Additional Titles









Justice and the Loyalty Oath: A Socratic Issue










By Professor Paul Eidelberg
December 27, 2009

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is anxious to resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a militaristic regime. His favorite mantra for negotiating with the PA is “reciprocity.” Hence it behooves him as well as us to understand the difference between martial and democratic diplomacy, which I discuss at length in my book Jewish Statesmanship (2000). Here is a first installment.

Negotiation between democracies and dictatorships is rendered exceedingly difficult by the basic differences in the political character of the two types of regimes. Diplomacy is not ideologically neutral. How and why states negotiate—their methods and objectives—depend mainly on their principles of government. The diplomacy of a government based on consent—on freedom of discussion, pluralism and compromise—will differ profoundly from the diplomacy of a government based on coercion, propaganda and conformity.

The experienced diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson makes a fundamental distinction between martial and democratic diplomacy. Whereas martial diplomacy regards negotiation between adversary states as a form of warfare pursued by other means, democratic diplomacy—largely the product of commercial societies—regards negotiation between adversaries as a means of conciliation requiring mutual concessions leading to lasting agreement and peace.

The methods of martial diplomacy resemble a series of military campaigns the ultimate goal of which is victory over the enemy if not his complete destruction. The purpose of negotiation is to outflank your enemy, to weaken him by all manner of attacks. If the opponent is a democracy, attempts will be made to manipulate public opinion through the media, the object being to undermine popular support for the government’s negotiating position. Efforts will also be made to divide the government itself by subtle appeals to political factions and opposition leaders. And of course there will be attempts to drive a wedge between the government and its allies. The principle is divide and conquer.

The use of deception permeates martial diplomacy. Negotiating demands are couched in moralistic and democratic language such as “peace” and “self-determination.” To spread the glad tidings of peace to the unwary, flattering interviews are granted to susceptible journalists and other opinion-makers.

While martial diplomacy attempts to disarm the adversary through guile and professions of peace, these attempts are punctuated by veiled or less-than-veiled threats of war. This use of cunning and intimidation by the martial school of diplomacy reflects the basic character of dictatorial regimes. Obviously, under such a system of negotiation, trust, fair-dealing and conciliation are not easy. A concession made, a treaty concluded, is apt to be regarded not as a final settlement of a conflict, but evidence of weakness and retreat, an advantage which must soon be exploited in preparation of further advances and triumphs.

Here martial diplomacy is aided by the fact that democracies, more than other kinds of regimes, ardently desire peace and, even in the absence of pressure, will make gratuitous concessions to the extent of taking “risks for peace.” Indeed, the very principle of compromise intrinsic to democracies renders them more yielding than dictatorships. Knowing this, the leader of a military regime—and many civilian dictatorships are actually animated by military principles—will launch his diplomatic campaign from a negotiating position involving impossible demands from which he will hardly deviate. For example, the late Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad insisted that Israel withdraw entirely from the Golan Heights before he would even consider signing a peace treaty! Similarly, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, demands a cessation of construction in the “West Bank” before he agrees to negotiate with Netanyahu.

Calculating on the divisions inherent in pluralistic societies, the martial school of diplomacy will seek to maneuver the opponent into negotiating with himself—as Netanyahu has done. This maneuver of martial diplomacy is rendered easier when the opponent lacks a strong sense of national pride. Israel’s most prominent internationalist Shimon Peres illustrates the point. “We live in a world,” said Peres, “where markets are more important than countries.” Hence, in negotiating with Yasir Arafat over Israel’s heartland, Judea and Samaria, Peres, like Netanyahu, ignored Arafat’s brazen violations of the Israel-PLO peace agreement. Only Peres made the inane remark: “I don’t believe we should judge the [peace] process by the performance of Yasir Arafat. We’re not negotiating with Arafat. We’re negotiating with ourselves…”![1]


Returning to our theoretical analysis, when negotiating with a democracy, the ruler of a dictatorship will try to force his opponent into piecemeal surrender or into a militarily indefensible position. The morality of martial diplomacy is quite simple: “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine—or at least negotiable.”

In contrast, democratic diplomacy is based on the assumption that compromise with one’s rival is generally more profitable than his total destruction. Negotiation is not merely a phase in a death-struggle, but an attempt to reach some durable and mutually satisfying agreement. The means used are not military tactics but the give and take of civilian or commercial intercourse. The problem is to find some middle point between two negotiating positions which, when discovered, will reconcile their conflicting interests. And to find that middle point, all that is required is goodwill, frank discussion and compromise. Here Netanyahu has been one of Barack Obama’s mentors!

Not only naïve journalists but even pseudo-sophisticated politicians and political scientists often think that merely for adversaries to meet and talk to each other is a positive step toward peace, when, as history has shown, and as martial diplomacy intends, it may only be a lull before the storm.

Because democracies are based on discussion, the general tendency of democratic diplomacy is to overestimate the ability of reason to produce confidence and lasting agreement. This tendency of democratic diplomacy results in a number of errors when confronted by martial diplomacy.

First, there is the error of making gratuitous concessions, sometimes as gestures of goodwill. The hope is for reciprocity, hardly to be expected, however, from dictatorial regimes. As Henry Kissinger has written, anyone succeeding in the leadership struggles of such regimes “must be single minded, unemotional, dedicated, and, above all, motivated by enormous desire for power. [Nothing in the personal experience of dictators would lead them to accept gestures of goodwill at face value.] Suspiciousness is inherent in their domestic position. It is unlikely that their attitude toward the outside world is more benign than toward their own colleagues.”[2] The inherent asymmetry of democratic and dictatorial regimes renders reciprocity dubious, and, in the case of Israel, virtually impossible. For a democracy to yield territory, something tangible and irreversible, for nothing more substantial than a dictator’s written and revocable promise of peace, is a curious quid pro quo. Yet this defines the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a military dictatorship—a relationship trivialized by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and of course Benjamin Netanyahu.

A second error of democratic diplomacy is the prejudice that international conflict is caused primarily by lack of mutual understanding—the supposed root of mutual fear and suspicion. The assumption, so typical of the liberal democratic mind is that men are by nature benevolent, and that through discussion they will discover that what they have in common is more important than their differences.

Third, guided by that liberal prejudice, the democratic school of diplomacy tends to minimize conflicting ways of life or ideologies. In his July 1996 address before a joint session of Congress, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gratuitously denied any “clash of civilizations” between Israel and her Arab-Islamic neighbors. Such is the influence of democracy on the intellect that even political scientists tend to think that ideological conflicts can be overcome by “confidence building” measures, such as cultural exchange and economic relations. Given only mutual tolerance and material prosperity, war can be made a thing of the past. Such sentimental materialism is characteristic of bourgeois as well as socialist democracies preoccupied as they are with enjoyment of the present.

Thus, when Shimon Peres said “We live in a world where markets are more important than countries,” he was suggesting that national borders or wars fought over territory are things of the past. Forgotten is the high degree of commercial (to say nothing of cultural) intercourse between France and Germany before the Franco-Prussian War. Also forgotten is that Russia and Germany were the greatest trading partners before of the First and Second World Wars. Forgotten is the lust for power.

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Last, and perhaps the most serious error of democratic diplomacy, is that it makes too sharp a distinction between peace and war; that is, it fails to take seriously the fact that for martial diplomacy peace is war pursued by other means. Stated another way, to men of goodwill, unrelenting malevolence is incomprehensible.

To be continued...


1- Pennsylvania Gazette, November 1994, p. 17; The Jewish Week, June 2, 1994.
2- Henry Kissinger, American Foreign Policy (New York: W. W. Norton, 1974), p. 37.

2009 Paul Eidelberg - All Rights Reserved

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Internationally known political scientist, author and lecturer, Eidelberg is the founder and president of The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy with offices in Jerusalem.

Prof. Eidelberg served in the United States Air Force where he held the rank of first lieutenant. He received his doctoral degree at the University of Chicago. He designed the electronic equipment for the first brain scanner at the Argonne Cancer Research Hospital.

Before immigrating to Israel in 1976, Prof. Eidelberg wrote a trilogy on America’s founding fathers: The Philosophy of the American Constitution, On the Silence of the Declaration of Independence, and a Discourse on Statesmanship.

In 1976 he joined the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He has written several books on the Arab-Israel conflict and on Judaism. Demophrenia: Israel and the Malaise of Democracy analyses the mentality of Israel’s ruling elites. Jewish Statesmanship: Lest Israel Fall, which has been translated into Hebrew and Russian, reveals the flaws inherent in Israel’s system of governance and how they may be remedied. A Jewish Philosophy of History investigates the world-historical events leading to the rebirth of Israel in 1948.

His latest publication, The Myth of Israeli Democracy, provides an abbreviated version of a Constitution which shows how to make Israel a genuine democracy based on a Jewish conception of freedom and equality.

Eidelberg is on the Advisory Council of the Ariel Center for Policy Research, which has published many of his policy papers. In addition to writing more than 1,000 articles for newspapers and scholarly journals in the U.S. and Israel, he has a weekly program on Israel National Radio.

Prof. Eidelberg has been lecturing throughout Israel and the United States. He conducts seminars on constitutions, diverse parliamentary electoral systems, Jewish law, and related topics at the Jerusalem center of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy.

Web site: Foundation for Constitutional Democracy











Negotiation between democracies and dictatorships is rendered exceedingly difficult by the basic differences in the political character of the two types of regimes.