Talking to ‘Bad People’: How Much Realpolitik Is Too Much for Peacemakers?

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho as they prepare for a group photo at the 25th ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat, Singapore, Aug. 4, 2018 (AP photo by Joseph Nair).
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo greets North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho as they prepare for a group photo at the 25th ASEAN Regional Forum Retreat, Singapore, Aug. 4, 2018 (AP photo by Joseph Nair).

Ending wars means working with bad people. You cannot forge a cease-fire or hammer out a peace deal without talking to leaders who are directly responsible for death and brutality. Some of these leaders may be genuinely honorable individuals. A lot won’t be. This is a hard truth that professional peacemakers admit in private but tend to avoid mentioning in public. Analysts and officials working on conflict resolution have developed a blandly bloodless technical vocabulary for discussing their field. Political agreements should be “locally owned.” Peace should be “sustainable.” Peace operations should be “people-centered,” and so on. Every profession has […]

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