Examples of Ripeness

William Zartman

Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, and Director of Conflict Management at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: You mentioned you had a long list of examples when ripeness has or has not been assessed appropriately, can you give a few, to sort of color the concepts?

A: Yeah, one very good case, a classic case was at Kilometer 101 in the October War when the Israeli and the Egyptian armies literally had each other encircled, it was a mutual encirclement. They were caught like 2 hands together and neither of them could break each other's way out, although the Israelis were more toward moving toward breaking that encirclement. The parties met together and it was at that point that Kissinger came in and said, "It's silly to talk about breaking this encirclement, why don't we talk about breaking a larger stalemate which exists between Israel and Egypt on the whole border issue." There's a couple of good examples in the book that Jed Crocker edited, "Herding Cats." He talks about his own experiences negotiating in Namibia and Angola, there he just showed that six years of enormous patience and hanging in there.

Finally, at the end of 1986, we had a stalemate in which neither side was able to break the siege around Kuntakana Valley, the South Africans and UNITA were not able to break the Angolans hold, and Angolans and SWAPO were not able to kick the South Africans out of Southern Angola. Then the Angolans went to Russia and they were able to get the Cubans to double their troops that were in Southern Angola and got the Cubans to say -- and we knew this at the time -- that in the first place, they didn't want to be there but if they had to be there, they were going to go hot pursuit into Namibia. It was at this time the first time that the South Africans got some white body bags from a couple deaths from the encounter. So here was an indication that it was going to get worse, neither side could dislodge the other because of that stalemate. Things could possibly get worse, but the side that didn't want to wanted to go home. They were annoyed with the Angolans, a perfect example of a hurting stalemate. To no one's surprise, with Crocker standing there and being very active, he was able to pull this into an agreement

Another example was in the late 1980s, early 1990s -- I forget the date exactly -- in El Salvador, when Alver Desoto was the UN mediator and the Farbundi National Liberation Movement made an attack on the capital. They were able to get into the capital and do damage, but they weren't able to hold the capital. They were pushed back. Then the army realized that they could not dislodge them. They realized that they could not take the capital, and both sides realized they were in a stalemate. It hurt and the UN mediator was there to seize on this perception, and that was the beginning of the peace process.

Q: What about conflicts today that seem to be in a hurting stalemate? Places like Columbia, Northern Ireland, Russia and Chechnya, things like that, they would appear, at first glance anyways, to be in a severe hurting stalemate, especially Columbia, but why aren't those situations ripe?

A: Well, some of them are, some of them aren't. Let's take the one that is most so, and that is Northern Ireland. Since the movement that led up to the Good Friday Agreement, they have realized that neither one is going to prevail, that the stalemate is costly and that it is better to come to a political agreement. So we've got this jagged process to the Good Friday Agreement, and then it's kind of a semi-collapse. Now, we're in the process of putting it back together again. I think it's a good example of the messiness of ripeness. It wasn't just clearly ripe and then they went to work. It was kind of a sloppy and perceptional process. They played on it and either side for tactical advantage. Each perceptional side felt less in a stalemate then other parts and so on.

In Chechnya, I don't know about the details of this one as well, but I would say this would be a good place to research and see if there isn't a perception of a hurting stalemate in the present time with the Russian sponsored referendum, and with the agreement of the Chechnyans probably out from under the leadership to participate in the referendum. I believe the participation was very high, because they saw that there was a possibility of a way out that contributed to this perception of a stalemate of the conflict as it went on, so without being able to sight the evidence. I haven't studied that particular place in detail, but it would be an interesting place to look into and see if this theory doesn't help us understand what happened.

Whereas in Columbia, there is not hurting stalemate. The FARK is not hurting at all; it is enjoying itself. It has a Robin Hood existence in it's territory. It feels righteous in its cause. It's making lots of money. It gets knocked over the head, every once in a while, but it's still leading a very successful campaign. It doesn't see anyway out that's consistent with it goals, and of course the government is hurting badly, but doesn't see anyway out. The government still has more or less control over the territories that it controls and its troubled more by the militia, hence the present attempts to negotiate with the absence of room to negotiate with the FARK. We mustn't confuse our notion of hurt with bystanding populations with the parties sense of hurt in stalemate.

Q: That actually moves to my next question about leadership. Which is constituents and extremists? When you say one side, you're talking primarily about the leadership, or is there a broader conception about who is hurting in the stalemate?

A: No. It can be. There's been some good kind of 2nd generation work that Steve Stedman and someone else who did some work on this work, indicating that the sides were pluralistic, that sometimes it was the supporters of the parties that had to feel the stalemate. That was Stedman's contribution. As we've seen for example in Chechnya, it may be that the populations that felt they were in a hurting stalemate and abandoned their leadership; that's a hypothesis. Therefore, they, in this case, had not negotiated but voted a possibility of settlement. It has to be somebody who can speak in the name of somebody on one side of the dominant part of the conflict, but there's certainly a lot of internal maneuvering on one part of what I'm calling a side. A side is not homogenous, and I don't meant to suggest that it is.

Q: Would then extremists and diaspora populations or refugee populations confiscate the appearance of ripeness or the willingness of a party to declare itself ripe? Not in those words.

A: Confiscate? No, but they would probably complicate. They would be apart of the internal dynamics. Take an example of the present time, such as the US is going to war with Iraq. Well, what do we mean? We know that within the US government there were a number of different currents and great debates, some of them tactic, some of them strategic and so on. From the outside, the US went to war with Iraq, but when you get inside the black box you find out there was a Wolfowitz and then a Rumsfield faction, a Powell faction and not quite sure where Bush stood faction, whether he was with one or the other or if he was up for grabs and so on. That is simply the dynamics that go into the making of a decision. That complicates, and that makes more realistic the process of finding out, but that doesn't affect the theory.