De-escalation is the key element of peacemaking and nonviolence. Escalation of tensions is the path to war, as we all saw too clearly yesterday.
Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated in response to the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. A number of escalating statements were made by the U.S. president and the leader of the Iranian people. Massive numbers of Iranians demonstrated in the streets of Tehran.
Last night we were on the brink of war as ballistic missiles were launched from Iran, attacking bases in Iraq housing American and Iraqi personnel.
For now, it appears the outbreak of war was avoided. Credit for that goes to Iran’s foreign minister stating Iran has “concluded” its attacks, and to President Trump for acknowledging that statement, and refraining from further escalation. Tensions are still high, but this de-escalation is hopeful.
Iran has “concluded” its attacks on American forces and does “not seek escalation or war,” the country’s foreign minister said in a tweet on Wednesday.Iran ‘Concludes’ Attacks, Foreign Minister Says, New York Times, January 7, 2020
Moments later, President Trump said in a tweet that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning about the conflict, and suggested that damages and casualties sustained by American forces were minimal. But he also said the assessment of the attacks was ongoing.
I am old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Escalating tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union resulted when the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba on October 14, 1962, photographed missile bases being built there. I still remember how scared I was, that we all were.
The U.S. Navy blockaded Soviet ships carrying nuclear missiles that were trying to get to Cuba. This is an involved story, but the end result was an agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. If Soviet ships had tried to breach the blockade, a military confrontation would have been likely. The Soviet ships did not try to penetrate the blockade.
Despite the enormous tension, Soviet and American leaders found a way out of the impasse. During the crisis, the Americans and Soviets had exchanged letters and other communications, and on October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The following day, the Soviet leader sent a letter proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.Cuban Missile Crisis, History.com
Officially, the Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the first message and ignore the second Khrushchev letter entirely. Privately, however, American officials also agreed to withdraw their nation’s missiles from Turkey. U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy (1925-68) personally delivered the message to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, and on October 28, the crisis drew to a close.
The key was President Kennedy would probably have refused publicly to withdraw the missiles in Turkey. By choosing to publicly respond to the first message from Khrushchev, that didn’t involved publicly acknowledging the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey, while agreeing to do so secretly allowed the two countries to back away from war.
De-escalation requires both sides of a conflict to compromise and create a mutually acceptable solution.