7.4.5 The Instability of an Imposed Solution

The instability of an imposed solution stems from the loser’s inevitable sense of injustice and desire for revenge at the first opportunity.

Confrontations, such as that between Israel and Palestine, can continue for many years, periodically sliding into armed conflict and back again, and potentially never reaching a stable peace.  Rupert Smith described the paradigm of confrontation and conflict in chapter 5 of his book The Utility of Force.  At the start of the chapter he refers to:

“a continuous criss-crossing between confrontation and conflict, whilst peace is not necessarily either the starting or the endpoint; and whereas conflicts are ultimately resolved, it is not necessarily the case with confrontations…..  the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is still not resolved after fifty-seven years ” (p.  181)

Israel’s military victories in 1948, 1967 and 1973 have failed to produce peace, yet there are still those who ask us to Remember, The God of Israel is Also a God of War! – and who argue that “evil must be vanquished first”.

History has repeatedly shown that settlements reached by force are temporary and eventually resurface – sometimes decades or even centuries later – because agreements made under duress aren’t seen as binding.  There is an easy transition to war when the balance of power changes substantially.  The GlobalSecurity.org article on the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 gives a striking example of the instability of an imposed solution: “The Iraqis, especially the Baath leadership, regarded the 1975 treaty as merely a truce, not a definitive settlement”.  Saddam Hussein thought that he had chosen an opportune moment to attack when Iran was militarily weak, as he “watched the once invincible Imperial Iranian Army disintegrate”, after Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979.

Memories of injustice don’t die quickly.  Wars cause refugees to leave their homes, and sometimes to settle in camps in other countries for several generations.  The children growing up in such refugee camps will have been told of their parents’ loss of property and hardship, so they are likely to join resistance movements as soon as they are old enough to bear arms.  A BBC portrait, Inside a Palestinian refugee camp, of life in Lebanon’s Shatila camp, described the refugees as keeping alive a hope of return to their original homes in Northern Israel.  Hezbollah recruits from such camps and has continued to be a thorn in Israel’s side – as described in the BBC profile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

A balance of power lacks the legitimacy of an agreement which has been meaningfully negotiated, or a judgement which has been made impartially and transparently under a jurisdiction which is respected by both sides.  Peace can only be achieved through reconciliation, which requires political negotiation – such as that which led to the formation of the EU (, for example.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/745.htm.