Bad Interventions and Poor Tradecraft

Chester Crocker

Georgetown 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 ???).

A: You need to address the intractability sources. This may have to do with, people living on conflict, but also have to do with poor tradecraft, or with the need to go beyond existing formulas that have just gotten shopworn and are not taken seriously anymore, because the literature of previous negotiations is the literature of failure.

Q: In the sense that they talk about things that haven't worked?

A: Yeah. There are a lot of discredited formulas.

Q: Like what?

A: You think of the idea of a federal solution in the context of Sudan. It's been talked about and talked about and it's become a term, which provokes debate, rather than leading to conflict. So, maybe there's a time for getting beyond the word and just going to the substance, rather than talking about the "federal solution," which drives people into their corners.

Q: So rather than the substance, it's the very language?

A: I think it's often language issues, sure. I mean, like sovereignty is a key factor. Look at what the Tamil Tigers are now talking about in Sri Lanka as an alternative to their dream. Look what the Ecuadorians accepted in their war with Peru as the alternative to their dream. Peru didn't change by one iota its commitments in term of the Rio Protocol of 1942. They didn't change a thing back in the 90s when they renegotiated this thing. What they did was redefine the word sovereignty-very, very skillful tradecraft. This war's gone back to the 19th century, so it was quite an accomplishment.

Q: When you say that poor tradecraft is often a source of intractability, what does that mean, exactly? Poor tradecraft by outside interveners?

A: Yeah, poor tradecraft by outsiders. For example, maybe the best of example of poor tradecraft that I can think of is what was done in the early 90s to try to bring about an end to the Angolan Civil War. It was peacemaking on the cheap. The timing of the election process could not have been planned worse because it happened to fall right in the middle of American election season, which guaranteed there'd be no U.S. sustained oversight of the peace process because we were distracted by our elections, you know. A very ambitious 60-page-long agreement had been drawn up in 1991, but two thirds of it was never implemented, and they went ahead and held the elections anyway. Plus, there was not enough observers on the spot, or military units on the spot, to prevent massive cheating. So there was massive cheating. There was neither enough oversight to guarantee no that there was no cheating or to prove to skeptical minds, and UNITA was full of skeptical minds, that in fact they had some reason for confidence in the process. So any way you cut it, this was a laboratory case of really poor tradecraft. The Mozambique success that came a couple years later was part of a learning process there. I think people looked over their shoulders at Angola, and said now that's an example of what not to do.

Q: So that poor tradecraft ultimately led to greater intractability in Angola?

A: Well, the war went on, again, until just a year ago in February. It was never resolved through a conflict management intervention or a conflict resolution intervention. It was resolved by victory by one side, with the help of a shift in the balance of power on the ground, a military balance. A lot of outside intelligence and other technological support from the Israelis to the Angolan government made a big difference. Basically that conflict ended through victory.

Q: Winning and losing?

A: Yeah.