Thinking Aloud: Diplomacy Done Right

Dec. 18, 2014 by Darius

Yesterday’s announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba made headlines around the world—and with good reason.  Less attention, though, has been paid to the actual process that resulted in the deal.  It’s a prime example of diplomacy done right.

The deal between the US and Cuba involved some complicated prisoner swaps and other measures.  The US released three Cuban spies in prison since the late 1990s, while Cuba released Alan Gross, a US government contractor imprisoned for alleged espionage in 2009.  Additionally, Cuba promised to release more than 50 political prisoners, and the US promised to ease some restrictions on finance and travel.

It’s important to note that neither side got all of what they wanted here.  Cuba is still a dictatorial regime.  The release of political prisoners is good but falls far short of what the US sees as ideal.  Cuba, for its part, is still on the receiving end of a major economic embargo by the US that is unlikely to be lifted soon.  But that’s how diplomacy sometimes needs to work.  This agreement provides something to build on for the future.

It’s also important to note that this agreement took time and was conducted out of the public eye.  US and Cuban representatives met many times over an 18-month period.  The secrecy of these meetings was maintained throughout the time period.  It is difficult to see the agreement happening if the negotiations had to withstand domestic US pressures that are now emerging.  The secrecy is one marked difference between this successful diplomacy and the heretofore unsuccessful diplomacy with Iran.

Finally, this agreement is not just a product of the US and Cuba.  Instead, negotiations were facilitated by Canada and the Vatican.  Pope Francis, in particular, is said to have played a key role.  Choosing the right mediator for any diplomatic effort is of the utmost importance.  In the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example, there have been relatively few diplomatic triumphs that did not have a mediator (be it Norway, Spain, or another country).

It is important to note, though, that the US and Cuba did not agree to be friends.  Far from it.  They only agreed to resume diplomatic relations, which is a fancy way of saying that they are now on speaking terms.  It’s about time: “the silent treatment” has never been an effective means of changing one’s adversary.

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