Arbitration is the use of a disinterested third party to pass judgment on a dispute.
Every civil case in this country is an example of arbitration but it doesn’t only pertain to going to court; it can be used by two parties wishing to avoid the courtroom. More pertinent to this column is that it can be used by countries.
Arbitration would be a great solution to a great many of the issues between countries in conflict today. Recently I’ve commented on the Israel-Palestinian situation and the ISIS threat to the United States. I suspect that these are related issues but even if they aren’t separate arbitrations could clear up many of the problems.
Of course it isn’t a foolproof solution. Most countries find themselves in conflict because their interests bump up against another country’s interests. And usually neither country simply backs off from what they want. By agreeing to arbitration a country is admitting that they do not have the ability or desire to solve the problem on their own.
In addition, for arbitration to work depends on finding a third party that is theoretically disinterested that both countries can agree upon. Since the Cold War, the American perspective on other countries has been those aligned with us, those aligned against us, and those non-aligned. Only the first group would be trusted by our Cold War leadership and our current leadership follows the same logic. Most countries have the same outlook.
Another major problem with arbitration being the ultimate solution to international conflicts is that both parties have to agree to abide by the arbitration decision. But there is nothing really holding any country to such an agreement. Any country that is dissatisfied with an arbitration decision can simply choose to remain in conflict. This would essentially mean they continue with the status quo and would have lost nothing.
And yet despite these three roadblocks, it still seems to me that arbitration is a solution worth pursuing by the countries of the world. Furthermore each roadblock is not insurmountable.
The admission of a country that they would welcome help in resolving a dispute is not as self-deprecating as it sounds. This is the thought behind most alliances (militarily and politically) and the globalization of the world economy. National borders are not an illusion but they are very permeable. Countries already rely on each other for so much, that they would turn to one another for help in resolving conflict is common sense.
While I believe the Cold War definitely reshaped the world, it did not alter the basic truth that ambitious people run countries and those ambitious people are constantly trying to advance their interests. This has been true for all of history and yet arbitration has been used in the past. Somehow countries have been able to look beyond their own self interest and come to conclusions that are agreeable to both parties to the dispute. Finding a sufficiently disinterested third party is difficult but not impossible.
Countries who disregard the arbitration decision would risk their reputation in the international community. This is especially important in the current climate of globalization. Economic sanctions that are taken seriously and upheld by the countries of the world would have a crippling effect on the offending nation and act as a deterrent to disobeying the arbitration decision.
Arbitration may not be a miracle cure for all of the international conflicts. But it would be a good start.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.