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Jean Marie Hicks
St. Thomas More High School
Rapid City, SD

“Too little, too late” often in the prevention of violent conflicts holds true (Peck).  When the roots of the problem are not identified in time, violence becomes the solution.  Preventive diplomacy, one way of avoiding conflicts, can be defined as “action to prevent disputes from arising among parties to prevent existing disputes from escalating into conflicts, and to limit the spread of the latter when they occur” (Boutros-Ghali 45).

Preventive diplomacy protects peace and ultimately people, who suffer greatly in armed conflicts.  Preventive diplomacy has been used in many disputes, including the border dispute in Venezuela with Great Britain in the 1890s and in this decade’s Iraq-Kuwait dispute.  Conflict was prevented in Venezuela.  However, preventive action was not effective in Kuwait; and civilians suffered as a result.

The United States’ intervention in the border dispute in Venezuela is one example of preventive diplomacy. Unfortunately, the border between Guyana and Venezuela was never clearly defined; and colonial maps were inaccurate (Lombardi 29).  From the 1840s until the 1880s, Britain pushed into Venezuela over Guyana’s western border by claiming the area’s gold (Lombardi 29), and by asserting that the land from the Río Essequibo to the Orinoco was part of Guyana (Schomburgk Line) according to colonial maps (Daly 2).  Britain was vehement about its right to the land, and Venezuela appealed to the U.S. for aid.  Under the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. states that it will act as a police force to protect Latin America from European influence.  The U.S. viewed Britain’s occupation of a portion of Venezuela as a breech of the doctrine (Cleveland 93).

Conflict was imminent, as Britain began to prepare its navy for war (Boutwell 4).  A solution appeared in 1895 in the person of Secretary of State Richard Olney.  Enthusiastic to attempt preventive diplomacy, Olney sent a dispatch to Britain stressing the importance of the Monroe Doctrine.  Lord Salisbury of Britain responded, saying that the Monroe Doctrine was not applicable in the Venezuela situation, as no system of government was being forced upon that country (Cleveland 100-101).  In addition, Salisbury pointed out that the conflict was not the result of the acquisition of new territory: Guyana owned the territory in question (Boutwell 10).

Olney stressed that the issue was pertinent to American stability, and remained steadfast in his demands (Cleveland 109).  When Britain refused to submit, Congress authorized the president’s appointment of an investigative committee.  Meanwhile, Salisbury and Olney organized a meeting for November 10, 1896.  At the meeting, a treaty was written; and the U.S. threatened to use its military to remove Britain from Venezuela’s border if necessary.  Britain and Venezuela signed the treaty on February 2, 1897, giving Venezuela control of the Río Orinocco and much of the land behind the Schomburgk Line (Cleveland 117-118).  Thus preventive diplomacy on the part of the U.S. was successful, and war was avoided.

The use of preventive diplomacy in the recent Iraq-Kuwait dispute was less successful.  Iraq had been part of the Ottoman Empire from the 1700s until 1899, when Britain granted it autonomy (Darwish and Alexander 6).  When, in 1961, Britain gave Kuwait independence, Iraq claimed that, historically, Kuwait was part of Iraq (Sasson 9).  Iraq begrudgingly recognized Kuwait’s independence in 1963.

For awhile, relations between the two countries improved as Kuwait aided Iraq monetarily in the Iran-Iraq War (1980 until 1988) (Sasson 11).  After the war, however, Iraq demanded money from Kuwait for reconstruction.  Then, Iraq accused Kuwait of drilling oil from the border without sharing and of taking more oil than the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quota permitted (Sasson 12).  Iraq began to threaten Kuwaiti borders, beginning a conflict that would take thousands of soldiers away from their homes, harm civilians, and detrimentally affect the environment.  

In 1990, Iraq began to mobilize near the Kuwait border (Darwish and Alexander 6).  Arab nations made unsuccessful attempts at preventive diplomacy (U.S. News & World Report 99).  Surrounding nations attempted unsuccessfully to meet with Saddam Hussein.  Iraq invaded Kuwait, took control of its capital on August 2, 1990, and installed a puppet government under Hussein’s command.  Iraqi soldiers brutally raped Kuwaiti women, and killed any civilian who was considered an obstruction (Sasson 76).  At this point, the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League placed an embargo on Iraqi oil as punishment.  Iraq, in response, annexed Kuwait (U.S. News & World Report 95-96).

War was imminent.  On November 29, 1990, Iraq showed no signs that it would retreat.  The United Nations Security Council declared that the coalition should use all means to expel Iraq from Kuwait if Iraq remained there after January 15, 1991 (Gordon and Trainor 195).  In a final attempt at preventive diplomacy on January 9, James Baker of the U.S. met with Iraq’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz.  Baker stressed that the coalition was willing to fight, and encouraged Iraq to leave Kuwait (U.S. News & World Report 199).  Iraq, however, refused to retreat; and Hussein declared that Iraq would fight a “holy war” for Kuwait.  The world realized that war was the only means of solving the problem (Gordon and Trainor 197-198).

Air assaults began on January 17, and land war began on February 24 (U.S. News & World Report).  Iraqi civilian casualties were heavy.  The land war lasted only 100 hours, but numerous oil wells were set afire, causing the emission of dangerous gases.  Peace was never truly made.  Hussein resisted the requirements for peace, including frequent United Nations inspections and the prohibition of possession of nuclear weapons (U.S. News & World Report 447).

The consequences of the Iraq-Kuwait conflict are grave.  Civilians of both Iraq and Kuwait suffered.  Fires in oil wells caused dangerous air pollution.  American soldiers suffer from the so-called Gulf War Syndrome, which has caused a number of afflictions and death.  The Syndrome is believed to have resulted from the biological and chemical weapons and the gases emitted by the oil wells (Eddington 1-2).

As illustrated, preventive diplomacy can affect the outcome of imminent disputes.  Various factors affect its success.  In the Venezuela border dispute, preventive diplomacy was effective for several reasons.  First, the problem was recognized early; and neither side was truly battle-ready.  Second, the problem was contained, in that only four nations (Venezuela, Britain, Guyana, and the U.S.) were involved.  Finally, both sides were willing to cooperate: the U.S. supported the Monroe Doctrine, and Britain decided that the border area was not worth war.

Preventive diplomacy was not effective in the Iraq-Kuwait dispute.  First, the problem was not recognized and acted upon until Iraq had mobilized in Kuwait.  Second, many nations were involved in the conflict, putting Iraq on the defensive.  Problem solving was made a worldwide effort rather than an isolated effort concerning Iraq, Kuwait, and a few mediators.  Finally, Hussein and the Iraqis were and remain unwilling to cooperate for peace, as illustrated by the recent problems with weapons’ inspections.

With increasingly powerful weapons of mass destruction, preventive diplomacy is particularly important.  Moreover, preventing crises is more effective than dealing with the consequences of armed conflict (USIA Electronic Journals).  Consequently, some factors could be initiated to make preventive diplomacy more effective in the future.  First, nations must learn about other nations’ cultures in order to learn respect for the people (“Stopping War Before It Starts”).  Children should be taught about the other countries’ histories and cultures in school; and current information about events abroad should be readily available to the public.  Secondly, acceptable political behavior must be explicitly defined by an international council that all nations will be aware of the consequences of their actions (Kennan 83).  The ownership of nuclear weapons, for example, should be limited. An international council would deal with breeches of the rule by inspections, reprimands, and military action, if necessary.

Preventive diplomacy centers must be established in all regions (Peck).  Each center would have professional peacemakers and staffs, and report to the previously mentioned international council, for international cooperation is important in the prevention of war in that all nations must cooperate to maintain good relations, and thus peace (“Preventive Diplomacy in Action”). The centers would watch for signs of conflict, study causes, and train diplomats.  With centers in all regions, conflicts could be dealt with immediately.  The involved nations would not need to feel threatened, unless preventive diplomacy is refused, in which case, the nations in the council would unite militarily to maintain peace.  If a potential conflict was identified, the center would react by gathering representatives from each party (Peck). The center’s diplomats would facilitate negotiation by suggesting ways to make concessions; and hopefully, war would be prevented.

Preventive diplomacy, when used effectively as in Venezuela, aids in the avoiding of armed conflict.  However, as apparent in the tragedy in the Iraq-Kuwait dispute, when preventive diplomacy is not effective, people on both sides of the conflict and resources suffer.  Certain measures, including regional centers, the consolidation of the problem, and cooperation, should be taken for optimum effectiveness.  Preventive diplomacy can make the difference between bloodshed and peace, which is necessary for survival in these times of technological advances in weaponry.  As Abraham Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “Let us strive… to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and all nations” (qtd. in Boutwell 16).


Works Cited

Beyer, Lisa. “The World Closes In.” Time 20 August 1990: 26-29.

Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. An Agenda for Peace. New York, NY: United Nations, 1995.

Boutwell, George Sewall. “The Venezuelan Question and the Monroe Doctrine.” Boston Herald 2 February 1896: 1-16.  Microfiche. Chicago: Library Resources, 1970.

Cleveland, Grover. The Venezuelan Boundary Controversy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1913.

Daly, Charles P. “Is the Monroe Doctrine Involved in the Controversy Between Venezuela and Great Britain?” New York Herald 19 January 1896: 1-18. Microfiche. Chicago: Library Resources, 1970.

Darwish, Adel, and Gregory Alexander. Unholy Babylon: The Secret History of Saddam’s War. New York, NY: St. Martin’s, 1991.

Eddington, Patrick G. Gassed in the Gulf: The Inside Story of the Pentagon-CIA Cover-up of Gulf War Syndrome. Washington, D.C.: Insignia Publishing Company, 1997.

Gordon, Michael R., and General Bernard E. Trainor. The General’s War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf. Boston: Little, 1995.

Haggerty, Richard A., ed. Venezuela: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1993.

Hines, Andy. “Preventing War and Disorder: “Preventive Diplomacy” Emulates Public-Health Strategies.” The Futurist September-October 1997: 14-15.

Hosenball, Mark. “The Odd Couple.” New Republic 1 June 1992: 27-35.

Kennan, George F. American Diplomacy: 1900-1950. New York, NY: Mentor Books, 1951.

Larus, Joel, ed. From Collective Security to Preventive Diplomacy: Readings in International Organization and the Maintenance of Peace. New York, NY: Wiley, 1965.

Lombardi, John V. Venezuela: The Search for Order, the Dream of Progress. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 1982.

Peck, Connie. “Preventive Diplomacy: A More Effective Approach to International Disputes.”  The Ecumenical Review July 1995: 328-334. On-line. Internet. 29 December 1998. Available!xrn_17.

“Preventive Diplomacy: A Key Element in U.S. Foreign Policy.” USIA Electronic Journals 1.19 (December 1996): n.pag. On-line. Internet. 24 December 1998.  Available

“Preventive Diplomacy in Action.” America’s Defense Monitor. 1 December 1996: #1012. On-line.  Internet. 23 December 1998. Transcript Available http:// www.cdi/org/adm/Transcripts/1012/.

Sasson, Jean P. The Rape of Kuwait: The True Story of Iraqi Atrocities Against a Civilian Nation. New York, NY: Knightsbridge Publishing Company, 1991.

Schrodt, Philip A., and Deborah J. Gerner. “Empirical Indicators of Crisis Phase in the Middle East, 1979-1995.” Journal of Conflict Resolution August 1997: 529-552. On-line. Internet. 29 December 1998. Available!xrn_7&bmk_20.

Stedman, Stephen John.  “Alchemy for a New World Order: Overselling ‘Preventive Diplomacy.’” Foreign Affairs May-June 1995: 14-21. On-line. Internet. 29 December 1998. Available!xrn_20.

“Stopping War Before It Starts.” America’s Defense Monitor. 18 August 1996: #949. On-line. Internet. 23 December 1998. Transcript Available

U.S. News & World Report. Triumph Without Victory: The Unreported History of the Persian Gulf War. United States: Times Books, 1992.

Watson, Russell. “Battle Ready.” Newsweek 20 August 1990: 20-25.

Zartman, I. William. Preventing and Reducing Conflict: Goals All Nations Can Share. n.pag. On-line. Internet. 23 December 1998. Available

Zuckerman, Mortimer B. “Showdown in the Sand.” U.S. News & World Report 20 August 1990: 72.

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