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Home » Articles » Juxtaposing Use of Force and Negotiation as an Approach to International Dispute Resolution – Cosmas C. Okwumuo

Juxtaposing Use of Force and Negotiation as an Approach to International Dispute Resolution – Cosmas C. Okwumuo

International Dispute Resolution

Juxtaposing Use of Force and Negotiation as an Approach to International Dispute Resolution

Introduction

Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter 1945 prohibits the use of threat or force by states in international relations. This prohibition is, however, subject to an exception of self-defence in Article 51 of the Charter.

Thus, states may resort to force only in response to an armed attack. The combined imports of these provisions have given rise to controversies as to what constitutes threat or force and the extent at which force may be used. Regardless of the law, force has flagrantly been used by states in numerous instances.

Stakeholders in international relations are conscious of the disastrous impact of war and the role of negotiation in sustaining peace and unity amongst states, hence the necessity of numerous measures taken so far which includes the establishment of Permanent Court of Arbitration and other conciliatory bodies under the United Nations for the purpose of fostering peaceful settlement. The highlights below are basically case studies where negotiations as opposed to use of force have proved to be efficacious in resolving international disputes.

Juxtaposing the Relevance of Negotiation as against Use of Force

Negotiation has been effectively employed in the resolution of certain international disputes which would have caused more havoc should the use of force be sustained. The Iran Nuclear Deal of 2015 also referred to as the Iran-P5+1 deal is a notable instance. P5+1 comprises the five super powers who are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the United States, France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom, plus Germany.

It is also referred to as E3+3 representing the 3 European Union states on the list (the United Kingdom, France and Germany) and the rest which are non-European Union states. Iran was at the verge of developing a dangerous nuclear weapon by virtue of its nuclear program. The continuation of the nuclear program was perceived as threat to world peace and territorial integrity of states.

This led to the initiation of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal in 2015 which suppressed Iran’s ability to go on with the nuclear program. Meanwhile, the P5+1 state had levied economic sanction on Iran to limit their progress on the nuclear program.[1] The lift on the economic sanctions formed part of the consideration which the P5+1 state offered in the cause of the negotiation.

By virtue of the deal, Iran agreed to reduce its uranium stockpile by 98% to 300kg for the period of 15 years, leaving them with only 3.67% as the enrichment level, such that is below the amount required for building nuclear bomb. This was in exchange for the lifting of all the United Nations’ sanctions against Iran; the lifting of economic embargoes which the European Union and the US levied on Iran’s petrochemical and automobile industries, financial institutions and other investments.

In addition, the deal imposed certain requirements of transparency on Iran regarding its nuclear program; thus, to give access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in respect of all its nuclear supply, production, storage and enrichment facilities to enable the agency inspect and ascertain the safety level of the nuclear program. The Agency was also to be given continuous access to survey the uranium mills and investigate any allegation on suspicion of Iran’s existing nuclear facility in any part of the country.[2]

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The Iran nuclear deal was not without opposition, but was commended by the United Nations, the IAEA, the P5+1 state, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Italy and others. While the success of the deal is plausible, it is noteworthy that the fate of the deal is currently uncertain since the United States’ expression of withdrawal in 2018. The degree of uncertainty was heightened after the 2020 US attack on Iranians. The US has, however, signified her willingness to continue with the deal as long as Iran complies.

One may wonder the essence of the deal in the actual sense and its significance to this discourse. Well, it is an instance where negotiation saved nations involved in hostile exchanges that had not degenerated to war. Distinguishing this instance with similar scenarios, it is to be recalled that states had launched pre-emptive attacks based on a mere suspicion of nuclear weapons which constituted threat to its national security.

The invasion of Iraq by the US under President George W. Bush administration was on a mere suspicion that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This attack generated a lot of controversies. Eventually, no Weapon of Mass Destruction was found in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator president was eventually captured and executed.

Another instance was the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear program (the Osirak Reactor) by Israel via pre-emptive airstrike in 1981. Israel claimed that the nuclear weapon constituted threat to its national security; hence it was compelled to act in self-defence. In these two later instances, the United States and Israel rather resorted to use of force.  

The Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute lasted from 1998-2018. The war over the struggle for the border town of Badme started on 6th May, 1998. Both states laid claim to the ownership of the border. The border in question neither had value nor resources, and this made people wonder what prize to be derived from the dispute; hence, the description of the conflict as one of “two bald men fighting over a comb.”[3]

The war lasted till the year 2000 following the signing of a peace agreement by both states which established a commission to resolve the border dispute.[4] The commission in its resolution of April 2002 awarded the border to Eritrea. Ethiopia opted for further negotiations but Eritrea refused to give in to any further negotiation until Ethiopia first complied with the resolution of the commission.

The dispute lingered until 2018 when Abiy Ahmed, the later Prime Minister of Ethiopia took the necessary steps and disclosed his country’s intention to honour the 2000 decision of the commission.[5] This development established a friendly tie between the two states following a joint declaration of peace signed in July 2018 by Isaias Afwerki, the president of Eritrea and Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian Prime Minister.

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The North Macedonia-Greece Name Dispute is also instructive on the relevance of negotiation in international relations. The Republic of Macedonia (formerly Yugoslav Republic) was part of Yugoslavia until the declaration of her independence in 1991.[6] Since then, Greece had disputed over the country’s name, ‘Macedonia’ because they perceived it as a claim of territory over Greek Macedonia. Greece’s strong opposition was based on the historical significance of Macedonia, coupled with the fact amongst others, that it was the birthplace of Alexander the Great.[7] The dispute lasted from 1991-2019.

Greece had opposed the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU).  In the United Nations, the country was admitted as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia owing to Greece’s objection. The dispute was resolved on several rounds of negotiation between both states, basically by the United Nations represented by Matthew Nimetz, a retired lawyer and diplomat.[8]

The negotiation yielded positive outcome in June 2018 following the Prespa Agreement between the two states. By virtue of the agreement, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia undertook an official change of its name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. In compromise, Greece undertook to drop its opposition of North Macedonia’s membership to NATO and the European Union.

The Qatar Blockade 2021, also known as the Qatar Diplomatic Crisis started on 5th June, 2017 following the accusation of Qatar for acts of terrorism by several countries. Principally, the accusing countries are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The accused terrorist crimes include Qatar’s purported financial and other support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Al-Qaeda, all which are extremist organizations. Qatar, however, denied the allegation. The named countries, regardless, broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar. They took a step further, enforcing land, air and sea blockade on Qatar. The blockade persisted till it was called off in 2021 following the January 2021 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit held in Saudi Arabia. At the summit, the states signed an agreement to lift the blockade.

 Incidental to the agreement was an undertaking to restore diplomatic ties between the states and lift the economic restrictions imposed by the states. This effective resolution was achieved through series of negotiations brokered by Kuwait and the United States. In the course of the negotiation, the accusing countries listed 13 conditions which Qatar must comply with in order to put an end to the crisis.

The demands principally include: that Qatar should cut diplomatic ties and economic cooperation and eject the representatives of Iranian military from Qatar; cut ties with all the terrorist groups, cease funding terrorist individuals and groups; hand over terrorists declared wanted by the four states including the United States; close down Al Jazeera news stations and other affiliated stations; cease the ongoing construction of Turkish military base in Qatar; and compensate the countries for the lives lost as a result of Qatar policies.[9]

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The demands were originally to be complied with within 10 day; otherwise, it would become void. The demands also include that Qatar should seek economic, political and military harmony with the neigbouring states. The series of negotiations led to the states arriving at common ground. Qatar agreed to join forces with the states to combat terrorism.[10]

Conclusion

International law did not only place ban on the use of force but also provides for a better alternative to force, which is peaceful settlement by virtue of Article 2(3) of the United Nations Charter 1945 and other treaties. What unscrupulous states do in response to the prohibition is to rely on the provision of self-defence as justification for their acts of aggression.

The Charter, however, seems not to have covered a situation of pre-emptive attack as claimed by various state practices. The case studies so far discussed demonstrate how effective negotiations are in resolving interstate dispute, as opposed to the use of force which builds strained relationship.


[1] Kali Robinson, ‘What is the Iran Nuclear Deal?’ <https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-iran-nuclear-deal> accessed 23 July 2023.

[2] The White House, ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program’ <https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2015/04/02/parameters-joint-comprehensive-plan-action-regarding-islamic-republic-ir> accessed 23 July 2023.

[3] John Campbell, ‘Ethiopia and Eritrea Clash: Who is to Blame and what is to be gained?’ <https://www.cfr.org/blog/ethiopia-and-eritrea-clash-who-blame-and-what-be-gained> accessed 24 July 2023.

[4] Abdelmalek Touati, ‘Ethiopia, Eritrea Sign Peace Deal to end Border War’<https://reliefweb.int/report/eritrea/ethiopia-eritrea-sign-peace-deal-end-border-war> accessed 24 July 2023.

[5] Alexia Underwood, ‘The Sudden end of the Ethiopia-Eritrea War, explained’ <https://www.vox.com/2018/7/31/17595988/ethipia-eritrea-peace-abiy-ahmed> accessed 24 July 2023.

[6] United Nations, ‘UN Chief Welcomes Resolution to 27-year-old Disagreement over renaming the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ <https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/06/1012042> accessed 25 July 2023.

[7] Joanna Kakissis, ‘For Two Countries, the Dispute over Macedonia’s Name is rooted in National Identity’ <https://www.npr.org/sections/parallells/2018/02/04/582506402/for-two-countries-the-dispute-over-macedonisa-name-is-rooted-in-national-identit> accessed 24 July 2023.

[8] United Nations, ‘UN Chief Welcomes Resolution to 27-year-old Disagreement over renaming the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ <https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/06/1012042> accessed 25 July 2023.

[9] KC Ulrichsen, ‘Saudi Arabia just lifted Qatar’s 43-month Blockade. How did this rift end?’ <https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/01/08/saudi-arabia-just-lifted-qatars-43-month-blockade-how-did-this-rift-end> accessed 25 July 2023.

[10] Ibid.


Image Credit: CloudLex


About Author

Cosmas Okwumuo holds an LL.B from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He has passion for litigation. His interests in law specifically cut across commercial law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and property rights holistically. Specifically, property rights in this context extend to intellectual property, physical properties, and of course, rights as they relate to human person. Cosmas is a seasoned writer, editor and tutor. Outside of real-life businesses, he enjoys artful entertainments.

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