident groups remain a threat, and the British no longer play a direct security role. For an extended period following the Hillsborough Agreement (2010), when the two communities finally agreed on important issues not addressed in the 1998 Agreement (especially policing and criminal justice), the institutions were functioning reasonably well. The Northern Ireland economy received a significant boost in the first decade following the Agreement, notably in lowered unemployment rates. Since the 2008­–09 recession, growth has been much lower, but comparable to the rest of the United Kingdom.[79] Notably, the difference in unemployment rates between Catholics and Protestants has narrowed dramatically. But political scandal in 2017 led to institutional paralysis, which remains unresolved.[80] Inter-communal mistrust remains high, and volatile issues including language, parades, and symbols continue to be flash points. Despite intensive discussions since the Agreement was signed, there is still no agreed mechanism to address historical legacy issues. Brexit further complicates the prospects for the future. The DUP supported Brexit while a modest overall majority — 56 percent — opposed it. Sinn Fein has called Brexit “the most serious threat in the history of the peace process.”[81]

Who and What Made the Agreement Possible?

We are now in a position to take on the difficult question of judging the importance of three factors — circumstance, people, and process — in achieving the 1998 Agreement. There has been considerable debate about and attention given to the importance of individuals to the successful conclusion of the Agreement. Many of the participants themselves are quite explicit in crediting the efforts of individuals. For example, in an article written after the signing of the Agreement, Trimble singled out Blair, Ahearn, and Mitchell for credit.[82] Mitchell, in turn, focused on Blair and Ahearn,[83] as well as David Ervine, head of the Progressive Unionist Party.[84] Analysts, too, have weighed in, crediting, inter alia, Adams, Major, and Reynolds.[85] One well-connected BBC commentator later claimed that Father Alec Reid’s role was “absolutely critical” to the peace process.[86] In addition, analysts have focused on the personal relationships between key actors in the peace process, both positive and negative, as well as lack of relationships, as important factors. For example, Clinton’s strong ties with Blair facilitated coordination, in contrast with his frosty relationship with Major. Major’s strong personal relationship with Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds contributed to their ability to manage the sharp substantive differences between the two countries’ priorities.[87] Indeed, many assessments of why the process succeeded focus on trust-building exercises such as the extended Adam-Hume dialogue of 1988–93 and the decision to move the talks from Northern Ireland to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London after the Agreement was signed but before it was implemented (providing a sharp contrast with tensions arising from the lack of personal contact or direct talks between the parties during the negotiations that produced the Agreement).[88] Clinton’s various meetings — with Trimble in Belfast during his 1995 visit and with all the key leaders during the annual St. Patrick’s Day events in Washington D.C. — and especially his close ties with Blair, all seem to have contributed to the successful outcome as well. But subsequent difficulties with implementing the Agreement raise questions about just how much trust was generated, and, therefore, how much it might have contributed to the Agreement in the first place. Of course, there is no definitive answer to the agency question, to the counterfactual “but for” claim.[89] There seems little doubt, for example, that Adams’ belief in the efficacy of political action rather than violence and Trimble’s willingness to engage in power sharing represented breaks from the past that were staunchly opposed by others in their parties until the very end (and beyond). At the same time, the two men’s rise to positions of power reflected broader forces. In the case of Sinn Fein/the IRA, Adams’ interest in pursuing a political solution was strengthened by the public backlash against violence, particularly after British security forces withdrew from the front lines. Indeed, it can be argued that Adams only turned to the political solution once the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy had failed. For Trimble, political changes at Westminster, which had nothing to do with Northern Ireland, left Northern Ireland’s unionists more isolated and dependent on themselves to protect their interests through devolution. In that sense, both Adams and Trimble had the fortune of being at the right place at the right time to assume leadership. Similarly, those who would give the laurel to Blair and Ahearn can argue that they succeeded in achieving, in relatively short time, what Major and his various Irish counterparts failed to accomplish. Yet, it is also possible to argue that what constrained Major, and what empowered Blair, was the size of the parliamentary majority — a fact that had little or nothing to do with their Northern Ireland policies.[90] Major has also been singled out for his willingness to engage both with Dublin and Sinn Fein, but here, too, his choices were highly constrained. While the security strategy had blunted the IRA’s efforts, there was widespread belief within British security circles (parallel to thinking in Sinn Fein) that force alone could not bring the conflict to an end. One way to try to answer this question of agency is to examine SDLP leader Seamus Mallon’s widely-quoted aphorism that the 1998 Agreement was “Sunningdale for slow learners.”[91] The implication of his statement is that, had “faster” learners been around in 1973–74, power sharing and North-South cooperation based on the principle of consent might have succeeded much earlier and the war might have ended much sooner.[92] Yet, it is hard to see in the context of the violence of the first years of the Troubles that there was much that unionist leader Brian Faulkner, or any other unionist leader, could have done to rally unionist support for power sharing, or that a different British prime minister (much less a different Taoiseach), through force or guile, could have countered the ferocious unionist opposition to the Sunningdale agreement. Similarly, it is difficult to see who within the IRA could have carried the day in favor of accepting the legitimacy of a reconstituted Northern Ireland Assembly and the unionist veto over Irish unification. (It is notable that Adams himself was propelled into a leadership role by his critique of the IRA’s 1975 ceasefire.)[93] Finally, there seems to have been no plausible Tory leader (much less one from Labour) who could have pushed the deal through over the violent unionist opposition. In other words, Sunningdale failed, not because of poor leadership (or “slow learners”), but because circumstances were not propitious for an agreement that embodied the key principles of consent, power sharing, and cross-border institutions. Put another way, the structural changes that were just beginning to work themselves out following the onset of the Troubles were a necessary condition to the acceptance of the framework that was on offer, but they were rejected by both Sinn Fein/the IRA and the unionists in 1973. [quote id="5"] At the same time, it is possible to imagine that the 1998 Agreement might have failed. It is plausible that crucial decisions in the run-up to the Agreement might have gone a different way — Ahearn’s decision to revise the agreement he had reached only days before on the North-South institutions, Trimble’s willingness to accept Blair’s promise on decommissioning, or Mitchell’s decision to impose a firm deadline. In other words, the structural forces may have been necessary, but alone they were insufficient to account for the fact that the Agreement happened when it did, in the precise shape that it took. Of course, all of the central actors faced considerable constraints on their freedom of action. For example, Trimble spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort dealing with internal dissension within his party, and on several occasions was forced to renegotiate after finding that he could not sell a proposed deal to them. Adams, too, emphasized the constraints he faced from other leaders and the rank and file.[94] Even Hume faced internal dissension when he launched his dialogue with Adams. It is reasonable to assert that these protestations also reflected a well-known negotiating tactic — “My hands are tied.” But it is also true that many of these leaders made important choices along the way that built sufficient credibility with their constituents to give them the necessary leeway. This was dramatically illustrated following the brutal IRA attack on a loyalist headquarters in Belfast’s Shankill Road on Oct. 13, 1993. Adams’ appearance as a pall bearer at the funeral of one of the IRA gunmen led many to believe that his action would kill any hopes for making progress toward peace. Yet, two months later, Adams used his credibility with the IRA to persuade its Army Council not to reject publicly the Downing Street Declaration, issued just two months after the bombing. Both governments later acknowledged that Adams’ failure to participate in the funeral would have irreparably damaged his credibility with the IRA.[95] More broadly, Adams and McGuinness demonstrated extraordinary dexterity in managing the almost unimaginable process of bringing the IRA leadership to accept the unthinkable changes in republican orthodoxy embodied in the 1998 Agreement. Similarly, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam’s audacious decision in January 1998 to meet with the loyalist prisoners at the Maze Prison is frequently credited with saving the process, despite the outcry of the UUP.[96] Even Trimble’s notorious “dance” with the DUP’s Ian Paisley at Drumcree can be seen in this light.[97] As Martin Mansergh, senior advisor to several Fianna Fail Taoiseachs during the peace process, observed, “the thin centrist strand made a valuable contribution but was not nearly strong enough to support a settlement on its own.”[98] The inclusion of parties associated with hard-line positions complicated their interactions with each other and with the governments but strengthened their legitimacy with their bases when the time came to do a deal. This argues strongly for the importance of individual choice. Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully.[99] Each saw, earlier than many others, the path forward that led to the Agreement. It is certainly possible to imagine that others who might plausibly have been in their place — even those who shared the same basic approach to the conflict — might not have sealed the deal when it came about. At the same time, the very fact that the Agreement ultimately found implementation through a pact that featured Paisley as first minister is a reflection of the power of the forces pushing to end the fighting. Agency played an important role in the timing and precise terms of the Agreement, but arguably a much less significant one in the broader turn away from violence. A similar analysis applies to assessing the role of process — both formal and informal — in ultimately reaching the Agreement. At its core, the most significant feature of the process was the focus on inclusivity,[100] especially the controversial decision to involve the parties associated with the paramilitaries before they unequivocally and demonstrably renounced violence, rather than seeking to achieve an agreement involving only the “constitutional” parties. From the early days of the Troubles through the early 1990s, both the British and Irish governments had pursued a different approach, seeking to marginalize the paramilitaries and limit the negotiations to the constitutional parties.[101] By almost all assessments, the very presence in the negotiations of individuals strongly associated with the “guns” — McGuinness (Sinn Fein/the IRA), Ervine (Progressive Unionist Party), and Gary McMichael (Ulster Democratic Party) — which caused such heartburn for more traditional political leaders, proved central to bringing about an agreement that would stick. Thus, Major’s reluctant decision to find a way to begin inclusive talks following the Mitchell report proved vital. A related feature of the process that was instrumental was the sequencing — the willingness to move the process forward without a firm commitment to a permanent ceasefire and at least initial steps toward the paramilitary groups decommissioning their arms. The decision to move from pre-conditions to “conditions subsequent” was another feature that distinguished this negotiation from the Sunningdale agreement and unblocked the stalemate that plagued the process during most of the Major years. The decision seems vindicated not only by the successful conclusion of the negotiations, but also by the subsequent IRA decommissioning and the relative low level of defection by dissatisfied members of the paramilitaries. It is not hard to imagine that a deal done by the SDLP and the UUP alone might have met serious resistance from the IRA and the loyalists, though of course, the declining effectiveness of violence, apparent by the late 1980s, might have tempered the scale and duration of the backlash. At the same time, the inclusion of such diverse perspectives had an impact on the content of the Agreement in two important respects. First, the parties’ mutual suspicions drove them toward a consociational model that blocked vetoes. This reduced the risk of either party being outvoted and thus made the Agreement more palatable to their respective constituencies.[102] But this came at the cost of possible paralysis. Left on their own, an agreement involving only the UUP and SDLP might well have tilted the balance toward a more flexible approach. Second, the deep divisions even within the two camps led the parties to defer important decisions on key substantive issues ranging from the future of policing to the role of the North-South bodies, setting the stage for the predictable crises that followed. A number of commentators have focused on the role of civil society in bringing about the Agreement, both as an outside force pressing the parties and as formal participants in the negotiations. It is difficult to assess how much the grass roots peace movement helped to build opposition to violence and thus facilitate the paramilitaries’ decision to give it up. Peace groups had been active throughout the Troubles, for example, in the women’s movement in the 1980s, with only limited success in bringing an end to the fighting. Several commentators have focused on the formal role of civil society organizations in the process. Maria Power, for example, concludes that “the negotiations leading up to the agreement demonstrated the centrality the peacebuilding or community-relations sector had in conflict resolution.”[103] Others give more measured judgments: “[W]hile the contribution of the [civil] sector was not crucial to the eventual outcome of the political negotiations in 1998, it was nonetheless positive and significant.”[104] These assertions are difficult to assess, most importantly because the formal process itself was relatively less important compared with the proliferation of secret channels and private negotiations, which excluded civil society. Other features of the process seem less consequential. On the whole, the formal processes, especially the Stormont negotiations, played a very modest role at best. The combination of the setting, which was sterile and forbidding,[105] and the parties’ unwillingness to deal with each other face-to-face in public settings, relegated the formal sessions to play acting, mostly designed to reassure the parties’ constituents that they were holding fast to their uncompromising positions. Even in private, the parties rarely engaged with each other directly. This accentuated the importance of the governments (primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland, but, at critical moments, the United States as well) and Mitchell as go-betweens. Much has been written about the role of Mitchell and his two colleagues as third-party mediators. On the substance of the negotiations themselves, the three chairs played relatively modest roles compared with the British and Irish governments. Indeed, during the crucial final days of the negotiations, Mitchell reluctantly gave the parties a draft proposal on Strand Two, drafted by Blair and Ahearn, against his own judgment since he believed the provisions were anathema to unionists and would torpedo the negotiations.[106] As noted above, much of the negotiations took place outside the formal process, where the role of the three chairs was limited. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s personal integrity, reputation for impartiality, and patience played a valuable role in keeping the negotiations going. Similarly, the availability of the de Chastelain commission as a third-party means of validating decommissioning was critical to its attainment. One area where the formal process arguably did make a difference was the use of deadlines, particularly to bring the negotiations to a conclusion. Mitchell imposed a two-week deadline in March 1998 ahead of marching season, which triggered an intense period of engagement leading to Mitchell’s tabling of a “composite” document on April 6, including the abortive British-Irish proposal on Strand Two, which triggered the final crisis of the negotiations.[107] By contrast, the open-ended nature of the process following the first IRA ceasefire contributed to its breakdown in early 1996.

Lessons for Practitioners: What Does This Mean for Future Peace Negotiations?

The Importance of “Ripeness” and How to Recognize It The experience of Northern Ireland strongly underscores a major factor highlighted in the literature on conflict resolution — the importance of ripeness.[108] The very fact that the parties adopted in 1998 what they had rejected in 1973 strongly suggests that changed circumstances played a critical role. But this observation is of limited value to the practitioner without some guidelines for assessing when circumstances are “ripe.” While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement,[109] it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging. It is equally important to understand when a conflict is not ripe for negotiation: It can be argued that the premature effort leading to the Sunningdale agreement in 1973 actually contributed to prolonging the conflict. Should this have been apparent to the British government at the time? One lesson of the Northern Ireland experience is that the secret channels developed in the late 1980s and earlier 1990s played a crucial role in providing the governments and the political parties themselves an opportunity to judge whether the circumstances were ripe for agreement before launching a speculative — and perhaps counterproductive — public negotiation. There were risks involved in secret diplomacy. The desire to preserve secrecy led the governments perilously close to public dishonesty, which, when exposed, endangered their credibility. Nevertheless, the groundwork that this diplomacy laid ultimately reduced the risks that each side took by engaging in the process. These secret contacts allowed the key parties to explore the implications of flexibility and to adapt their positions without the risk of embarrassment if the gambits proved unsuccessful and the other side unforthcoming.[110] [quote id="6"] Some commentators have focused on the idea of “stalemate” as a central characteristic of ripeness. Here, it is true that Sinn Fein had concluded that it could not “bomb” its way to Irish unification. British officials, especially in the security community, similarly concluded that despite the growing efficacy of their efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the IRA could not be “defeated.” Thus, some have argued that the more effective British security policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s worked to create a stalemate ripe for settlement. But it seems unlikely that stalemate by itself would have brought about the 1998 Agreement. The return to violence in the mid-1990s (after the initial ceasefire declaration in 1994), suggests that many in the IRA still considered violence (or at least the threat of violence) an important element of leverage in the negotiations. Similarly, some in the unionist community (dissenters within the UUP as well as the DUP and United Kingdom) were not convinced of the need to compromise. For this reason, I think it is more useful to see the Agreement as a result of the fact that each side could see the agreement as a “win” (at least in relative terms) rather than a product of a stalemate from which they sought to extricate themselves. Another feature of ripeness goes to the question of how the parties assess the impact of the passage of time on their chances of achieving their goals. The parties in this case reached an agreement because their assessments of time converged. The unionists believed that time was not on their side — that demographics and the politics of the United Kingdom were steadily eroding their leverage. So they accepted a power-sharing arrangement, which they had firmly rejected as a matter of principle for decades, and acquiesced in the idea that sovereignty might be transferred from the United Kingdom to the Republic by a popular vote. In return, they got the Republic of Ireland to amend its constitution to repeal its claim of sovereignty over the six counties and secured a more limited form of North-South institutions. Trimble articulated this view in a speech shortly after the conclusion of the Agreement:
A number of responses were possible to the changed situation [the Hume-Adams process leading Sinn Fein to pursue the political track]… . I remember a parliamentary colleague saying…we should revert to saying No all the time… . The important point that I draw from this, generally speaking, is that it is not enough to be passive, to adopt a tactic or an approach that consciously or deliberately leaves the decision in the hands of other people. It is not always the way you like and you can never be certain exactly how it is going to work out.[111]
Sinn Fein, too, was influenced by its assessment of the future. On the one hand, its leaders believed they had extracted most of what they could get from the use of violence. They also feared that they would be unable to sustain the IRA’s ceasefire much longer if they failed to produce a result through negotiations. But they also perceived that by making key concessions (e.g., abandoning their insistence that Britain renounce sovereignty over Northern Ireland and accepting the principle of consent), they could turn the passage of time in their favor by achieving an agreed unification through the ballot box. Thus, both unionists’ fears about the future and republicans’ hopes for it led each side to conclude that this agreement, with all its painful compromises, was better than walking away and taking a chance on the future. This sense of ripeness helps explain why the terrorist attacks that plagued the peace process throughout the 1990s (the IRA Shankill Road bombing in 1993 and the subsequent loyalist revenge attacks or the Canary wharf and Manchester bombings in 1996, for example) did not derail the talks. Once the parties had made the strategic decision to seek peace, violence actually seemed to have served as an impetus rather than a barrier to compromise.[112] Understanding each party’s assessment of the impact of time can help the peacemaker both decide when to intervene and how to use these assessments to achieve an agreement. The Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War, are instructive. It was at the moment that the Serb forces saw the tide of battle turn against them, but before the Bosnians and Croats had the means to defeat the Serbs on their own, that the United States had maximum leverage in bringing about an agreement. The Impact of Process on the Shape of the Outcome Many have held up the process leading to the 1998 Agreement as a model of successful conflict resolution. Whether the process contributed to the success depends, of course, on the definition of success. There is little doubt that the Agreement has led to a decrease in intercommunal violence. Including the paramilitaries made it less likely that they would attack the process or the agreement that the process produced. Equally important, it gave them a stake in taking on dissidents who wanted to challenge the Agreement. Although splinter groups persisted on both the republican and loyalist sides, their impact has been marginal. But this process decision has come at a cost. Because the process helped lead to a consociational agreement that protects the rights of the two communities but deferred tackling many of the underlying sources of conflict (e.g., policing, economic equality, etc.), the peace continues to be fragile, sectarian tensions remain high, and the institutions created by the agreement are barely functional, at best.[113] These concerns were raised by many of the civil society participants during the negotiations, but their voices were marginalized in favor of the priority attached to getting the men with the guns to lay down their arms. In this respect, there are important resemblances to the way in which the Dayton process shaped the substance of the Dayton Accords, which ended the fighting in Bosnia. Both processes included the hard men who had stoked the conflict, resulting in agreements that, in somewhat similar ways, froze sectarian identity in the framework of the settlement and thus perpetuated the underlying conflict. In both cases, hopes that the passage of time and public pressure would lead to an evolution of the political arrangements away from their sectarian roots have been disappointed. Of course, including former paramilitaries in peace negotiations does not guarantee this kind of result. In South Africa, the Africa National Congress party and the apartheid government created more unitary structures in their peace agreement, which included explicit elements of reconciliation. Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that the shape of the peace process in South Africa contributed both to the success of the agreement and its limitations. The lessons of these cases are clear: Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting. One commentator has called this the choice between a “no more shooting” and “no more fighting” type of agreement.[114] Empowering the Peacemakers The analysis of the role of agency in the Northern Ireland peace process suggests that people do matter. However, the practitioner’s tools for creating “peacemakers” is limited. But practitioners can help support the people who have both the inclination and the capacity to make the choices for peace. Throughout the Northern Ireland peace process, the governments involved made conscious efforts to support those whom they believed wanted to, and were capable of, making the deal — from Clinton granting Adams a visa to his embrace of Trimble during his visit to Belfast, to Mo Mowlam’s visit to the Maze prison to meet with loyalist paramilitaries. Of course, these kinds of efforts require finesse. Sometimes embracing a peacemaker can backfire —arguably Clinton’s support for Shimon Peres after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination did Peres more harm than good. In Northern Ireland, there was considerable wariness about outside parties — whether from Dublin, London, or Washington — attempting to influence events in Ulster. In some cases, such outside involvement ended up raising suspicions, rather than enhancing the authority those outsiders sought to promote. Third Party Guarantors For the Agreement to work, it was critical for the unionists to believe that, whatever long-term risks they might run in terms of demographics, etc., the IRA’s cessation of violence — and the resort to exclusively peaceful means — was not simply tactical. To some extent, unionists saw decommissioning as reducing the IRA’s capability to return to war. But most recognized that the IRA might easily replace any arms it destroyed. More important was the unionist belief that, because the IRA had so strongly resisted decommissioning in the past, an agreement to decommission was a real sign of peaceful intent. For that very reason, however, the IRA was unwilling to take even modest steps on decommissioning until the deal was complete. [quote id="7"] The success in breaking this stalemate — and the unionists’ ultimate willingness to accept decommissioning as a subsequent condition of the Agreement — highlights the importance of credible interlocutors and third-party guarantors. Only when Blair gave Trimble his personal assurance that he would eject Sinn Fein from the Northern Ireland Executive if the IRA failed to decommission (a commitment reiterated by Clinton in the closing hours), did Trimble agree to go along.[115] The British government had helped earn that credibility through its actions, for example, when Mowlam temporarily ejected Sinn Fein from the talks in February 1998 after a series of killings linked to the IRA, at the risk of collapsing the talks. Trimble’s willingness to accept the procedures for decommissioning depended on the credibility of a report from an independent commission rather than relying on the word of “interested parties.”[116] Sequencing The challenge posed by decommissioning was, perhaps, the most consequential of a recurring set of problems surrounding sequencing. By the early 1990s, the contours of the Agreement had emerged, but issues of sequencing proved a major obstacle to progress. Whether Sinn Fein’s participation in talks should follow or precede a ceasefire or whether Adams’ visa to the United States should be made conditional on a cessation of violence are just two examples. As late as 1995, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew’s insistence that some act of decommission precede Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks (even after the IRA had entered into a ceasefire) nearly collapsed the whole project.[117] Willingness to accept a condition subsequent rather than a pre-condition was a major test of how much each side was willing and able to take risks for peace. Sinn Fein, in particular, insisted that it needed prior actions by the British and Irish governments to permit it to move forward. The problem of sequencing in regards to decommissioning returned following the conclusion of the 1998 Agreement, when the question arose of whether decommissioning had to precede Sinn Fein taking its place in the Northern Ireland Executive. This impasse was again resolved in a review conducted by Mitchell, which led to the pre-condition being dropped.[118] As Quentin Thomas, a senior British civil servant, observed, “the question is whether one accentuates the positive and seeks to bring people in when they appear at the door of democracy and want to join talks. Or whether you hold them there and subject them to some examination to see whether their shoes are clean.”[119] Perhaps Clinton’s decision was the easiest, as he had the least to lose if the IRA returned to violence after Adams was issued the visa. But even there Clinton risked causing complications in the U.S.-U.K. relationship. Practitioners face strong pressure to impose pre-conditions to negotiations. They fear that entering into open-ended negotiations may be perceived as a sign of weakness and may subject them to domestic criticism for abandoning important red lines.[120] Yet, the imposition of pre-conditions often becomes a straightjacket, as the other side is unlikely to give up valuable leverage without some confidence in the overall shape of the outcome. The secret negotiations in the lead-up to the Agreement helped reduce the danger that Sinn Fein/the IRA would simply pocket dropping the pre-conditions, but in the end the British and Irish governments understood that the only possibility of reaching an agreement was to take that risk. It was crucial that the governments establish credibility that they would enforce the conditions after the Agreement was signed. Practitioners can draw an important lesson from this on how to avoid the pre-condition trap. Substance The parties involved in the peace process made little effort to resolve the substantive issues that divided them. The constitutional and process issues that formed the heart of the Agreement largely involved broad issues of principles. By contrast, the substantive concerns — policing, criminal justice, social welfare — were areas where the details were as important as the principles. For these kinds of issues, the parties chose to defer resolution by handing the problem to independent commissions (for things like decommissioning and policing), to the Assembly (on devolved issues), and to the British and Irish governments (on non-devolved issues). The last minute snag on Strand Two illustrates the problem of dealing with detail. The Irish government and the nationalists wanted strong substantive commitments on the scope of North-South bodies, but in the end had to settle for broad language and hope that the specifics could be agreed to later.[121] This approach facilitated concluding the Agreement at the expense of littering the landscape with landmines that have continued to dog its implementation. Thus, practitioners face a choice in deciding whether to tackle detailed issues of substance similar to the issue of inclusivity — whether to seize a short-term gain (e.g., stopping the fighting) at the risk of long-term costs (e.g., perpetuating underlying sources of conflict).

Conclusion

The 1998 Agreement came at a time of considerable post-Cold War optimism about the prospects for resolving long-standing political conflict, from the Middle East to the Balkans to Colombia. The passage of time has tempered those hopes, as many conflicts have proved resistant to settlement, and even those agreements that have remained intact have largely proved disappointing in bringing about true reconciliation. The 1998 Agreement certainly falls into that category, but the brutal violence has not re-emerged. As the international community contemplates future peacemaking efforts, in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, and beyond, the Northern Ireland peace process continues to offer important lessons to scholars and practitioners alike.   Hon. James B. Steinberg is professor of social science, international affairs, and law at Syracuse University and previously served as dean of the Maxwell School, from July 2011 until June 2016, and dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin from 2005 to 2009. His government service includes deputy secretary of state (2009–11), deputy national security advisor (1996–2000) and director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff (1994–96). Recent publications include, “China-Russia Cooperation: How Should the US Respond,” in Richard J. Ellings and Robert Sutter, eds., Axis of Authoritarians (National Bureau of Asian Research 2018); “US versus China: A Technology Cold War,” Nikkei Asian Review, March 19, 2019; and A Glass Half Full? Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017) and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century (Princeton University Press, 2014) (both with Michael O’Hanlon).   Image: Robert Paul Young [post_title] => The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-good-friday-agreement-ending-war-and-ending-conflict-in-northern-ireland [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-21 07:05:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-21 11:05:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1453 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The 1998 Agreement that ended Northern Ireland's bloody civil war has often been attributed to many of the remarkable individuals involved in the peace process. But how much of a difference did they really make? James Steinberg explores this question by examining the interaction between structural factors, the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process. He also looks at what lessons this history holds for future peace negotiations. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement... ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement, it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting.  ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 20 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As with almost every issue, large and small, involving Northern Ireland, even terminology is controversial and tinged with partisan overtones. In the United States, the Irish Republic, and among Northern Ireland nationalists, the agreement is commonly referred to as the “Good Friday Agreement.” Among unionist, it is often called the “Belfast Agreement.” In this essay I will use the “1998 Agreement” or simply the “Agreement,” to describe the outcome of the peace process. [2] Approximately 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles. Of these, a little more than 1,500 were from the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, 1,250 from the Protestant community, and the rest (around 700) from outside Northern Ireland (including British security forces). See, “Statistical Breakdown of Deaths in the ‘Troubles,’” Wesley Johnston, accessed May 8, 2019, http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/past/troubles/troubles_stats.html. [3] This paper largely focuses on the events leading up the 1998 Agreement, but, in order to assess what happened and why, I touch briefly on subsequent developments, without going into detail into the many follow-on negotiations involving the Agreement’s implementation. [4] This paper draws on a number of these studies, as well as my own personal involvement, beginning in the 1980s as an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and, more substantively, as director of policy planning at the State Department (1994–1996) and deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton (1996–2000). The studies include Eamon Mallie and David McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2001); Thomas Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles (New York: Palgrave, 2001); George J. Mitchell Making Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007); Maria Power, ed., Building Peace in Northern Ireland (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011); Tim Pat Coogan, The Trouble: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (Boulder, CO: Roberts Reinhardt Publishers, 1996); Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon, and Henry Patterson, Northern Ireland 1921-2001: Political Forces and Social Classes (London: Serif, 2002); Paul Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2007); Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002). [5] At least one other scholar-participant has written extensively about the peace process: Paul Bew, long-time professor of Irish Politics at Queens University, Belfast, was an advisor to David Trimble. [6] The idea for this essay arose out of a RAND conference designed to help those involved in the Afghanistan peace process think about lessons learned from past peace conferences. I am grateful to RAND for its support of the initial research on this project. [7] In addition to George Mitchell, see, for example: Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries (London: Hutchinson, 2007); Gerry Adams, An Irish Journal (Kerry: Brandon, 2001); Gerry Adams, Hope and History: Making Peace in Northern Ireland (Kerry: Brandon, 2004); David Trimble, To Raise Up a New Northern Ireland (Belfast: Belfast Press, 2001); Kate Fearon, Women’s Work: the Story of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1999), as well as the memoirs of President Clinton, Prime Minister Major, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam, etc. [8] Some might fairly argue that I have left out one key group of actors — the civil servants and policy advisors (including government ministers) who played a role that was somewhat independent of their political masters. This group includes important figures such as Peter Brooke, Quentin Thomas, Jonathan Powell, and Mo Mowlam on the British side; Martin Mansergh, Sean O’Huiginn, and Paddy Teahon on the Irish side; and Tony Lake and Nancy Soderberg in the United States — to name just a few — as well as the advisors to the various parties in Northern Ireland. For a rich, first-hand account of the role of officials on the British side, see Graham Spencer, ed., The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [9] Within the Protestant community there were significant class and social differences. Although the dominant forces in Northern Ireland were Protestant, many Protestants were also poor or marginalized, and these differences accounted in part for the divisions and strains within the unionist community, a dimension richly documented in Dean Godson’s biography of David Trimble: Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism (London: Harper Collins, 2004). [10] 1926 census. Hennessey puts the Catholic percentage at about 33 percent at the time of partition. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 2. [11] “2001 Census, Key Statistics, Table KS07a,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, accessed May 16, 2019,  https://www.nisra.gov.uk/sites/nisra.gov.uk/files/publications/2001-census-results-key-statistics-report-tables.pdf,;  See also “Background Information on Northern Ireland Society,” Conflict Archive on the Internet, accessed May 16, 2019, https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/ni/religion.htm, for the long term trends. In the most recent census, Catholics now make up 45 percent of the population, while Protestants make up 48 percent. “2011 Census: Religion in Northern Ireland,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, https://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/public/census2011analysis/religion/religionCommentary.pdf. Charles Landow and Mohammed Aly Sergie, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, Council on Foreign Relations, last updated March 12, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/northern-ireland-peace-process. [12] “If in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland” the two governments “will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.” To be clear, even those sympathetic to the nationalist cause did not believe that demography would change the outcome quickly. Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 28. [13] Andy Bielenberg and Raymond Ryan, “Irish Economic Development: Past, Present, Future?,” Irish Examiner, May 20, 2013, https://www.irishexaminer.com/business/irish-economic-development-past-present-future-231714.html; “Economies of Ireland, North and South, Since 1920,” Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/economies-ireland-north-and-south-1920. [14] John Bradley, “The History of Economic Development in Ireland, North and South,” Proceedings of the British Academy, no. 98 (1999): 35–68, https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/98p035.pdf. [15] Peter Donaghy, “Is Northern Ireland Dramatically Poorer than the Republic?,” Slugger O’Toole, March 26, 2018, https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/03/26/is-northern-ireland-dramatically-poorer-than-the-republic/. [16] The importance of single market and more broadly the E.U. dimension was reflected in John Hume’s first draft of what became the Downing Street Declaration. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 111. It’s worth noting that the challenge Brexit now poses to this “economics will drive politics” approach to all-island integration was foreshadowed in the divergent decisions of Ireland and the United Kingdom on the single currency. See Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 26. [17] For an extensive treatment of the IRA-Libya connection, see Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, especially the “Prologue.” [18] The term “republican” relates back to the divisions within the anti-British forces during the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1920. Republicans rejected the residual links to Great Britain retained in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Their efforts were partially vindicated by the creation of the Republic in 1949, which not only broke the formal ties to the United Kingdom but also included a constitutional claim, under Articles 2 and 3, to the counties of Northern Ireland. The repeal of these provisions was central to unionist support for the 1998 Agreement. [19] There was a third, smaller mainstream party, the United Kingdom Union Party, largely the platform for a prominent, anti-agreement Protestant member of parliament from Northern Ireland, Robert McCartney. [20] The DUP was affiliated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, which, together with the Progressive Unionist Party, was affiliated with the Ulster Defence Association. The perspectives of the loyalist parties are discussed in more detail below. [21] The “official” wing was heavily influenced by Marxist theory, and focused on the class conflict that it believed united the North and South rather than on the political identity of being “Irish,” which had spawned the IRA at the beginning of the 20th century. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 56–79. [22] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 44. [23] The phrase was coined by IRA director of publicity, and long-time Adams ally, Danny Morrison in 1981: “Will anyone here object if with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 203. [24] In the first elections contested by both the SLDP and Sinn Fein in the early-to-mid-1980s, the SDLP led Sinn Fein by 5–6 percentage points. That margin grew to around 10 to 12 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sinn Fein finally overtook the SDLP in local elections and in elections to Westminster in 2001, in elections to the Stormont Assembly in 2003, and in European elections in 2004. For complete Northern Ireland elections results, see: “Election Results in Northern Ireland Since 1973,” Elections: Northern Ireland Elections, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/gallsum.htm. [25] Hennessey focuses on the “Ulsterization” of security in the North, which led to a reduced British military presence. This had the effect both of removing a major nationalist grievance and forcing the IRA to focus its violence on “Irish,” albeit Protestant, victims, rather than what they considered the colonial oppressor. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 39. [26] Others, especially Moloney, argue that Adams’ decision to move Sinn Fein to a political approach was part of a long-term plan conceived much earlier and which became more explicit around 1983–84. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 240. Moloney also notes the decline in the Sinn Fein vote compared with the SDLP beginning with the 1984 European Parliament elections and accelerated by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement as well as the increasing effectiveness of British security operations and the electoral backlash stemming from a number of botched IRA operations. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 326–49. The Enniskillen bombings, which led to the death of a number of non-combatants at a Remembrance Day event in 1987 was a particular turning point. Sinn Fein/IRA leader Martin McGuinness himself later observed, “Obviously it was going to deal a damaging blow to Irish Republicanism.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 63. [27] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 41. [28] “John Hume/Gerry Adams Joint Statement,” Sinn Fein, April 23, 1993, https://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/15217. [29] For accounts of these discussions and the importance of maintaining confidential channels throughout the conflict, see: Peter Taylor, Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein (London: Bloomsbury, 1997) chap. 22; and Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 5. [30] The backlash also had its roots in the British strategy to move away from using British forces to provide security in favor of Northern Ireland security personnel, in particular the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The IRA could argue that violence against British forces was an attack on an “occupying force,” but attacks on the constabulary represented the killing of fellow Irish citizens. It should be noted that some skeptics have suggested that Sinn Fein/the IRA never really embraced the political track, but rather, cynically backed the process leading up to the Agreement and ultimately the Agreement itself on the expectation that unionists would ultimately reject it, allowing Sinn Fein to revert to it traditional unification objectives after having demonstrated that compromise with Unionism was futile. See: Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 30–31. Moloney disagrees, arguing that while IRA leaders Adams and McGuiness continued to make arguments of this kind to hardliners in the IRA, in fact, they had “made the choice for peace.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, chap. 17. [31] Most in the unionist community and in Great Britain believed that Adams was a member of the IRA’s governing Army Council, an assertion consistently denied by Adams. McGuiness’ links to the IRA were clearer. Moloney makes the most detailed case in support of the argument that Adams played a central, formal role in the IRA from the earliest days of the Troubles until the Agreement itself, although even by Moloney’s account, there seemed to be a substantial disconnect between Adams’ evolving political strategy and the active (and politically damaging) actions of the IRA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as the use of “human bombs.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 347–49. [32] This was most obvious at the time the all-party talks began in 1997, when Sinn Fein accepted the Mitchell principles, allowing Sinn Fein to enter the talks, while at the same time the IRA indicated that it “had problems” with some aspects of the principles, thus preserving ambiguity about whether it had accepted exclusively peaceful means: “The Sinn Fein position actually goes beyond the Mitchell Principles. Their affirmation of these principles is therefore quite compatible with their position. As to the IRA's attitude to the Mitchell Principles per se, well, the IRA would have problems with sections of the Mitchell Principles. But then the IRA is not a participant in these talks.” “Mitchell Principles Problematic – IRA,” Irish Times, Sept, 12, 1997, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mitchell-principles-problematic-ira-1.105491. [33] In A Secret History of the IRA, Moloney catalogues the serious challenges to Adams’ strategy during the key months leading up the Agreement. [34] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 281. [35] For a rich history of the evolution of the UUP during this period, see Godson, Himself Alone. [36] The Anglo-Irish Agreement had a complex impact on subsequent events. As noted above, it did appear to contemplate a political process that could lead to a united Ireland, as well as conceded a role for the South in Northern Ireland affairs. At the same time, this possibility was undercut by Thatcher’s own hardline unionist sensibilities, reflected in the her famous “out, out, out” speech of 1984, in which she ruled out the three solutions for Northern Ireland proposed by the Irish government — unity, federation, or joint authority (between the United Kingdom and Ireland). Thatcher justified the concessions in the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a way to gain Irish support for tougher security measures against the IRA. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 26. [37] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 72. [38] Hennessey argues that Molyneux did not share this distrust, despite the Downing Street Declaration, quoting Molyneux’s statement, “There is no possibility of us being betrayed.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92. But the subsequent release of the British-Irish Framework Documents in 1995, which proposed to create North-South bodies with more than consultative powers, badly undercut Molyneux’s credibility and helped lead to his replacement by Trimble. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 97. [39] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 251. [40] Trimble had earlier established his unionist bona fides by helping to bring down the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974, an earlier attempt at resolving the Northern Ireland conflict. Mitchell, Making Peace, 174. Trimble himself has argued, “I am a product of the destruction of Stormont,” — the decision of the British government to abolish the Protestant-dominated Stormont Assembly, first by direct British rule and then by a power-sharing arrangement with nationalists. Godson, Himself Alone, 25. [41] Although the UUP held a plurality of unionist votes in the first election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP supplanted the UUP in the second election in 2003 and its margin over the UUP has grown since then. “Election Results.” UUP’s troubles were earlier apparent in the 1999 European parliamentary elections, where it was outpolled by the DUP. [42] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 179–80. Hennessey argues, “The UFF [Ulster Freedom Fighters] and UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] support for the peace process was the decisive difference. It robbed extreme Unionism of a cutting edge.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 90. [43] Mitchell, Making Peace, 44. [44] See Brian Eggins, History and Hope: The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland (Dublin: The History Press, 2015) fn. 162. [45] See Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “Women’s Participation in Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations Made Them Less Likely to Fair,” The Hill, April 13, 2018, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/383059-womens-participation-in-peace-negotiations-in-northern-ireland-made. [46] Fred Halliday, “Peace Processes in the Late 20th Century,” in A Farewell to Arms: From “Long War” to Long Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Michael Cox, Adrian Guelke, and Fiona Stephens (New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), 285. See also the essays in Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland. [47] Moloney offers a detailed look at the role of the Catholic Church and key clergy. [48] That said, even under the Tories, there were periodic efforts to talk directly with the IRA, including the secret 1972 Cheyne Walk talks between Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw and an IRA delegation, including Gerry Adams, which led to an early, but brief ceasefire. [49] One of the early Northern Ireland Prime Ministers, James Craig, called it “a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state.” Godson, Himself Alone, 26. [50] Prior to taking office in 1979, her Northern Ireland advisor, Airy Neave, had been killed by a splinter republican paramilitary group, the Irish National Liberation Army. [51] The British and Irish governments issued l “Frameworks for the Future” in February 1995, with proposals on all three strands of the talks. Unionists most strongly objected to provisions that allowed the two governments to decide on the authority of a future North-South body, without the prior consent of a future Northern Ireland Assembly. See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92–99. [52] Specifically, Blair indicated his support for the “triple lock” — the requirement that any change in the status of Northern Ireland required the agreement of the parties in the North, the public in the north through a referendum, and the approval of the British parliament. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 104. [53] Albert Reynolds dubbed Bruton “John Unionist.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 435. It was during the administration of an earlier Fine Gael prime minister, Garrett Fitzgerald, that Ireland first accepted the idea that unification should only come about with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, leading to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. [54] After taking office, Ahearn announced “irrendentism is dead.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 106–107. [55] Hennessey observed, “It is doubtful that any of his Fianna Fail predecessors would have had the vision to do this.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 167. [56] Irish American support for the IRA, including money and weaponry such as the notorious “Armalite” (AR-15), is discussed in detail in Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 114–15. [57] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 150. [58] Shane Hickey, “Major Was Furious with Clinton for Granting Adams a Visa,” Irish Times, Dec. 28. 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/major-was-furious-with-clinton-for-granting-adams-a-visa-1.3738286. [59] This initially took the form of the Northern Ireland Investment conference in Belfast chaired by George Mitchell and U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. [60] Roy Bradford, “Straws in the Wind Show Signs of Hope and Change,” Irish Times, Jan. 3, 1996,  https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/straws-in-the-wind-show-signs-of-hope-and-change-1.18637. [61] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 70–74. Moloney argues that the secret process dates back to indirect contacts between Adams and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King in 1986 or 1987. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 247. Notably Moloney argued that Adams acted without the approval of the IRA Army Council. [62] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 81–83. [63] Mitchell reached this conclusion after consulting with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Hugh Annesley. This conclusion was shared by Chilcot: “if you set a long time condition, a period of rehabilitation in which no violence took place, it would not happen.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 79. [64] Mitchell, Making Peace, 42–45. [65] Mitchell, Making Peace, 50, 60. [66] Mitchell, Making Peace, 110. [67] The third international chair was John de Chastelain, former chief of Canada’s defense staff. [68] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 102. [69] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 113. [70] As a result of the violence, the governments voted to expel, at least temporarily, both the Ulster Democratic Party (linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters) and Sinn Fein. Although the decision risked collapsing the talks, in the end, it buttressed the credibility of the condition subsequent approach by demonstrating the government’s willingness to carry out its threats against non-compliant parties. Mitchell, Making Peace, 134–42. [71] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 115–18. The document, called “Propositions on Heads of Agreement,” included almost all of the key features that ended up in the final Agreement. [72] Mitchell, Making Peace, 103; Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 22. [73] Mitchell, Making Peace, 143–46. [74] Among the most consequential of the secret talks were the meetings between Sinn Fein and a British MI5 agent, “Fred,” which led to the Peter Brooke statement that Britain had “no strategic interest” in Northern Ireland, and to the Sinn Fein-Reynolds meeting. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 6. Another important secret channel was between the Irish and loyalist paramilitaries, fostered by a former unionist leader, Roy Magee. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 140. [75] Agriculture, education, transport, environment, waterways, social security/social welfare, tourism, E.U. programs, inland fisheries, aquaculture and maritime, health, accident and emergency services, and urban/rural development. [76] The amendment was approved by referendum in both parts of Ireland in May 1998. [77] Interestingly, the approach used by the Decommissioning Commission drew on the experience of disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 276. [78] For a summary of developments since the Agreement, and on-going issues, see Kristin Archick, Northern Ireland: Current Issues and On-Going Challenges in the Peace Process, Congressional Research Service, March 12, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21333.pdf. [79] Archick, Northern Ireland, 19 [80] Ben Kelly, “Why Is There No Government in Northern Ireland and How Did Power-sharing Collapse?” The Independent, April 30, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/northern-ireland-talks-latest-power-sharing-deal-stormont-sinn-fein-dup-a8893096.html. [81] Connla Young, “Sinn Fein Say Good Friday Agreement Facing Its Biggest Threat,” Irish News, May 14, 2019, https://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/12/04/news/sinn-fe-in-say-good-friday-agreement-facing-its-biggest-threat-1202189/. [82] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37, quoting David Trimble, “The Belfast Agreement,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. Moloney argues, in A Secret History of the IRA, that Adams’ triumph was part of a long-term strategic plan that took years to bring to fruition. It may well be that, unlike Trimble, Adams was guided by a masterplan. But the fact that it took Adams 25 years to realize this goal suggests that favorable exogenous factors, as well as Adams’ efforts, were necessary for the plan to succeed. [83] Mitchell credits Ahearn’s willingness to reopen the “Strand Two Agreement” (against the advice of his aides), which he had reached with Blair just days before the Good Friday Agreement: “Had Ahearn insisted on the Strand Two provisions he had worked out with Blair, there would not have been a Good Friday Agreement.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 171. [84] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37–38, quoting George J. Mitchell “Toward Peace in Northern Ireland,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. [85] Thus, Moloney, in arguing that the credit belongs to Adams, asserts, “The Irish peace process was a not a spontaneous phenomenon, tossed around by forces outside its control, nor was it forced upon its architects by the fortunes of war. The process was like a precooked dinner whose basic menu had largely been decided long before most of the diners knew the meal was planned.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, xvi. At other points, Moloney indulges in what feels like a parody of the “Cleopatra’s nose” version of counterfactual analysis: “If Annie Adams [Gerry Adams’ mother] had not insisted on making the move to Ballymurphy [an IRA stronghold in West Belfast], the IRA might never have been led by Gerry Adams, and Irish history would now look very different.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 46. [86] Peter Crutchley, "IRA Ceasefire 20 Years On: The Priest Who Brokered the Peace," BBC News, Aug. 31, 2014,  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28812366. This view is echoed by Moloney: “To say that Father Alec Reid is the unrecognized inspiration of the peace process would be an understatement.” A Secret History of the IRA, 223. [87] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 115. [88] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 218. One British government official observed, “The body language changed after Winfield. Before that it was always stiff and stilted, but afterwards they no longer seemed stiff and stilted in each other’s presence. Winfield was the psychological breakthrough.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 264. [89] The narrative presented in the earlier sections of this essay is a form of “process tracing,” which helps clarify the key decisions and those responsible for the decisions. By itself, however, this approach can’t really answer “what mattered” — either as necessary or sufficient cause. For this reason, counterfactual analysis is particularly useful. For a discussion of some of the considerations and difficulties, see Jack S. Levy, “Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 378–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070602; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual.” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610; and Neil J. Roese, ed., What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking (London: Psychology Press, 1995). [90] See for example Mallie and McKittrick’s judgment: “The election of 1997 transformed the peace process.” Endgame in Ireland, 213. [91] See Mary Holland, “A Very Good Friday,” Guardian, April 11, 1998, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1998/apr/12/northernireland. [92] Hennessey challenges at least part of the claim, arguing that the 1998 Agreement had a much weaker North-South dimension which allowed for unionist acceptance. Thomas Hennessey, “‘Slow learners’? Comparing the Sunningdale Agreement and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers' Council Strike and the Struggle for Democracy in Northern Ireland, ed. David McCann and Cillian McGrattan (Manchester: Manchester University, 2017). [93] See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 142. [94] This was particularly true on the issue of decommissioning, where Adams repeatedly insisted on the limits of his influence over the IRA. His position was corroborated by the British head of the Northern Ireland police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), Hugh Annesley, who, when asked by Mitchell at a key juncture in 1995 whether Adams could get the IRA to decommission before an agreement, replied, “No, he couldn’t do it even if he wanted to. He doesn’t have that much control over them.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 30. [95] Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 414–16. [96] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 221–23. [97] Godson describes the episode in detail. Godson, David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism. [98] Martin Mansergh, “Forward,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, ed. Timothy J. White (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), ix. [99] Gormley-Heenan examines this problem at some length. Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 91–96. [100] Inclusivity has several different meanings in the context of these negotiations. The term was sometimes used to refer to the inclusion of the full range of stakeholders, including civil society, but was also used more narrowly, by Sinn Fein and the loyalists, to refer to the protagonists in the conflict. See for example, Timothy J. White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 7. Broad inclusivity of civil society was valuable but it was the inclusion of the former paramilitaries that was crucial. See Paul Dixon, “The Victory and Defeat of the IRA,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process. [101] Mitchell, Making Peace, 19. This is an important difference between the 1998 Agreement and Sunningdale. [102] Whether the agreement is truly a consociational agreement is a matter of much debate among political scientists, see White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” 4; and articles cited in footnote 2. [103] Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 8. [104] Feargal Cochrane and Seamus Dunn, People Power? The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in the Northern Ireland Conflict (Cork: Cork University Press, 2006), 173. [105] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 216. [106] See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 164–65 and Mitchell, Making Peace, 173. “As I read the document I knew instantly that it would not be acceptable to the Unionists.” Godson, Himself Alone, 327. As noted above, the ensuing crisis was only resolved when Ahearn agreed to walk back the draft and dilute the provisions opposed by the unionists. [107] In fact, the deadline actually slipped by a day; on the evening of the formal deadline the talks were still at an impasse. Mitchell, Making Peace, 177. The deadline also helped Adams gain IRA assent to enter the talks — his critics feared that an open-ended negotiation predicated on a continued IRA ceasefire would be used as a British ploy to weaken the IRA’s operational capacity as well as its rank and file support. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 471. [108] The classic statement is presented by William Zartman in “Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond,” in International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War, ed. Paul C. Stern and Daniel Druckman (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000), https://doi.org/10.17226/9897. As noted below, the approach I suggest here relies less on Zartman’s idea of a “hurting stalemate” and more on the perception by both sides of a positive gain. [109] But not impossible. Arguably the decision to arm the Bosnians and bomb the Serbs during the Bosnia conflict, and the bombing of the Serbs in Kosovo, helped produce circumstances that made those conflicts “ripe” for settlement. See Zartman, “Ripeness,” 244. [110] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 14, quoting Paul Arthur, Peer Learning: Northern Ireland as a Case Study (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1999), 10. “The participants shared a concern that something needed to be done and that at the very least they should explore each others’ options. Track two presented the best opportunities to do so. The absence of the media, the physical location, the neutral back up support, all were as far removed as possible from the rawness of Northern Ireland’s political arena.” [111] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 257. See also, Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 19. [112] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 129. [113] See Timothy J. White, “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Peace in Northern Ireland,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Maria Power, 38–40. [114] See Maria Power, “Introduction,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 4. [115] On Blair’s decommissioning side letter, see Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 169–70. [116] This view of the role of third parties is, thus, distinct from the focus on third parties as “neutral” mediators. What mattered most here was not neutrality but that third parties could offer something of value to the parties themselves. This more traditional understanding of the role of neutral actors in peace processes was illustrated by the creation of the Independent Commission on Policing, which produced a blue print for policing reform — something the parties themselves were unable to accomplish. [117] Mitchell, Making Peace, 25. [118] The IRA completed decommissioning in 2005. [119] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 205. [120] For a discussion of the problem of “open” diplomacy (without preconditions) see Oriana Skyler Mastro, The Costs of Conversation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019). [121] Mitchell, Making Peace, 175. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 475 [post_author] => 142 [post_date] => 2018-02-13 15:19:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-13 20:19:26 [post_content] =>

1. Introduction: Must We Mean What We Say? Making Sense of the Nuclear Posture Review[1]

By Francis J. Gavin On May 5, 1962, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told his fellow NATO defense ministers that the Kennedy administration was dramatically transforming American nuclear strategy. The United States would move away from Eisenhower’s so-called massive retaliation and instead “engage in a controlled and flexible nuclear response in the event that deterrence should fail.” McNamara told his audience “that nuclear superiority has important meanings” and that “we doubt that the Soviet Union will be able to match this capability.” McNamara also dismissed the “relatively weak nuclear forces with enemy cities as their targets [as] not likely to be adequate to perform the function of deterrence,” a hardly hidden message against the British and French nuclear programs. The new strategy would not only be flexible and controlled, but focus on building up NATO’s conventional forces. “Surely an alliance with the wealth, talent, and experience that we possess can find a better way to meet this common threat.”[2] In laying out the flexible response strategy, McNamara presented a bold, radically different plan for the role of nuclear weapons in United States grand strategy. However, almost none of what McNamara said during his Athens speech came to pass under his watch. Fighting a flexible and controlled nuclear war was well beyond American capabilities and the nuclear war plan remained almost completely unchanged during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. The Soviet Union soon closed the gap in strategic forces with the United States, achieving near parity by the end of the 1960s. The Kennedy administration accepted and even offered to help improve the French and British nuclear programs. In the end, the United States reduced, rather than enhanced, conventional forces assigned to defend Europe.[3] A decade later, President Richard Nixon was recorded saying “Flexible response is baloney.” And in an age of strategic parity, the president declared the “nuclear umbrella in NATO a lot of crap.”[4] There is always a debate over how much written strategy documents reflect the actual policies and plans of government. The Carnegie International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network,[5] a project hosted by the Kissinger Center, runs an ongoing exercise to assess the purpose and influence of various national security strategies completed in recent years. The program includes several of the authors of these documents, and surprisingly, they rarely agree amongst themselves on the rationale, import, and consequences of the national security strategy. This puzzling disconnect between document and policy is amplified in the Trump administration, where the gap between rhetoric and reality is even wider than in the past. As my colleague Hal Brands has pointed out in assessing the Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy, the document “was not that far removed from what most Republican administrations might have written — only for Trump to give a rabble-rousing, ‘America first’-themed speech that bashed U.S. allies, touted cooperation with adversaries, and raised questions as to whether the president had actually read or even been fully briefed on his own strategy statement.”[6] This trend continues in the release of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which, as James Steinberg observes below, possesses “an Alice in Wonderland” quality. The typical rhetoric-reality gap in national security is further heightened by the historical strangeness of American nuclear policy. Shortly after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagaski, the great strategist Bernard Brodie famously explained: “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them.”[7] While there has been and remains great controversy and disagreement over how to achieve this aim, few doubt that the primary goal of nuclear strategy is to make sure nuclear weapons are never delivered and detonated. At the same time, however, the United States has had great ambitions in the world since 1945, and has often assigned nuclear weapons an oversized role in achieving those aims. It seeks not only to deter adversaries from attacking the American homeland (a relatively easy task), but also from attacking its many far-flung friends and allies around the world. It also expects these friends to remain non-nuclear, while hoping its adversaries remain deterred without fear of an American first strike or the launch of a costly arms race.[8] The goals the United States is attempting to achieve with its nuclear weapons — deterrence, assurance, inhibition, and reassurance, and the qualities upon which they depend, namely, credibility and resolve — are almost impossible to observe or measure. The Nuclear Posture Review and critiques of the document, as well as most statements about the nature of nuclear weapons and their influence on international politics, are often based on little more than guesswork. As Janne Nolan and Brian Radzinsky trenchantly observe in this roundtable, “Nuclear planning is made difficult because of the lack of strong evidence about how the character and composition of American nuclear forces affect the behavior of others. In the absence of such clarity, decision makers and experts tend to fall back on their worldviews and beliefs about the nature of international politics.” Despite — or perhaps because of — the elusive nature of nuclear strategy, we must combine rigor and humility in our analysis. The reason for rigor is obvious: Nuclear war would be catastrophic. Short of nuclear war, many of the aims of American grand strategy rely upon effective nuclear policies. The modernization of nuclear systems called for in the review — which builds upon plans laid out by the Obama administration — would be expensive (over a trillion dollars over thirty years), resources that could be allocated to other military programs.  Many of these upgrades focus on capabilities — stealth, speed, miniaturization, lower-yields, dual-use — that some see as destabilizing. America’s nuclear policy will also be watched by other countries, nuclear and non-nuclear, and will help shape those countries’ own decisions in an unfolding, uncertain world order. The stakes surrounding American nuclear policy are, therefore, enormous. Except when they are not. What role has American nuclear strategy played in the most consequential issues in U.S. national security policy in recent decades, such as the wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, globalization, and even the re-balance to Asia? And if nuclear strategy did matter, how would we know? Imagine a radical counterfactual where the United States suddenly possessed no nuclear weapons — what would happen to the United States tomorrow? In five years? In fifty? We can all speculate, and we should, as long as we recognize that the answers we offer are speculations and not scientifically proven rules. This is where humility must come into play. We spend extraordinary resources on weapons we hope will never be used, and we can never be certain we are going about it in the right way. Nolan and Radzinsky’s excellent description of nuclear posture reviews could be applied to many arguments about nuclear weapons and their consequences: They are like “party platforms,” containing well intentioned aspirations as well as many inherent contradictions.  The cleavages that exist in the nuclear debate reflect differences in the inherent worldviews and strategic beliefs rather than any fundamental “differences in core values or priorities.” We are stumbling through the dark.[9] All six of these excellent reviews combine rigor with humility while disagreeing in productive ways. Each has its own take on the Nuclear Posture Review and focuses on different aspects of the document. Five issues in particular are worth highlighting:
  1. Continuity versus change: Students of the history of American foreign relations recognize that there tends to be more continuity across different administrations and political parties, as well as over time, that we often recognize in real-time. The Trump administration, with its pointed rhetoric and the president’s rhetorical attack on sacred tenets of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus, appears to represent a dramatic break from past policies and practices. But is it? Analysts are divided. Austin Long sees the Trump Nuclear Posture Review as “fundamentally undermining many of the assumptions underlying the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review,” while Steinberg sees it as, “in many respects,” a “radical departure.” Others are less sure. As Al Mauroni points out, the 2010 and 2018 reviews “have more in common than not.” Rebecca Hersman captured this nicely when she pointed out that Trump’s review “had something in it for everyone” which meant that “almost no one is happy.”[10]
  2. Usability, Discrimination, and Low Yields: One of the ironies of nuclear deterrence is that its effectiveness depends upon willingness to actually use nuclear weapons. There is a real reason to doubt the United States would respond to anything short of a nuclear attack on the American homeland with its strategic nuclear forces. To improve the credibility of extended deterrence and assurance promises to allies in this situation, some suggest that developing weapons and strategies that lower the threshold for nuclear use is in America’s interest. This generates its own challenges. Given the United States’ extraordinary non-nuclear capabilities, why would it want to lower the nuclear threshold and emphasize nuclear weapons? What’s more, blurring the lines between strategic, sub-strategic, and conventional (dual-use) capabilities could lead to dangerous miscalculations in a crisis. Vipin Narang suggests that, “In trying to deter more — and lower — forms of aggression with nuclear weapons and broaden the deterrence spectrum, the Nuclear Posture Review generates real risks of spirals of nuclear escalation in a crisis or war.”
  3. What are the Russians up to? As Long points out, “the Nuclear Posture Review is concerned about Russia,” both its menacing geopolitical behavior and its own nuclear modernization and altered nuclear strategy. In particular, there is a concern about its so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, in which Russia would use a nuclear weapon at the sub-strategic level, based on the calculation that the United States could not credibly respond with strategic level nuclear weapons. Does the review get Russia — its intentions, strategies, and capabilities — right? According to Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “The new Nuclear Posture Review will neither slow down nor change Russian military developments or its behavior in future conflicts.” A larger question is whether the United States should craft its nuclear policies to respond to a vexing but declining state whose remaining power rests in no small part on its nuclear weapons.
  4. Using Nuclear threats to deter non-nuclear actions. The United States has always reserved the right to use nuclear weapons to deter or respond to a devastating non-nuclear attack, such as a Warsaw Pact blitzkrieg through the Fulda Gap during the Cold War or a biological or chemical weapons attack in more recent years. The Nuclear Posture Review appears to expand the scenarios in which nuclear weapons can be employed to a debilitating cyber-attack. As Steinberg points out, this expansion of deterrence generates further questions concerning the credibility of deterrence, as well as encouraging others like Russia or China to embrace the same policy, to the potential detriment of American interests. The United States already asks more of its nuclear policies than any other country; is it wise to expand their writ?
  5. Extended Deterrence and Assurance: Nuclear weapons are often described as insurance against invasion and conquest. The United States, however, has not been threatened with invasion and conquest since the end of the Civil War, if then. Nor would it be vulnerable to such a threat even if it were to get rid of all its nuclear weapons tomorrow (just as the risk of invasion would not have been any higher in 1975 or 1955 if the United States had been without the bomb at that time). What makes United States nuclear policy so challenging is that, unlike other nuclear states, it tries to do far more with these weapons than simply prevent an invasion and conquest of its homeland. Namely, it seeks to protect a wide array of states around the world from attack while discouraging these same clients (and others) from acquiring their own invasion insurance.
It would not take much — far less than is called for in this or previous American nuclear postures — to deter a nuclear attack on the United States. This Nuclear Posture Review, like the reviews and strategies that have come before it, is driven and shaped by the costs and dilemmas associated with achieving extended deterrence, assurance, and inhibition.[11] It is easy to forget, from a historical perspective, how ambitious America’s nuclear strategies have been for decades. We can debate whether these policies have been wise or not. On the one hand, America’s nuclear postures have been extraordinarily expensive and arguably exposed the United States (and the world) to much danger. On the other hand, the United States prevailed in the Cold War, far fewer states have independent nuclear weapons than anyone could have imagined seventy, fifty, or even twenty-five years ago, interstate conflict has declined and great power war has all but disappeared. What is the connection between these fortuitous outcomes and America’s robust and forward leaning nuclear postures? The truth is, the question is both extraordinarily important and almost impossible to answer with any certainty. It is no surprise that there is much disagreement over the import of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. In the end, however, it is important to recognize that documents like this one have often had less connection and consequence to what actually matters in the making of policy — especially nuclear policy — than we often believe. At the end of the day, the nature of our political system provides the president of the United States with enormous independent authority to use nuclear weapons if and when he chooses. What little we know of how past presidents thought about this extraordinary responsibility indicates that that responsibility left them awe-struck, shaken and committed to making sure they were never faced with the horrific decision to use these weapons; even Richard Nixon was “appalled” after his first briefing on the Single Integrated Operational Plan.[12] Literally nothing matters more than how a president thinks about and acts on this sacred responsibility, and literally nothing should worry us more in our current circumstances. Francis J. Gavin is the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Texas National Security Review.  He is the Giovanni Agnelli Distinguished Professor and the inaugural director of the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University. His writings include Gold, Dollars, and Power: The Politics of International Monetary Relations, 1958-1971 (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Cornell University Press, 2012).  

2. Command and Control in the Nuclear Posture Review: Right Problem, Wrong Solution

By James Acton If the U.S. nuclear command-and-control system were a fictional character, it might be 11-year-old Harry Potter living under the Dursleys’ staircase on Privet Drive — desperately underappreciated and chronically underfunded, yet absolutely critical to avoiding the worst outcome imaginable. The result of its neglect, according to the Nuclear Posture Review published Friday,[13] is that the system for detecting nuclear strikes on the United States and relaying orders to U.S. nuclear forces is “subject to challenges from both aging system components and new, growing 21st Century threats.” The framers of the review are, quite rightly, concerned about how the command-and-control system would perform if the United States ever faced the nuclear equivalent of a duel with Lord Voldemort. And, sensibly, the review announces a comprehensive modernization plan. However, the document goes further than that. In an attempt to enhance deterrence, it includes a seemingly innocuous — and distinctly wonkish — threat to consider using nuclear weapons if an adversary launches nonnuclear attacks against U.S. nuclear “command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” This threat marks a significant — and unwelcome — departure for U.S. declaratory policy. To the best of this author’s knowledge, the United States has never before explicitly threatened a nuclear response to nonnuclear attacks on command, control, and warning capabilities — and with good reason. Such a response would be utterly disproportionate. The Nuclear Posture Review’s threat to carry it out, therefore, lacks credibility and could prove both ineffective and damaging to U.S. interests. Instead, the United States should focus on building a much more redundant command, control, and warning architecture — something that current plans appear unlikely to achieve. Nonnuclear attacks against nuclear command and control are a relatively new danger. During the Cold War, the only way to target an adversary’s command, control, and warning capabilities was generally with nuclear weapons. Today, however, nonnuclear threats to these assets are all too real given recent advances in cyber, high-precision conventional, and anti-satellite weapons. To make matters worse, U.S. command, control, and warning capabilities are surprisingly fragile. Once legacy systems are phased out, the United States will rely on just six satellites for detecting an incoming nuclear attack,[14] and four satellites for communicating with nuclear forces.[15] A handful of ground-based assets (and, in the case of communications, aircraft)[16] provide backup. Nonnuclear threats to satellites are particularly concerning. Russia is developing ground-based lasers to target U.S. early-warning satellites.[17] Chinese strategists go a step further and specifically advocate attacking such satellites in a conventional conflict.[18] Even limited attacks could have severe consequences. In 2014, for example, Gen. William Shelton, then Commander of U.S. Space Command, publicly acknowledged that the loss of a single U.S. early-warning satellite could deprive the United States of the ability to continuously monitor all potential launches of adversaries’ nuclear-armed missiles.[19] If U.S. command, control, and warning capabilities had no other functions, there would be some logic to responding to attacks on them with nuclear weapons. In that case, the only reason an adversary — most likely Russia or China — would have to attack these capabilities would be to prepare to use nuclear weapons on the United States. Specifically, Russian and Chinese strikes — probably conducted with nonnuclear weapons — could make a follow-up nuclear attack more effective and perhaps delay a U.S. nuclear response. In such a scenario, it might make sense for the United States to respond with nuclear weapons. In fact, however, many American command, control, and warning capabilities are dual-use; they serve both conventional and nuclear missions. U.S. early-warning satellites, for example, are tasked with detecting an incoming nuclear attack and with triggering defenses designed to intercept nonnuclear ballistic missiles.[20] This duality could give Russia or China a reason to attack them in a conventional war. For instance, if U.S. missile defenses in Europe or Asia were proving effective in knocking the enemy’s nonnuclear ballistic missiles out of the sky, Moscow or Beijing might try to stave off defeat by attacking U.S. early-warning satellites with nonnuclear weapons. Then, according to the new U.S. nuclear doctrine, the United States could launch a nuclear response. Using nuclear weapons in this scenario would, however, violate any notion of proportionality. Russian or Chinese nonnuclear strikes on U.S. satellites would almost certainly cause no human casualties. Yet U.S. nuclear use — even if highly limited and carefully targeted — could spark a nuclear war that might plausibly kill tens or even hundreds of millions, including many in the United States. So, would the U.S. president really risk a devastating nuclear conflict in response to bloodless Russian or Chinese attacks on U.S. satellites? Only Donald Trump can know the answer to this question, but it is not difficult to see why Moscow and Beijing might assume it is “no” and, in the event of a conflict, attack U.S. command, control, and warning capabilities anyway. In this case, the president would be left with a profoundly awful choice: refrain and raise doubts about the credibility of other U.S. nuclear threats, or act on the threat to use nuclear weapons and risk mass slaughter? Fortunately, there are better ways to deal with the very real problem of the vulnerability of command and control to nonnuclear attack. The most obvious approach would be for the United States to separate nuclear command, control, and warning capabilities from nonnuclear ones. While superficially attractive, this idea would encounter severe difficulties in practice. The cost of building two separate command-and-control systems — one for nuclear and one for nonnuclear operations — would be a real barrier. More subtly, the advent of dual-capable missiles — those that can accommodate a nuclear or nonnuclear warhead — could make it impossible to determine how an incoming weapon is armed, effectively preventing so-called disaggregation.[21] A better way would be for the United States to start building a much more resilient command, control, and warning architecture. Unfortunately, current modernization plans are unlikely to achieve that goal. Much to the chagrin of Gen. John Hyten, another former commander of U.S. Space Command and the current commander of U.S. Strategic Command, plans to modernize the U.S. space-based early-warning system essentially call for replicating the current architecture with newer satellites.[22] These plans will likely do very little to reduce the vulnerability of early-warning satellites to nonnuclear attack. An effective way to enhance resilience would be to place a large number — perhaps 20 or 30 — of small early-warning sensors in space. These sensors would not be placed on satellites dedicated to early warning, but rather “hosted” on satellites used for other purposes — potentially both military and civilian. This concept is not theoretical; during the Cold War, the United States built a similar system, known as AFSATCOM, for communications.[23] To be sure, there could be a real trade-off here. A “dispersed” early-warning system — consisting of many small sensors piggybacking on convenient satellites — would be less capable than the status quo of a small number of highly sophisticated satellites dedicated to early warning. But it could absorb many more nonnuclear blows before becoming ineffective. Maybe the United States can have its space cake and eat it too: It’s possible that, because a dispersed system would obviate the need to construct additional satellites, it could be built cheaply enough that the United States could afford a few dedicated early-warning satellites as well. Yet, if a choice must be made — and in the real world it often must — there is a strong case for ditching dedicated early-warning satellites and building a dispersed system instead. If the only way to defend a dedicated system is with nuclear threats, its cost is simply too high. James Acton is a senior fellow and co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

3. Nuclear Strategy in an Era of Great Power Competition

By Austin Long The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review confirms and extends the Trump administration’s contention in both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy that great power competition has returned. The Nuclear Posture Review argues that this competition extends to the nuclear realm, fundamentally undermining many of the assumptions underlying the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.[24] According to the 2018 review, this world of nuclear great power competition (essentially with Russia and China), combined with the challenges presented by regional actors (principally North Korea and Iran), requires the United States to pursue a very different, if only modestly more ambitious, nuclear agenda than that envisioned in the 2010 review. Reviewing the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review offers an opportunity to reflect on both its characterization of the international environment as well as its proposed responses. Here I focus on three elements of the document: the characterization of Russian nuclear strategy, extended nuclear deterrence and assurance of allies, and the role of non-strategic (or theater) nuclear forces. Before proceeding, truth in reviewing requires me to note I was part of a RAND Corporation team providing analytic support to the U.S. Air Force for the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. My comments are based solely on the publicly available unclassified version of the review. The opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not represent the views of RAND, the U.S. Air Force, or any other entity. From Russia with Kilotons: Characterizing Russian Nuclear Strategy The Nuclear Posture Review is deeply concerned about Russia, listing it first in its discussion of the nuclear programs of other states. It bluntly declares:
Russian strategy and doctrine emphasize the potential coercive and military uses of nuclear weapons. It mistakenly assesses that the threat of nuclear escalation or actual first use of nuclear weapons would serve to “de-escalate” a conflict on terms favorable to Russia. These mistaken perceptions increase the prospect for dangerous miscalculation and escalation.[25]
The review then details the extensive Russian modernization of both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons and the Russian violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It subsequently expands claims about Russian nuclear strategy:
Most concerning are Russia’s national security policies, strategy, and doctrine that include an emphasis on the threat of limited nuclear escalation … Moscow threatens and exercises limited nuclear first use, suggesting a mistaken expectation that coercive nuclear threats or limited first use could paralyze the United States and NATO and thereby end a conflict on terms favorable to Russia.[26]
In assessing these claims about the role of nuclear weapons in Russian strategy and doctrine it is important to distinguish facts from interpretations. In terms of facts, the Nuclear Posture Review is very helpful in summarizing much of what is known at the unclassified level about Russian nuclear modernization, which is indeed extensive, and includes the INF Treaty-violating SSC-8 cruise missile. The posture review also confirms previously rumored Russian development of the so-called Status-6 system, “a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.”[27] These facts alone support the document’s contention that efforts to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy have not successfully encouraged a symmetrical response from Russia. Russian violation of the INF Treaty is especially worrying in this context. All of this underscores the need to continue the U.S. nuclear modernization program developed under the Obama administration with bipartisan support. Put bluntly, Russia remains deadly serious about its nuclear arsenal and the United States must remain equally serious to ensure the credibility of our nuclear deterrent. Beyond facts, the review also presents interpretations of Russian conduct. It charges that Russian statements and behavior “appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.”[28] Combined with the earlier contentions about Russian doctrine and exercises, the Nuclear Posture Review paints a picture of a Russia that is willing, perhaps even eager, to seek coercive advantage from the threat of or actual first use of its vast and modernizing nuclear arsenal — a dire picture indeed. Fortunately, the review’s interpretations, unlike its presentation of facts, mischaracterizes Russian nuclear strategy. First, even if one grants that Russian military doctrine emphasizes the potential utility of nuclear coercion or use to “de-escalate” or terminate conflicts on favorable terms (a debatable point), this says very little about the views of Russian political leadership on nuclear use, an important point given that it is the political leadership that will actually decide to make threats to or even use nuclear weapons. Vladimir Putin, unlike many other widely cited Russian politicians, has always been circumspect in his public statements about nuclear weapons. There is no question he believes they are of central importance to Russian security. And yet, he has shown little appetite for invoking the use of nuclear weapons over anything less than grave threats to vital Russian interests. Indeed, in an interview in late 2015, Putin had this to say: “We proceed from the assumption that nuclear weapons and other weapons are the means to protect our sovereignty and legitimate interests, not the means to behave aggressively or to fulfil some non-existent imperial ambitions.”[29] Some observers point to Putin’s statements on Russian nuclear forces after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as evidence of his acceptance of the utility of nuclear threats for opportunistic revisionism.[30] Yet Crimea and the broader Ukraine crisis were critical national security interests for Russia. Elsewhere, in less vital but still important policy arenas, Putin has remained largely quiet on the topic of nuclear weapons. For example, he did not try to coerce Turkey with nuclear weapons after Turkish fighters downed a Russian aircraft on the Syrian border in November 2015.[31] Indeed, Russia’s response to the incident involved primarily economic and political retaliation against Turkey — hardly the behavior one would expect of a country eager to gamble with nuclear weapons. Second, for a country alleged to have lowered its nuclear threshold, Russia has spent enormous sums developing its non-nuclear doctrine, capabilities, and options.[32] Over the past fifteen years, Russia has developed a system that enables effective conventional precision strikes (on full display in Syria), significantly increasing the number of targets Russia can threaten with conventional weapons.[33] Furthermore, as the Nuclear Posture Review itself notes, Russia has developed the ability to attack U.S. satellites in a variety of ways and to launch cyber attacks on U.S. forces.[34] According to press reports, Russia has also revitalized its ability to target undersea infrastructure, including transatlantic communication cables.[35] These capabilities have required a substantial investment of defense resources and hardly suggest a Russia that is itching to use nuclear weapons rather than non-nuclear alternatives. Russia’s military developments, both nuclear and non-nuclear, point to an effort that should be familiar to any former senior U.S. policymaker: the search for military options short of a massive nuclear exchange. As the Nuclear Posture Review rightly describes, “every U.S. administration over the past six decades has called for flexible and limited U.S. nuclear response options…”[36] This is not because past U.S. administrations have been eager to lower the nuclear threshold (despite what some critics have charged). Instead it has been part of an effort to avoid the stark and binary choice between suicide and surrender. It seems likely that Russian leadership is just as motivated to avoid this stark choice and has invested accordingly in a very broad portfolio of non-nuclear and nuclear capabilities to provide as many options as possible. Overall, this could even indicate a Russian effort to raise rather than lower the nuclear threshold or perhaps, more accurately, to forestall the need for nuclear use. Indeed, the Nuclear Posture Review articulates a similar logic for the United States, declaring “…expanding U.S. tailored response options will raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely.”[37] Finally, the Nuclear Posture Review does not seem to take Russian fears about U.S. capabilities particularly seriously. Russian analysts have been concerned since the late Cold War that U.S. offensive capabilities (both nuclear and non-nuclear) could destroy the vast bulk of the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal along with its command and control.[38] These offensive capabilities, combined with growing missile defense capabilities, have led some Russians to fear the United States could effectively neutralize Russia’s strategic deterrent. Yet, with regards to Russian fears, the review merely notes in passing that, despite its concerns about U.S. missile defenses, Russia continues to work on its own missile defenses. This is understandable up to a point, as some of Russia’s expressed fears about existing U.S. missile defense capabilities are no doubt mere propaganda. However, it is unlikely that all such Russian fears can be boiled down to propaganda. Genuine concern could readily account for at least some of Russia’s behavior. Most notably, the development of the Status-6 system, which provides an assured nuclear retaliatory capability against U.S. population centers, is entirely consistent with a real Russian fear of U.S. missile defense capabilities. Given the likely cost of this program, and the fact that it has been kept secret by the Russians apart from an oblique release of a single diagram, it seems doubtful that it is just another Russian propaganda campaign. Appropriate characterization of Moscow’s nuclear strategy is crucial. Getting it wrong could exacerbate the already serious risk of a security dilemma driven spiral of misperception and overreaction by both sides.[39] There is precedent for this kind of escalation in the U.S.-Soviet experience of the late Cold War. U.S. views of Soviet nuclear strategy in the 1970s and 1980s helped drive U.S. responses that in turn made the Soviets extremely concerned about a U.S. nuclear first strike, culminating in the “war scare” of 1983.[40] Post-Cold War interviews with both U.S. and Soviet leaders have since revealed the full depth of misperception on both sides.[41] Avoiding a 21st century version of this near-catastrophe while modernizing the U.S. nuclear enterprise should be an important goal of U.S. nuclear posture. Umbrellas and Allies: The Challenge of Extended Deterrence and the Reality of Assurance The Nuclear Posture Review is also very clear on a major driver of U.S. nuclear posture:
Effective deterrence is the foundation for effective assurance. Allies under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and potential adversaries, should not doubt our extended deterrence commitments or our ability and willingness to fulfill them. In support of U.S. extended deterrence commitments, the United States will maintain the capabilities necessary to deter effectively and, if necessary, to respond effectively and decisively across the spectrum of potential nuclear and non-nuclear scenarios.[42]
This statement may seem obvious, even anodyne, to many readers, as it reaffirms longstanding U.S. commitments. Yet it is worth unpacking and reflecting on two elements of this crucial formulation: extended deterrence and assurance. Extended nuclear deterrence, which, as the review notes, the United States extends to over thirty countries, hinges on credibility. The fundamental question is whether the United States will come to the aid of an ally that is attacked by a nuclear adversary. If the adversary cannot effectively strike the United States directly with nuclear weapons — as was the case with the Soviet Union in the early 1950s — the credibility of the United States coming to the defense of an ally is usually viewed as quite high. On the other hand, if the nuclear armed adversary is able to strike the United States, U.S. credibility may be called into question.[43] The potential for nuclear threats to the U.S. homeland to undermine U.S. commitment to extended deterrence has much to do with recent U.S. concern about a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster summed up this challenge in September 2017: “The North Koreans have shown, through their words and actions, their intention to blackmail the United States into abandoning our South Korean ally, potentially clearing the path for a second Korean War.”[44] Thus, a major driver of U.S. nuclear posture is the need to ensure the credibility of extended deterrence. This is not a new challenge: It was a major element in the Cold War, summarized in the rhetorical question, “Would the United States trade Washington for Moscow over Berlin?” One could readily substitute “Pyongyang” and “Seoul” in the formulation to bring it into the 21st century. In the early Cold War, the U.S. advantage in intercontinental nuclear forces made extended deterrence credible because Soviet forces that were capable of reaching the United States were limited. In extremis, the United States could probably have destroyed the vast bulk of Soviet intercontinental nuclear forces.[45] The credibility of U.S. extended deterrence was therefore quite high. This in turn provided substantial assurance to U.S. allies. Yet, once an adversary can reliably strike the United States, U.S. extended nuclear deterrence credibility becomes more questionable. The responses to this challenge have generally fallen into two categories, which are not entirely mutually exclusive. The first is a limited nuclear response if deterrence fails. As noted earlier, the Nuclear Posture Review articulates this logic, which has been a constant in U.S. nuclear strategy for decades. Yet the review also notes the uncertainty about whether limited nuclear responses can successfully reestablish deterrence.[46] Writing just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, future Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger captured the concern about relying on limited nuclear responses for extended deterrence:
In a war of nerves, with limited encounters, which side will prove the stronger—especially when we have reached the city-swapping stage? How long will the American public accept a game played by these rules? Thus the final question appears: what does the decline of nuclear dominance do to the protection offered to Europe by a sophisticated deterrent [that] remains under American control?[47]
The other response has been to improve the ability to limit damage to the United States (and its allies) through offensive and defensive capabilities. If an adversary loses faith in its ability to successfully strike the U.S. homeland, the credibility of extended nuclear deterrence is enhanced. Moreover, if deterrence does fail, damage limitation is an important means to limit the consequences and restore deterrence.[48] The Nuclear Posture Review also articulates this response:
The goal of limiting damage if deterrence fails in a regional contingency calls for robust adaptive planning to defeat and defend against attacks, including missile defense and capabilities to locate, track, and target mobile systems of regional adversaries… In the case of missile threats from regional actors in particular, U.S. missile defense and offensive options provide the basis for significant damage limitation in the event deterrence fails.[49]
However, the acquisition of such damage limiting capabilities is likely to exacerbate the security dilemma, potentially making crises less stable and arms races more intense. Indeed, this was part of what drove the security dilemma in the late Cold War, as noted earlier. The best one can hope for in the pursuit of damage limitation is what Glenn Kent and David Thaler have termed “optimum instability” — enough damage limitation to deter adversaries from provoking a crisis, but not so much that any one crisis spirals out of control.[50] Although extended deterrence is intimately linked with assuring allies, as the Nuclear Posture Review describes, allied appetites for such assurances can be virtually unlimited. As former British Secretary of State for Defence Denis Healey remarked, “[i]t takes only 5% credibility of American retaliation to deter the Russians, but 95% to reassure the Europeans.”[51] And yet, the Nuclear Posture Review does not fully articulate why assuring allies is important for U.S. national security. The value is not in simply making allies feel better — a nice goal, but not particularly useful for national security. Instead, assurance is about shaping allied calculus to convince allies to either take a desired action or refrain from an undesired one. Assurance is thus the kinder, gentler, friendlier cousin of deterrence — persuasion rather than coercion. Historically, the United States has used such assurance to convince allies to do more in terms of providing for allied conventional defense and to forego acquiring their own nuclear capabilities. West Germany during the Cold War is a prime example of this strategy. The country’s conventional rearmament was crucial to the defense of Western Europe, but its potential acquisition of independent nuclear weapons capability was deeply troubling to both the Soviets and much of the rest of NATO.[52] U.S. assurance to West Germany, which involved keeping large numbers of troops stationed at the inter-German border as well as beginning what would evolve into contemporary NATO nuclear sharing, was thus not simply about making the Germans feel comforted. Its aim was to convince the Germans to bear the cost of conventional rearmament while rejecting independent West German nuclear forces, two vital national security objectives of the United States. Shaping allied behavior should remain the appropriate lens through which to view potential U.S. assurance activities rather than simply assuring for the sake of maintaining good relations or comity. United States assurances during the Cold War were central to limiting proliferation among allies such as South Korea. This is an even more important objective today as, amid North Korea’s nuclear build up, some in South Korea have begun to muse about the need for South Korea to have its own nuclear arms.[53] Determining what assurances will actually succeed in shaping allied calculus on key issues like proliferation (as opposed to simply claiming actions provide assurance) should be a major component of U.S. nuclear posture. What Must Be Done? The Logic of Nuclear Responses The Nuclear Posture Review’s concern about Russia and the demands of extended deterrence and assurance leads, in the document, to a renewed emphasis on non-strategic or theater-range nuclear forces. It promises that the United States will “maintain, and enhance as necessary, the capability to forward deploy nuclear bombers and DCA [dual capable aircraft] around the world.”[54] It also declares the United States will pursue a nuclear sea launched cruise missile (SLCM) and a low yield submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) warhead. These forces are all intended to provide flexibility in potential military response to bolster deterrence. However, it is worth exploring the reasoning for why such flexible options would be useful. The low yield SLBM, though still a strategic rather than non-strategic system, provides a fast-moving low-yield option to complement the slower, low-yield options (e.g., air launched cruise missiles and gravity bombs) that already make up part of the U.S. nuclear force. It is worth noting that the United Kingdom has had a low yield SLBM option for at least a decade, so this hardly constitutes a new capability.[55] Adding it to the U.S. arsenal modestly expands U.S. options at what is likely to be relatively low cost, as it entails only a modification to an existing nuclear warhead. In contrast, the nuclear SLCM does not add a capability the United States does not already have in some form. Air launched cruise missiles are functionally the same as those launched from the sea. The ability to launch from attack submarines does add some capability as these submarines can approach their targets undetected, but those submarines will also be heavily committed to other missions, including launching conventional strikes and defending against Soviet submarines. A new nuclear SLCM therefore will likely add less to U.S. flexibility than a low yield SLBM, and will cost substantially more. Forward deployed bombers and DCA allow the United States to have nuclear options that originate from non-U.S. soil. Yet the deterrent benefits of this are unclear. Options from forward bases are often believed to be less escalatory than options that originate from the United States, but it is not clear why this would be the case. Why is a bomb dropped from a bomber flying from the United States more escalatory than the exact same bomb dropped by a bomber flying from a European or Asian ally’s territory? In some cases, it may be unclear to the target where the attack originated from anyway. Alternately, it may be the specific target rather than the geographic origin of a nuclear attack that matters most. During the Cold War, there was an entire set of targets for NATO theater forces that was considered less escalatory than an attack on the Soviet Union itself. These targets were all within the territories of Soviet allies of the Warsaw Pact. Yet today such alternative targets are not available. Russia has no allies apart from Belarus, while China and North Korea have no real allies of any kind. Forward deployed forces thus lack obvious targets for limited escalation in the 21st century. Forward deployed forces might provide better assurance, if only because they seem more tangible to allies. However, as argued above, this assurance should be used to shape allied calculus. Note that forward basing of U.S. aircraft armed with nuclear weapons is not synonymous with NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangement. The deterrence and assurance value of NATO nuclear sharing is derived from shared responsibility for nuclear release and execution among allies. Put more directly, the value of NATO nuclear arrangements lay in having U.S. weapons on allied planes in Europe, rather than U.S. weapons on U.S. planes. So, what exactly is forward deployment intended to convince allies to do or not do? Here, questions about proliferation may be salient if uncomfortable. Is demonstrating the forward deployment of U.S. nuclear forces required to sufficiently assure allies like South Korea that it is safe for them to forego their own weapons? Answering questions such as these should be a crucial component of U.S. nuclear posture. Conclusion The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review is an important milestone but it is not the last word on the Trump administration’s nuclear policy. The review must be implemented through the issuance of additional classified guidance, which gives an opportunity to readdress or clarify some of these issues. In particular, it is crucial the United States be sure its characterization of Russian nuclear strategy is accurate in order to modernize its nuclear arsenal without provoking unintended Russian responses. Austin Long is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and the author of multiple studies on nuclear strategy.

4. Maintaining the Course — for the Most Part

By Al Mauroni Vipin Narang defines “nuclear posture” as the operational capabilities of a nuclear force, with a defined employment doctrine, and an understanding of how a state authorizes the command and control of said nuclear weapons.[56] To be specific, a nuclear posture is different than a declared statement of nuclear doctrine and tactics in that it offers a rationale for the peacetime procedures of developing and maintaining nuclear weapons and insight into how they might be used in times of crisis. Congress requires that the Secretary of Defense conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to answer some specific questions[57] because nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive capabilities. And, as a very technical subject-area, Congress wants details before they fund the development of these special weapons. Inevitably, people will want to compare the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review,[58] released last week, to the 2010 review,[59] in an effort to contrast the Trump and Obama administrations’ approaches to the operational use of nuclear weapons. As Jeffrey Lewis notes, no one should be surprised that the 2018 document reflects the hawkish views of a Republican administration.[60] As a member of the National Security Council (NSC) working on the 2018 review, Christopher Ford commented last year that he and the other members of the NSC were encouraged to rethink things across the board, to look at what policy alternatives might be available without being constrained by conventional wisdoms or untested assumptions. This is not to say, however, that a fresh set of eyes would necessarily result in different positions as an outcome of the review.[61] There are obvious differences in strategic overviews of the two documents, but, in the end, they have more in common than not. It should not be a shock that long-time professionals within the U.S. government’s nuclear enterprise built this document with a desire for continuity with existing strategy and budgets, while receiving new guidance from political leadership. Continuity can be a good thing to a global audience, denoting stability between administrations based on accepted practices. While many people may focus on the temperament and statements of political leaders who have the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the important feature of the Nuclear Posture Review is the discussion on how the U.S. nuclear enterprise maintains a modern, safe, secure, and credible nuclear deterrent capability over time. The commonalities between the 2010 and 2018 reviews begins with a commitment to the strategic triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable bombers carrying either nuclear gravity bombs or air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs). Both call for working with Russia and China on maintaining strategic stability, not so much as adversaries than as peer competitors. Both documents support a continued NATO nuclear capability and address the threat of nuclear terrorism as an aspect of a global environment featuring stockpiles of nuclear weapons. These elements were also present in the 1994 and 2001 Nuclear Posture Reviews.[62] Both reports commit to arms control efforts such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (or at least the spirit of those measures). And they both call for modernizing the nuclear arsenal and nuclear weapons labs. Finally, neither administration committed to a “no-first use” policy in either document. Fred Kaplan views this continuity as troubling, as it reflects the ingrained practices of a U.S. nuclear enterprise that pre-dates the Trump administration, a military machine that has a particular view that was only partially accepted by political leaders — up to now.[63] Certainly this friction between military operators and their political masters has been well-documented (by Kaplan, among others) and has existed since the beginning of the Atomic Age. However, there is in fact a defined process by which all military capabilities are developed, including nuclear weapons, which involves the identification of technical requirements that will guide the procurement and operation of weapon systems, allowing military agencies to meet defined policy objectives. The military — including those within the U.S. nuclear enterprise — understands that its operations are subordinate to political direction. At the same time, it is better to avoid sudden changes in defense acquisition efforts because of broader fiscal or policy implications. There are also some obvious differences between the 2010 and 2018 reports that require more detailed discussion. Perhaps the greatest concern is what some see as the Trump administration’s reduction of the nuclear use threshold. While the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review maintains the “negative security assurance” toward countries that are part of the NPT and in compliance with non-proliferation obligations,[64] there is an exception for adversaries using “non-nuclear strategic attack technologies” that the United States has difficulties countering. The document includes chemical, biological, cyber, and large-scale conventional aggression as examples of strategic threats that may require a nuclear response. The Obama administration similarly claimed there was a “narrow range of contingencies in which U.S. nuclear weapons may still play a role in deterring a conventional or [chemical-biological weapon] attack against the United States.”[65] A policy of strategic ambiguity on the use of nuclear weapons makes this issue more difficult to argue as right or wrong, but both administrations use “catastrophic destruction” as a measure for when a nuclear response to a non-nuclear strategic attack is warranted.[66] Short of a total war scenario, it is very unlikely that we will see an adversary use massive amounts of chemical, biological, cyber, or conventional weapons to the extent that the United States would use nuclear weapons in response. It’s a poorly-thought out hypothetical scenario that policy makers have unwisely put into practice. Some critics view the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review as a call for using nuclear weapons in more situations. However, one could argue that this is merely a continuation of the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear plans that began at the start of the 21st century.[67] The Obama administration stressed the need to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks without ruling out the possibility that nuclear weapons might be required “to defend the vital interests of the United States.”[68] This inherently requires integration of nuclear and non-nuclear plans. The Trump administration has been more direct in its language, but its view is not significantly different. Non-proliferation advocates see nuclear weapons as Cold War artifacts, things that should only be thought of in terms of a strategic nuclear exchange between two superpowers. Others recognize that, in the second nuclear age, limited nuclear weapons use during a regional conflict is a very real scenario that needs to be considered. Integrating nuclear and non-nuclear weapons use is a rational path toward developing tailored regional deterrence strategies. Contrary to that forward-looking view, the 2018 review’s remarks about utilizing nuclear and non-nuclear options for “damage limitation”[69] seems to echo language once found in Cold War strategies. Critics point to the 2018 review’s talk of low-yield nuclear weapons as evidence of an increased desire to make nuclear weapons more “usable.”[70] There is a lot to unpack here, but first let’s talk about the idea of usable nuclear weapons. That’s a feature, not a bug. It’s popular to say (if not paradoxical) that nuclear weapons are needed so that they are never used. Successful deterrence is measured by the absence of nuclear strikes during a foreign policy crisis. At the same time, nuclear weapons are in fact designed to be used. That’s a fundamental point of deterrence. If they could not be used, either due to technological constraints or lack of political will, adversaries would not be deterred from using their own nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons, even low-yield nuclear weapons, cannot be made “more usable.” If mounted on a delivery system, they’re as usable as they’re going to get. The argument that U.S. presidents may be more easily swayed by military advisors to employ a low-yield nuclear weapon in limited strikes against an adversary is not credible. For one thing, the United States had thousands of low-yield nuclear weapons in its stockpile up until 1991. Despite significant security crises and plenty of operational concepts for using them, U.S. presidents have resisted their employment because they understood the consequences of using such weapons.[71] The debate as to whether the United States can control escalation in a future conflict that features limited nuclear weapons use is not new.[72] Some believe that the United States can control escalation in a conflict that ranges across conventional, cyber, space, and nuclear domains. Many others caution against assuming that adversaries will be rational decision-makers and that communications between them and the U.S. government will not be misinterpreted. We will continue to have those debates. Nuclear-weapon states other than Russia and China could threaten U.S. national security interests, requiring the United States to consider limited nuclear weapons use. Identifying current and future roles for nuclear weapons use in post-Cold War scenarios is not making nuclear weapons “more usable.” It has been a feature of U.S. security planning for decades. There are some good questions about the exact modernization plans to develop these low-yield weapons. Obviously, one of the biggest differences between the 2010 and 2018 Nuclear Posture Reviews is that the Obama administration proposed not to develop new nuclear warheads and to retire the B83 gravity bomb, a weapon certainly designed for the Cold War, while the Trump administration appears to be reversing direction on both issues. It is hard to rationalize retaining the B83 bomb “until there is sufficient confidence in the B61-12 gravity bomb,” if only because the B61-12 bomb appears to be a solid acquisition program with minimal technological risk.[73] If the B61-12 bombs become available in 2020, as the National Nuclear Security Administration projects, it is unclear why the Air Force would need to maintain the B83 bomb as an active weapon for two more years. Similarly, the idea of modifying a Trident D5 warhead to provide a low-yield option in lieu of a future submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM), as proposed in the new review,[74] is puzzling at first glance. For one, it is probably a misnomer to call a modified Trident warhead a “low-yield option,” as one understands it in the general context of non-strategic nuclear weapons. Perhaps it would be better to call it a “lower-yield” option. Certainly the U.S. Navy used to have a nuclear variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile as a non-strategic nuclear weapon. Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld has called for bringing this system back to counter Russian violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.[75] The 2018 review specifically identifies this option as a counter to the Russian treaty violation without causing a violation of U.S. treaty compliance.[76] There are concerns about the inability of national leaders to discern conventional from nuclear cruise missile attacks, which could lead to uncontrolled escalation. Others will point to the past decades in which both Russian and U.S. militaries have used conventional cruise missiles while deploying nuclear cruise missiles, without any apparent miscommunications. It may take years to execute the “analysis of alternatives” and operationalize this concept, calling into question how or whether the Russians will react to this action. In regards to either proposed development — the air-launched gravity bombs or the sea-launched weapons — the Trump administration would not be creating new nuclear weapons as much as it would be returning old warheads back into operation. The 2018 review assures us that there would be no violation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). So why all the anxious talk about low-yield nuclear weapons and their “usability”? The Defense Science Board foreshadowed this issue in 2016 in its report “Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration.” It called for consideration of “lower yield, primary only options” to offer capabilities as “a convincing hedge to future uncertainties,” to include possible adversarial actions by Russia, China, and North Korea.[77] Again, this is not a new debate. Non-strategic nuclear weapons, sometimes called tactical nuclear weapons because of their intended use within a theater of conflict against discrete military targets, are not addressed by any bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia. New START only addresses strategic nuclear delivery systems and numbers of associated warheads that are operationally deployed.[78] It may be that the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review is intended to signal to Russian political and military leaders that they ought to consider limits on tactical nuclear weapons in the next arms control talks. There is historical precedent for this. In the mid- to –late-1980s, the Reagan administration was moving to produce binary chemical weapons at Pine Bluff Arsenal. When Congress authorized the funding for that action, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called for talks between the two nations to eliminate chemical weapons.[79] There are other examples of the U.S. government increasing strategic force capabilities as a lever for arms control talks, such as the deployment of Pershing II missiles to Europe to cause the Soviets to negotiate a Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces.[80] If the decision to return SLCMs into operation is not solely based on convincing Russia to change its direction on its treaty violations, it may be to reassure allies such as Japan and South Korea, as well as NATO allies, that the United States has a flexible and effective option to deter regional adversaries from threatening them with limited nuclear weapons attacks. It’s difficult to assess whether our allies will in fact be assured by this “new” capability. The U.S. nuclear arsenal does already have low-yield nuclear options, including the B61 gravity bomb and the current (but aging) ALCM. However, adding a sea-based variant of a lower-yield weapon increases the challenges to an adversary’s war plans by providing a proportional response to any threatened use of tactical nuclear weapons.[81] Modern air defense systems may thwart U.S. air-launched options, and using SCLMs will not require bilateral agreements with allies in regards to basing rights (necessary for tactical airplanes loaded with nuclear gravity bombs). But the weapons do have to be “useable.” Perhaps one of the greatest differences between the two reports is their respective tones — the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review provided a clear strategic policy discussion on how the United States would reduce the role of nuclear weapons, address nuclear terrorism concerns, and maintain the nuclear Triad until future arms control talks progress toward future nuclear reductions. The 2018 review bluntly cuts off all talks of nuclear reductions, suggesting that the global threat environment had become such that this is not an option. Instead, modernization of the entire U.S. nuclear stockpile — including the nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) system — is deemed vital. This includes discussion of a limited role for U.S. nuclear weapons in countering nuclear terrorism, which is certainly a more strident tone than past security discussions on this issue. Make no mistake, this Nuclear Posture Review is a marketing proposal directed to the Congress. This is not meant in a pejorative sense: Congress asked for the review in order to authorize and appropriate funds for nuclear forces. The Obama administration called for budgeting nuclear weapons modernization, including the revitalization of the Department of Energy’s national laboratories that work on nuclear weapons. Arms control advocates, such as the Ploughshares Foundation, rail against what they see as an excessive investment into Cold War artifacts.[82] The cost of modernizing all three legs of the nuclear triad are indeed significant, with estimates from the Congressional Budget Office of $1.2 trillion between 2017 and 2046.[83] However, no other government program is measured in terms of thirty-year cost projections, and overall defense spending during that period will certainly exceed $20 trillion, putting these costs within the five to seven percent range of defense spending. The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review explicitly makes the case that, given the uncertain security environment, the investment is necessary and justifiable. As Adm. Cecil Haney, former USSTRATCOM commander under President Obama, told Congress, “the question really is, can we afford not to” proceed with modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.[84] Some critics have mocked the four graphics within the 2018 review as simplistic and misleading, and yes, these figures, in and of themselves, could be easily challenged in a rigorous academic debate about the U.S. nuclear posture. However, these criticisms miss the point — the graphics aren’t meant to convince the academics or win over critics. These charts have been used by nuclear weapons advocates over the past five to seven years in public discussions supporting the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. They are a consistent message to Congress that preceded the Trump administration and that will continue after it. While the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was meant for an external, global community, the 2018 review was written for an internal, political audience. It’s a message designed to communicate with a Congress whose members are increasingly not conversant on nuclear weapons policy and are consumed with debating many other national topics. Lewis suggested in his earlier review that developing the Nuclear Posture Review is a waste of time and that no one was waiting for the approval of this report to make policy or budget decisions.[85] It’s a study with recommendations; it’s aspirational in nature. The President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2019 was completed before this report was released. Congress could refuse to appropriate the necessary funds to allow these recommendations to move forward. Operational planners within the military are focused on current nuclear capabilities, not promises of future ones. But having an open debate on the role of nuclear weapons in contemporary strategy and policy is a good thing, something that the U.S. national security enterprise had let slip between 1992 and 2010. This discussion on what nuclear weapons capability the United States maintains should not be limited to the nuclear weapons advocates and the nonproliferation community. We need to better understand the vital role that these weapons play in contemporary security issues. This Nuclear Posture Review moves us another step forward in that dialogue. Al Mauroni is the Director of the U.S. Air Force Center for Unconventional Weapons Studies and author of the book, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the U.S. Government’s Policy. The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Air University, U.S. Air Force, or Department of Defense.

5. The Discrimination Problem: Why Putting Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons on Submarines Is So Dangerous

By Vipin Narang The United States has the most diverse and potent nuclear force on the planet, capable of deterring and, if necessary, defeating and destroying any military and any nation on earth. The Trump administration’s recently released Nuclear Posture Review doesn’t think that’s enough.[86] Going beyond the modernization program that upgrades and maintains the existing force, the document calls for a variety of capabilities and missions for American nuclear forces that have long been on Republicans’ wish list. Specifically, the document places a renewed emphasis on expanding the role and size of the low-yield nuclear weapon force (with low yields not being all that low since they include 20 kiloton nuclear weapons, the same as those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).[87] The most notable low-yield capabilities on the wish list include submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs), which could be based on surface ships or submarines.[88] The administration seeks to deploy low-yield nuclear weapons on both missiles to achieve the ultimate mission of the Nuclear Posture Review: to generate more flexible and tailored nuclear responses to a wide spectrum of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks against the United States and its allies. Proponents argue that incorporating more low-yield nuclear weapons into the force posture gives the United States the ability to respond to various forms of aggression with more calibrated responses on the so-called escalation ladder (and in theory, deter or defeat that aggression without escalation to the strategic nuclear level). In other words, the Trump administration hopes to generate options beyond “suicide or surrender.”[89] Although the aim of the low-yield SLBM and SLCM is to close this perceived “deterrence gap,” proponents of these capabilities have elided one key problem: how the adversary may perceive and react to their use. I call this the “discrimination problem.” Right now, all the SLBMs in the American inventory carry multiple — up to eight! — thermonuclear warheads. Mixing these missiles with one or several of the proposed low-yield warheads creates a very real problem: How will the adversary know which of the two is coming its way? It cannot. If the adversary sees a single SLBM headed toward it — even if that missile turns out to only be carrying a low-yield warhead — it must react as if it is facing the full brunt of American strategic nuclear use. It would be catastrophic —potentially nation-ending — to hope otherwise and be wrong. The new low-yield, or nonstrategic, nuclear weapons envisioned in the Nuclear Posture Review would not be the first in the American inventory. There are already four types of aircraft-delivered tactical nuclear weapons in the force posture (three variants of the B-61 gravity bomb and an air launched cruise missile).[90] So why does the review call for additional low-yield options? In a word: Russia.[91] The administration’s basic concern is that Russia may try to use a low-yield nuclear weapon on American or allied forces without the United States being able to successfully respond in kind. This forces America into the “suicide or surrender” dilemma of either not responding at all or escalating directly to the strategic thermonuclear level by retaliating against the adversary’s cities (or against all its nuclear forces directly). The perceived gap in American capabilities is because U.S. aircraft-delivered B61s are vulnerable to Russian air defenses, limited by the range of the aircraft on which they are deployed, and cannot deliver a retaliatory blow as swiftly as ballistic missiles can. Therefore, the Nuclear Posture Review argues, the United States needs a new capability that can penetrate Russian defenses and deliver a low-yield nuclear weapon from anywhere within minutes. The basing mode that achieves this, without requiring a host nation, is at sea.[92] In the near term this would involve modifying existing SLBMs to carry a low-yield variant of an existing warhead (for a variety of reasons, I assume the W76), while working in the long term to deploy a nuclear SLCM. The theory is that fielding this capability will deter Russia from its so-called “escalate to deescalate” nuclear strategy (insofar as that even exists),[93] which is premised on the notion that using nuclear weapons early in a conflict, but in a limited way, will lead the United States to back down. If deterrence fails, low-yield nuclear options deliverable from American submarines provide a flexible and tailored response option to defeat Russian aggression. Here’s why it would be so dangerous to deploy the low-yield SLBM in particular. America presently fields one type of ballistic missile on its 14 nuclear weapons-designated Ohio-class submarines: the Trident II D5 missile. Each Trident missile can carry up to 8 independently targetable warheads, some combination of the W76 thermonuclear warhead (100 kilotons) or the W88 thermonuclear warhead (455 kilotons). Currently, if an adversary were to detect a launch of a Trident missile from an American ballistic missile submarine, there would be no uncertainty about what is coming its way: a strategic nuclear launch of at least about a megaton of yield, perhaps 3.6 megatons. This is, without question, a strategic nuclear launch by the United States aimed at destroying the adversary’s high-value cities, or perhaps its strategic nuclear force itself (also known as a counterforce strike). By reserving the SLBM for strategic nuclear use — and only strategic nuclear use — there is no ambiguity about what a Trident launch means for both the United States and the adversary: all-out nuclear war. But if the United States starts deploying some Tridents with a single low-yield warhead and others with eight thermonuclear warheads, all on the same submarine, how will the adversary know what is coming its way? There is literally no way to tell which warhead yield is atop the missile — no early warning system can discriminate between the low-yield warhead and the strategic nuclear warheads at launch or in flight. Early warning systems can detect the point of launch and perhaps the type of missile fired. But not even the most sophisticated system can discriminate between a W76 or W88 warhead that is set to deliver hundreds of kilotons and a warhead that looks exactly the same but is set to deliver just 20 kilotons. The only thing an adversary sees is a Trident missile launch, which could now be anywhere from 20 kilotons of damage (designed to destroy a military base, for example) all the way up to 3.6 megatons (enough to destroy multiple cities and kill millions of civilians). Even if the early warning system could see that there was only a single warhead instead of eight, how confident are we that the adversary will believe their radars instead of fearing the worst? What does this mean? If the adversary detects even a single missile launch, it has no choice but to react as if the United States has decided to escalate to the strategic nuclear level. Even if the other side may hope or believe that the incoming warhead might just be a low-yield weapon, it must assume the worst, because the risks of guessing wrong include losing millions of people or potentially its entire nuclear force. It is unrealistic to assume and hope — in the thick fog of a nuclear war  —that the adversary will wait until the warhead has landed, do a detailed yield assessment (even if 20 kilotons hits, how are they to know it wasn’t just because the second stage of a thermonuclear weapon fizzled?), and then choose not to respond because it was “only” 20 kilotons instead of 3.6 megatons. Think about it this way: if the United States detected that Russia had launched a missile off a submarine, that carried either a low-yield nuclear weapon or 8 strategic nuclear weapons, how would it react? Would it assume it is the low yield option and wait for it to hit the continental United States before reacting and retaliating? Of course not. Yet this is what America is hoping its adversaries will do. When it comes to waging a nuclear war, it is simply unrealistic to base a whole strategy on hoping that an adversary assumes the best-case scenario. The adversary’s most logical move is to respond as though full-scale nuclear war has started — which means that even if they were wrong, the end result and the consequences are the same. The use of a low-yield SLBM, supposedly built for a “small” nuclear conflict and to calibrate escalation, has now leapt to strategic nuclear war because of how the adversary is forced to react. Furthermore, mixing low- and high-yield nuclear weapons on Trident missiles, one of the key systems the United States would use in a counterforce mission targeting an adversary’s nuclear forces, poses a particular problem if an adversary is worried about the survivability of its arsenal (even Russia may worry about this given America’s persistent emphasis on counterforce and damage limitation capabilities). Such an adversary may experience “use-them-or-lose them” pressures at the sight of a single Trident launch (doubts about their early warning system could lead them to believe many more are headed their way).[94] An adversary which fears that the United States is about to wipe out its arsenal may have no choice but to launch everything it has before even knowing what is actually incoming. This is certainly the case if the adversary is North Korea, it might be the case for China, and could plausibly be the case for Russia. The argument that an adversary might be nonchalant about “only one or two” Trident missiles headed its way makes delusional assumptions about how a state facing the most potent nuclear force on the planet might react.[95] For many nations, “one or two” Trident missiles with eight to 16 strategic nuclear warheads would be life-ending. They cannot afford to be complacent or assume best-case scenarios.[96] This is why it is so important to load only strategic nuclear warheads on SLBMs, so there is no ambiguity about American intentions and about what is being launched at the adversary. The virtue of keeping SLBMs (and intercontinental ballistic missiles) single-assigned strictly with strategic nuclear warheads is that these missiles are the signal that the United States has escalated to the strategic nuclear level. The discrimination problem outlined here applies very specifically to mixing low-yield and strategic nuclear weapons on the same missile and same system, deployed on the same platform (in this case submarines). The same concern would apply equally to a proposal to load low-yield nuclear weapons onto intercontinental ballistic missiles. The low-yield cruise missile may be a less bad option in this regard, since cruise missiles have different flight profiles and only carry a single nuclear warhead. An adversary is less likely to mistake a single cruise missile launch for full strategic retaliation. However, proponents still need to explain why it is necessary — other than to try to develop a bargaining chip to force Russia back into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.[97] It’s unclear what deterrence gap the new SLCM capability will fill after the long-range standoff cruise missile with a low-yield option is developed to replace the current air-launched cruise missiles.[98] In trying to deter more — and lower — forms of aggression with nuclear weapons and broaden the deterrence spectrum, the Nuclear Posture Review generates real risks of spirals of nuclear escalation in a crisis or war. It tries to reintroduce the idea of a calibrated “escalation ladder” — the notion that in a conflict the United States and the adversary can have various “rungs” of very precise and controlled nuclear exchanges of varying intensities without unintentional escalation.[99] The heroic assumptions made by the idea of such a “ladder” are too numerous to address here. But a primary one is that it erroneously assumes the United States can alone control the climbing of that ladder without the enemy getting a vote. The concept fails to consider how the very existence of ambiguous nuclear systems — is it low-yield or thermonuclear? — can blow up the ladder. While the idea of a low-yield SLBM may be attractive in a sterile game theory seminar, in a real conflict with real decision makers, it is a recipe for uncontrollable nuclear escalation. Vipin Narang is associate professor of political science and a member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

6. Policy or Party Platform? Making Sense of the Trump Nuclear Posture Review

By Janne E. Nolan and Brian Radzinsky In a matter of days, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review has joined the ranks of Colin Kaepernick and global warming as a shibboleth for one’s political tribe. Critics argue that the 100-page document is dangerously regressive,[100] calls for unnecessary nuclear capabilities,[101] and makes nuclear war more likely.[102] Others praise the Nuclear Posture Review’s emphasis on deterring a rising China and recalcitrant Russia.[103] A few observe that the document largely reaffirms longstanding precepts, intentions, and motivations underlying the U.S. nuclear posture, particularly because it endorses the last administration’s ambitious program for nuclear force modernization. These voices of moderation, however, are in the minority. Polemics aside, it is misleading to read the Nuclear Posture Review as a straightforward statement of U.S. nuclear doctrine. It is more helpful to think of the review like a political party platform: a formal statement of values and goals crafted by strongly principled individuals who do not always agree but nonetheless must arrive at a rough consensus. This Nuclear Posture Review, like those before it, is not a comprehensive set of prescriptions binding nuclear planners and operators and the vast enterprise that supports them. It is not an internally consistent account of the priorities and values of high-ranking individuals, including the president of the United States or, necessarily, the secretary of defense. Like a platform, the review contains some well-intentioned aspirations as well as many inherent contradictions. Most importantly, as with most party platforms, the document’s primary purpose is to communicate the views of political leaders rather than establish operational requirements. The ways in which nuclear plans and posture decisions are made in the United States make it inherently difficult to put the Nuclear Posture Review’s most ambitious goals into practice. Declaratory policy — what is said publicly about U.S. nuclear weapons and strategy — is the province of political leaders who face strong political and personal incentives to align rhetoric about nuclear weapons with their preferred approach to foreign policy. Meanwhile, the actual procedures for the employment of nuclear weapons are the responsibility of military planners within U.S. Strategic Command. Unlike political leaders, who focus on nuclear issues intermittently, military planners are challenged to translate abstract political goals into operationally effective real-world plans. The Nuclear Posture Review sits astride these communities, with their divergent priorities and capacities for attention. As a result, presidents and their advisers may find themselves disappointed that these documents do not directly translate into changes in the operational posture. The history of these reviews suggests that differences in emphasis and content are not a product of deep differences in core values or priorities that have long guided assumptions about the relative utility of nuclear weapons in American security. Nuclear posture reviews have always inhabited the mainstream of the nuclear enterprise — the community of expertise and practice that endures beyond the tenures of presidents and parties. Where these documents do differ is in how their drafters respond to two fundamental questions about U.S. nuclear policy: All nuclear posture reviews represent an incoming presidential administration’s answers to these questions and the relative priority accorded to different approaches. In the course of defending their preferred approach to nuclear strategy, however, both supports and detractors of this and past reviews tend to overlook a number of shared assumptions and common conceptual blind spots.  Proponents on all sides are especially likely to overstate America’s ability to influence the behavior of allies, adversaries, and future proliferators through its operational or declaratory policies. The disjuncture between what nuclear posture reviews set out to accomplish and what they actually achieve should lead observers to consider the documents in the context of broader decisions about the posture and nuclear force planning. Outside observers tend to scrutinize these reviews while failing to familiarize themselves with the content of operational plans and policies. The content of these plans, the assumptions behind them, and the weapons capabilities they support constitute America’s actual nuclear posture. Same goals, different strategies Nuclear planning is made difficult because of the lack of strong evidence about how the character and composition of American nuclear forces affect the behavior of others. In the absence of such clarity, decision-makers and experts tend to fall back on their broader worldviews and beliefs about the nature of international politics. Debates about the nuclear posture tend to feature two roughly coherent camps. On one side are those who advocate for a greater role for nuclear capabilities in achieving deterrence and nonproliferation. On the other are skeptics who doubt whether nuclear weapons can deter aggression short of a major nuclear attack. Those in the first camp tend to argue that nuclear weapons backstop American efforts to assure allies, deter adversaries, and prevent proliferation. The second school of thought holds that nuclear weapons can be a liability in these endeavors. The drafters of the latest Nuclear Posture Review believe that aggression and proliferation can be deterred by making the threat of American nuclear use more realistic, and therefore advocate an expansive role for nuclear weapons in promoting deterrence and nonproliferation. In practice, this means fielding nuclear capabilities that are sufficiently discriminate and low-yield that an American president might conceive of actually using them in extreme circumstances. The imperative of creating a sufficiently believable risk of American nuclear escalation also drives many advocates to favor extensive counterforce capabilities—precise nuclear weapons capable of attacking an adversary’s nuclear weapons and the supporting command and control networks. For advocates, limited options, such as the low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, and counterforce capabilities help support U.S. commitments to extend nuclear deterrence to allies. Limited options and damage limitation are the price to pay for extending deterrence to allies.[104] Importantly, such advocates come from both parties. Democratic and Republican presidents alike have pursued and endorsed low-yield, “flexible” options and damage limitation capabilities.[105] The question of how to make the threat of nuclear use credible not just in cases involving the survival of the U.S. homeland, but also in the defense of allies is arguably the fundamental question in nuclear strategy, animating most of the debate through the Cold War.[106] Advocates of a more expansive role for nuclear weapons also emphasize the role of these weapons in dissuading other countries, allies and adversaries, from pursuing their own nuclear capabilities. Like advocates of a U.S. grand strategy of primacy, these analysts tend to argue that usable nuclear capabilities project resolve and dissuade competition, including from future proliferators attempting to blunt or match U.S. nuclear capabilities.[107] Like advocates of primacy, proponents of a more credible and militarily effective nuclear posture tend to downplay the risk that American behavior will be misperceived by outside observers. In contrast, skeptics of the need to procure a spectrum of flexible and modernized nuclear capabilities argue that adversaries are likely to be antagonized and even emboldened rather than cowed by nuclear capabilities that seem more usable. These analysts also maintain that nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous, and no amount of safing, security, or command and control refinements can eliminate the latent risk of escalation or accidental nuclear war.[108] For skeptics, deterrence depends on restraint,[109] nuclear weapons are only fit to deter nuclear attacks on the homeland,[110] and conventional capabilities can make up for nuclear capabilities at an affordable cost.[111] While some who hold these views also tilt in favor of global nuclear disarmament, few would quarrel with the need to invest in the existing nuclear infrastructure to keep it safe and secure.[112] Indeed, often lost in the many debates over the nuclear posture in Washington is the significant common ground that advocates and skeptics occupy. Both largely seek to advance the twin goals of deterrence and nonproliferation, albeit disagreeing on the relative priority afforded to each. Advocates and skeptics also disagree on the best means and ways through which to achieve these goals. In other words, the principal divide in American nuclear policy debates is over tactics and strategies rather than ends. This kernel of consensus is often missing from the prevailing discourse. Advocates and skeptics also tend to leave unexamined a number of shared assumptions about the relationship between what the United States says and does, and what allies and adversaries say and do. Both sides assume that allies and adversaries are closely scrutinizing and reacting to shifts in U.S. declaratory and operational policy. On the contrary, scholars have struggled to establish a general relationship between the character of security guarantees and whether or not an ally still chooses to acquire its own nuclear forces.[113] The United States often has had to rely on coercion and denial as well as persuasion to restrain the nuclear ambitions of its allies.[114] Similarly, nuclear skeptics who argue for a greater role for conventional forces in deterrence and assurance tend to downplay strong evidence that adversaries might explore the pursuit of nuclear weapons because the United States has been willing and able to rely on overwhelming conventional power.[115] Similarly, these skeptics argue forcefully for continued U.S. engagement and leadership in the world, while underestimating the extent to which the liberal international order continues to be underwritten by nuclear deterrence.[116] Analysts on both sides at times make bold and sometimes unsubstantiated assertions about the consequences and implications of their preferred approach to nuclear policy. For instance, advocates of a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile do not provide evidence, even from simulations and operations research, showing that Russian early warning systems could discriminate between a single SLBM and a massive counterforce attack.[117] This leaves advocates open to attack from skeptics who cite Cold War-era findings of the difficulties and fraught tradeoffs involved in a variety of nuclear employment scenarios. For instance, multiple studies and war games have concluded that battlefield nuclear uses posed extensive hazards to American and allied servicemen and women while creating severe command and control challenges.[118] Similarly, the history of planning for limited nuclear uses is one of contending with potentially unsolvable tradeoffs. “[Such] attacks must be effective yet at the same time recognizably limited…the command and control system must ‘endure’ so that the withheld forces can be kept under control…”[119] In turn, critics assert that no new nuclear capabilities are needed because current ones will suffice. But skeptics of the need for a new nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missile, for example, often fail to address how Russian and Chinese anti-access/area-denial capabilities affect the ability of U.S. or allied fighters and bombers to deliver their nuclear payloads.[120] We do not mean to suggest that either side is wholly correct or incorrect, but rather that both are interpreting the same narrow body of evidence in a way that downplays the significant ambiguity inherent in nuclear decision-making. Perhaps one explanation for the remarkable continuity in U.S. nuclear policy is the need to hedge against the limits and risks of an uncertain world. The common response to ambiguity at the operational level has been to build in redundancies in forces and planning assumptions, embracing the notion that if a little deterrence is good, more is probably better. The long-standing debate between advocates and skeptics has played out in the post-Cold War era’s four Nuclear Posture Reviews. Yet in rehearsing this debate over multiple presidential administrations, both advocates and skeptics have failed to engage with the substance of nuclear plans and policies. As a result, none of the most ambitious prescriptions in past reviews have translated into lasting changes in operational capabilities and employment plans. Past Nuclear Posture Reviews: Dyads, Hedges, and New Triads The nuclear posture review process is a post-Cold War phenomenon, born out of the Clinton administration’s desire to conduct a "bottom-up review” of force structure in light of the new international environment and congressional pressure on defense budgets.[121] Subsequent reviews were undertaken in 2001, at the start of the George W. Bush administration, and in 2009, at the start of the Obama administration.[122] What is most striking is how little these documents ended up transforming the American nuclear posture. Every review failed to bring about major changes in the U.S. operational nuclear posture despite repeatedly averring that nuclear weapons were contributing less and less to U.S. national security goals. Undertaken in the context of a remarkably benign international security environment, the 1994 review found that “nuclear weapons are playing a smaller role in U.S. security than at any other time in the nuclear age.”[123] Consequently, Clinton’s bottom-up review of the Nation’s defense posture, of which the Nuclear Posture Review was a component, set forth the goal of enhancing and sustaining U.S. conventional superiority. Meanwhile, the Nuclear Posture Review called for “a much smaller nuclear arsenal,” to be achieved through “dramatic reductions.”[124] But the document also concluded that the United States had to “hedge” against a return to nuclear competition with Russia, and called for retaining sufficient nuclear weapons to reconstitute past force levels if needed?.[125] Consequently, while the Clinton administration reduced deployments of both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons, the actual number of nuclear warheads in the stockpile remained more or less the same well into the 2000s.[126] The Clinton review, moreover, retained the possibility of using nuclear weapons first in response to a chemical or biological  attack against the United States or its allies.[127] The George W. Bush administration also set itself a goal of dramatically recasting American nuclear strategy through the nuclear posture review process. It too failed to bring about dramatic change. The Bush Nuclear Posture Review, begun in 2001, boldly declared that the United States was replacing the Cold War nuclear triad of bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and sea-launched ballistic missiles with a “New Triad” comprising a mix of nuclear and non-nuclear global strike capabilities, a variety of strategic defenses including missile defense, and a defense infrastructure geared for constant and rapid innovation. Although the Bush administration’s abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty opened the door for new missile defense endeavors, the New Triad was never institutionalized in operational planning. Indeed, the principal drafter of the 2001 review, then Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Forces Policy Keith Payne, has not reprised the framework in his subsequent work. Like the Reagan administration before it, the Bush Nuclear Posture Review failed to make strategic defenses a central component of U.S. deterrence policy. President Barack Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review departed from its predecessors in giving significant consideration to nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and disarmament. Yet that document also failed to realize many of its ambitions. Some of the same analysts who criticize the Trump Nuclear Posture Review today chided the Obama administration for failing to “clearly and significantly reduce the role of and numbers of nuclear weapons” in U.S. posture and policy, and for entirely preserving the configuration and operational assumptions embedded in the nuclear triad.[128] Most notably, while calling for reducing the role of nuclear weapons and discouraging proliferation through force reductions, the Obama review also endorsed the most ambitious program of nuclear modernization in three decades. Same as it ever was? Still, it is possible that the past is not a prologue for the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The 2016 election demonstrated that American politics and policy are at times less predictable than many analysts presume. Like President Donald Trump’s ambitious campaign pledges, however, the review must contend with the strong tendencies toward continuity which inhere in American government. There are reasons to suspect that these will militate against dramatic changes in the nuclear posture. There remains a large and persistent disconnect between debates in Washington and the day-to-day requirements and challenges facing nuclear operators. While political leaders and outside experts have focused on debating the role of nuclear weapons, military planners have been forced to adapt nuclear plans to meet the requirements of military effectiveness and operational reliability if deterrence fails.  Bridging this gap is the responsibility of political leaders, who bear the responsibility of harmonizing nuclear plans with national priorities and directives. However, the complexity of and need for secrecy surrounding nuclear planning, and the strong incentives for presidents and their staffs to direct their efforts elsewhere, mean that few have succeeded in doing so.[129] Janne E. Nolan is the Chair of the Nuclear Security Working Group, a bipartisan group of senior policy experts who promote bipartisan discourse about the benefits of nuclear deterrence and nuclear diplomacy. Currently on the international affairs faculty of the Elliott School at George Washington University, she has held senior policy positions in the Department of State and the U.S. Senate and served as an appointee of several blue ribbon commissions, including the White House Presidential Advisory Board on U.S. Arms and Technology Policy (chair), the National Defense Panel, the Department of State’s Accountability Review Board, the Panel to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the U.S., and the Defense Policy Board. She is the author of nine books and many articles about U.S. national security. Brian Radzinsky is deputy director of the Nuclear Security Working Group and a Ph.D candidate-in-residence at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. 

7. Expanding the Options and Lowering the Threshold for Nuclear Weapons

By James B. Steinberg There was an Alice in Wonderland dimension to the launch of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. For months, candidate Trump, then President Trump, had insisted that the United States need a more robust nuclear capability.[130] Yet on February 2, six senior administration officials took the stage at the Pentagon to release the new Nuclear Posture Review, assuring the world that nothing was new. Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan: “This review is consistent with U.S. nuclear policies since the end of the Cold War.” “[No] recommendation requires developing new nuclear warheads [or] increase[ing] the size of our nuclear stockpile.” “The NPR clarifies longstanding policy that extreme circumstances would include significant non-nuclear strategic attack.” Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon: “The review also affirms that the U.S. will not resume nuclear explosive testing.” “The 2018 NPR highlights the Trump administration’s commitment to… the long-term goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood: “You’ll see mostly, in the Nuclear Posture Review, a lot of continuity with past policy with respect to the role of nuclear weapons to provide deterrence overall.” “With respect to US nuclear declaratory policy of the United States, as articulated in the nuclear posture review, is constant with that of the past”. So despite Trump’s hype, are we to conclude that Curtis LeMay has not been resurrected after all, and the worst fears of anti-nuclear advocates not realized? Is Trump’s nuclear policy just another example (like the Iran nuclear agreement or NAFTA) of strong rhetoric not matched by reality? Not exactly. In a few moments of candor, some key features of the document came through during the otherwise soothing briefing. Dan Brouillette, Deputy Secretary of Energy: “This year’s NPR reflects a clear-eyed approach to modernizing our aged Cold War nuclear arsenal … The review supports change in the specific area of nuclear weapons reduction” (emphasis added). Rood: “So that our deterrent can be credible, we have, as mentioned in the report, said that we would pursue some supplementary capabilities” (emphasis added). So, what is new here — and is there cause for alarm? The initial commentary has focused on two features of the Nuclear Posture Review. The first is the deployment of two new capabilities: a low-yield nuclear warhead for the submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), and the reintroduction of the nuclear-tipped sea- launched cruise missile (SLCM), which was withdrawn from deployment by President George H.W. Bush and canceled by President Barack Obama.[131] The second feature is a new declaratory statement that the United States would consider using nuclear weapons in response to “non-nuclear strategic attacks.” These are defined to include “attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on US or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”[132] In these two ways, Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review represents a significant departure from the last one, issued in 2010 under Obama, which emphasized reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy and working to establish “a universal policy that deterring nuclear attack is the sole purpose of nuclear weapons.”[133] Indeed, the two developments in the Trump administration document could presage a significant expansion of the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy:
…the US will maintain the range of nuclear flexible nuclear capabilities needed to ensure that nuclear or non-nuclear aggression against the United States, allies and partners will fail to achieve its objectives and carry with it the credible risk of intolerable consequences for potential adversaries now and in the future (emphasis added).[134]
The heart of the case for the new capabilities and new doctrine is what the administration asserts is  “the rapid deterioration of the threat environment since the 2010 NPR.”[135] The administration points to Russia and China, “which have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyber space;” North Korea, which “continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities;” and Iran, “which retains the technological capability and the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon within one year of a decision to do so.”[136] The report also cites “an unprecedented range and mix of threats, including major conventional, chemical, biological, nuclear, space and cyber threats, and violent non-state actors.” In evaluating the new Nuclear Posture Review, the question is twofold: Does the threat environment require a change; and if so, does the proposed solution fit the bill? We need to examine each of these asserted threat profiles and whether they individually or collectively justify the new capabilities and declaratory policies. In doing so, it’s important to note one thing that has not changed in the new review: the administration’s commitment to the negative nuclear assurances, or vows not to use nuclear weapons, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The document reiterates past policy: “The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”[137] Thus, there is a relatively finite number of cases not covered by this negative assurance that could justify the proposed changes, both of which move the United States toward a lowered threshold for nuclear use.[138] This case-by-case assessment is particularly important because a major theme of the report is “tailored deterrence,” or the idea that “there is no ‘one size fits all’ for deterrence.”[139] The report argues (correctly in my view) that what makes for effective deterrence cannot be determined in the abstract against a generic opponent, but must take into account the particular interests, capabilities and goals of each potential adversary. The problem with the document is not with the idea of tailored deterrence, but rather the failure to make the case for new capabilities and the new doctrine it calls for. On the contrary, the net result of the proposed changes is to make the United States and its partners less secure by lowering the nuclear threshold and raising the risk of uncontrolled escalation in a crisis. Russia Russia plays a central role in the administration’s narrative. Specifically, the document asserts that Russia “may also rely on threats of limited nuclear first use, or actual first use, to coerce us, our allies, and our partners into terminating a conflict on terms favorable to Russia.”[140] This is sometimes referred to as the “escalate to de-escalate doctrine.”[141] (30) In addition, the report states, “Moscow apparently believes that the United States is unwilling to respond to Russian employment of tactical nuclear weapons with strategic nuclear weapons.”[142] Elsewhere, the report also cites Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) as a further justification for the new systems and doctrine.[143] These statements suggest three possible justifications for fielding nonstrategic nuclear systems[144]: 1) enhancing the credibility of U.S. nuclear deterrence; 2) the need for nuclear warfighting capabilities if deterrence fails, and 3) as an arms control bargaining chip. Credibility of deterrence. The heart of the administration’s argument is that adding new nuclear options to the escalation ladder is necessary to sustain the credibility of the U.S. threat to respond to Russian theater nuclear use. The proposal harks back to the longstanding debate over whether the United States would be self-deterred against attacking the Russian homeland in response to theater nuclear use by Russia (fearing that such a response would escalate into a central nuclear exchange). The administration answers this question in the affirmative, suggesting that new theater weapons offer a more feasible way to attack Russia. Implicit in this logic is a belief that the threat of using a theater weapon is more credible because the United States could be confident Russia would not further escalate if the United States limited its response to nonstrategic weapons, thus mirror imaging Russia’s emerging doctrine of “escalate to de-escalate.” The problem with this line of thinking is that it suggests both sides accept that nuclear war could be limited to the theater without either having to fear an escalation to the strategic level. Far from enhancing deterrence, this rationale quickly morphs into a rationale for nuclear war-fighting (despite the report’s insistence that the United States does not believe in it).[145] Indeed, rather than deterring Russia’s theater nuclear use, the new approach could lead Russia to believe it could use nuclear weapons first without risking the homeland. In this way, the new doctrine arguably lowers the nuclear threshold.[146] Even if one were to buy the report’s logic, the question remains why America’s existing theater capabilities — dual-capable aircraft — are insufficient to do the job of deterring Russia. According to the administration, the principal advantage of the two new systems is that there is no need to base them on allied territory[147] — suggesting that the administration officials think European governments might not support them Thus the administration is, in effect, arguing that to strengthen the regional security assurance against Russian low-yield nuclear threats in Europe, the United States needs to deploy systems that European publics themselves wouldn’t support being deployed on their territory. For an administration preoccupied with “burden-sharing,” this seems a rather curious turnabout. Warfighting. Despite the disclaimers, at least part of the logic for the non-strategic deployments is nuclear warfighting. The report in several places acknowledges that its concept of low-yield use is not simply to strengthen the credibility of deterrence or re-establish deterrence if it fails initially, but for damage limitation if deterrence fails. The language is clear: “non-nuclear capabilities can complement but not replace nuclear forces” for the purpose of damage limitation.[148] This commitment to nuclear warfighting is most evident in the report’s repeated promises to deepen the integration of nuclear and non-nuclear forces at the regional command level.[149] Bargaining chip. A final justification for the new nonstrategic nuclear weapons (especially the submarine-launched cruise missile) is as a bargaining chip. The document argues, “U.S. pursuit of a SLCM may provide the necessary incentive for Russia to negotiate seriously a reduction of its non-strategic nuclear weapons,” going on to reference the example of the intermediate-range deployments of the Reagan years.[150] There is a lot to be said for restoring the vitality of the INF Treaty and the effectiveness of the INF deployments in achieving arms control. But the parallels with the 1980s are doubtful, both because the administration would lack strong European support for the deployments, and because Russia today worries about its conventional force inferiority vis-a-vis NATO and the United States. Moreover, the price the administration seeks to exact in exchange for canceling the new cruise missile goes far beyond the narrow arms control goals of the INF deployments: “if Russia returns to compliance with its arms control obligations, reduces its non-strategic nuclear arsenal and corrects its other destabilizing behaviors, the United States may reconsider the pursuit of a SLCM.”[151] China The NPT’s relationship to the “China threat” is perhaps the most puzzling. The report acknowledges that China’s “declaratory policy and doctrine has not changed” yet insists that “its lack of transparency regarding the scope and scale of its nuclear modernization raises questions regarding its future intent.”[152] The document describes China’s “increasingly assertive posture in disputes with its neighbors” and its possession of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of targeting both the United States and regional allies and theater forces. But it goes on to contend that America’s new tailored approach is designed in part to “prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding that it could secure an advantage through the limited use of its theater nuclear capabilities.”[153] It’s somewhat difficult to imagine the scenario the report has in mind; surely the Pentagon is not worried about China using nuclear weapons to wrest control of the Senkaku Islands. A somewhat more plausible scenario might involve a decision by China to respond forcefully to a move by Taiwan toward independence, coupled with threatening a nuclear attack on U.S. forward forces if the United States were to come to Taiwan’s aid. But here, as with Russia, the question is whether the threat of a theater response would deter China more successfully than strategic forces, particularly in light of the report’s insistence on the need “to credibly threaten intolerable damage as China’s leaders calculate costs and benefits.”[154] As with Russia, rather than strengthening deterrence, this approach arguably incentivizes nuclear warfighting by suggesting to China’s leaders that they are not at risk. In what was surely not intended as irony, the report goes insists that one of the rationales for the “tailored approach” is “to prevent Beijing from mistakenly concluding … that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is acceptable” (emphasis added). If the administration truly believed that “any use of nuclear weapons” was unacceptable, it would raise alarms in Tokyo and Seoul — who believe the United States is willing to use nuclear weapons to defend them. Indeed, the report’s whole approach to deterrence is predicated on making the use of nuclear weapons more acceptable through the deployment of additional low-yield systems. North Korea North Korea figures prominently in the administration’s description of the worsening threat environment, and rightly so given the evolution of the country’s capability and its war-like rhetoric. The question, however, is whether this enhanced threat provides a justification for the new weapons or new doctrine. The report does not explicitly link these to the Korean threat, but it is nonetheless important to consider whether this might provide a justification. There are three relevant scenarios: 1) a North Korean nuclear attack against U.S. allies or the United States itself; 2) a North Korean conventional attack; or 3) a preventive American strike against North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities.[155] In the first case, the report is clear — “any North Korean nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners is unacceptable and will result in the end of the regime.” Given this threat of absolute destruction, it is hard to see the relevance of new low-yield weapons. On the contrary, there is a risk that a move in this direction would undercut the threat that nuclear use would be met with fire and fury. Such a move could suggest the United States might limit its response to a low-yield attack which the regime could “ride out” and still survive. The second scenario at first blush seems more relevant. Certainly, the credibility of the U.S. nuclear guarantee to its allies in the face of a conventional attack by North Korea is critical to dissuading  South Korea and Japan  from believing  they need their own nuclear weapons. That credibility is endangered by North Korea’s emerging ability to threaten the United States with a nuclear strike – raising the classic “decoupling” fear that the U.S would not risk San Francisco to defend Seoul. Some in both countries have argued that returning forward-deployed nuclear forces to the region (beyond the bombers in Guam) would enhance coupling.[156] But even if the North believed that a low yield U.S. nuclear response was more credible than the existing weapons in the U.S. arsenal, that doesn’t necessarily enhance deterrence. If North Korea were convinced that the U.S. response would be short of all-out destruction, the regime might be tempted to “try its luck” with a conventional attack. In addition, the reintroduction of “dual-capable” SLCMs poses a further danger of nuclear escalation. If North Korea detects incoming American SLCMs in response to a North Korean conventional attack, it may believe it has no choice other than to treat them as a nuclear attack and launch its nuclear weapons, even though the United States had not in fact crossed the nuclear threshold. This danger is even greater in the third scenario — a preventive military strike. In this scenario, it would be especially important to convince North Korea that the attack was one of damage limitation or coercion to push North Korea to the bargaining table, rather than the onset of a regime decapitation using low-yield nuclear weapons. It also could be argued that new low-yield options enhance the credibility of US assurances by reducing the radiation and environmental risks to North Korea’ neighbors. Yet given President Trump’s  loose  talk of preemptive strikes because the United States would prefer to fight “over there” (in East Asia) rather than “over here,”)[157] there is greater danger  of “uncoupling” (the United States putting South Korea at risk through a preventive strike against North Korea designed to protect the United States) than “decoupling” (a refusal to honor the security guarantee to South Korea out of fear that North Korea would attack the United States). Iran The report’s presentation of the “tailored strategy for Iran’’ is puzzling.[158] The document repeats familiar concerns about Iran’s capability following the expiration of the nuclear agreement in 2031 (that is, in 13 years) as well as its destabilizing activities in the region and in the cyber realm. The Nuclear Posture Review then asserts, “our deterrence strategy is designed to ensure that Iranian leadership understands that any non-nuclear strategic attack against the United States, allies and partners would be defeated, and the costs would outweigh the benefits.”[159] But there is no specific argument about what role nuclear weapons in general, or the new capabilities the administration seeks in particular, would play in achieving that objective, beyond the cryptic assertion that “U.S. deterrence strategy includes the capabilities necessary to defeat Iranian non-nuclear, strategic capabilities, including the U.S defensive and offensive systems capable of precluding or degrading Tehran’s missile threats.”[160] Whether the relevant “U.S. offensive systems” include nuclear weapons (new or old) is not spelled out, but given the declaratory policy allowing the use of nuclear weapons to deter “non-nuclear strategic aggression,” the possibility cannot be ruled out. Nuclear Terrorism The Nuclear Posture Review reiterates the Obama administration’s “attribution” policy, holding accountable states or other actors that transfer nuclear materials to terrorists.[161] While acknowledging that “the role of US nuclear weapons in countering nuclear terrorism is limited,” the report goes beyond the Obama Nuclear Posture Review to state explicitly  that “a terrorist nuclear attack against the United States or its allies and partners would qualify as an “extreme circumstance” under which the United States would consider the ultimate form of retaliation.” (67-68). There is a compelling case for the attribution policy; the question here is rather whether nuclear retaliation is either necessary or appropriate to deter states from transferring nuclear capability to terrorists. Given the extreme danger posed by nuclear terrorism, any regime contemplating such an action needs to know that it would be signing its own death warrant. Yet curiously, while holding out threat of nuclear use, the review does not explicitly threaten regime change in response to such a transfer (in contrast to the explicit threat to end the North Korean regime if it used nuclear weapons. Is the Trump administration suggesting it might allow a regime that transferred nuclear materials to survive? Moreover, the connection to specific nuclear capabilities is unclear — even if regime change were the object, how would nuclear employment fit into the strategy? Cyber, Biological, and Chemical Attacks The feature of the Nuclear Posture Review that has captured the most attention is the emphasis on a possible U.S. nuclear response to non-nuclear strategic attacks.
The United States would only consider the employment of extreme circumstances [which] could include significant strategic non-nuclear attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on US or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.[162]
Taken literally, this new Trump “codicil” to U.S. first use policy is stunning in its breadth. Consider, for example, the “Shamoon” cyber attack on Saudi Aramco’s infrastructure in 2012, which was attributed to Iran.[163] Responding with nuclear weapons to Shamoon seems clearly with the ambit of the new declaratory doctrine — this in the same report that asserts that the United States has not lowered the nuclear threshold. What could possibly justify such an expansion of potential nuclear use?[164] One supporting argument might suggest that the United States has always reserved the right to respond with nuclear use to the “equivalent” of nuclear attacks — recall James Baker’s warning  Iraq’s Tariq Aziz before the Gulf War about the consequence of using chemical weapons against U.S. forces.[165] But recall also that the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review sought to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons to deter non-nuclear threats.[166] While the Trump document explains why it believes the threat has grown, it does not say why the capabilities that the Obama administration cited in support of overwhelming conventional response would be insufficient to deter cyber attacks. One might view the growing cyber threat — which did not feature heavily in the Obama review — as an example of the threats that are the functional equivalent of a nuclear attack. Putting aside the question of just how devastating a nuclear response would  be and the complex problems of attributing cyber attacks, including deliberate spoofing efforts by third parties to spur a conflict, the question remains whether nuclear first use — even at low yields — will help deterrence cyber attacks. [167] Certainly one could make the case that a cyber attack that was credibly seen as a precursor to a pre-emptive nuclear strike would warrant escalation, and a carefully tailored doctrine to cover such a contingency might be justified. But short of that, using nuclear weapons (even low-yield) in response to a cyber attack by a nuclear power (Russia, China, or North Korea) would risk leading to a wider nuclear exchange. And in the case of non-nuclear powers, a nuclear response would be inconsistent with the administration’s own negative assurances. It would be far better to focus on limiting the effectiveness of cyber attacks through “denial” — enhancing resiliency and redundancy. In the cyber realm, most effective form of deterrence is to reduce the benefits from the attack rather than rely on the threat of punishment.[168] One might argue that there is no harm in creating uncertainty in would-be adversaries’ minds about the nature of the potential response — Thomas Schelling’s threat “that leaves something to chance.”[169] But it is hard to see how the threat of nuclear response to a cyber attack is more credible than other forms of retaliation — especially given the extraordinary costs associated with breaking the “nuclear taboo.”  Perhaps the greatest danger of this open-ended expansion of the range of circumstances under which the United States might use nuclear weapons first is that it undercuts the credibility of the threat where it matters most — in highly specific, highly consequential circumstances. There is always a risk that drawing a highly specific red line will lead the adversary to focus on what is excluded;[170] but even if the adversary concludes that a nuclear response is off the table, the United States has powerful non-nuclear options to inflict devastating punishment. And by expanding the scope of potential use, the United States risks validating the very practices it condemns, especially in the emerging Russian doctrine. A case-by-case analysis of the administration’s perceived threats fails to demonstrate convincingly the need for either the new weapons or the new doctrine. But there is a further problem posed by the “tailored approach.” Although the United States may believe that each potential adversary warrants a unique approach, once the weapons systems are deployed — and the doctrine announced — they influence strategic stability everywhere. So, for example, even though the Trump administration may believe it needs new weapons primarily to because of Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran cannot rule out the possibility that the weapons will be used against them. The result could be to reduce deterrence and undermine crisis stability. There are of course, other reasons to be concerned about the Nuclear Posture Review   its enormous cost, its impact on foreign countries’ views of the United States, which have suffered grievously under the Trump administration. But all of these would be secondary if the document offered a compelling logic for the need to depart from the force structure and doctrine that have guided the United States over the past eight years. Not only has the case not been made, but the dangers associated with what in many respects is a radical departure far outweigh any potential gains. James B. Steinberg is University Professor of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law at Syracuse University, where he was dean of the Maxwell School from July 2011 until June 2016. Prior to becoming dean, he served as deputy secretary of state (2009 to 2011). From 2005 to 2008, he was dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. From 2001 to 2005, Steinberg was vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.  Steinberg served in a number of senior positions under President Bill Clinton, including deputy national security advisor and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. Steinberg’s most recent books are A Glass Half Full: Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century, both with Michael O’Hanlon. Steinberg has an A.B from Harvard University (1973) and a J.D. from Yale Law School (1978).

8. The Russian Rogue in the New Nuclear Posture Review

By Kristin Ven Bruusgaard The new Nuclear Posture Review, released last week by the Pentagon, is aimed at deterring any potential adversaries from contemplating attack or aggression against the United States or its allies. Specifically, it presents Russia as one main reason why the United States needs to expand its nuclear arsenal. However, the document contains two critical flaws that reduce the likelihood that the new U.S. nuclear policy will change the Russian calculus. It misrepresents Russian strategy and it fails to craft a posture that will affect that strategy. The Nuclear Posture Review, as a policy document, has to do with much more than just deterring potential adversaries. It is a description and legitimization of the necessary modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It is also a result of bureaucratic bickering and infighting.[171] In practice, defense policymaking is evidently not an optimized process producing rational outcomes. Still, the review begs to be measured on its own merit: its ability to deter adversaries. The nuclear hawks have it The new Nuclear Posture Review depicts Russia as America’s main adversary — with particularly malign nuclear intentions. The document discusses nuclear coercion, depicts the “salience of nuclear weapons” in Russian strategy, and asserts that Russia’s recent statements on its nuclear doctrine appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first use of nuclear weapons.[172] Yet the official Russian military doctrine does not include any such content.[173] Not a single Russian open source or official source has confirmed that the so-called “escalate to de-escalate” concept is Russian policy. Western analysts and subject matter experts continue to express doubts as to whether this is a correct representation of Russia’s strategy. Despite this fact, U.S. officialdom has clung to the idea that nuclear coercion is a critical component of what the posture review calls “Russia’s evolving nuclear doctrine.”[174] Particularly flawed is the review’s claim that such a strategy hinges on the lack of a U.S. capability to retaliate in kind.[175] This bears no resemblance to the theoretical discussions that do exist on limited nuclear options in Russian military journals. Such articles do not portray an adversary who would cave because of a lack of retaliatory options,[176] but rather one that would cave because the willingness to continue the fight would break down. That adversary would cave because the balance of interest would be in Russia’s favor in any conflict where the very existence of the Russian state was under threat. The idea that Russia’s strategy seeks to exploit a U.S. capability gap is one that has been conceived, developed, and promoted by U.S. strategists. Nevertheless, several Russian strategists express doubts with regard to the efficacy of nuclear coercion against nuclear-armed adversaries.[177] Even Russian officials now emphasize the importance of non-nuclear deterrence to avoid an overreliance on nuclear weapons.[178] Rather than lowering the threshold of nuclear use, the Russians are actively seeking to increase it. The Nuclear Posture Review’s description of Russia’s nuclear strategy is completely at odds with this. So why do influential U.S. strategists continue to perpetuate the “de-escalation” theory? One reason is based on the bureaucratic politics of renewing and expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Describing an adversary who sees a capability gap as a major opportunity is one effective way of securing those capabilities. Another reason is that, given the uncertainty described above, even the remote possibility that Russia would contemplate nuclear coercion means that the United States must do something, anything, to remedy that situation — like developing new low-yield nuclear weapons. The only problem, however, is that the two new types of nuclear weapons proposed in the Nuclear Posture Review are not likely to tilt the balance when Russia contemplates using its own nuclear weapons. Will the Nuclear Posture Review Affect the Russian Military Calculus? If the Russians were uncertain whether nuclear de-escalation would work in the first place, the Nuclear Posture Review does nothing to change the Russian calculus. If Russia were inclined to use nuclear weapons for de-escalation, it would be encouraged by the Western obsession with the concept. In that case, it would have been prudent to capitalize on all the hype. Yet Russian officials have been silent on the subject. They have been too busy emphasizing the apparently increased salience of their non-nuclear deterrence options. Even the Russians appear reluctant to make a reckless nuclear gamble based on uncertain calculations of NATO or U.S. intentions and strength. A war with the West is by far the worst-case scenario for Russian political and military planners, and they know it. The Nuclear Posture Review is, nevertheless, causing concern in Russia. Whereas previous reviews may have increased Russia’s concerns about U.S. conventional weapons,[179] the current review entails increased U.S. strength in the nuclear domain as well.[180] One could argue that while the United States was content with nuclear parity in the previous Nuclear Posture Review from 2010, seeking only conventional superiority, the current review signifies an arms race across the board. This will by no means stymie Russian efforts at enhancing and upgrading their toolkit, including conventional and nuclear weapons, weapons based on new physical principles (including hypersonic weapons), and non-conventional capabilities. The likelihood that the Review’s threats to develop and field a new submarine-launched cruise missile will convince Russia that it should fall back into compliance with the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty seems remote in this context. A key Russian grievance with regards to U.S. conventional superiority is the alleged effect of precision-guided munitions and missile defenses on Russian retaliatory capability. The Russians are concerned about any indications that the United States is no longer willing to accept mutual vulnerability. Russia is currently pursuing ways to overcome this perceived U.S. invulnerability — including by developing new, heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles that are better able to penetrate missile defenses.[181] Russia is already hard at work figuring out how to overcome the challenges they have been facing for the past decades. New, low-yield nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal will constitute yet another hurdle in this quest. New arms beget new arms — it is a familiar pattern. If the new Nuclear Posture Review will change Russian behavior and calculus in any way, it will be to intensify Russia’s paranoia regarding U.S. intentions and its determination to stay in the game. Moreover, Russia will compete symmetrically where it can and asymmetrically when it must. This brings us to a final and consequential military point: Russian analysts and military planners seem acutely, perhaps excessively, aware of their own shortcomings in the conventional domain. This is a key reason Russia retains a large sub-strategic nuclear weapons arsenal and continues to develop nuclear options for new systems. It knows that if a shooting war with NATO were to materialize, Russia would run out of conventional options first. This means that any armed conflict with Russia over issues concerning the “very existence of the Russian state,”[182] as Russia’s military doctrine terms it, will become nuclear. It is wishful thinking to hope that low-yield nuclear weapons will ensure “crisis stability” in conflict with Russia. In a large-scale conventional conflict, those weapons will not change Russia’s willingness to defend itself with nuclear weapons if it feels that the country’s survival is threatened.[183] Deterrence Beyond the Nuclear Domain? The new Nuclear Posture Review will neither slow down nor change Russian military developments or its behavior in future conflicts. Could the review contribute to deterring other types of unwanted Russian behavior, such as its proclivities to engage in election influence, annex neighboring countries, or carry out reckless military exercises and engage in nuclear sabre-rattling? Again, the likelihood of the review dampening Russian behavior is slim. First, these Russian efforts are intended to demonstrate Russian prowess and capability across several domains. They are meant to deter potential adversaries, such as the United States, from contemplating aggression against Russia. The fact that the United States claims it has no such intentions makes little difference to this Russian calculus. Observations of Western military meddling and color revolutions across the globe in the past decades have convinced Moscow that it could be the next target in a Western campaign to promote global democracy.[184] U.S. deterrent efforts will not curtail Russian efforts at deterring us, nor will they convince them that America does not need to be deterred. The opposite effect is more likely: Russia’s deterrent efforts will intensify. Second, the kind of military competition that the Nuclear Posture Review prescribes would be very costly. Russia seems to be willing to engage in such strategic competition for now. But it will not necessarily compete symmetrically. Russian generals consistently encourage their strategists to come up with “new ways of warfare.”[185] In a prolonged strategic competition, Russia may resort to dirty, cheap tricks rather than fancy new equipment (although at the moment it seems intent on doing both). This may not bode well for America’s ability to deter unwanted Russian behavior. If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it The good news is that the United States’ ability to deter Russia was never really in jeopardy. The Nuclear Posture Review has done little to damage that fact. The chance that Russia would ponder aggression against the United States or its allies, given the inherent risks of nuclear escalation, was always slim. The Russians do not desire nuclear war any more than the United States does. The bad news is that the Nuclear Posture Review does increase Russian concerns about U.S. objectives and U.S. strategy. Ironically, the content of the review resembles Russian strategy,[186] with an increased emphasis on sub-strategic nuclear weapons, calls for closer integration of nuclear and conventional planning, and calls for deterrence across the nuclear, conventional, cyber, and space domains. These are all features apparent in Russian strategy and planning that Western officials have called deeply destabilizing over the past four years. Russia may not be as concerned with all these features individually. Combined, however, they will vindicate the claims of Russian military theorists that the United States seeks military superiority, conventionally and now also in the nuclear domain. Although America’s ability to deter Russia was never at risk, its ability to assure the Russians of its benign intentions is. Although the United States fosters no plans to carry out a decapitating strike on Moscow, its military actions and nuclear signaling are likely to intensify Russian concerns about just that. The new Nuclear Posture Review will not change the way Russia would use its nuclear weapons. Possession of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, combined with a perceived conventional inferiority, means that Russia will rely on nuclear weapons in any large-scale war. One key goal for U.S. nuclear policy should be to make sure never to end up in a shooting war that Russia deems existential. The new Nuclear Posture Review does not contribute much toward achieving that goal. Kristin Ven Bruusgaard is Stanton Nuclear Security Predoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University, and a Ph.D. student at King’s College London. Her work has been published in SurvivalSecurity DialogueU.S. Army War College Quarterly Parameters, and War on the Rocks. Image: U.S. Department of Defense [post_title] => Policy Roundtable: The Trump Administration's Nuclear Posture Review [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => policy-roundtable-trump-administrations-nuclear-posture-review [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-09-19 13:06:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-09-19 17:06:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?post_type=roundtable&p=475 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => roundtable [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => We gathered together an excellent group of experts to guide us through the Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => [style] => roundtable [type] => Policy [style_label] => Roundtable [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 142 [1] => 138 [2] => 139 [3] => 71 [4] => 141 [5] => 143 [6] => 20 [7] => 140 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] With apologies to Stanley Cavell. [2] Robert McNamara, “Statement Made on Saturday 5 May by Secretary McNamara at the NATO Ministerial Meeting in Athens,” accessed Feb. 9, 2018, https://robertsmcnamaracom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/1962-05-05-flexible-response-speech-to-nato.pdf. Interestingly, it is called the “Flexible Response Speech” on the web site. A public version was delivered at the University of Michigan commencement on Jun. 16, 1962 and is often referred to as the “Counterforce, No Cities” speech, https://robertsmcnamaracom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/mcnamara-1967-22no-cities22-speech-p.pdf [3] Francis J. Gavin, “The Myth of Flexible Response: American Strategy in Europe during the 1960s,” The International History Review 23, no. 4 (Dec. 2001): 847-875. [4] For Nixon’s blunt, unfiltered views of nuclear strategy, nonproliferation, and arms control, see Francis J. Gavin, Nuclear Statecraft: History and Strategy in America’s Atomic Age (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012), 104-119. Nixon also said, “I don’t give a damn about SALT; I just couldn’t care less about it.” [5] “About Page,” Carnegie International Policy Scholars Consortium and Network, Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, accessed Feb. 12, 2018, https://kissinger.sais-jhu.edu/ipscon.html. [6] Hal Brands, “Trump Doesn’t Believe in His Own Foreign Policy. Does That Matter?” Foreign Policy, Jan. 16, 2018, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/01/16/trump-doesnt-believe-in-his-own-foreign-policy-does-that-matter/. [7] Bernard Brodie, “The Development of Nuclear Strategy,” International Security, 2, no. 4 (Spring 1978): 65. [8] Francis J. Gavin, “Beyond Deterrence: U.S. Nuclear Statecraft since 1945,” in Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age: U.S. and Russian Nuclear Concepts, Past and Present, ed. Linton Brooks, Francis J. Gavin and Alexei Arbatov (Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2018), 6-20. [9] The Jayhawks. “Stumbling Through the Dark (Live on KEXP).” Filmed Jul. 19, 2016 at KEXP studio, Seattle, WA. Video, 2:31. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0Jd1m48MTY. [10] Rebecca Hersman, “Nuclear Posture Review: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same,” Defense360, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Feb. 6, 2018, https://defense360.csis.org/nuclear-posture-review-things-change-stay/. [11] Francis J. Gavin, “Strategies of Inhibition: U.S. Grand Strategy, the Nuclear Revolution, and Nonproliferation,” International Security 40, no. 1 (Summer 2015): 9-46. [12] William Burr, “The Nixon Administration, the ‘Horror Strategy,’ and the Search for Limited Nuclear Options, 1969–1972: Prelude to the Schlesinger Doctrine,” Journal of Cold War Studies 7, no. 3 (Summer 2005): 34. [13] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/. [14] U.S. General Accounting Office, “Report to the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces,” Committee on Armed Services, U.S. Senate, Oct. 2003, https://www.gao.gov/assets/250/240492.pdf. [15] U.S. Department of Defense, “Selected Acquisition Report: Advanced Extremely High Frequency Satellite,” Dec. 2005, http://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/FOID/Reading Room/Selected_Acquisition_Reports/16-F-0402_DOC_01_AEHF_DEC_2015_SAR.pdf [16] “E-4B Fact Sheet,” U.S. Air Force, Sep 23, 2015, http://www.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/104503/e-4b/. [17] James R. Clapper, “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community,” Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 9, 2016, https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Clapper_02-09-16.pdf. [18] Alexey Arbatove, Vladimir Dvorkin, Petr Topychkanov, Tong Zhao, and Li Bin, Entanglement: Russian and Chinese Perspectives on Non-Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Risks, (Washington DC, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2017), http://carnegieendowment.org/files/Entanglement_interior_FNL.pdf. [19] Gen. William L. Shelton, “Space and Cyberspace — Foundational Capabilities for the Joint Warfighter and the Nation,” (speech, Air Force Association Warfare Symposium, Orlando, FL, Feb. 21, 2014), http://web.archive.org/web/20141225171206/http://www.afspc.af.mil/library/speeches/speech.asp?id=747. [20] U.S. Department of Defense, “Report to the Defense and Intelligence Committees of the Congress of the United States on the Status of the Space Based Infrared System Program,” March 2005, https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//NSAEBB/NSAEBB235/42.pdf. [21] Andrew S. Erickson, “Academy of Military Science Researchers: ‘Why We Had to Develop the Dongfeng-26 Ballistic Missile’ — Bilingual Text, Analysis & Related Links,” Andrew S. Erickson (blog), Dec. 5, 2015, http://www.andrewerickson.com/2015/12/academy-of-military-science-researchers-why-we-had-to-develop-the-dongfeng-26-ballistic-missile-bilingual-text-analysis-links/ [22] Sandra Erwin, “Air Force launches new project to update missile-warning ground software,” Space News, Jan. 15, 2018, http://spacenews.com/air-force-launches-new-project-to-update-missile-warning-ground-software/ [23] Curtis Peebles, “High Frontier: The US Air Force and the Military Space Program,” Air Force History and Museums Program, 1997. [24] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review (April 2010). [25] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review (Jan. 2018), 8. [26] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 30. [27] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 9. [28] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 53-54. [29] Interview with Charlie Rose, CBS Sixty Minutes, Sept. 27, 2015, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/vladimir-putin-russian-president-60-minutes-charlie-rose/. [30] See discussion in Jacek Durkalec, “Nuclear Backed Little Green Men: Nuclear Messaging in the Ukraine Crisis” (Warsaw: Polish Institute of International Affairs, 2015). [31] Neil MacFarquhar, “Navigator of Downed Russian Plane Says There Was No Warning,” New York Times, Nov. 25, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/26/world/europe/turkey-russia-jet.html. [32] For a more detailed argument along these lines see Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “Russian Strategic Deterrence,” Survival 58, no. 4 (2016). [33] See overview in Scott Boston and Dara Massicot, “The Russian Way of Warfare: A Primer” (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2017). [34] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 7. [35] Michael Birnbaum, “Russian Submarines Are Prowling Around Vital Undersea Cables. It’s Making NATO Nervous,” Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/russian-submarines-are-prowling-around-vital-undersea-cables-its-making-nato-nervous/2017/12/22/d4c1f3da-e5d0-11e7-927a-e72eac1e73b6_story.html?utm_term=.96bbe9d4e4e5. [36] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 23. [37] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 54 [38] Brendan R. Green and Austin Long, “The MAD Who Wasn't There: Soviet Reactions to the Late Cold War Nuclear Balance,” Security Studies 26, no. 4 (2017). [39] See Robert Jervis, "Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma", World Politics 30, no. 2 (1978). [40] There is a burgeoning literature on this period. For an overview see Green and Long, “The MAD Who Wasn’t There,” 2017; Marc Ambinder, The Brink: President Reagan and the Nuclear War Scare of 1983 (New York: Simon and Schuster, forthcoming 2018); and Benjamin Fischer, “Scolding Intelligence: The PFIAB Report on the Soviet War Scare,” International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 31 no. 1 (2018). [41]See overview of interviews in John Hines, Ellis M. Mishulovich, and John F. Shulle, Soviet Intentions 1965-1985, Volume I: An Analytical Comparison of U.S.-Soviet Assessments During the Cold War (McLean, VA: BDM Federal, 1995). [42] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 35 [43] See longer summary of the challenge of extended deterrence in Austin Long, Deterrence From Cold War to Long War: Lessons from Six Decades of RAND Research (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2008). [44] Quoted in Evan Osnos, “The Risk of Nuclear War With North Korea,” The New Yorker, Sept. 18, 2017, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/18/the-risk-of-nuclear-war-with-north-korea. [45] Former Deputy National Security Adviser Carl Kaysen has claimed “Can we make sure that the Soviets can’t launch a really serious heavy attack on the United States?” And the answer was that in 1961 we could have made sure, with rather a high level of confidence.”  See interview with Carl Kaysen at MIT, 1988, published by UCLA, http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/faculty/trachtenberg/cv/Kaysen.pdf. [46] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 23. [47] James Schlesinger, Some Notes on Deterrence in Western Europe (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1962), 10. [48] For a recent and more in-depth discussion of the feasibility and utility of damage limitation see Brendan Rittenhouse Green, et al., “Correspondence: The Limits of Damage Limitation,” International Security 42, no. 2 (Summer 2017). [49] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 23. [50] Glenn A. Kent and David E. Thaler, First-Strike Stability: A Methodology for Evaluating Strategic Forces (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1989), 5. [51] Denis Healey, The Time of My Life (London: Michael Joseph, 1989), 243. [52] On the German case see Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement 1945-1963 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); and Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions,” International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015). [53] See for example Doug Bandow, “Why Not A South Korean Nuke?” National Interest, Feb. 18, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-skeptics/why-not-south-korean-nuke-15245. [54] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 54. [55] See for example discussion in Michael Bilton, “Dive Bombers,” Sunday Times, Jan. 20, 2008, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dive-bombers-s7llt2vjckq. [56] Vipin Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2014), 3-4. [57] 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, Section 1070, “Revised Nuclear Posture Review,” https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/Authorizing_Legislation.pdf. [58] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF. [59] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf. [60] Jeffrey Lewis, “Reviewing the Nuclear Posture Review,” Arms Control Wonk, Jan. 16, 2018, https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1204661/reviewing-the-nuclear-posture-review/. [61] Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Morning Keynote with NSC Senior Director Christopher Ford,” Mar. 21, 2017, http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/03/21/morning-keynote-with-nsc-senior-director-christopher-ford-pub-68162. [62] Brad Roberts, The Case for U.S. Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2016), 40-41. [63] Fred Kaplan, “Nuclear Posturing,” Slate, Jan. 22, 2018, https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/01/trumps-official-nuclear-policy-reaffirms-the-terrifying-status-quo.html. [64] Arms Control Association fact sheet, “U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance,” updated Apr. 2017, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/negsec. [65] Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, viii. [66] Defense Science Board, Task Force on Cyber Deterrence (Washington, DC: DoD, 2017), 11-12. [67] Vincent Manzo and Aaron Miles, “The Logic of Integrating Conventional and Nuclear Planning,” Arms Control Today, Nov. 2016, https://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/2016_11/Features/The-Logic-of-Integrating-Conventional-and-Nuclear-Planning. [68] Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, viii–ix. [69] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 23. [70] Julian Borger, “US to loosen nuclear weapons constraints and develop more ‘usable’ warheads,” The Guardian, Jan. 9, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/09/us-to-loosen-nuclear-weapons-policy-and-develop-more-usable-warheads. [71] Matthew Costlow, “Big Fears of Small Nukes Overblown,” Breaking Defense, Jan. 23, 2018, https://breakingdefense.com/2018/01/big-fears-of-small-nukes-overblown/. [72] For instance, William Jones, “A Framework for Exploring Escalation Control,” RAND, 1974, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reports/2006/R1536.pdf; and Forrest Morgan, et al., “Confronting Emergent Nuclear-Armed Regional Adversaries,” RAND, 2015, https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR974.html. [73] NNSA fact sheet, “B61-12 Life Extension Program,” undated, https://nnsa.energy.gov/sites/default/files/nnsa/factsheet/b61-12_lep.pdf. [74] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 54-55. [75] Sandy Winnefeld and James Miller, “Bring Back Nuclear Tomahawks,” Proceedings, May 2017, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-05/bring-back-nuclear-tomahawks. [76] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 55. [77] Defense Science Board, Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration (Washington DC: Dept. of Defense, 2016), 23-24, https://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/priorities.htm. [78] U.S. State Department, “New START fact sheet,” accessed Feb. 8, 2018, https://www.state.gov/t/avc/newstart/index.htm. [79] UPI, “Gorbachev: Chemical Arms Cut,” Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1987, http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1987-06-24/news/8702160451_1_chemical-weapons-binary-weapons-soviet-proposals. [80] Federation of American Scientists, “Pershing 2,” accessed Feb. 8, 2018, https://fas.org/nuke/guide/usa/theater/pershing2.htm. [81] Vincent Manzo, “Give the Low-Yield SLBM its Day in Court,” DefenseOne, Jan. 22, 2018, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/01/give-low-yield-slbm-its-day-court/145397/?oref=d-river. [82] Will Lowry, “Russia, US and Nuclear ‘Modernization’: A New Arms Race?” Ploughshares Foundation, Dec. 9, 2015, https://www.ploughshares.org/issues-analysis/article/russia-us-and-nuclear-modernization. [83] Congressional Budget Office, “Approaches for Managing the Costs of U.S. Nuclear Forces, 2017-2046,” Oct. 31, 2017, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53211. [84] U.S. Congress, House Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, President Obama’s Fiscal 2016 Budget Request on Strategic Forces, Hearing, 114th Cong., 1st sess., Feb. 26, 2015. [85] Jeffrey Lewis, “Reviewing the Nuclear Posture Review,” Arms Control Wonk, Jan. 16, 2018, https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1204661/reviewing-the-nuclear-posture-review/. [86] U.S. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/. [87] Stephanie Pappas, “Hydrogen Bomb vs. Atomic Bomb: What’s the Difference?” Live Science, Sept. 22, 2017, https://www.livescience.com/53280-hydrogen-bomb-vs-atomic-bomb.html. [88] Aaron Mehta, “The US could be getting 2 new nuclear capabilities. Here are the details.” Defense News, Feb. 2, 2017, https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/02/02/the-us-could-be-getting-2-new-nuclear-capabilities-here-are-the-details/ [89] Rebecca Kheel, “Mattis defends plans for new nuclear capabilities,” The Hill, Feb. 6, 2018, http://thehill.com/policy/defense/372531-mattis-defends-plans-for-new-nuclear-capabilities. [90] Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United State nuclear forces, 2017,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73, no. 1 (Dec. 2017): 48–57. [91] Mark B. Schneider, “Escalate to De-escalate,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings Magazine 143/2/1,368, (Feb. 2017), https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2017-02/escalate-de-escalate. [92] William R. van Cleave, “The Trouble Isn’t the Basing Mode…” Washington Post, Dec. 17, 1982, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1982/12/17/the-trouble-isnt-the-basing-mode/f58b1507-c21f-49b0-9bc2-e870ce4c5e3b/?utm_term=.9e3fc79356d4. [93] Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “The Myth of Russia’s Lowered Nuclear Threshold,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 22, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/the-myth-of-russias-lowered-nuclear-threshold/. [94] Vipin Narang, “Why Kim Jong Un wouldn’t be irrational to use a nuclear bomb first,” Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/why-kim-jong-un-wouldnt-be-irrational-to-use-a-nuclear-bomb-first/2017/09/08/a9d36ca4-934f-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html?utm_term=.6721bd64ecaa. [95] Mehta, “2 new nuclear capabilities.” [96] Vincent Manzo, “Give the Low-Yield SLBM its Day in Court,” Defense One, Jan 22, 2018, http://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2018/01/give-low-yield-slbm-its-day-court/145397/. [97] Aaron Mehta, “Will the US trade its new sub-launched cruise missile for Russian arms treat compliance?” Defense News, Feb. 7, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/02/06/will-the-us-trade-its-new-sub-launched-cruise-missile-for-russian-arms-treaty-compliance/ [98] Kyle Mizokami, “America Is Building a New, Stealthy Nuclear Cruise Missile,” Popular Mechanics, Aug. 24, 2017, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/news/a27925/america-stealthy-nuclear-cruise-missile/. [99] Michael Krepon, “Herman Kahn,” Arms Control Wonk, Sept. 10, 2009, https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/402459/herman-kahn/. [100] Tom Z. Collina, “Give Trump more nuclear weapons and more ways to use them? Not a good idea,” CNN, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/02/opinions/trump-nuclear-weapons-collina-opinion/index.html. [101] Editorial Board, “Trump’s request for even more nuclear weapons is flawed overkill,” Washington Post, February 3, 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-request-for-even-more-nuclear-weapons-is-flawed-overkill/2018/02/03/f962b0b4-083d-11e8-8777-2a059f168dd2_story.html. [102] Lisbeth Gronlund, “Nuclear Posture Review Increases Risk of Nuclear War,” Union of Concerned Scientists, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.ucsusa.org/press/2018/nuclear-posture-review-policies-increase-risk-nuclear-war - .WnoesZM-eCM. [103] Mac Thornberry, “Nuclear Posture Review: Recognizing the return to great power competition,” Defense News, Feb. 5, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2018/02/05/nuclear-posture-review-recognizing-the-return-to-great-power-competition/. [104] Earl C. Ravenal, “Counterforce and Alliance: The Ultimate Connection,” International Security 6, no. 4 (Spring, 1982): 26–43. [105] Austin Long and Brendan Rittenhouse Green, “The Geopolitical Origins of US Hard-Target-Kill Counterforce Capabilities and MIRVs,” in The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs, https://www.stimson.org/sites/default/files/file-attachments/Lure_and_Pitfalls_of_MIRVs.pdf. [106] Austin Long, Deterrence: From Cold War to Long War, RAND, 13. [107] Barry R. Posen and Andrew L. Ross, “Competing Visions for U.S. Grand Strategy”, International Security 21, no. 3 (Winter 1996/97): 5–53, http://www.comw.org/pda/14dec/fulltext/97posen.pdf. [108] Scott D. Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); Eric Schlosser, Command and Control, (New York: Penguin Press, 2013). [109] Adam Mount, “The Strategic Logic of Nuclear Restraint,” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 57, no. 4 (Aug.-Sept. 2015): 53­–76. [110] Emily Tamkin, “Lawmakers Introduce Bill Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons”, Foreign Policy, Jan. 24, 2017, http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/24/senator-and-congressman-introduce-restricting-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons-act-trump/ [111] Michael S. Gerson, “No First Use: The Next Step for U.S. Nuclear Policy”, International Security 35, no. 2 (Fall 2010): 7-47, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/ISEC_a_00018. [112] Catherine Kelleher and Judith Reppy, Getting to Zero: The Path to Nuclear Disarmament (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011): 271. [113] Mark Bell, “Examining Explanations for Nuclear Proliferation”, International Studies Quarterly 60, no. 3 (September 2016): 520-529, https://academic.oup.com/isq/article/60/3/520/2469858. [114] Gene Gerzhoy, “Alliance Coercion and Nuclear Restraint: How the United States Thwarted West Germany’s Nuclear Ambitions”, International Security 39, no. 4 (Spring 2015): 91-129, https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/ISEC_a_00198. [115] Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda, “Nuclear Stability, Conventional Instability: North Korea and the Lessons from Pakistan”, War on the Rocks, Nov. 20, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/nuclear-stability-conventional-instability-north-korea-lessons-pakistan/. See also William J. Perry, “Military Action: When to Use It and How to Ensure Its Effectiveness,” In Global Engagement: Cooperation and Security in the 21st Century, ed. Janne E. Nolan,  (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1994), 236. [116] Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America's Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000). [117] Aaron Mehta, “The US could be getting 2 new nuclear capabilities. Here are the details”, Defense News, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/02/02/the-us-could-be-getting-2-new-nuclear-capabilities-here-are-the-details/. [118] Jeffrey D. McCausland, “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Operational Myths and Realities.” March 2007, unpublished manuscript, https://www.stimson.org/content/pakistans-tactical-nuclear-weapons-operational-myths-and-realities [119] Walt Slocombe, “Preplanned Operations,” In Managing Nuclear Operations, eds. Ashton B. Carter, John D. Steinbruner and Charles A. Zraket,. (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1987), 123. [120] Hans M. Kristensen, Flawed Pentagon Nuclear Cruise Missile Advocacy”, Federation of American Scientists, June 10, 2016, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2016/06/dod-lrso-letter/. [121] Mark Gunzinger, “Beyond the Bottom-Up Review,” in Essays on Strategy XIV (Washington, D.C.: Institute for National Security Studies, National Defense University, 1996), http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a430015.pdf. [122] The key findings of the 1994 Nuclear Posture Review were summarized in the following: Department of Defense, Annual Report to the President and Congress, (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995), http://history.defense.gov/Portals/70/Documents/annual_reports/1995_DoD_AR.pdf?ver=2014-06-24-152712-813. The 2001 Nuclear Posture Review’s key findings were released in an unclassified summary signed by Secretary of Defense Rumsfield. See Donald H. Rumsfeld, Nuclear Posture Review Report, Jan. 2002, http://archive.defense.gov/news/Jan2002/d20020109npr.pdf. Longer excerpts and briefing slides were subsequently leaked to the public. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review was the first to be publicly released in its entirety. Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report, April 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf. [123] 1995 Annual Defense Report, 83. [124] 1995 Annual Defense Report. [125] 1995 Annual Defense Report, 86. [126] State Department, “Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” https://2009-2017.state.gov/t/isn/npt/statements/241165.htm. [127] Amy F. Woolf, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: Changes in Policy and Force Structure, Congressional Research Service, Jan. 23, 2008, 7, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL31623.pdf. [128] Hans Kristensen, “The Nuclear Posture Review”, Federation of American Scientists, April 8, 2010, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2010/04/npr2010/. [129] Franklin C. Miller and Lee Butler, “Masters of the Nuclear Enterprise,” In Uncommon Cause: A Life at Odds with Convention, Volume II, 1­–21. [130] See for example the quotes in Andrew Rafferty, “Trump Has A History of Contradictory Statements on Nuclear Weapons,” NBC, Oct. 11, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/all/donald-trump-has-history-contradictory-statements-nuclear-weapons-n808466. “[W]e have nuclear arsenals which are in very terrible shape” (quoted in The New York Times, July 21, 2016); “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability” (Tweet, December 22, 2016); “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal” (Tweet August 9, 2017). [131]See “U.S Navy Instruction Confirms Retirement of Sea Launched Cruise Missiles (March 18, 2013) https://fas.org/blogs/security/2013/03/tomahawk/ [132] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 21, https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/.  Unless otherwise specified, all page references in the text are to this document [133] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, VIII, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf. [134] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, VIII. [135] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, V. [136] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, V. [137] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 21. [138] Theoretically, the nuclear option is thus available against Israel, India and Pakistan, but I don’t address those scenarios. In addition, the language “in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations” could represent a gaping loophole, if the administration should assert the right to determine unilaterally who is complying and who is not. This is particularly significant in the terrorist attribution scenario. The administration also leaves open the ultimate “out” — “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and the U.S. capability to counter that threat.” Given that out, the reiteration of the assurance rings somewhat hollow. Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 21. [139] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 26. [140] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 7. [141] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 30. [142] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 7. [143] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 10. [144] In general, “non-strategic” or “theater” nuclear weapons are designed to be used against “tactical” targets: “against opposing forces, supporting installations or facilities, in support of operations that contribute to the accomplishment of a military mission of limited scope, or in support of the military commander’s scheme of maneuver, usually limited to the area of military operations.” Amy Woolf, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Congressional Research Service, February 21, 2017, quoting the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary Military Terms, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL32572.pdf. By contrast, strategic nuclear weapons are designed to target the adversary’s leadership, central command and control capabilities and its nuclear forces capable of retaliating against the attacker’s homeland. [145] “To be clear, this is not intended to enable, nor does it enable, ‘nuclear warfighting’. Nor will it lower the nuclear threshold.” Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 54. [146] It is particularly puzzling how these low-yield theater capabilities fit with the report’s insistence on “holding at risk, under all conditions, what Russia’s leadership most values.” Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 30. One might have thought that this is what strategic systems, not theater systems, do (unless perhaps the report is implicitly making a not very compelling case that the case that what the Russians most value is the lives of their front-line forces, or the health and well being of civilians who happen to be in the blast/radiation range of the low yield non-strategic systems). The report notes only that the United States needs to be able to “hold diverse types of Russian targets at risk.” Nuclear Posture Review, 31. [147] “[U]nlike DCA [dual-capable aircraft], a low yield SLBM warhead and SLCM will not require or rely on host nation support to provide deterrent effect.” Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 54-55. [148] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 23. [149] “Combatant commands and service components … will plan, train and exercise to integrate US nuclear and non-nuclear forces.” Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 21. [150] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 55. [151] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 55. [152] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 11. [153] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 32. [154] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 32. [155] A fourth scenario might be North Korean “non-nuclear strategic attack” against the U.S. The utility of the new approach against this type of threat is discussed below. [156] See Anna Fifield, “South Korea’s Defense Minister Suggest Bringing Back Tactical US Nuclear Weapons,” Washington Post, Sept. 14, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/south-koreas-defense-minister-raises-the-idea-of-bringing-back-tactical-us-nuclear-weapons/2017/09/04/7a468314-9155-11e7-b9bc-b2f7903bab0d_story.html?utm_term=.60b722356f0b. [157] “‘If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And he [Trump] has told me that to my face,’ [Senator Lindsay] Graham said.” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/north-korea/sen-lindsey-graham-trump-says-war-north-korea-option-n788396. [158] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 33. [159] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 34. [160] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 34. [161] See 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, “Renewing the U.S. commitment to hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group, or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction.” Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, 12. [162] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 21. [163] See Christopher Bronk and Eneken Tikk-Ringas, “The Cyber Attack on Saudi Aramco,” Survival, (April-May 2013), 81-96 [164] General Paul J. Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated (responding to the leaked Nuclear Posture Review draft) that a cyber attack would not justify a nuclear response. Oriana Pawlyk, “Cyber Attack Wouldn't Merit Nuclear Strike: Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman,” Military.com, Jan. 30, 2018, https://www.military.com/defensetech/2018/01/30/cyber-attack-wouldnt-merit-nuclear-strike-joint-chiefs-vice-chairman.html. Such an interpretation is hard to square with the explicit language of the report itself. [165] Benjamin Buch and Scott D. Sagan, “Our Red Lines and Theirs,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 13, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/12/13/our-red-lines-and-theirs/. [166] Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, VIII. However, the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review under President Obama also reserved the right to modify its policy if “warranted by the evolution and proliferation of the biological weapons threat and US capacities to counter that threat.” [167] See for example the National Academies of Engineering report questioning the scale of damage from a cyber attack. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, Consensus Study Report, 2017, https://www.nap.edu/catalog/24836/enhancing-the-resilience-of-the-nations-electricity-system. [168] See Joseph S. Nye, Jr. “Deterrence and Dissuasion in Cyber Space,” International Security 41, no. 3 (Winter 2016/2017): 56-58. This was the approach of the Obama Administration. See William J. Lynn III, “Defending a New Domain: The Pentagon’s Cyberstrategy,” Foreign Affairs 89, no. 5 (September/October 2010): 99. [169] See Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), Chapter 8. [170] Perhaps the most cited example of this concern stems from Secretary of State Acheson’s failure to include Korea in defining the US defense perimeter in the Western Pacific in his Press Club speech on Jan. 12, 1950 which some argue led North Korea and the USSR to believe that the United States would not come to Korea’s defense. See https://web.viu.ca/davies/H102/Acheson.speech1950.htm. [171] Mark Perry, “Trump’s Nuke Plan Raising Alarms Among Military Brass,” The American Conservative, Feb. 2, 2018, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/trumps-new-nuke-nuclear-plan-npr-raising-alarms-among-military-brass-war/. [172] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, XII, 53, https://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0218_npr/. [173] Kremlin, Voennaya doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii (v redaktsii at 2014 g.), available at http://www.mid.ru/documents/10180/822714/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf/d899528d-4f07-4145-b565-1f9ac290906c. [174] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, XII [175] Nuclear Posture Review, 2018, 53. [176] Sergei Brezkun, ”Rossii nuzhna «letsnitsa» ne eskalatsii, a deeskalatsii,” Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, Nov. 27, 2015; S.V. Kreydin, A.A. Protasov, S. Y. Yegorov, “Sistemy upravleniya voiskamy (silamy) kak instrument strategicheskogo sderzhivaniya”, Voennaya Mysl’ 7, 2009; V.I. Levshin, A.V. Nedelin, M. E. Sosnovsky, “O primenenii yadernogo oruzhia dlya deeskalastii voennykh dyestvy”, Voennaya Mysl’ 3, May-June 1999. [177] Vasily Burenok, “Voennaya bezopasnost Rossii – Problemy i resheniya”, Vosdushno-Kosmicheskaya Oborona 3, 2008. [178] “Russian Navy to focus on strategic non-nuclear deterrence – Commander in Chief”, TASS, Jan. 1, 2018, http://tass.com/defense/983872; “Russia says it plans to pivot from nuclear deterrence, avoiding Trump’s arms race”, The Moscow Times, Jan. 12, 2017, https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-says-it-plans-to-pivot-from-nuclear-deterrence-avoiding-trumps-arms-race-56801. [179] Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review, 2010, https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf. [180] “Ekspert nazval novyo yadernoyu doktrinu SShA smenoy kursa”, RIA Novosti, Feb. 3 2018, https://ria.ru/world/20180203/1513912695.html. [181] Aleksandr Sharkovskiy, “Vlast’ RF uverena, shot nash yaderniy potentsial prevoskhodit amerikanskii”, Nezavisimoye Voennoye Obozreniye, Nov. 3 2017. [182] Kremlin, Voennaya doktrina Rossiiskoi Federatsii (v redaktsii at 2014 g.) [183] Jeffrey Edmonds, “How America could accidentally push Russia into a nuclear war,” The National Interest, Feb. 6, 2018, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-america-could-accidentally-push-russia-nuclear-war-24378?page=2. [184] Gudrun Persson, “The war of the future: A conceptual framework and practical conclusions: Essays on strategic thought”, Russian Studies, NATO Defence College, Nov. 3, 2017, http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=1078. [185] Timothy Thomas, “The evolving nature of Russia’s way of war”, Military Review, Jul-Aug 2017, http://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/July-August-2017/Thomas-Russias-Way-of-War/. [186] Nikolai Sokov also points to a russification of the new U.S. national security strategy. Nikolai Sokov, “The Russification of U.S. Deterrence Policy”, Dec. 25, 2017, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-russification-us-deterrence-policy-23785. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => Table of Contents [contents] => 1. Introduction, by Francis J. Gavin 2. Command and Control in the Nuclear Posture Review: Right Problem, Wrong Solution, by James Acton 3. Nuclear Strategy in an Era of Great Power Competition, by Austin Long 4. Maintaining the Course — For the Most Part, by Al Mauroni 5. The Discrimination Problem: Why Putting Low-Yield Nuclear Weapons on Submarines Is so Dangerous, Vipin Narang 6. Policy or Party Platform? Making Sense of the Trump Nuclear Posture Review, by Janne E. Nolan and Brian Radzinsky 7. Expanding the Options and Lowering the Threshold for Nuclear Weapons, by James B. Steinberg 8. The Russian Rogue in the New Nuclear Posture Review, by Kristin Ven Bruusgaard ) ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 129 [post_author] => 20 [post_date] => 2017-11-26 03:40:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-11-26 08:40:21 [post_content] => The great genius but also the Achilles’ heel of American diplomacy is an irrepressible “can do” optimism — a conviction that every problem has a solution, that no conflict is too wicked or too intractable to defy resolution. De Tocqueville observed that Americans “have all a lively faith in the perfectibility of man. ... They all consider society as a body in a state of improvement.”[1] That view has propelled America to great achievement in forging an era of peace and prosperity for nearly three-quarters of a century after World War II, ending wars and brokering peace among apparently implacable foes, and building institutions to tame economic cycles and interstate rivalries. Much of that optimism stems from our “eyes forward” approach to contemporary challenges, a conviction that the past is not prologue and that past performance is not indicative of future results. This optimism is rooted in our earliest experiences as a nation, a belief that the New World could and should forge a fresh approach to foreign policy, one not snared in the ancient quarrels of the Old World, but springing from an enlightened vision of harmonious relations among free peoples. It was an approach fitting for a nation whose very founding was an attempt to escape from the past. As Thomas Paine noted, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”[2]  The founders were not ignorant of history — they simply were determined not to be shackled by it. [quote id="3"] That inclination to put history behind us, to focus on present interests rather than past slights, has been and remains evident in the U.S. approach to East Asia. It was reflected in our willingness to enter into an alliance with Japan only a decade after it launched a surprise attack on our homeland; it could be seen in the decision to normalize relations with a Communist China which had fought us in Korea, because contemporary security and economic interests were more important than past grievances; and in the decision to reconcile with Vietnam, two decades after a bloody war came to a bitter end for the United States. But to our friends and interlocutors in East Asia, as T. S. Eliot observed, “Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past.”[3] Their national narratives as well as their perspectives on self and others are deeply rooted in their historical experience. It is a history that in most cases — from China, Japan, and Korea to Thailand (Siam) and Cambodia (Khmer Empire) — is measured in centuries and even millennia. These images are powerful forces both constraining the choices available to policymakers and providing tools that policymakers can use to justify their actions and mobilize their publics. Scholars have long debated whether history influences policymakers’ perceptions and choices,[4] including whether and to what extent a historically based “strategic culture” shapes contemporary policy.[5] As Robert Jervis has written, “Previous international events provide the statesman with a range of imaginable situations and allow him to detect patterns and causal links that can help him understand his world.”[6] Some go beyond the impact of history on individual decisionmakers to suggest that a historically based strategic culture” can shape national choices.[7]  Although there are skeptics (A.J.P.  Taylor observed “men use the past to prop up their own prejudices,”[8]), there seems to be little doubt that images of self and others drawn from the past heavily infuse the contemporary debate about the future of East Asian security. [quote id="1"] Nowhere is this more evident than in modern China. President Xi Jinping’s first evocation of the “China Dream” came in a speech pithily entitled “To Inherit From the Past and Use It for the Future, and Continuing What Has Passed in Beginning the Future: Continue to Forge Ahead Dauntlessly Towards the Goal of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese People.”[9] Xi’s speeches frequently draw on historical images and experiences, contrasting the period of China’s greatness with the “Century of Humiliation” from the Opium War to the Nanjing massacre. Lessons are to be learned from both. What made China great — its military and economic strength and its distinctive culture — is to be put at the center of policy, while what made China vulnerable — weakness and the inability to resist foreign pressure — is to be avoided. At the center of this historic narrative is the danger posed by Japan. The “history issue” is not merely a scholarly debate but also informs China’s views of Japanese behavior today. China opposes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to make Japan a “normal” nation with the usual right to pursue individual and collective self-defense, because “history” shows that an unshackled Japan is inherently a threat to its neighbors and thus is not entitled to the same rights of sovereignty enjoyed by China and others. China refused to accept the Noda administration’s 2012 decision to “nationalize” the Senkaku Islands as an effort to insulate the islands from provocative actions of the far right, led by former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara. Instead, China insisted it was proof of a more aggressive policy.[10] Nor are China’s leaders willing to let the historic lesson fade from the public mind; just three years ago, Xi led the first “national day of remembrance” for the Nanjing massacre — 77 years after the event.[11] At the speech, President Xi cautioned that “forgetting history is a betrayal.”[12] By contrast, from China’s perspective, its own breathtaking military modernization is not a threat to its neighbors (unlike Japan’s comparatively modest defense increases and operations) because “history” shows that when China was powerful in the past it did not threaten others but used its power to establish an era of peace and prosperity. Chinese officials’ resurrection of the story of Ming Dynasty Admiral Zheng He over the past decade coincided with their effort to make the case that China’s growth would be a “peaceful rise.” Chinese officials regularly insist:
During the overall course of six voyages to the Western Ocean, Zheng He did not occupy a single piece of land, establish any fortress or seize any wealth from other countries.[13]
Former President Wen Jiabao cited this example to show that “Hegemonism is at odds with our cultural tradition.”[14] Of course, for Japan, history offers quite a different story. To Japan, the story of the “divine winds” — the typhoons that thwarted China’s attempt to subjugate Japan in 1274 and 1281 — is not simply a tale of Japanese heroic resistance but, perhaps more important, a caution about the risk to Japan of a powerful China.[15] For the Republic of Korea, too, history powerfully shapes contemporary policies and choices. Despite South Korea’s strong shared interest with Japan in addressing common threats, particularly those posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, cooperation is hamstrung by lingering Korean resentment of the Japanese colonial occupation and treatment of Korean “comfort women” during World War II. This grievance is apparent not only in popular sentiment but also in the actions of Korea’s leaders. It can be seen in the decision of then-President Park Geun-hye to join China in dedicating a statue to Ahn Jeung Geun, the Korean who killed Japan’s imperial governor in 1907,[16] and her participation in the World War II commemoration parade in Beijing in 2015. Other historical disputes continue to dog cooperation between the two would-be allies: a territorial dispute over the Takeshima/Dokdo Islands[17] and even the name of the body of water between the two countries (“The Sea of Japan is established internationally as the only name” Japan’s chief cabinet secretary insisted when lodging a diplomatic protest against a South Korean video promoting the name “East Sea”).[18] Both Koreas in turn are cautious about too great a dependence on China — despite the strong economic pull exerted by Beijing — informed by a history of tensions between the two empires. The seemingly arcane dispute over whether the Goguryeo Empire was Korean or Chinese still inflames passions on both sides of the Yalu.[19] The contrast between American and East Asia worldviews was evident during the meeting between Xi and President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in April 2017. In recounting the meeting, President Trump told The Wall Street Journal
[Xi] then went into the history of China and Korea. Not North Korea, Korea. And you know, you’re talking about thousands of years … and many wars. And Korea actually used to be a part of China. And after listening for 10 minutes I realized that not — it’s not so easy. [20]
It could be seen in President Trump’s suggestion during the U.S. presidential campaign that it might be a good thing for Japan to acquire nuclear weapons instead of relying on U.S. extended deterrence — a suggestion that sent shock waves through East Asia.[21] Ironically, the contemporary political identity of each of the key countries of North East Asia was forged through a dramatic leap to “escape history.” For China, the strategy of leaders as diverse as Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong was not to find solutions for China’s problems in its past but, rather, to denigrate the past and to look to other models to achieve security and prosperity. Sun looked to the West, while Mao found inspiration in the Soviet Union during the early years of the People’s Republic.[22] Similarly, Meiji Japan reacted to growing pressure from the West in the mid-19th century not by trying to strengthen the traditional approaches of the shogunate that had successfully resisted foreign invasion in the past but by dramatically embracing modernity and key aspects of Western institutions and strategy, borrowing heavily from Germany, which — under Bismarck — had thrown off its own feudal past to achieve independence, unification, and prosperity. This move to “escape the past” was replicated again after World War II; under the tutelage of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japan adopted Western institutions and strategies as varied as labor unions and women’s suffrage.[23] More recently, South Korea — the 19th-century “Hermit Kingdom” — propelled itself to the front ranks of the global stage by following in Japan’s footsteps to embrace democracy and integration in the global economy. Why does history have such a hold on contemporary relations in East Asia? After all, in other regions and other times, historic enemies have reconciled in the face of compelling contemporary challenges. Think France and Germany in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after World War II. [quote id="2"] Some might argue that the talk of history is mere rhetoric — that international relations theory would predict tensions between Japan and China in terms of the inevitable conflicts between a rising power and an established one. Others might point to domestic politics and the mobilization effect of using historic images to rally support for the governing parties based on patriotism and the need to unite against a foreign threat.[24] For many leaders in the region, bitter historic memories provide a convenient anchor (“useful adversaries” in Tom Christensen’s evocative characterization) for nationalist policies.[25] Such policies in history textbooks can indoctrinate future generations into stereotypes of others.[26] Undoubtedly, all these forces are at work. But there is reason to believe the structural tensions are exacerbated by the historic context.[27] As one scholar has observed:
the rivalry context may play a causal role in determining which arms race, power transition, etc., escalate to war.... That past conflicts condition current ones and future expectations, that leaders learn realpolitik lessons, and that peoples learn to hate each other all mean that theories of enduring rivalries are historical theories.[28]
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest the propensity for the diversionary use of force is more likely in the context of historic rivalries. “[L]eaders can capitalize on a hostile interstate environment where the relevant target public may be persuaded to consider alleged threats plausible”[29] — and the historic experience appears to establish the plausibility of the threat. Of course, the past is not necessarily prologue. At times, countries in the region have been able to overcome historic suspicions. Consider for example the decades of Sino-Japanese reconciliation that followed normalization in the 1970s, which featured little of the rhetoric of historic grievance. Similarly, Japan’s relations with Southeast Asia have improved dramatically despite the legacy of the East Asia Prosperity Sphere and the occupations of World War II. But during periods of change and uncertainty about the present and future intentions of key countries in the region, past behavior offers a convenient answer for political leaders and for publics to answer the inherent ambiguity of future actions. Thus, while one can argue about whether the perpetuation of historic grievances is cause or effect, their persistence contributes to the precarious situation in East Asia. And in the absence of concerted efforts by regional leaders to counteract this dynamic, the risk only grows of a vicious cycle leading to conflict. Fortunately, there have been a few hopeful signs. Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s statements in connection with the 70th anniversary of World War II, along with the decision (at least up to now) not to repeat the 2013 visit to the Yasakuni shrine, have helped bring about more measured Sino-Japanese relations.[30] Positive change can be seen in a joint ceremony in September 2017 to commemorate the 45th anniversary of Sino-Japanese relations — an event to mark the 40th anniversary in 2012 was cancelled after the Japanese purchase of the Senkakus[31] — and Abe attended a similar event in Tokyo.[32] With the election of a new president in South Korea, and the possibility of new mandates for Xi following the 19th Party Congress in October and for Abe in the upcoming Diet election, the key leaders will be well positioned to take steps to overcome the historical legacies (or, at a minimum, to avoid fanning the historical flames further). The challenges facing East Asia are severe enough without having to refight past wars. At the same time, the U.S. administration must recognize the ever-present shadow of the past as this country seeks to build a sustainable long-term policy toward the region. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2016 demonstrated that it is possible to be cognizant of the past without being trapped by it. In recent years, calls have grown for a more systematic effort to overcome U.S. ahistoricism. The proposal by Graham Allison and Niall Ferguson for a White House Council of Historical Advisers reflects one such effort. But their suggestion focuses primarily on learning from historical analogy, proposing that
the charter for the future Council of Historical Advisers begin with Thucydides’s observation that “the events of future history … will be of the same nature—or nearly so—as the history of the past, so long as men are men.”
But the problems of history in East Asia are of a different kind. The tensions between China and Japan, or between Korea and Japan, are not “of the same nature” as rivalries in other contexts; rather, they are specific to the history of these nations and these peoples. What is needed are policymakers who understand “deep” history, or “the ways in which policymakers underst[and] the historical context from which the current conflict arose.”[33] In this respect, the current disdain for the value of long-serving career officers in the Foreign Service, with deep grounding in the languages, culture, and history of key countries and regions, poses a serious risk to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Similarly, the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate U.S. government funding for the Fulbright Hays regional studies program under Title VI of the Higher Education Act is deeply shortsighted.[34] One dinner with Xi Jinping is not enough to compensate for the loss of generations’ worth of insight if the United States is to navigate the perils of East Asia in the 21st century.   James B. Steinberg is University Professor of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law at Syracuse University, where he was dean of the Maxwell School from July 2011 until June 2016. Prior to becoming dean, he served as deputy secretary of state (2009 to 2011). From 2005 to 2008, he was dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. From 2001 to 2005, Steinberg was vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.  Steinberg served in a number of senior positions under President Bill Clinton, including deputy national security advisor and director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. Steinberg’s most recent books are A Glass Half Full: Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century, both with Michael O’Hanlon. Steinberg has an A.B from Harvard University (1973) and a J.D. from Yale Law School (1978). ISSN (Print): 2576-1021 ISSN(Online): 2576-1153 Image: Wikimedia Commons [post_title] => Too Much History: American Policy and East Asia in the Shadow of the Past [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => much-history-american-policy-east-asia-shadow-past [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-17 13:43:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-17 18:43:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://tnsr.org/?p=129 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => East Asian countries have a tendency to recall their historical grievances with rival nations, thus increasing the risk of eventual conflict. American policy toward East Asia, on the other hand, tends to have too short of a memory. [pubinfo] => [issue] => Vol 1, Iss 1 [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => China’s leaders [are not] willing to let the historic lesson fade from the public mind. ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The “history issue” is not merely a scholarly debate but also informs China’s views of Japanese behavior today. ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => That inclination to put history behind us, to focus on present interests rather than past slights, has been and remains evident in the U.S. approach to East Asia. ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => 460 ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 20 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (London: Saunders and Otley, 1835). [2] Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Appendix to the Third Edition (Philadelphia: W. and T. Bradford, 1776). [3] T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets (London: Faber and Faber, 1936). [4] See, for example, Robert Jervis, “How Decisonmakers Learn From History” in Perception and Misperception in International Politics, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017). [5]In a seminal piece, Jack Snyder defined strategic culture as “the sum total of ideas, conditioned responses, and patterns of habitual behavior that members of a national strategic community have acquired through instruction or initiation and share with each other with regard to nuclear strategy.” Jack L. Snyder, The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations (Santa Monica CA: RAND 1977). The concept has since evolved to embrace approaches to national security more broadly. See Alastair Iain Johnston, “How New and Assertive is China’s New Assertiveness?” International Security 37, No. 4 (Spring 2013). [6] Robert Jervis, “How Decisonmakers Learn From History” in Perception and Misperception in International Politics, 2nd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017). [7] For a discussion of strategic culture and its applicability to China’s grand strategy, see Alaistair Iain Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). On the impact of strategic culture on U.S.-China relations, see James Steinberg and Michael O’Hanlon, Strategic Reassurance and Resolve (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 38-40. [8] Jervis, “How Decisionmakers Learn From History,” 217. [9] It is noteworthy that Xi’s initial articulation of the China Dream was a speech at an exhibition called “The Road to Revival,” dedicated to the history of China’s victimization from the Opium Wars through World War II by the West. See Camilla T.N. Sorensen, “The Significance of Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ for Chinese Foreign Policy: From ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui’ to Fen Fa You Wei,’” Journal of China and International Relations 3, no. 1 (2015), https://journals.aau.dk/index.php/jcir/article/viewFile/1146/967. See also Benjamin Carlson, “The World According to Xi Jinping,” The Atlantic, September 21, 2015,  https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/xi-jinping-china-book-chinese-dream/406387/. [10] One writer has suggested that China’s anger over the decision was exacerbated by the fact that it came during a period when China typically commemorates the Japanese aggressions of the 1930s and 1940s. See Scott Cheney-Peters, “How Japan’s Nationalization Move in the East China Sea Shaped the U.S. Rebalance,” The National Interest, October 26, 2014, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/how-japans-nationalization-move-the-east-china-sea-shaped-11549. [11] Agence France-Presse, “China Holds First Nanjing Massacre Memorial Day,” The Telegraph, December 13, 2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11291820/China-holds-first-Nanjing-Massacre-memorial-day.html. [12] Ben Blanchard, “Set Aside Hate, China’s Xi Says on Nanjing Massacre Anniversary,” Reuters, December 12, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-japan/set-aside-hate-chinas-xi-says-on-nanjing-massacre-anniversary-idUSKBN0JR03F20141213. [13] See Steinberg and O’Hanlon, Strategic Reassurance and Resolve, 39-40. Many commentators have questioned the accuracy of the official Chinese version of Zhang He’s voyages. For the exposition of China’s peaceful rise, see Zheng Bijian, “China’s ‘Peaceful Rise’ to Great-Power Status,” Foreign Affairs, September-October 2005, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/asia/2005-09-01/chinas-peaceful-rise-great-power-status. [14] Denny Roy, Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 28-29. [15] During the Mongol dynasty, Emperor Kublai Khan mounted two attempts to conquer Japan. On both occasions the effort was thwarted by typhoons (“kamikaze” or “divine wind”) that severely damaged the Mongol fleet and saved Japan from invasion. [16] Emily Rauhala, “Why a Korean-Chinese Statue Is Upsetting Japan,” Time, November 25, 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/11/25/why-a-korean-chinese-statue-is-upsetting-japan/; Steven Denney and Christopher Green, “National Identity and Historical Legacy: Ahn Jung-geun in the Grand Narrative,” SinoNK, June 2014, http://sinonk.com/2014/06/06/national-identity-and-historical-legacy-ahn-jung-geun-in-the-grand-narrative/ [17] Japan claims that it established sovereignty over the islands in the 17th century. See “Japanese Territory: Takeshima,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed September 2017, mofa.go.jp. Korea argues that Japan has long acknowledged Korea’s sovereignty; “Not only has the East Sea designation been in continuous use for over 2,000 years, it is also inappropriate to name a sea after a single country.” “Dokdo and the East Sea,” Korea.net, accessed September 2017,  http://www.korea.net/Government/Current-Affairs/National-Affairs?affairId=83. [18] See “South Korea Video Renaming Sea of Japan Fuels Tension,” Japan Times, Feb. 22, 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/22/national/politics-diplomacy/south-korea-video-renaming-sea-japan-fuels-tension/. Tellingly, the video was titled “East Sea: The Name From the Past, of the Present and for the Future,” claiming that the body had been named the East Sea for 2,000 years. [19] Taylor Washburn, “How an Ancient Kingdom Explains Today's China-Korea Relations” The Atlantic, April 15, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/04/how-an-ancient-kingdom-explains-todays-china-korea-relations/274986/. [20] “WSJ Trump Interview Excerpts: China, North Korea, Ex-Im Bank, Obamacare, Bannon, More,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2017, https://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2017/04/12/wsj-trump-interview-excerpts-china-north-korea-ex-im-bank-obamacare-bannon/. [21] “Now wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons” Donald Trump, Town Hall, moderated by Anderson Cooper, CNN, March 29, 2016. See also “Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on his Foreign Policy Views,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/us/politics/donald-trump-transcript.html?_r=0; Austin Ramzy, “Comments by Donald Trump Draw Fears of an Arms Race in Asia,” The New York Times, March 28, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/29/world/asia/donald-trump-arms-race.html. [22] Odd Arne Westad, Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 (New York: Basic Books, 2012). [23] Fukuzawa Yukichi, one of the most prominent essayists of the Meiji era, summed it up simply: “In Japan’s present condition, there is nothing in which we may take pride vis-à-vis the West. All that Japan has to be proud of is its scenery.”  (quoted in James L. McLain, Japan: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton and Co. 2002)). On the influence of the Prussia experience on Meiji state building, see McLain, Japan: A Modern History, pp 191-197.  For an account of the “McArthur constitution” which re-established Japan’s political institutions along U.S. and Western parliamentary lines, see McLain, Japan: A Modern History, pp 537-550. [24] There is extensive literature on the “diversionary” effect in international relations. [25] Thomas J. Christensen, Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization and Sino-American Conflict, 1947-1958 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). [26] The Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center conducted an intensive three-year project examining the role of history textbooks in the formation of historical memory about World War II in East Asia. The results were published in 2011. See Gi-wook Shin and Daniel C. Schneider, eds., History Textbooks and the Wars in Asia: Divided Memories (New York: Routledge, 2011). Interestingly, the study found that Japanese textbooks “do not highlight patriotism, revisionism or nationalism,” in contrast to the more “passionate” accounts in Korea and China, where nation building and national-identity formation are more central. See Yves Russel’s review of the book in China Perspectives 2 (2014), 79-81, http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/6494. [27] Gary Goertz and Paul F. Diehl, “Enduring Rivalries: Theoretical Constructs and Empirical Patterns,” International Studies Quarterly 37, no. 2 (June 1993): 14; Sara McLaughlin and Brandon Prins, “Rivalry and Diversionary Use of Force,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 48, no. 6 (December 2004): 937-61. [28]  Gary Goertz, Contexts of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 213. [29] Andrew J. Enterline and Kristian S. Gleditsch, “Threats, Opportunity, and Force: Repression and Diversion of Domestic Pressure, 1948-1982,” International Interactions 26, no. 1. 28 (2000). [30] Tomohiro Osaki, “Abe and His Cabinet Steer Clear of War-Linked Yasakuni Shrine on Anniversary of World War II Surrender,” Japan Times, August 15, 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/08/15/national/politics-diplomacy/abe-cabinet-steer-clear-war-linked-yasukuni-shrine-anniversary-world-war-ii-surrender/. [31] “Five Years After Nationalization of the Senkaku Islands,” Japan Times, September 11, 2017, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/09/11/editorials/five-years-nationalization-senkaku-islands/. [32] Charlotte Gao, “Abe Makes a Surprise Appearance, Hails 45 years of Japan-China Relations,” The Diplomat, September 29, 2017, https://thediplomat.com/2017/09/abe-makes-a-surprise-appearance-hails-45-years-of-japan-china-relations/. [33] James B. Steinberg, “History, Policymaking and the Balkans: Lessons Imported and Lessons Learned,” in Hal Brands and Jeremy Suri, eds. The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2016): 238. As I note in the chapter, this is similar to what Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May called “issue history”; Neustadt and May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: Free Press, 1988). [34]  Thomas P. Pepinsky, “The Federal Budget’s Threat to Foreign Policy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 16, 2017, http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Federal-Budget-s-Threat/239796. See also Nathan J. Brown, “In Defense of Area Studies,” The Washington Post, October 30, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/10/30/in-defense-of-u-s-funding-for-area-studies/. ) [contents] => Array ( [title] => [contents] => ) ) ) [post_count] => 3 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 1453 [post_author] => 20 [post_date] => 2019-05-21 05:00:55 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-05-21 09:00:55 [post_content] => Twenty years ago, Northern Ireland’s bloody civil war ended with the signing of the “Good Friday” Agreement.[1] The scale of the conflict may seem small in terms of absolute numbers of those killed and wounded when compared to larger tragedies of the 20th century.[2] Nevertheless, its duration, spanning nearly 30 years from the onset of the “Troubles” until the Agreement was signed in 1998, and its pervasive impact — not just on Northern Ireland, but on the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom, and even the United States — more than justifies the importance attached to the achievement of peace. Since 1998, implementing the Agreement has proved difficult and the peace remains fragile, tested now by the fallout from Britain’s “Brexit” vote. Yet, the Agreement remains one of the most important examples of how a decades-long sectarian conflict can come to an end.[3] There have been many books and articles written by participants, journalists, and academics that have sought to describe the process leading up to the Agreement and to explain why it came about.[4] Peace, like victory, has a thousand fathers, and studies of the peace process have identified a wide range of factors that arguably contributed to the outcome. Why then yet another article on this topic? My contribution seeks to “bridge the gap” between two complementary perspectives: the viewpoint of a diplomat deeply involved in the negotiations and that of a teacher and scholar of international relations and conflict resolution.[5] My goal is twofold: to help practitioners think about how to orchestrate the various tools of diplomacy in support of current and future peacemaking efforts,[6] and to contribute to the long-standing academic debate among historians and political scientists about causal explanations in international relations. In particular, I want to examine the interaction between structural factors (such as demographics, economics, and the end of the Cold War), the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process. In any analysis of this kind, the question of agency looms heavily. The Northern Ireland peace process involved many remarkable, dynamic individuals, in and out of government, who populate the narrative. It is relatively easy to describe the decisions these individuals made, while it is somewhat more complex to explain their motivations and calculus (although memoirs abound, there is always danger that the accounts are self-serving).[7] More challenging is the question of how much, if any, difference these individuals made, or whether the deeper economic and social forces at work would have led to an end of the conflict independent of the peace process itself. The very vividness of the first-hand accounts of events and the colorful personalities of the central players may contribute to over-attribution of causality. Almost every major actor in the drama has, at one point in time, been “nominated” as the “indispensable” figure in making the Agreement possible, from David Trimble and John Hume, who were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, to Gerry Adams and his co-negotiator Martin McGuiness, George Mitchell, Tony Blair, Bertie Ahearn, Bill Clinton, Monica McWilliams, May Blood (of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition), and even the shadowy MI5 agent who helped broker key talks between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the British government in the early 1990s. For this reason, I begin my analysis by examining the broader, structural factors, before delving into the specifics of the negotiators and the negotiation. I then turn to the motivations and goals of the principal actors: the political parties in Northern Ireland, civil society, and the three governments involved (the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States).[8] Next, I look at the negotiating process leading up to the 1998 Agreement. Finally, my analysis turns to some conclusions about how to assess the impact of the various factors and the potential implications of that analysis for future peace processes.

The Historic, Economic, and Social Context

The conflict in Northern Ireland — the Troubles — in its violent form spanned three decades, from about 1968 to 1998. It led to the loss of thousands of lives and even more casualties, affecting Catholics and Protestants; paramilitaries and civilians in the North; British security forces serving in Northern Ireland, England, and on the European continent; and British civilians who were victims of IRA attacks in England. The violence caused billions of dollars of economic harm and left deep social and psychological scars. It had its roots in the complex history of Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain, especially the settlement that led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the partition of the island into the Irish Free State and the “province” of Northern Ireland, the six northern counties on the island that opted out of the Irish Free State under the provisions of the treaty. The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic. While Catholics made up most of the island, Protestants composed the majority in the six Ulster provinces. For historic and geographic reasons, the counties of Ulster were more industrialized and prosperous than the more rural south, and wealth and political power was largely controlled by Protestant elites.[9] Thus, class, religious and ethnic distinctions, as well as a legacy of de jure and de facto religious discrimination against Catholics in the North all combined to set the stage for sectarian strife. But just as the violence erupted in the 1960s, societal and economic forces began to change this equation. Differential birth rates and patterns of emigration led to a relative increase in the Catholic population of Ulster. Immediately after the partition in 1921, the percentage of Catholics in Ulster was just under 35 percent,[10] but by the time of the 2001 census the proportion had risen to 40.2 percent, compared with 45.6 percent non-Roman Catholic Christians.[11] Equally important, Catholics make up an even greater share of the younger population, a plurality in all age groups up to 39 in the 2011 census, with predictable consequences for the future makeup of the Northern Ireland electorate. The growing Catholic population meant that Catholics — if they chose to participate — would have a growing voice in the politics of the province, even under a pure majoritarian governance model without a formal power-sharing arrangement. Thus, provincial self-governance provided, at least in theory, an alternative, or complementary strategy to empowering the Catholic/nationalist community in Ulster. Perhaps even more significant, it opened up the prospect that at some time in the foreseeable future, a majority in the North might favor leaving the United Kingdom and joining the South, a possibility that both the Irish and British governments foresaw and implicitly endorsed by enshrining the principle of “consent” in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985.[12] [quote id="1"] Changes in the economic fortunes of the two parts of the Irish island also had an impact on the course of the conflict and the eventual peace agreement. During the second half of the 20th century, the economy of the Irish Republic was transformed, fueled to a considerable degree by the entry of Ireland and the United Kingdom into the European Union in 1973.[13] This trend began to take effect in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s with the emergence of high rates of growth in the South, earning the Republic the sobriquet “Celtic Tiger.” At the same time, demographic and economic forces, combined with negative impact from the Troubles on investment prospects in Ulster, led to a relative decline in the economic performance of the North.[14] The result was a growing convergence in living standards between the two parts of Ireland. By 2018, GDP per capita in Northern Ireland was less than half that of the Republic, although this figure, in part, reflects the outsized role of multinationals in the South. But even by more conservative estimates, the standard of living today is at least relatively comparable, North and South.[15] The improved economic fortunes of the South enhanced the attractiveness of the Republic as an economic partner for Northern Ireland, especially among the business community, increasing interest in cross-border cooperation. This was particularly true for border districts, which were among the poorest parts of both North and South. This trend accelerated with completion of the Single European Act in 1993, which both deepened economic ties among E.U. members and diminished the significance of the border between the North and South.[16] It is also important to consider how the wider international environment might have contributed to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. Some have suggested that the end of the Cold War reduced the salience of the U.S.-U.K. relationship and thus opened the door for greater U.S. engagement — including American President Bill Clinton’s willingness to incur British Prime Minister John Major’s anger by granting Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams a visa to visit the United States. To some extent, progress in solving other, arguably more difficult, conflicts — including the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the Dayton Agreement, which ended the fighting in Bosnia — put pressure on the Northern Ireland protagonists to take similar “risks for peace.” Finally, growing international attention to the problem of terrorism posed challenges to the IRA’s ability to arm itself through ties with other terrorist organizations, such as Spain’s Basque separatists and Columbia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, as well as through its previously vital ties to Libya under Muammar Qaddafi’s rule.[17]

The Actors

The Northern Ireland Political Parties The political landscape in Northern Ireland leading up to the 1998 Agreement consisted of two key parties on the Catholic side — the republican Sinn Fein (the political wing of the IRA) and the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party[18] — and two on the unionist side — the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party[19] — along with smaller loyalist parties associated with Protestant paramilitaries,[20] and one non-sectarian party, the Alliance Party. The Catholic Side Sinn Fein, as a party, has its roots in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century, but its deep involvement in Northern Ireland dates from the 1960s, and particularly from the 1969 party conference when the IRA split between the “official” wing,[21] which favored peaceful political measures to protect Catholics rights and bring about the unification of Ireland, and the “provisional” wing, which sanctioned the use of violence (both to protect the Catholic community and to force the British to abandon Northern Ireland). The “provos” viewed efforts to introduce reform measures in the North or power sharing as simply a means to perpetuate British colonial rule.[22] In the early 1980s, Sinn Fein shifted to a dual-track strategy known as “the ballot box and the Armalite”[23] — participating in parliamentary and local elections (IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands was elected to the British Parliament in 1981) while continuing its campaign of violence. The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), formed in 1970 out of several smaller parties, was also committed to a united Ireland, but foreswore the use of force and focused much of its attention on the civil and political rights of Catholics under British rule. The SDLP believed that simply forcing the British out would not solve the problem — without the support of the unionist community, unification would simply continue the violent civil war (albeit under Irish rather than British sovereignty). The party emphasized the necessity for the Republic of Ireland to play a formal role in decision-making for the North. The SDLP saw this as a way  to give expression to nationalists’ sense of Irish “identity,” to complement their British “citizenship” as residents of the United Kingdom. The two parties (and their charismatic leaders, Adams and John Hume, respectively) were political rivals in the 1980s, contesting local elections in the North. Although Sinn Fein had some electoral success in its early efforts, its share of the nationalist vote fell throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and, despite early fears, Sinn Fein was not successful in overtaking the SDLP until after the signing of the 1998 Agreement.[24] During the late 1980s, Sinn Fein’s views about the long-term prospects for achieving republican goals through violence began to shift. Analysts and historians have offered a number of complementary explanations for this crucial development. These include the “Ulsterization” of security, which reduced the number of British military targets and forced the IRA to attack indigenous Northern Irish security personnel;[25] the increasing effectiveness of British intelligence and security operations; and the inherent tensions in the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy, as IRA attacks, especially those resulting in non-combatant causalities, cut deeply into Sinn Fein’s electoral support, both in the north and south of Ireland.[26] Adams publicly described this evolving perspective in an interview in 1988, in which he seemed to rule out the prospect of a military solution to the conflict.[27] This set the stage for a series of meetings between Adams and Hume leading, in 1993, to a joint agreement which included two key provisions:
As leaders of our respective parties we have told each other that we see the task of reaching agreement on a peaceful and democratic accord for all on this island as our primary challenge. We both recognise that such a new agreement is only achievable and viable if it can earn and enjoy the allegiance of the different traditions on this island, by accommodating diversity and providing for national reconciliation.[28] (emphasis added)
The discussions between Sinn Fein and the SDLP took place in parallel with secret discussions between Sinn Fein and the British government.[29] This signal from Sinn Fein (and thus implicitly from the IRA itself) helped trigger a series of events — including the Downing Street Declaration and the decision by Clinton to grant Adams a visa to visit the United States, both discussed below — that were crucial to the 1998 Agreement. Most importantly, they led to the IRA ceasefire of 1994. Although this was not the first announced ceasefire, and although it did not last (the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing brought it to an end), it was seen both then and subsequently as a decisive shift in the trajectory of the conflict. Sinn Fein’s turn toward taking a political approach was, in part, a response to the improved prospect that its goal of unification might be achieved through peaceful means. It may also be attributed to backlash against IRA violence and Sinn Fein’s continued electoral difficulties.[30] One of the key barriers to including Sinn Fein in the peace process was the nature of its ties to the IRA, the paramilitary organization responsible for most of the attacks on British and Ulster security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, as well as a number of high-visibility attacks in England, including a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that killed one of her aides. The exact nature of the ties between the two groups was (and remains) hotly disputed, both in the lead-up to the Agreement and its implementation. Sinn Fein leaders always insisted that the two were separate and that Sinn Fein could not speak for the IRA.[31] To some extent, this was a kind of deniability designed to give the IRA flexibility to explore what was possible using Sinn Fein as a “cut out”  to explore possible outcomes of the negotiations without actually committing the IRA to accepting the political route.[32] At the same time, there is good reason to believe that at crucial moments the Sinn Fein leadership did not have sufficient clout within the IRA to bring about Sinn Fein’s preferred outcomes, particularly on the issue of the IRA decommissioning its arms.[33] But here, too, it is impossible to rule out the judgment that this was a familiar negotiating ploy designed to persuade the other parties (unionists, Dublin, London, and Washington) that Sinn Fein had reached the end of its flexibility. Reg Empey, a key Ulster Unionist Party negotiator and unionist member of parliament, called the argument that Sinn Fein and the IRA were distinct a “charade.”[34] The Unionist/Protestant Parties The dominant Protestant party in Northern Ireland for much of the 20th century was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which, as the name makes clear, had as its central tenet preserving the union with the United Kingdom. Led from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s by James Molyneux, a strong figure who served as a member of parliament in Westminster, the UUP held uncompromising attitudes on the important issues facing Ulster: It opposed greater involvement and a greater voice for Catholics through power sharing in Ulster institutions (including in the short-lived provincial parliament, created in 1973), reforming the Royal Ulster Constabulary (seen by many Catholics as a sectarian force), and giving the Republic of Ireland a role in Northern Ireland affairs.[35] Although the UUP had strong ties to the Conservative (Tory) Party in Great Britain, there were also tensions, stemming from history, cultural differences, and economics, as well as an abiding fear that unionism was more important to the UUP (and Northern Ireland Protestants generally) than it was to Tories. This fear was stoked by the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which opened the possibility that Ulster’s ties to the United Kingdom could be sacrificed through the political process.[36] The 1990 statement by Northern Ireland Secretary of State Peter Brooke that “The British government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland” further stoked these fears.[37] [quote id="2"] This unionist anxiety about depending on Westminster to protect their interests led to increasing unionist focus on autonomy and self-governance for Northern Ireland, in contrast to the arguments of “integrationists” like Enoch Powell, who argued that Ulster should be governed directly from Westminster, no different than the rest of the United Kingdom.[38] Some unionists placed their hopes on Tory Prime Minister John Major’s dependence on the votes of unionist members of parliament to maintain his parliamentary majority following the 1992 elections. That hope was undercut first by Major’s decision to support the Anglo-Irish “Frameworks” document of 1996, seen by unionists as a sellout to the Irish, and later by Labour’s victory in 1997. The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement, as Empey later explained:
We had been dying death by a thousand cuts for 30 years. Unionism had been excluded from the decision-making process since 1972. Throughout that period, direct rule [by the U.K. government in London] had worked against Unionism. Policy decisions had been taken on a whole range of issues that were not in the interest of Unionism.[39]
The growing focus on autonomy as a way to protect unionist/Protestant interests in Northern Ireland played an important role in the rise of David Trimble as the head of the UUP. Although Trimble had a long history in unionist politics, he was largely overshadowed by other prominent UUP leaders, both among unionist members of parliament and constituency figures. His involvement in the Drumcree Orange Order parade in 1995 propelled his rise to the top, burnishing his apparently hardline unionist credentials by ostentatiously defying the British attempt to limit a Protestant parade through a Catholic neighborhood.[40] This association helped sustain his credibility with unionists, who, during the negotiations, were required to abandon traditional “red lines,” including participating in talks with Sinn Fein in 1997 without prior decommissioning and, ultimately, signing the 1998 Agreement without decommissioning. Although Trimble secured a majority of his party’s council in support of the Agreement, the decision triggered a split within the UUP and ultimately contributed to the UUP’s electoral eclipse by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The second leading party on the unionist side was the DUP, formed in the 1970s. Led by the fiery Presbyterian minister, Reverend Ian Paisley, the DUP was even more rigid in rejecting any accommodation with either the nationalists in Northern Ireland (especially through power sharing) or with the Irish government in the South. The DUP largely boycotted the peace negotiations, in part because it insisted on a complete and credible renunciation of violence and prior decommissioning before sitting down with any of the parties linked to paramilitaries (republican or loyalist). Ironically, following the Agreement, the longest period of stable devolved government in Northern Ireland came during a time when the DUP shared power with Sinn Fein (2010–17).[41] The other key parties on the Protestant/unionist side were those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries. They were, in many respects, the counterparts of Sinn Fein/the IRA. These included the Progressive Unionist Party, headed by David Ervine and associated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, and the Ulster Democratic Party, headed by Gary McMichael and associated with the Ulster Defence Association. Although the loyalists were, during the 1970s and 1980s, the most militant of the Protestant groups, they also suffered the most from the fighting — and their decision, much like that of the IRA, to turn from violence to political negotiations gave significant momentum to the peace process. The first evidence of this new orientation emerged in the form of a split between the two principal loyalist groups, the Ulster Defense Association, which remained committed to violence, and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which began to advocate for negotiations. Ultimately, both groups declared a ceasefire shortly after the IRA ceasefire of Aug. 31, 1994, and, in the ensuing years, became an important advocacy group within the Protestant/unionist movement at difficult moments in the negotiations.[42] Non-Sectarian Involvement The Alliance Party was founded in 1970 as a pro-union, but non-sectarian, party. The Alliance was the only political party that sought votes from both the nationalist and unionist constituencies.[43] It received an estimated seven to 10 percent of the vote in the 1980s and 1990s and it participated in the Northern Ireland Forum (from which the participants in the negotiations for the 1998 Agreement were chosen) and won six seats in the first Northern Ireland Assembly election. Its leader, Lord John Alderdice, was an active participant in the all-party negotiation. One Alliance official later described the party’s contribution as a “weathervane” — making sure that proposals were neither too pro-union nor too pro-nationalist and advocating for the integrity of the process, particularly the commitment to exclusively peaceful means.[44] Civil Society Groups A variety of civil society organizations functioned as peace advocates and ultimately were involved in the talks that led to the Agreement through the election of representatives from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition to the Northern Ireland Forum and, as a result, the formal peace talks. These groups frequently complained that their representatives were excluded from key discussions, both formal and informal. It is hard to assess their specific impact on the signing of the 1998 Agreement. To some extent, they represented a concrete expression of underlying public sentiment, which yearned for an end to the violence, that would have had an impact on the traditional political leaders even in the absence of the groups’ formal participation in the talks. Some analysts have argued that civil society organizations contributed by acting as honest brokers, broadening the agenda, and building public support for the Agreement’s subsequent ratification and that their involvement helped make the Agreement more durable.[45] Skeptics like Fred Halliday, however, have challenged the importance of civil society in the Northern Ireland peace process:
[W]hen it comes to internal conditions, the central issue remains the intentions of the main military and political players….Protest, denunciation, scorn may play a role, but this is not enough to sway the ‘hard’ men and women….it comes through a decision by the nasty people that it is, at that particular moment, more advantageous to pursue peace than war.[46]
Religious leaders were involved at various stages of the peace process, beginning as early as the 1960s, though as institutions they largely resorted to exhortation. Individual clergy, notably one Catholic priest, Father Alec Reid, did at times play a significant role.[47] The referendum that followed the signing of the Agreement revealed the differences between the two communities — while virtually all nationalists/Catholics voted to approve the Agreement, only about half of unionists voted “yes.” In the subsequent decision to go into government without decommissioning, the UUP ruling council split 58-42. But even on the Catholic side, a small splinter maximalist group, the “Real IRA,” continued to oppose the Agreement, including through the use of violence. The Governments The British Government During the early years of the Troubles, the British government’s strategy centered around a strong commitment to the “union” and a conviction that peace could only be achieved through a tough security posture. This approach was crystallized when Edward Heath’s Tories replaced the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1970.[48] In an attempt to quell the violence, in 1972 Heath abolished the Protestant-dominated Parliament of Northern Ireland, known as the “Stormont” Assembly,[49] which had exercised limited self-government in Northern Ireland since partition. In 1973, the British government proposed a new approach, the Sunningdale Agreement, returning most of the previous powers (other than security) to a reformed Northern Ireland Assembly, which would take decisions under a power-sharing arrangement between unionists and nationalists. Sunningdale also included a role for the Republic of Ireland in the form of North-South bodies designed to foster cooperation across the island. Each of these elements were to feature prominently, 25 years later, in the 1998 Agreement. While Sunningdale was narrowly embraced by the UUP under its leader Brian Faulkner (as well as by the SDLP), grass roots unionist opposition crushed the agreement and pushed Faulkner from his leadership role. Heath’s successor, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was strongly unionist both by personal inclination and by Tory politics. Her hardline instincts were reinforced by the 1984 IRA attack on the Tory party conference in Brighton in which she narrowly escaped and a key advisor was killed.[50] Nonetheless, Thatcher’s decision to conclude the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement without consulting unionist leaders was, in retrospect, a pivotal moment toward launching the peace process. Although her goal was to gain Irish support for a tougher crackdown on the IRA, her willingness to accept an Irish role in Northern Ireland affairs stunned unionists and helped fuel a sense that devolution (regional self-government) and power-sharing, rather than dependence on Westminster, was a more reliable means of protecting unionist interests. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, was less personally wedded to unionism, and some credit him with making the major decisions — including the Downing Street Declaration and the Anglo-Irish Frameworks document[51] — that ultimately led to the 1998 peace agreement. Major indisputably demonstrated considerable courage in engaging with his Irish counterparts (and indirectly with the IRA). But these actions further deepened unionist suspicions, and Major’s dependence on unionist votes for holding onto his parliamentary majority constrained his room to maneuver, which led him to emphasize a permanent cessation of violence and prior arms decommissioning as pre-conditions for Sinn Fein entering peace talks, tests that nearly collapsed the process. It was thus somewhat ironic that the 1997 election of Prime Minister Tony Blair, from the more traditionally “green” Labour Party, helped pave the way for the 1998 Agreement. Although unionists historically mistrusted Labour, Thatcher’s and Major’s actions had damaged unionist faith in the Tories. Moreover, during his first weeks in office, Blair made a major effort to demonstrate his support for the “consent” principle, which was fundamental to the unionist approach.[52] In addition, Blair’s broad support for devolution (for Scotland and Wales as well as Northern Ireland) helped ease unionist fears that self-government for Northern Ireland was a first step toward leaving the Union or being given second-class status within the United Kingdom. The Irish Government The issue of Northern Ireland has played an outsized role in Irish politics. The identities of the major political parties in the South were built on their approach to unification. Fianna Fail, the party of Eamon de Valera, rejected the partition of Ireland and the continued ties to the Irish crown in the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, which created the Irish Free State. Fine Gael was the heir of Michael Collins and the pro-Treaty forces, who acquiesced in the exclusion of the six northern countries from the Irish Free State. Fianna Fail’s subsequent 1932 electoral triumph led to the enshrinement of a constitutional claim (in the 1937 Constitution) of sovereignty over the entire island of Ireland, a key point of contention in the 1998 negotiations until the very end. Fine Gael, by contrast, took a much harder anti-IRA line, opposing direct talks with Sinn Fein or the IRA. Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist. This was reflected in the approach of Fianna Fail Taoiseach Charles Haughey and, later, Albert Reynolds (who replaced Haughey in 1992), who worked hard to get Sinn Fein into the peace process. By contrast, Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton (1995–97) took a tougher line on decommissioning that was much closer to the British view and was considered more sympathetic to the unionist view on the importance of consent.[53] [quote id="3"] Initially, the elevation of Fianna Fail’s Bertie Ahearn in 1997 seemed to presage a throwback to greater support for more maximalist demands of Sinn Fein and the SDLP, although Ahearn made gestures designed to reassure unionists.[54] This more traditional Fianna Fail approach was reflected in the draft agreement Blair and Ahearn presented to the peace conference in the crucial final days of negotiation, which leaned heavily toward the nationalists’ insistence on strong and quasi-independent North-South institutions. The tabling of this draft nearly caused the talks to collapse. However, in the face of unionist revolt, Ahearn agreed, against the advice of his aides, to radically dilute these provisions in order to secure unionist agreement — a decision which has led some to nominate Ahearn as yet another candidate for the “indispensable actor” award.[55] The United States Two competing forces shaped U.S. policy toward Northern Ireland during the early years of the Troubles. On the one hand, the United States and the United Kingdom shared a strong political bond, with historic roots reinforced by the Cold War. These ties inclined Washington to defer to London on what the United Kingdom saw as a domestic conflict. Pulling in the opposite direction was a large and active Irish Catholic diaspora that sympathized with the plight of the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Irish Americans were largely in favor of Irish unification, though divided between those who came to support Sinn Fein/the IRA (IRA sympathizers in the United States provided substantial financial and material support to the group)[56] and those who opposed violence and supported the SDLP. The latter group had strong adherents in the U.S. Congress (including leaders such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Sen. Ted Kennedy) but the executive branch largely prioritized U.S.-U.K. ties. Clinton had no prior involvement in the issue before taking office, but, in an unscripted moment during the presidential campaign, indicated his openness to granting a U.S. visa to Adams, who had been denied entry in the past because of his links to the IRA.[57] As a result, unionists were apprehensive when Clinton was elected. Despite the campaign statement and the presence on Clinton’s National Security Council staff of former Kennedy aide Nancy Soderberg, during his first months in office, Clinton initially adopted the pro-British line of the State Department, which opposed granting Adams a visa without the IRA first renouncing violence. But in January 1994, Clinton decided to grant the visa at the urging of Irish Taoiseach Reynolds, members of Congress (including Kennedy, who himself changed his position at the urging of Hume), and Clinton’s White House staff. Clinton had been persuaded that it was more likely to achieve an IRA ceasefire by granting the visa without pre-condition, a judgment that seemed to be vindicated by the IRA ceasefire in August 1994, although at the time Major was furious with Clinton.[58] U.S. involvement following the issuance of the visa followed two tracks. First, there was an effort to promote economic development and investment in Northern Ireland to demonstrate the benefits peace could confer to both communities.[59] This was followed by more direct diplomacy through the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell to lead the negotiations and Clinton’s own personal involvement. During his dramatic visit to Belfast at Christmas 1995, Clinton went out of his way to emphasize his consultations with Trimble, leading one former unionist member of parliament, Roy Bradford, to observe at the time that the visit “significantly changed the feeling among unionists that the American agenda is exclusively nationalist.”[60] Clinton’s willingness to lend support to unionist positions came into play again in the peace process end game, when, in a phone call with Trimble, Clinton backed up Blair’s commitment to “bring down” the power-sharing agreement if the IRA did not begin decommissioning following Sinn Fein’s entry into government.

The Peace Process

The Formal Process During the early 1990s, momentum began to build for launching a formal peace process for the first time since the failed Sunningdale conference of 1973. Initial talks began in 1991 (the inter-party or Brooke-Mayhew talks) involving the moderate parties — the two main unionist parties (the UUP and DUP), the SDLP, and the Alliance Party — and excluding the parties associated with the paramilitaries — Sinn Fein and the loyalist parties. The British government began a secret back channel dialogue with Sinn Fein in 1990 but the initiative failed and was shelved in 1993 because the British government insisted on a permanent end to violence as a condition of Sinn Fein’s participation in the peace process.[61] Following a wave of violence in October 1993, and with talks on the brink of collapse, the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland issued the Downing Street Declaration in December 1993. The declaration addressed a number of the key principles to govern any settlement and opened the door for Sinn Fein to participate in formal talks following a renunciation of violence, including a “handing over of arms.”[62] In response, the IRA, in August 1994, announced “a complete cessation of military operations,” but the two governments insisted that the action was insufficient and that the IRA had to commit to a permanent renunciation of violence and arms decommissioning to participate in negotiations. In an effort to break the stalemate, the two governments established an international body, chaired by Mitchell, to look into the decommissioning issue. The group produced a report that concluded that the IRA/Sinn Fein would never accept decommissioning as a pre-condition,[63] but proposed instead that all parties be required to affirm a set of principles (“the Mitchell Principles”), which included, inter alia, a commitment to total disarmament. The report provided the British government a way out of the decommissioning stalemate, and the governments in London and Dublin announced that they would convene talks in June 1996 that would be open to all parties that accepted the Mitchell Principles (but without a decommissioning pre-condition). They did insist that the IRA restore its ceasefire (which the group had broken in February 1996) in order for Sinn Fein to participate, which happened in 1997. The process of selecting delegates was a complex formula based on elections to a Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue. Delegates to the negotiations were chosen by members of the forum in a way that ensured the negotiations would be dominated by the major parties but would also guarantee the participation of smaller parties, including those associated with the loyalist paramilitaries, as well as women, Labour, and the Alliance Party.[64] The process included arrangements for expelling any party that violated the conditions of entry. The hardline unionists (the DUP and the United Kingdom Union Party) walked out at the outset, in part, in protest of the selection of Mitchell to chair the negotiations. But the UUP stayed in, partially because it didn’t trust the British government to protect its interests.[65] The hardline unionists walked out again when Sinn Fein was admitted to the talks in July 1997. Mitchell believes that their absence gave the moderate UUP room to negotiate, and that, had they stayed, an agreement might not have been possible.[66] The talks were divided into three strands: The first, chaired by the United Kingdom, was focused on governance issues for Northern Ireland. The second strand was focused on relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and was chaired by Mitchell and Harri Holkeri, a former Finnish prime minister.[67] The third was focused on Irish-U.K. relations, and was chaired by the two countries’ governments. Decisions were taken on the basis of “sufficient consensus.” For Strands Two and Three, this required a majority of each side (unionist and nationalist) separately, plus an overall majority of all delegates, as well as agreement by the two governments. Strand One had similar requirements, except the Irish government had no vote.[68] This arrangement meant that, at least theoretically, the UUP and SDLP could do a deal without either Sinn Fein or the DUP. Blair and Adams met following Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks, the first time a Sinn Fein leader had met with a British prime minister in 76 years.[69] The negotiations were protracted and by late 1997 were largely at a stalemate. This was followed by a rash of sectarian killings, which threatened to derail the process.[70] In January 1998, the British and Irish governments tabled a short document that had been negotiated with Trimble.[71] In March 1998, Mitchell announced a deadline of April 9 for conclusion of the talks. The choice of date was not entirely arbitrary, as the legislation that established the forum was due to expire in May 1998.[72] In addition, Mitchell believed that the agreement had to be completed, and a ratifying referendum held, before the “marching season” in July, a time of high tensions in Northern Ireland.[73] The parties reached an agreement on Good Friday, April 10, 1998, after side interventions by Blair (in the form of a written letter) and Clinton (in the form of a telephone call with Trimble) designed to assure the unionists that the agreement would not be implemented if the IRA failed to move forward with decommissioning. All told, the formal talks lasted 21 months. The Informal Negotiations The formal peace process unfolded in parallel with a complex set of inter-related secret and informal negotiations. These included talks between the British and Irish governments; between the British and Sinn Fein/the IRA; and between the Irish and various parties, including Sinn Fein, the SDLP, and the unionists. They also included dialogue that took place in Washington in connection with various parties’ visits to the United States and frequent contacts in Northern Ireland between U.S. diplomats and all the Northern Ireland parties.[74] Notably, there were almost no secret negotiations between the Northern Ireland parties themselves, with the notable exception of the Hume-Adams dialogue in the late 1980s. The secret talks allowed the parties to escape the pre-conditions barriers that impeded public dialogue with “terrorists,” but at the same time, the periodic exposure of the secret talks did pose challenges to the governments’ credibility and angered the moderate parties who felt their anti-violence stance was undermined by the governments’ willingness to negotiate with parties associated with active paramilitaries. The Agreement and Its Aftermath The Agreement mirrored the three-strand approach of the negotiations. Strand One established the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive. “Key decisions” could only be taken by “cross-community” consent defined as:
  1. either parallel consent, i.e., a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting; or
  2. a weighted majority (60 percent) of members present and voting, including at least 40 percent of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.
The Executive is run by the first minister and deputy first minister, jointly elected on a cross-community basis under the same rules for making key decisions in the Assembly. The jurisdiction of the devolved government was initially based on areas previously within the scope of the Northern Ireland government departments but could be enlarged with the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Strand Two represented the North-South dimension: It created the North–South Ministerial Council and the North–South Implementation Bodies. The Agreement provided three different mechanisms for “all-island” actions: through the adoption of common policies, through coordinated policies implemented separately by the Northern Ireland and Irish governments, and through actions by North-South “implementation bodies.” To provide nationalists some confidence that the North-South dimension would not be subject to a unionist veto, the Agreement provided that the council had to agree on at least 12 “matters” for cooperation through cross-border institutions, drawn from a list of permissible subjects.[75] [quote id="4"] Strand Three established the East-West dimension: the British-Irish Council and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The council consists of the two national governments plus the devolved governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, with a focus on “practical co-operation” on issues within the competence of the devolved governments, while the intergovernmental conference involves only the two national governments and was designed to give the Irish government a voice on non-devolved issues, in particular, security issues. The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. The Republic of Ireland agreed to amend its constitution to eliminate claims to sovereignty over the North,[76] while the British government repealed the 1920 Government of Ireland Act, which, in fact, provided a British veto over the status of Northern Ireland. The Agreement protected the option of dual citizenship for residents of Northern Ireland, irrespective of whether, in the future, Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom or became part of Ireland. It additionally included human rights provisions that specifically addressed some of the major Catholic concerns, including the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. There were also hortatory provisions on issues such as economic development and linguistic diversity. The Agreement largely sidestepped several of the substantive issues underlying the conflict. Although recognizing the importance of reconciliation and the need to address victims of violence, the Agreement established no mechanisms for this purpose. It deferred to subsequent decisions by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning on matters relating to the timing and modalities of decommissioning.[77] Similarly, the parties deferred to a newly created Independent Commission on Policing with regard to questions of policing and justice. Finally, the Agreement included no timetable for the withdrawal of British security forces and emergency powers. The implementation of the Agreement has faced significant challenges over the past two decades.[78] During the first decade following the signing of the Agreement, the British government twice had to restore direct rule, in 2000 and 2002, the second time for a period of five years. The first devolved government was led by the moderate parties (the UUP and SDLP) but subsequent elections have promoted Sinn Fein and the DUP to the fore. On the plus side, paramilitary violence has largely disappeared, though dissident groups remain a threat, and the British no longer play a direct security role. For an extended period following the Hillsborough Agreement (2010), when the two communities finally agreed on important issues not addressed in the 1998 Agreement (especially policing and criminal justice), the institutions were functioning reasonably well. The Northern Ireland economy received a significant boost in the first decade following the Agreement, notably in lowered unemployment rates. Since the 2008­–09 recession, growth has been much lower, but comparable to the rest of the United Kingdom.[79] Notably, the difference in unemployment rates between Catholics and Protestants has narrowed dramatically. But political scandal in 2017 led to institutional paralysis, which remains unresolved.[80] Inter-communal mistrust remains high, and volatile issues including language, parades, and symbols continue to be flash points. Despite intensive discussions since the Agreement was signed, there is still no agreed mechanism to address historical legacy issues. Brexit further complicates the prospects for the future. The DUP supported Brexit while a modest overall majority — 56 percent — opposed it. Sinn Fein has called Brexit “the most serious threat in the history of the peace process.”[81]

Who and What Made the Agreement Possible?

We are now in a position to take on the difficult question of judging the importance of three factors — circumstance, people, and process — in achieving the 1998 Agreement. There has been considerable debate about and attention given to the importance of individuals to the successful conclusion of the Agreement. Many of the participants themselves are quite explicit in crediting the efforts of individuals. For example, in an article written after the signing of the Agreement, Trimble singled out Blair, Ahearn, and Mitchell for credit.[82] Mitchell, in turn, focused on Blair and Ahearn,[83] as well as David Ervine, head of the Progressive Unionist Party.[84] Analysts, too, have weighed in, crediting, inter alia, Adams, Major, and Reynolds.[85] One well-connected BBC commentator later claimed that Father Alec Reid’s role was “absolutely critical” to the peace process.[86] In addition, analysts have focused on the personal relationships between key actors in the peace process, both positive and negative, as well as lack of relationships, as important factors. For example, Clinton’s strong ties with Blair facilitated coordination, in contrast with his frosty relationship with Major. Major’s strong personal relationship with Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds contributed to their ability to manage the sharp substantive differences between the two countries’ priorities.[87] Indeed, many assessments of why the process succeeded focus on trust-building exercises such as the extended Adam-Hume dialogue of 1988–93 and the decision to move the talks from Northern Ireland to the U.S. ambassador’s residence in London after the Agreement was signed but before it was implemented (providing a sharp contrast with tensions arising from the lack of personal contact or direct talks between the parties during the negotiations that produced the Agreement).[88] Clinton’s various meetings — with Trimble in Belfast during his 1995 visit and with all the key leaders during the annual St. Patrick’s Day events in Washington D.C. — and especially his close ties with Blair, all seem to have contributed to the successful outcome as well. But subsequent difficulties with implementing the Agreement raise questions about just how much trust was generated, and, therefore, how much it might have contributed to the Agreement in the first place. Of course, there is no definitive answer to the agency question, to the counterfactual “but for” claim.[89] There seems little doubt, for example, that Adams’ belief in the efficacy of political action rather than violence and Trimble’s willingness to engage in power sharing represented breaks from the past that were staunchly opposed by others in their parties until the very end (and beyond). At the same time, the two men’s rise to positions of power reflected broader forces. In the case of Sinn Fein/the IRA, Adams’ interest in pursuing a political solution was strengthened by the public backlash against violence, particularly after British security forces withdrew from the front lines. Indeed, it can be argued that Adams only turned to the political solution once the “ballot box and Armalite” strategy had failed. For Trimble, political changes at Westminster, which had nothing to do with Northern Ireland, left Northern Ireland’s unionists more isolated and dependent on themselves to protect their interests through devolution. In that sense, both Adams and Trimble had the fortune of being at the right place at the right time to assume leadership. Similarly, those who would give the laurel to Blair and Ahearn can argue that they succeeded in achieving, in relatively short time, what Major and his various Irish counterparts failed to accomplish. Yet, it is also possible to argue that what constrained Major, and what empowered Blair, was the size of the parliamentary majority — a fact that had little or nothing to do with their Northern Ireland policies.[90] Major has also been singled out for his willingness to engage both with Dublin and Sinn Fein, but here, too, his choices were highly constrained. While the security strategy had blunted the IRA’s efforts, there was widespread belief within British security circles (parallel to thinking in Sinn Fein) that force alone could not bring the conflict to an end. One way to try to answer this question of agency is to examine SDLP leader Seamus Mallon’s widely-quoted aphorism that the 1998 Agreement was “Sunningdale for slow learners.”[91] The implication of his statement is that, had “faster” learners been around in 1973–74, power sharing and North-South cooperation based on the principle of consent might have succeeded much earlier and the war might have ended much sooner.[92] Yet, it is hard to see in the context of the violence of the first years of the Troubles that there was much that unionist leader Brian Faulkner, or any other unionist leader, could have done to rally unionist support for power sharing, or that a different British prime minister (much less a different Taoiseach), through force or guile, could have countered the ferocious unionist opposition to the Sunningdale agreement. Similarly, it is difficult to see who within the IRA could have carried the day in favor of accepting the legitimacy of a reconstituted Northern Ireland Assembly and the unionist veto over Irish unification. (It is notable that Adams himself was propelled into a leadership role by his critique of the IRA’s 1975 ceasefire.)[93] Finally, there seems to have been no plausible Tory leader (much less one from Labour) who could have pushed the deal through over the violent unionist opposition. In other words, Sunningdale failed, not because of poor leadership (or “slow learners”), but because circumstances were not propitious for an agreement that embodied the key principles of consent, power sharing, and cross-border institutions. Put another way, the structural changes that were just beginning to work themselves out following the onset of the Troubles were a necessary condition to the acceptance of the framework that was on offer, but they were rejected by both Sinn Fein/the IRA and the unionists in 1973. [quote id="5"] At the same time, it is possible to imagine that the 1998 Agreement might have failed. It is plausible that crucial decisions in the run-up to the Agreement might have gone a different way — Ahearn’s decision to revise the agreement he had reached only days before on the North-South institutions, Trimble’s willingness to accept Blair’s promise on decommissioning, or Mitchell’s decision to impose a firm deadline. In other words, the structural forces may have been necessary, but alone they were insufficient to account for the fact that the Agreement happened when it did, in the precise shape that it took. Of course, all of the central actors faced considerable constraints on their freedom of action. For example, Trimble spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort dealing with internal dissension within his party, and on several occasions was forced to renegotiate after finding that he could not sell a proposed deal to them. Adams, too, emphasized the constraints he faced from other leaders and the rank and file.[94] Even Hume faced internal dissension when he launched his dialogue with Adams. It is reasonable to assert that these protestations also reflected a well-known negotiating tactic — “My hands are tied.” But it is also true that many of these leaders made important choices along the way that built sufficient credibility with their constituents to give them the necessary leeway. This was dramatically illustrated following the brutal IRA attack on a loyalist headquarters in Belfast’s Shankill Road on Oct. 13, 1993. Adams’ appearance as a pall bearer at the funeral of one of the IRA gunmen led many to believe that his action would kill any hopes for making progress toward peace. Yet, two months later, Adams used his credibility with the IRA to persuade its Army Council not to reject publicly the Downing Street Declaration, issued just two months after the bombing. Both governments later acknowledged that Adams’ failure to participate in the funeral would have irreparably damaged his credibility with the IRA.[95] More broadly, Adams and McGuinness demonstrated extraordinary dexterity in managing the almost unimaginable process of bringing the IRA leadership to accept the unthinkable changes in republican orthodoxy embodied in the 1998 Agreement. Similarly, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam’s audacious decision in January 1998 to meet with the loyalist prisoners at the Maze Prison is frequently credited with saving the process, despite the outcry of the UUP.[96] Even Trimble’s notorious “dance” with the DUP’s Ian Paisley at Drumcree can be seen in this light.[97] As Martin Mansergh, senior advisor to several Fianna Fail Taoiseachs during the peace process, observed, “the thin centrist strand made a valuable contribution but was not nearly strong enough to support a settlement on its own.”[98] The inclusion of parties associated with hard-line positions complicated their interactions with each other and with the governments but strengthened their legitimacy with their bases when the time came to do a deal. This argues strongly for the importance of individual choice. Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully.[99] Each saw, earlier than many others, the path forward that led to the Agreement. It is certainly possible to imagine that others who might plausibly have been in their place — even those who shared the same basic approach to the conflict — might not have sealed the deal when it came about. At the same time, the very fact that the Agreement ultimately found implementation through a pact that featured Paisley as first minister is a reflection of the power of the forces pushing to end the fighting. Agency played an important role in the timing and precise terms of the Agreement, but arguably a much less significant one in the broader turn away from violence. A similar analysis applies to assessing the role of process — both formal and informal — in ultimately reaching the Agreement. At its core, the most significant feature of the process was the focus on inclusivity,[100] especially the controversial decision to involve the parties associated with the paramilitaries before they unequivocally and demonstrably renounced violence, rather than seeking to achieve an agreement involving only the “constitutional” parties. From the early days of the Troubles through the early 1990s, both the British and Irish governments had pursued a different approach, seeking to marginalize the paramilitaries and limit the negotiations to the constitutional parties.[101] By almost all assessments, the very presence in the negotiations of individuals strongly associated with the “guns” — McGuinness (Sinn Fein/the IRA), Ervine (Progressive Unionist Party), and Gary McMichael (Ulster Democratic Party) — which caused such heartburn for more traditional political leaders, proved central to bringing about an agreement that would stick. Thus, Major’s reluctant decision to find a way to begin inclusive talks following the Mitchell report proved vital. A related feature of the process that was instrumental was the sequencing — the willingness to move the process forward without a firm commitment to a permanent ceasefire and at least initial steps toward the paramilitary groups decommissioning their arms. The decision to move from pre-conditions to “conditions subsequent” was another feature that distinguished this negotiation from the Sunningdale agreement and unblocked the stalemate that plagued the process during most of the Major years. The decision seems vindicated not only by the successful conclusion of the negotiations, but also by the subsequent IRA decommissioning and the relative low level of defection by dissatisfied members of the paramilitaries. It is not hard to imagine that a deal done by the SDLP and the UUP alone might have met serious resistance from the IRA and the loyalists, though of course, the declining effectiveness of violence, apparent by the late 1980s, might have tempered the scale and duration of the backlash. At the same time, the inclusion of such diverse perspectives had an impact on the content of the Agreement in two important respects. First, the parties’ mutual suspicions drove them toward a consociational model that blocked vetoes. This reduced the risk of either party being outvoted and thus made the Agreement more palatable to their respective constituencies.[102] But this came at the cost of possible paralysis. Left on their own, an agreement involving only the UUP and SDLP might well have tilted the balance toward a more flexible approach. Second, the deep divisions even within the two camps led the parties to defer important decisions on key substantive issues ranging from the future of policing to the role of the North-South bodies, setting the stage for the predictable crises that followed. A number of commentators have focused on the role of civil society in bringing about the Agreement, both as an outside force pressing the parties and as formal participants in the negotiations. It is difficult to assess how much the grass roots peace movement helped to build opposition to violence and thus facilitate the paramilitaries’ decision to give it up. Peace groups had been active throughout the Troubles, for example, in the women’s movement in the 1980s, with only limited success in bringing an end to the fighting. Several commentators have focused on the formal role of civil society organizations in the process. Maria Power, for example, concludes that “the negotiations leading up to the agreement demonstrated the centrality the peacebuilding or community-relations sector had in conflict resolution.”[103] Others give more measured judgments: “[W]hile the contribution of the [civil] sector was not crucial to the eventual outcome of the political negotiations in 1998, it was nonetheless positive and significant.”[104] These assertions are difficult to assess, most importantly because the formal process itself was relatively less important compared with the proliferation of secret channels and private negotiations, which excluded civil society. Other features of the process seem less consequential. On the whole, the formal processes, especially the Stormont negotiations, played a very modest role at best. The combination of the setting, which was sterile and forbidding,[105] and the parties’ unwillingness to deal with each other face-to-face in public settings, relegated the formal sessions to play acting, mostly designed to reassure the parties’ constituents that they were holding fast to their uncompromising positions. Even in private, the parties rarely engaged with each other directly. This accentuated the importance of the governments (primarily the United Kingdom and Ireland, but, at critical moments, the United States as well) and Mitchell as go-betweens. Much has been written about the role of Mitchell and his two colleagues as third-party mediators. On the substance of the negotiations themselves, the three chairs played relatively modest roles compared with the British and Irish governments. Indeed, during the crucial final days of the negotiations, Mitchell reluctantly gave the parties a draft proposal on Strand Two, drafted by Blair and Ahearn, against his own judgment since he believed the provisions were anathema to unionists and would torpedo the negotiations.[106] As noted above, much of the negotiations took place outside the formal process, where the role of the three chairs was limited. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s personal integrity, reputation for impartiality, and patience played a valuable role in keeping the negotiations going. Similarly, the availability of the de Chastelain commission as a third-party means of validating decommissioning was critical to its attainment. One area where the formal process arguably did make a difference was the use of deadlines, particularly to bring the negotiations to a conclusion. Mitchell imposed a two-week deadline in March 1998 ahead of marching season, which triggered an intense period of engagement leading to Mitchell’s tabling of a “composite” document on April 6, including the abortive British-Irish proposal on Strand Two, which triggered the final crisis of the negotiations.[107] By contrast, the open-ended nature of the process following the first IRA ceasefire contributed to its breakdown in early 1996.

Lessons for Practitioners: What Does This Mean for Future Peace Negotiations?

The Importance of “Ripeness” and How to Recognize It The experience of Northern Ireland strongly underscores a major factor highlighted in the literature on conflict resolution — the importance of ripeness.[108] The very fact that the parties adopted in 1998 what they had rejected in 1973 strongly suggests that changed circumstances played a critical role. But this observation is of limited value to the practitioner without some guidelines for assessing when circumstances are “ripe.” While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement,[109] it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging. It is equally important to understand when a conflict is not ripe for negotiation: It can be argued that the premature effort leading to the Sunningdale agreement in 1973 actually contributed to prolonging the conflict. Should this have been apparent to the British government at the time? One lesson of the Northern Ireland experience is that the secret channels developed in the late 1980s and earlier 1990s played a crucial role in providing the governments and the political parties themselves an opportunity to judge whether the circumstances were ripe for agreement before launching a speculative — and perhaps counterproductive — public negotiation. There were risks involved in secret diplomacy. The desire to preserve secrecy led the governments perilously close to public dishonesty, which, when exposed, endangered their credibility. Nevertheless, the groundwork that this diplomacy laid ultimately reduced the risks that each side took by engaging in the process. These secret contacts allowed the key parties to explore the implications of flexibility and to adapt their positions without the risk of embarrassment if the gambits proved unsuccessful and the other side unforthcoming.[110] [quote id="6"] Some commentators have focused on the idea of “stalemate” as a central characteristic of ripeness. Here, it is true that Sinn Fein had concluded that it could not “bomb” its way to Irish unification. British officials, especially in the security community, similarly concluded that despite the growing efficacy of their efforts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the IRA could not be “defeated.” Thus, some have argued that the more effective British security policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s worked to create a stalemate ripe for settlement. But it seems unlikely that stalemate by itself would have brought about the 1998 Agreement. The return to violence in the mid-1990s (after the initial ceasefire declaration in 1994), suggests that many in the IRA still considered violence (or at least the threat of violence) an important element of leverage in the negotiations. Similarly, some in the unionist community (dissenters within the UUP as well as the DUP and United Kingdom) were not convinced of the need to compromise. For this reason, I think it is more useful to see the Agreement as a result of the fact that each side could see the agreement as a “win” (at least in relative terms) rather than a product of a stalemate from which they sought to extricate themselves. Another feature of ripeness goes to the question of how the parties assess the impact of the passage of time on their chances of achieving their goals. The parties in this case reached an agreement because their assessments of time converged. The unionists believed that time was not on their side — that demographics and the politics of the United Kingdom were steadily eroding their leverage. So they accepted a power-sharing arrangement, which they had firmly rejected as a matter of principle for decades, and acquiesced in the idea that sovereignty might be transferred from the United Kingdom to the Republic by a popular vote. In return, they got the Republic of Ireland to amend its constitution to repeal its claim of sovereignty over the six counties and secured a more limited form of North-South institutions. Trimble articulated this view in a speech shortly after the conclusion of the Agreement:
A number of responses were possible to the changed situation [the Hume-Adams process leading Sinn Fein to pursue the political track]… . I remember a parliamentary colleague saying…we should revert to saying No all the time… . The important point that I draw from this, generally speaking, is that it is not enough to be passive, to adopt a tactic or an approach that consciously or deliberately leaves the decision in the hands of other people. It is not always the way you like and you can never be certain exactly how it is going to work out.[111]
Sinn Fein, too, was influenced by its assessment of the future. On the one hand, its leaders believed they had extracted most of what they could get from the use of violence. They also feared that they would be unable to sustain the IRA’s ceasefire much longer if they failed to produce a result through negotiations. But they also perceived that by making key concessions (e.g., abandoning their insistence that Britain renounce sovereignty over Northern Ireland and accepting the principle of consent), they could turn the passage of time in their favor by achieving an agreed unification through the ballot box. Thus, both unionists’ fears about the future and republicans’ hopes for it led each side to conclude that this agreement, with all its painful compromises, was better than walking away and taking a chance on the future. This sense of ripeness helps explain why the terrorist attacks that plagued the peace process throughout the 1990s (the IRA Shankill Road bombing in 1993 and the subsequent loyalist revenge attacks or the Canary wharf and Manchester bombings in 1996, for example) did not derail the talks. Once the parties had made the strategic decision to seek peace, violence actually seemed to have served as an impetus rather than a barrier to compromise.[112] Understanding each party’s assessment of the impact of time can help the peacemaker both decide when to intervene and how to use these assessments to achieve an agreement. The Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War, are instructive. It was at the moment that the Serb forces saw the tide of battle turn against them, but before the Bosnians and Croats had the means to defeat the Serbs on their own, that the United States had maximum leverage in bringing about an agreement. The Impact of Process on the Shape of the Outcome Many have held up the process leading to the 1998 Agreement as a model of successful conflict resolution. Whether the process contributed to the success depends, of course, on the definition of success. There is little doubt that the Agreement has led to a decrease in intercommunal violence. Including the paramilitaries made it less likely that they would attack the process or the agreement that the process produced. Equally important, it gave them a stake in taking on dissidents who wanted to challenge the Agreement. Although splinter groups persisted on both the republican and loyalist sides, their impact has been marginal. But this process decision has come at a cost. Because the process helped lead to a consociational agreement that protects the rights of the two communities but deferred tackling many of the underlying sources of conflict (e.g., policing, economic equality, etc.), the peace continues to be fragile, sectarian tensions remain high, and the institutions created by the agreement are barely functional, at best.[113] These concerns were raised by many of the civil society participants during the negotiations, but their voices were marginalized in favor of the priority attached to getting the men with the guns to lay down their arms. In this respect, there are important resemblances to the way in which the Dayton process shaped the substance of the Dayton Accords, which ended the fighting in Bosnia. Both processes included the hard men who had stoked the conflict, resulting in agreements that, in somewhat similar ways, froze sectarian identity in the framework of the settlement and thus perpetuated the underlying conflict. In both cases, hopes that the passage of time and public pressure would lead to an evolution of the political arrangements away from their sectarian roots have been disappointed. Of course, including former paramilitaries in peace negotiations does not guarantee this kind of result. In South Africa, the Africa National Congress party and the apartheid government created more unitary structures in their peace agreement, which included explicit elements of reconciliation. Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that the shape of the peace process in South Africa contributed both to the success of the agreement and its limitations. The lessons of these cases are clear: Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting. One commentator has called this the choice between a “no more shooting” and “no more fighting” type of agreement.[114] Empowering the Peacemakers The analysis of the role of agency in the Northern Ireland peace process suggests that people do matter. However, the practitioner’s tools for creating “peacemakers” is limited. But practitioners can help support the people who have both the inclination and the capacity to make the choices for peace. Throughout the Northern Ireland peace process, the governments involved made conscious efforts to support those whom they believed wanted to, and were capable of, making the deal — from Clinton granting Adams a visa to his embrace of Trimble during his visit to Belfast, to Mo Mowlam’s visit to the Maze prison to meet with loyalist paramilitaries. Of course, these kinds of efforts require finesse. Sometimes embracing a peacemaker can backfire —arguably Clinton’s support for Shimon Peres after Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination did Peres more harm than good. In Northern Ireland, there was considerable wariness about outside parties — whether from Dublin, London, or Washington — attempting to influence events in Ulster. In some cases, such outside involvement ended up raising suspicions, rather than enhancing the authority those outsiders sought to promote. Third Party Guarantors For the Agreement to work, it was critical for the unionists to believe that, whatever long-term risks they might run in terms of demographics, etc., the IRA’s cessation of violence — and the resort to exclusively peaceful means — was not simply tactical. To some extent, unionists saw decommissioning as reducing the IRA’s capability to return to war. But most recognized that the IRA might easily replace any arms it destroyed. More important was the unionist belief that, because the IRA had so strongly resisted decommissioning in the past, an agreement to decommission was a real sign of peaceful intent. For that very reason, however, the IRA was unwilling to take even modest steps on decommissioning until the deal was complete. [quote id="7"] The success in breaking this stalemate — and the unionists’ ultimate willingness to accept decommissioning as a subsequent condition of the Agreement — highlights the importance of credible interlocutors and third-party guarantors. Only when Blair gave Trimble his personal assurance that he would eject Sinn Fein from the Northern Ireland Executive if the IRA failed to decommission (a commitment reiterated by Clinton in the closing hours), did Trimble agree to go along.[115] The British government had helped earn that credibility through its actions, for example, when Mowlam temporarily ejected Sinn Fein from the talks in February 1998 after a series of killings linked to the IRA, at the risk of collapsing the talks. Trimble’s willingness to accept the procedures for decommissioning depended on the credibility of a report from an independent commission rather than relying on the word of “interested parties.”[116] Sequencing The challenge posed by decommissioning was, perhaps, the most consequential of a recurring set of problems surrounding sequencing. By the early 1990s, the contours of the Agreement had emerged, but issues of sequencing proved a major obstacle to progress. Whether Sinn Fein’s participation in talks should follow or precede a ceasefire or whether Adams’ visa to the United States should be made conditional on a cessation of violence are just two examples. As late as 1995, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Patrick Mayhew’s insistence that some act of decommission precede Sinn Fein’s entry into the talks (even after the IRA had entered into a ceasefire) nearly collapsed the whole project.[117] Willingness to accept a condition subsequent rather than a pre-condition was a major test of how much each side was willing and able to take risks for peace. Sinn Fein, in particular, insisted that it needed prior actions by the British and Irish governments to permit it to move forward. The problem of sequencing in regards to decommissioning returned following the conclusion of the 1998 Agreement, when the question arose of whether decommissioning had to precede Sinn Fein taking its place in the Northern Ireland Executive. This impasse was again resolved in a review conducted by Mitchell, which led to the pre-condition being dropped.[118] As Quentin Thomas, a senior British civil servant, observed, “the question is whether one accentuates the positive and seeks to bring people in when they appear at the door of democracy and want to join talks. Or whether you hold them there and subject them to some examination to see whether their shoes are clean.”[119] Perhaps Clinton’s decision was the easiest, as he had the least to lose if the IRA returned to violence after Adams was issued the visa. But even there Clinton risked causing complications in the U.S.-U.K. relationship. Practitioners face strong pressure to impose pre-conditions to negotiations. They fear that entering into open-ended negotiations may be perceived as a sign of weakness and may subject them to domestic criticism for abandoning important red lines.[120] Yet, the imposition of pre-conditions often becomes a straightjacket, as the other side is unlikely to give up valuable leverage without some confidence in the overall shape of the outcome. The secret negotiations in the lead-up to the Agreement helped reduce the danger that Sinn Fein/the IRA would simply pocket dropping the pre-conditions, but in the end the British and Irish governments understood that the only possibility of reaching an agreement was to take that risk. It was crucial that the governments establish credibility that they would enforce the conditions after the Agreement was signed. Practitioners can draw an important lesson from this on how to avoid the pre-condition trap. Substance The parties involved in the peace process made little effort to resolve the substantive issues that divided them. The constitutional and process issues that formed the heart of the Agreement largely involved broad issues of principles. By contrast, the substantive concerns — policing, criminal justice, social welfare — were areas where the details were as important as the principles. For these kinds of issues, the parties chose to defer resolution by handing the problem to independent commissions (for things like decommissioning and policing), to the Assembly (on devolved issues), and to the British and Irish governments (on non-devolved issues). The last minute snag on Strand Two illustrates the problem of dealing with detail. The Irish government and the nationalists wanted strong substantive commitments on the scope of North-South bodies, but in the end had to settle for broad language and hope that the specifics could be agreed to later.[121] This approach facilitated concluding the Agreement at the expense of littering the landscape with landmines that have continued to dog its implementation. Thus, practitioners face a choice in deciding whether to tackle detailed issues of substance similar to the issue of inclusivity — whether to seize a short-term gain (e.g., stopping the fighting) at the risk of long-term costs (e.g., perpetuating underlying sources of conflict).

Conclusion

The 1998 Agreement came at a time of considerable post-Cold War optimism about the prospects for resolving long-standing political conflict, from the Middle East to the Balkans to Colombia. The passage of time has tempered those hopes, as many conflicts have proved resistant to settlement, and even those agreements that have remained intact have largely proved disappointing in bringing about true reconciliation. The 1998 Agreement certainly falls into that category, but the brutal violence has not re-emerged. As the international community contemplates future peacemaking efforts, in Afghanistan, Yemen, South Sudan, and beyond, the Northern Ireland peace process continues to offer important lessons to scholars and practitioners alike.   Hon. James B. Steinberg is professor of social science, international affairs, and law at Syracuse University and previously served as dean of the Maxwell School, from July 2011 until June 2016, and dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin from 2005 to 2009. His government service includes deputy secretary of state (2009–11), deputy national security advisor (1996–2000) and director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff (1994–96). Recent publications include, “China-Russia Cooperation: How Should the US Respond,” in Richard J. Ellings and Robert Sutter, eds., Axis of Authoritarians (National Bureau of Asian Research 2018); “US versus China: A Technology Cold War,” Nikkei Asian Review, March 19, 2019; and A Glass Half Full? Rebalance, Reassurance and Resolve in the US-China Relationship (Brookings Institution Press, 2017) and Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century (Princeton University Press, 2014) (both with Michael O’Hanlon).   Image: Robert Paul Young [post_title] => The Good Friday Agreement: Ending War and Ending Conflict in Northern Ireland [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => the-good-friday-agreement-ending-war-and-ending-conflict-in-northern-ireland [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-21 07:05:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-21 11:05:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://tnsr.org/?p=1453 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [lead] => The 1998 Agreement that ended Northern Ireland's bloody civil war has often been attributed to many of the remarkable individuals involved in the peace process. But how much of a difference did they really make? James Steinberg explores this question by examining the interaction between structural factors, the peace process, and efforts made by key individuals involved in the process. He also looks at what lessons this history holds for future peace negotiations. [pubinfo] => [issue] => [quotes] => Array ( [0] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => The source of the Northern Ireland conflict was, in part, political — the legacy of the dispute among Irish nationalists about whether to accept, even temporarily, the partition of Ireland. It was also social and economic.  ) [1] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The unionists’ desire to achieve greater control over their destiny played a crucial role in the final decision to accept the 1998 Agreement... ) [2] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Although the centrality of the Northern Ireland issue came, over time, to define the two parties less and less, there remained a perception that Fianna Fail was more nationalist.  ) [3] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => The Agreement resolved the constitutional issues by enshrining the principle of consent: opening the prospect of unification with the South but only with the consent of a majority of the North. ) [4] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Perhaps the best way to characterize the role of agency is to say that circumstance dealt each of the major players a reasonably favorable hand which facilitated agreement, but that each played the hand quite skillfully. ) [5] => Array ( [author] => [style] => right [text] => While policymakers are often limited in what they can do to create the conditions that make a conflict ripe for settlement, it is a vital tool of statecraft to be able to spot an opportunity when it is emerging.  ) [6] => Array ( [author] => [style] => left [text] => Practitioners need to consider the potential long-term costs of a peace process that focuses primarily on the short-term goal of ending the fighting.  ) ) [style] => strategist [type] => Strategist [style_label] => The Strategist [download] => Array ( [title] => PDF Download [file] => ) [authors] => Array ( [0] => 20 ) [endnotes] => Array ( [title] => Endnotes [endnotes] => [1] As with almost every issue, large and small, involving Northern Ireland, even terminology is controversial and tinged with partisan overtones. In the United States, the Irish Republic, and among Northern Ireland nationalists, the agreement is commonly referred to as the “Good Friday Agreement.” Among unionist, it is often called the “Belfast Agreement.” In this essay I will use the “1998 Agreement” or simply the “Agreement,” to describe the outcome of the peace process. [2] Approximately 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles. Of these, a little more than 1,500 were from the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, 1,250 from the Protestant community, and the rest (around 700) from outside Northern Ireland (including British security forces). See, “Statistical Breakdown of Deaths in the ‘Troubles,’” Wesley Johnston, accessed May 8, 2019, http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/past/troubles/troubles_stats.html. [3] This paper largely focuses on the events leading up the 1998 Agreement, but, in order to assess what happened and why, I touch briefly on subsequent developments, without going into detail into the many follow-on negotiations involving the Agreement’s implementation. [4] This paper draws on a number of these studies, as well as my own personal involvement, beginning in the 1980s as an aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, and, more substantively, as director of policy planning at the State Department (1994–1996) and deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton (1996–2000). The studies include Eamon Mallie and David McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2001); Thomas Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process: Ending the Troubles (New York: Palgrave, 2001); George J. Mitchell Making Peace (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999); Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2007); Maria Power, ed., Building Peace in Northern Ireland (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011); Tim Pat Coogan, The Trouble: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (Boulder, CO: Roberts Reinhardt Publishers, 1996); Paul Bew, Peter Gibbon, and Henry Patterson, Northern Ireland 1921-2001: Political Forces and Social Classes (London: Serif, 2002); Paul Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement (Dublin: Liffey Press, 2007); Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002). [5] At least one other scholar-participant has written extensively about the peace process: Paul Bew, long-time professor of Irish Politics at Queens University, Belfast, was an advisor to David Trimble. [6] The idea for this essay arose out of a RAND conference designed to help those involved in the Afghanistan peace process think about lessons learned from past peace conferences. I am grateful to RAND for its support of the initial research on this project. [7] In addition to George Mitchell, see, for example: Alastair Campbell, The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries (London: Hutchinson, 2007); Gerry Adams, An Irish Journal (Kerry: Brandon, 2001); Gerry Adams, Hope and History: Making Peace in Northern Ireland (Kerry: Brandon, 2004); David Trimble, To Raise Up a New Northern Ireland (Belfast: Belfast Press, 2001); Kate Fearon, Women’s Work: the Story of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 1999), as well as the memoirs of President Clinton, Prime Minister Major, Northern Ireland Secretary of State Marjorie “Mo” Mowlam, etc. [8] Some might fairly argue that I have left out one key group of actors — the civil servants and policy advisors (including government ministers) who played a role that was somewhat independent of their political masters. This group includes important figures such as Peter Brooke, Quentin Thomas, Jonathan Powell, and Mo Mowlam on the British side; Martin Mansergh, Sean O’Huiginn, and Paddy Teahon on the Irish side; and Tony Lake and Nancy Soderberg in the United States — to name just a few — as well as the advisors to the various parties in Northern Ireland. For a rich, first-hand account of the role of officials on the British side, see Graham Spencer, ed., The British and Peace in Northern Ireland, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015). [9] Within the Protestant community there were significant class and social differences. Although the dominant forces in Northern Ireland were Protestant, many Protestants were also poor or marginalized, and these differences accounted in part for the divisions and strains within the unionist community, a dimension richly documented in Dean Godson’s biography of David Trimble: Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism (London: Harper Collins, 2004). [10] 1926 census. Hennessey puts the Catholic percentage at about 33 percent at the time of partition. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 2. [11] “2001 Census, Key Statistics, Table KS07a,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, accessed May 16, 2019,  https://www.nisra.gov.uk/sites/nisra.gov.uk/files/publications/2001-census-results-key-statistics-report-tables.pdf,;  See also “Background Information on Northern Ireland Society,” Conflict Archive on the Internet, accessed May 16, 2019, https://cain.ulster.ac.uk/ni/religion.htm, for the long term trends. In the most recent census, Catholics now make up 45 percent of the population, while Protestants make up 48 percent. “2011 Census: Religion in Northern Ireland,” Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, https://www.ninis2.nisra.gov.uk/public/census2011analysis/religion/religionCommentary.pdf. Charles Landow and Mohammed Aly Sergie, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, Council on Foreign Relations, last updated March 12, 2019, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/northern-ireland-peace-process. [12] “If in the future a majority of the people of Northern Ireland clearly wish for and formally consent to the establishment of a united Ireland” the two governments “will introduce and support in the respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.” To be clear, even those sympathetic to the nationalist cause did not believe that demography would change the outcome quickly. Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 28. [13] Andy Bielenberg and Raymond Ryan, “Irish Economic Development: Past, Present, Future?,” Irish Examiner, May 20, 2013, https://www.irishexaminer.com/business/irish-economic-development-past-present-future-231714.html; “Economies of Ireland, North and South, Since 1920,” Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/economies-ireland-north-and-south-1920. [14] John Bradley, “The History of Economic Development in Ireland, North and South,” Proceedings of the British Academy, no. 98 (1999): 35–68, https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/98p035.pdf. [15] Peter Donaghy, “Is Northern Ireland Dramatically Poorer than the Republic?,” Slugger O’Toole, March 26, 2018, https://sluggerotoole.com/2018/03/26/is-northern-ireland-dramatically-poorer-than-the-republic/. [16] The importance of single market and more broadly the E.U. dimension was reflected in John Hume’s first draft of what became the Downing Street Declaration. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 111. It’s worth noting that the challenge Brexit now poses to this “economics will drive politics” approach to all-island integration was foreshadowed in the divergent decisions of Ireland and the United Kingdom on the single currency. See Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 26. [17] For an extensive treatment of the IRA-Libya connection, see Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, especially the “Prologue.” [18] The term “republican” relates back to the divisions within the anti-British forces during the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1920. Republicans rejected the residual links to Great Britain retained in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Their efforts were partially vindicated by the creation of the Republic in 1949, which not only broke the formal ties to the United Kingdom but also included a constitutional claim, under Articles 2 and 3, to the counties of Northern Ireland. The repeal of these provisions was central to unionist support for the 1998 Agreement. [19] There was a third, smaller mainstream party, the United Kingdom Union Party, largely the platform for a prominent, anti-agreement Protestant member of parliament from Northern Ireland, Robert McCartney. [20] The DUP was affiliated with the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force, which, together with the Progressive Unionist Party, was affiliated with the Ulster Defence Association. The perspectives of the loyalist parties are discussed in more detail below. [21] The “official” wing was heavily influenced by Marxist theory, and focused on the class conflict that it believed united the North and South rather than on the political identity of being “Irish,” which had spawned the IRA at the beginning of the 20th century. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 56–79. [22] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 44. [23] The phrase was coined by IRA director of publicity, and long-time Adams ally, Danny Morrison in 1981: “Will anyone here object if with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in this hand, we take power in Ireland?” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 203. [24] In the first elections contested by both the SLDP and Sinn Fein in the early-to-mid-1980s, the SDLP led Sinn Fein by 5–6 percentage points. That margin grew to around 10 to 12 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sinn Fein finally overtook the SDLP in local elections and in elections to Westminster in 2001, in elections to the Stormont Assembly in 2003, and in European elections in 2004. For complete Northern Ireland elections results, see: “Election Results in Northern Ireland Since 1973,” Elections: Northern Ireland Elections, accessed May 8, 2019, https://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/gallsum.htm. [25] Hennessey focuses on the “Ulsterization” of security in the North, which led to a reduced British military presence. This had the effect both of removing a major nationalist grievance and forcing the IRA to focus its violence on “Irish,” albeit Protestant, victims, rather than what they considered the colonial oppressor. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 39. [26] Others, especially Moloney, argue that Adams’ decision to move Sinn Fein to a political approach was part of a long-term plan conceived much earlier and which became more explicit around 1983–84. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 240. Moloney also notes the decline in the Sinn Fein vote compared with the SDLP beginning with the 1984 European Parliament elections and accelerated by the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement as well as the increasing effectiveness of British security operations and the electoral backlash stemming from a number of botched IRA operations. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 326–49. The Enniskillen bombings, which led to the death of a number of non-combatants at a Remembrance Day event in 1987 was a particular turning point. Sinn Fein/IRA leader Martin McGuinness himself later observed, “Obviously it was going to deal a damaging blow to Irish Republicanism.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 63. [27] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 41. [28] “John Hume/Gerry Adams Joint Statement,” Sinn Fein, April 23, 1993, https://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/15217. [29] For accounts of these discussions and the importance of maintaining confidential channels throughout the conflict, see: Peter Taylor, Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein (London: Bloomsbury, 1997) chap. 22; and Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 5. [30] The backlash also had its roots in the British strategy to move away from using British forces to provide security in favor of Northern Ireland security personnel, in particular the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The IRA could argue that violence against British forces was an attack on an “occupying force,” but attacks on the constabulary represented the killing of fellow Irish citizens. It should be noted that some skeptics have suggested that Sinn Fein/the IRA never really embraced the political track, but rather, cynically backed the process leading up to the Agreement and ultimately the Agreement itself on the expectation that unionists would ultimately reject it, allowing Sinn Fein to revert to it traditional unification objectives after having demonstrated that compromise with Unionism was futile. See: Bew, The Making and Remaking of the Good Friday Agreement, 30–31. Moloney disagrees, arguing that while IRA leaders Adams and McGuiness continued to make arguments of this kind to hardliners in the IRA, in fact, they had “made the choice for peace.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, chap. 17. [31] Most in the unionist community and in Great Britain believed that Adams was a member of the IRA’s governing Army Council, an assertion consistently denied by Adams. McGuiness’ links to the IRA were clearer. Moloney makes the most detailed case in support of the argument that Adams played a central, formal role in the IRA from the earliest days of the Troubles until the Agreement itself, although even by Moloney’s account, there seemed to be a substantial disconnect between Adams’ evolving political strategy and the active (and politically damaging) actions of the IRA in the late 1980s and early 1990s, such as the use of “human bombs.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 347–49. [32] This was most obvious at the time the all-party talks began in 1997, when Sinn Fein accepted the Mitchell principles, allowing Sinn Fein to enter the talks, while at the same time the IRA indicated that it “had problems” with some aspects of the principles, thus preserving ambiguity about whether it had accepted exclusively peaceful means: “The Sinn Fein position actually goes beyond the Mitchell Principles. Their affirmation of these principles is therefore quite compatible with their position. As to the IRA's attitude to the Mitchell Principles per se, well, the IRA would have problems with sections of the Mitchell Principles. But then the IRA is not a participant in these talks.” “Mitchell Principles Problematic – IRA,” Irish Times, Sept, 12, 1997, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/mitchell-principles-problematic-ira-1.105491. [33] In A Secret History of the IRA, Moloney catalogues the serious challenges to Adams’ strategy during the key months leading up the Agreement. [34] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 281. [35] For a rich history of the evolution of the UUP during this period, see Godson, Himself Alone. [36] The Anglo-Irish Agreement had a complex impact on subsequent events. As noted above, it did appear to contemplate a political process that could lead to a united Ireland, as well as conceded a role for the South in Northern Ireland affairs. At the same time, this possibility was undercut by Thatcher’s own hardline unionist sensibilities, reflected in the her famous “out, out, out” speech of 1984, in which she ruled out the three solutions for Northern Ireland proposed by the Irish government — unity, federation, or joint authority (between the United Kingdom and Ireland). Thatcher justified the concessions in the Anglo-Irish Agreement as a way to gain Irish support for tougher security measures against the IRA. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 26. [37] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 72. [38] Hennessey argues that Molyneux did not share this distrust, despite the Downing Street Declaration, quoting Molyneux’s statement, “There is no possibility of us being betrayed.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92. But the subsequent release of the British-Irish Framework Documents in 1995, which proposed to create North-South bodies with more than consultative powers, badly undercut Molyneux’s credibility and helped lead to his replacement by Trimble. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 97. [39] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 251. [40] Trimble had earlier established his unionist bona fides by helping to bring down the Sunningdale Agreement in 1974, an earlier attempt at resolving the Northern Ireland conflict. Mitchell, Making Peace, 174. Trimble himself has argued, “I am a product of the destruction of Stormont,” — the decision of the British government to abolish the Protestant-dominated Stormont Assembly, first by direct British rule and then by a power-sharing arrangement with nationalists. Godson, Himself Alone, 25. [41] Although the UUP held a plurality of unionist votes in the first election for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the DUP supplanted the UUP in the second election in 2003 and its margin over the UUP has grown since then. “Election Results.” UUP’s troubles were earlier apparent in the 1999 European parliamentary elections, where it was outpolled by the DUP. [42] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 179–80. Hennessey argues, “The UFF [Ulster Freedom Fighters] and UVF [Ulster Volunteer Force] support for the peace process was the decisive difference. It robbed extreme Unionism of a cutting edge.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 90. [43] Mitchell, Making Peace, 44. [44] See Brian Eggins, History and Hope: The Alliance Party in Northern Ireland (Dublin: The History Press, 2015) fn. 162. [45] See Jamille Bigio and Rachel Vogelstein, “Women’s Participation in Northern Ireland Peace Negotiations Made Them Less Likely to Fair,” The Hill, April 13, 2018, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/383059-womens-participation-in-peace-negotiations-in-northern-ireland-made. [46] Fred Halliday, “Peace Processes in the Late 20th Century,” in A Farewell to Arms: From “Long War” to Long Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Michael Cox, Adrian Guelke, and Fiona Stephens (New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), 285. See also the essays in Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland. [47] Moloney offers a detailed look at the role of the Catholic Church and key clergy. [48] That said, even under the Tories, there were periodic efforts to talk directly with the IRA, including the secret 1972 Cheyne Walk talks between Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw and an IRA delegation, including Gerry Adams, which led to an early, but brief ceasefire. [49] One of the early Northern Ireland Prime Ministers, James Craig, called it “a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant state.” Godson, Himself Alone, 26. [50] Prior to taking office in 1979, her Northern Ireland advisor, Airy Neave, had been killed by a splinter republican paramilitary group, the Irish National Liberation Army. [51] The British and Irish governments issued l “Frameworks for the Future” in February 1995, with proposals on all three strands of the talks. Unionists most strongly objected to provisions that allowed the two governments to decide on the authority of a future North-South body, without the prior consent of a future Northern Ireland Assembly. See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 92–99. [52] Specifically, Blair indicated his support for the “triple lock” — the requirement that any change in the status of Northern Ireland required the agreement of the parties in the North, the public in the north through a referendum, and the approval of the British parliament. Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 104. [53] Albert Reynolds dubbed Bruton “John Unionist.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 435. It was during the administration of an earlier Fine Gael prime minister, Garrett Fitzgerald, that Ireland first accepted the idea that unification should only come about with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, leading to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. [54] After taking office, Ahearn announced “irrendentism is dead.” Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 106–107. [55] Hennessey observed, “It is doubtful that any of his Fianna Fail predecessors would have had the vision to do this.” The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 167. [56] Irish American support for the IRA, including money and weaponry such as the notorious “Armalite” (AR-15), is discussed in detail in Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 114–15. [57] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 150. [58] Shane Hickey, “Major Was Furious with Clinton for Granting Adams a Visa,” Irish Times, Dec. 28. 2018, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/major-was-furious-with-clinton-for-granting-adams-a-visa-1.3738286. [59] This initially took the form of the Northern Ireland Investment conference in Belfast chaired by George Mitchell and U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. [60] Roy Bradford, “Straws in the Wind Show Signs of Hope and Change,” Irish Times, Jan. 3, 1996,  https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/straws-in-the-wind-show-signs-of-hope-and-change-1.18637. [61] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 70–74. Moloney argues that the secret process dates back to indirect contacts between Adams and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Tom King in 1986 or 1987. Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 247. Notably Moloney argued that Adams acted without the approval of the IRA Army Council. [62] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 81–83. [63] Mitchell reached this conclusion after consulting with the head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Hugh Annesley. This conclusion was shared by Chilcot: “if you set a long time condition, a period of rehabilitation in which no violence took place, it would not happen.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 79. [64] Mitchell, Making Peace, 42–45. [65] Mitchell, Making Peace, 50, 60. [66] Mitchell, Making Peace, 110. [67] The third international chair was John de Chastelain, former chief of Canada’s defense staff. [68] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 102. [69] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 113. [70] As a result of the violence, the governments voted to expel, at least temporarily, both the Ulster Democratic Party (linked to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters) and Sinn Fein. Although the decision risked collapsing the talks, in the end, it buttressed the credibility of the condition subsequent approach by demonstrating the government’s willingness to carry out its threats against non-compliant parties. Mitchell, Making Peace, 134–42. [71] Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 115–18. The document, called “Propositions on Heads of Agreement,” included almost all of the key features that ended up in the final Agreement. [72] Mitchell, Making Peace, 103; Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 22. [73] Mitchell, Making Peace, 143–46. [74] Among the most consequential of the secret talks were the meetings between Sinn Fein and a British MI5 agent, “Fred,” which led to the Peter Brooke statement that Britain had “no strategic interest” in Northern Ireland, and to the Sinn Fein-Reynolds meeting. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, chap. 6. Another important secret channel was between the Irish and loyalist paramilitaries, fostered by a former unionist leader, Roy Magee. Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 140. [75] Agriculture, education, transport, environment, waterways, social security/social welfare, tourism, E.U. programs, inland fisheries, aquaculture and maritime, health, accident and emergency services, and urban/rural development. [76] The amendment was approved by referendum in both parts of Ireland in May 1998. [77] Interestingly, the approach used by the Decommissioning Commission drew on the experience of disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army. See Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 276. [78] For a summary of developments since the Agreement, and on-going issues, see Kristin Archick, Northern Ireland: Current Issues and On-Going Challenges in the Peace Process, Congressional Research Service, March 12, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21333.pdf. [79] Archick, Northern Ireland, 19 [80] Ben Kelly, “Why Is There No Government in Northern Ireland and How Did Power-sharing Collapse?” The Independent, April 30, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/northern-ireland-talks-latest-power-sharing-deal-stormont-sinn-fein-dup-a8893096.html. [81] Connla Young, “Sinn Fein Say Good Friday Agreement Facing Its Biggest Threat,” Irish News, May 14, 2019, https://www.irishnews.com/news/2017/12/04/news/sinn-fe-in-say-good-friday-agreement-facing-its-biggest-threat-1202189/. [82] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37, quoting David Trimble, “The Belfast Agreement,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. Moloney argues, in A Secret History of the IRA, that Adams’ triumph was part of a long-term strategic plan that took years to bring to fruition. It may well be that, unlike Trimble, Adams was guided by a masterplan. But the fact that it took Adams 25 years to realize this goal suggests that favorable exogenous factors, as well as Adams’ efforts, were necessary for the plan to succeed. [83] Mitchell credits Ahearn’s willingness to reopen the “Strand Two Agreement” (against the advice of his aides), which he had reached with Blair just days before the Good Friday Agreement: “Had Ahearn insisted on the Strand Two provisions he had worked out with Blair, there would not have been a Good Friday Agreement.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 171. [84] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 37–38, quoting George J. Mitchell “Toward Peace in Northern Ireland,” Fordham International Law Journal 22, no. 4 (1999), https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/ilj/vol22/iss4/2/. [85] Thus, Moloney, in arguing that the credit belongs to Adams, asserts, “The Irish peace process was a not a spontaneous phenomenon, tossed around by forces outside its control, nor was it forced upon its architects by the fortunes of war. The process was like a precooked dinner whose basic menu had largely been decided long before most of the diners knew the meal was planned.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, xvi. At other points, Moloney indulges in what feels like a parody of the “Cleopatra’s nose” version of counterfactual analysis: “If Annie Adams [Gerry Adams’ mother] had not insisted on making the move to Ballymurphy [an IRA stronghold in West Belfast], the IRA might never have been led by Gerry Adams, and Irish history would now look very different.” Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 46. [86] Peter Crutchley, "IRA Ceasefire 20 Years On: The Priest Who Brokered the Peace," BBC News, Aug. 31, 2014,  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-28812366. This view is echoed by Moloney: “To say that Father Alec Reid is the unrecognized inspiration of the peace process would be an understatement.” A Secret History of the IRA, 223. [87] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 115. [88] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 218. One British government official observed, “The body language changed after Winfield. Before that it was always stiff and stilted, but afterwards they no longer seemed stiff and stilted in each other’s presence. Winfield was the psychological breakthrough.” Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 264. [89] The narrative presented in the earlier sections of this essay is a form of “process tracing,” which helps clarify the key decisions and those responsible for the decisions. By itself, however, this approach can’t really answer “what mattered” — either as necessary or sufficient cause. For this reason, counterfactual analysis is particularly useful. For a discussion of some of the considerations and difficulties, see Jack S. Levy, “Counterfactuals, Causal Inference, and Historical Analysis,” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 378–402, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070602; Francis J. Gavin, “What If? The Historian and the Counterfactual.” Security Studies 24, no. 3 (September 2015): 425–30, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1070610; and Neil J. Roese, ed., What Might Have Been: The Social Psychology of Counterfactual Thinking (London: Psychology Press, 1995). [90] See for example Mallie and McKittrick’s judgment: “The election of 1997 transformed the peace process.” Endgame in Ireland, 213. [91] See Mary Holland, “A Very Good Friday,” Guardian, April 11, 1998, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1998/apr/12/northernireland. [92] Hennessey challenges at least part of the claim, arguing that the 1998 Agreement had a much weaker North-South dimension which allowed for unionist acceptance. Thomas Hennessey, “‘Slow learners’? Comparing the Sunningdale Agreement and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement,” in Sunningdale, the Ulster Workers' Council Strike and the Struggle for Democracy in Northern Ireland, ed. David McCann and Cillian McGrattan (Manchester: Manchester University, 2017). [93] See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 142. [94] This was particularly true on the issue of decommissioning, where Adams repeatedly insisted on the limits of his influence over the IRA. His position was corroborated by the British head of the Northern Ireland police (the Royal Ulster Constabulary), Hugh Annesley, who, when asked by Mitchell at a key juncture in 1995 whether Adams could get the IRA to decommission before an agreement, replied, “No, he couldn’t do it even if he wanted to. He doesn’t have that much control over them.” Mitchell, Making Peace, 30. [95] Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 414–16. [96] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 221–23. [97] Godson describes the episode in detail. Godson, David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism. [98] Martin Mansergh, “Forward,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, ed. Timothy J. White (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), ix. [99] Gormley-Heenan examines this problem at some length. Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 91–96. [100] Inclusivity has several different meanings in the context of these negotiations. The term was sometimes used to refer to the inclusion of the full range of stakeholders, including civil society, but was also used more narrowly, by Sinn Fein and the loyalists, to refer to the protagonists in the conflict. See for example, Timothy J. White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 7. Broad inclusivity of civil society was valuable but it was the inclusion of the former paramilitaries that was crucial. See Paul Dixon, “The Victory and Defeat of the IRA,” in Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process. [101] Mitchell, Making Peace, 19. This is an important difference between the 1998 Agreement and Sunningdale. [102] Whether the agreement is truly a consociational agreement is a matter of much debate among political scientists, see White, “Lessons from the Northern Ireland Peace Process: An Introduction,” 4; and articles cited in footnote 2. [103] Power, Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 8. [104] Feargal Cochrane and Seamus Dunn, People Power? The Role of the Voluntary and Community Sector in the Northern Ireland Conflict (Cork: Cork University Press, 2006), 173. [105] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 216. [106] See Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 164–65 and Mitchell, Making Peace, 173. “As I read the document I knew instantly that it would not be acceptable to the Unionists.” Godson, Himself Alone, 327. As noted above, the ensuing crisis was only resolved when Ahearn agreed to walk back the draft and dilute the provisions opposed by the unionists. [107] In fact, the deadline actually slipped by a day; on the evening of the formal deadline the talks were still at an impasse. Mitchell, Making Peace, 177. The deadline also helped Adams gain IRA assent to enter the talks — his critics feared that an open-ended negotiation predicated on a continued IRA ceasefire would be used as a British ploy to weaken the IRA’s operational capacity as well as its rank and file support. See Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA, 471. [108] The classic statement is presented by William Zartman in “Ripeness: The Hurting Stalemate and Beyond,” in International Conflict Resolution After the Cold War, ed. Paul C. Stern and Daniel Druckman (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000), https://doi.org/10.17226/9897. As noted below, the approach I suggest here relies less on Zartman’s idea of a “hurting stalemate” and more on the perception by both sides of a positive gain. [109] But not impossible. Arguably the decision to arm the Bosnians and bomb the Serbs during the Bosnia conflict, and the bombing of the Serbs in Kosovo, helped produce circumstances that made those conflicts “ripe” for settlement. See Zartman, “Ripeness,” 244. [110] Gormley-Heenan, Political Leadership and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, 14, quoting Paul Arthur, Peer Learning: Northern Ireland as a Case Study (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1999), 10. “The participants shared a concern that something needed to be done and that at the very least they should explore each others’ options. Track two presented the best opportunities to do so. The absence of the media, the physical location, the neutral back up support, all were as far removed as possible from the rawness of Northern Ireland’s political arena.” [111] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 257. See also, Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 19. [112] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 129. [113] See Timothy J. White, “The Role of Civil Society in Promoting Peace in Northern Ireland,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, ed. Maria Power, 38–40. [114] See Maria Power, “Introduction,” in Building Peace in Northern Ireland, 4. [115] On Blair’s decommissioning side letter, see Hennessey, The Northern Ireland Peace Process, 169–70. [116] This view of the role of third parties is, thus, distinct from the focus on third parties as “neutral” mediators. What mattered most here was not neutrality but that third parties could offer something of value to the parties themselves. This more traditional understanding of the role of neutral actors in peace processes was illustrated by the creation of the Independent Commission on Policing, which produced a blue print for policing reform — something the parties themselves were unable to accomplish. [117] Mitchell, Making Peace, 25. [118] The IRA completed decommissioning in 2005. [119] Mallie and McKittrick, Endgame in Ireland, 205. [120] For a discussion of the problem of “open” diplomacy (without preconditions) see Oriana Skyler Mastro, The Costs of Conversation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019). 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