To make effective policy and to understand what game policy-makers are playing, process must be distinguished from policy. If the policy is a search for peace, but the process is seen by the adversary as intentionally designed to put them at a disadvantage, the result is likely to be violence.
One may imagine the landscape of possible public policies by a state as a function of the fairness of the domestic and foreign policy processes (theoretical introduction here). Such a model defines four quadrants, with the two extremes being a quadrant in which process is totally fair (green, in the figure) and a quadrant in which it is totally unfair (red, in the figure). In the green space, policy is made democratically, through negotiation; in the red, policy is made by force. If the “quality” of governance is defined as a function of the degree to which the policy-making process produces positive-sum outcomes (and thus stability, which is assumed to be greater over the long run when all sides buy into the substantive decisions that are reached and have a fair chance to promote their subsequent modification), then the deeper into the green sector, the better the quality of governance (white arrow).
Before beginning an argument about policy substance, attention should be paid to policy process: setting up a fair process facilitates inventing a mutually acceptable solution. Politicians resistant to this line of thinking are probably cheating, i.e., they do not want a solution. Developing a scientific method of identifying fair process may prove somewhat difficult, but even a minimal concept of fair process facilitates policy evaluation and implementation. Deep in the red quadrant, the region of force, lie economic sanctions, terrorism, cyber-warfare, and military attack. As one moves toward the green region of diplomacy (internationally) and democracy (domestically), one passes through a broad area in which preconditions are attached to negotiations. This is a rich region for analysis, where the well-armed always call for “peace” first to steal the best card (e.g., demonstrations) in the hand of the weak. Thus, city governments across the
responded to Occupy protests not by listening to their substantive demands but
by trying to prevent or circumscribe the demonstrations. Similarly, the central
government of Peru
is currently demanding an end to local anti-gold mining protests as a
precondition to compromise, as though such a concession by the weak rural
farmers would have no impact on their subsequent negotiating position. Moving
all the way into the green region, one reaches (at least theoretically) the
magical land where two adversaries sit down and (really) reason together.
Occasionally, innovative positive-sum solutions emerge from such open-minded
Similarly, on the domestic side, one moves from police violence and death squads at the dictatorial extreme to recalls and referendums at the democratic extreme. While this may all be intuitively obvious, formalizing the approach, even to the minimal extent laid out here, offers the advantages of 1) sensitizing people to the dangers inherent in overlooking biases in process while debating substance and 2) raising the issue of the relative significance of various process biases. Concerning the latter, for example, Americans have yet to face up to the seriousness of demanding Iranian preconditions that amount to surrender as the entry price to negotiations. Why would an adversary negotiate if it had given up all its bargaining cards in advance? Perhaps a policy of forcing
either to surrender or fight is what the American people want, but U.S.
policy-makers are certainly not presenting those as the choices, nor in reality
are they the choices. On the Iran issue, U.S. policy-makers are playing a different game, and in a
democracy, the people have a right to know what the game their leaders are playing.