Summary of "Principles of Icebreaking, Intro"

Summary of

Principles of Icebreaking, Intro

by Tony Armstrong

Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Introduction." in Breaking the Ice: Rapprochement between East and West Germany, the United States and China and Israel and Egypt. United States Institute of Peace. 1993. Pp. 3-30.

This book discusses three cases of conflict transformation or "rapproachment" through which seemingly intractable conflicts were transformed into new more productive relationships. The goal of this book is to examine the process (or tools) of rapprochement.

The Three Cases

By looking at three cases of rapprochement, Armstrong attempts to identify general principles that might help to improve relationships between adversaries in other conflicts. These three cases the have following similarities which allow one to draw comparisons between them: (1) they are contemporary; (2) they represent successful rapprochement (although Armstrong analyzes earlier unsuccessful attempts within each of the cases); (3) they involve initiatives which produced normalization of the relationships between opponents.

The Case of the Two Germanies

The major initiative that contributed to the unification of Germany was Willy Brandt's Ostopolitik, the goal of which was to reduce tensions between the two countries by establishing cooperative relationships in the hope that they would constitute an evolutionary process toward unification. This policy established communication between two Germanies on different levels and provided a framework for peaceful and constructive resolution of disputes between the two countries.

The Rapprochement Between the United States and China

The process of rapprochement between Chinese and American governments started with Nixon's and Kissinger's attempts to find common ground and develop communication between the two countries. The formal normalization of relationships was achieved in 1979 under the Carter administration. As a result, trade and academic exchanges between the US and China increased dramatically. Despite some tensions during the Reagan administration, the Shanghai II Communique was signed in 1982. The relationship withstood American dissatisfaction with human rights violations in China, particularly the events in Tiananmen Square.

The Battle for Peace Between Israel and Egypt

From 1948 until 1973, the relationships between Israel and Egypt were moving from one confrontation to another. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, an opportunity for peace existed. With the help of Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, the two countries signed the Sinai I Disengagement Accord in 1974. The Sinai II Disengagement Accord signaled further reduction of tensions. However, with the coming to power of the right-wing Likud coalition in Israel and the change of administrations in Washington, the situation became more unstable. At this time of uncertainty, Anwar Sadat presented his conditions for peace to the Israeli Knesset. In response, Prime Minister Begin visited Ismailia. But prolonged confrontation left a feeling of mistrust between the two countries. President Carter decided on the courageous step of mediating between the two leaders. A trilateral summit meeting was held in Camp David; a framework for a peace agreement was created. On March 27, 1979 a peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel.

There has been a lot of criticism of the treaty and negotiations, since they did not address the Palestinian issue, the core issue in the Middle East. The treaty allowed Israel to pursue an aggressive policy, since it eliminated the threat of Israel fighting a war on two fronts. Many believe that the treaty did not allow for the development of a comprehensive agreement in the Middle East. However, this criticism is based on "hypothetical alternatives and questionable assumptions" (p. 17). Peaceful relationships between Israel and Egypt withstood Sadat's assassination and many other negative events.

The Strategy of Inquiry


Armstrong tests five hypotheses by comparing their application to three case studies. These hypothesis are derived from a wide range of studies.

Three Areas of Inquiry

Armstrong examines three areas: circumstances of rapprochement (timing of rapprochement); strategies (best policies) for rapprochement; formal negotiations (reaching an agreement on the conditions of peaceful relationships). In his first assumption he looks at international circumstances. He bases his first two assumptions on a game theory, particularly on Charles Osgood's Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction strategy (GRIT). Armstrong's first assumption deals with costs and gains of maintaining hostile policies. The second assumption states that successful rapprochement initiative should be consistent with GRIT. (GRIT: "an initial general announcement of conciliatory intent and a unilateral concession coupled with an invitation to reciprocate, the continuation of a planned series of conciliatory gestures until a pattern of mutually reciprocated concessions is established, and the expressed intent to meet exploitation with measured retaliation" [p. 24]). The third assumption is derived from Fisher's conception of "fractionating" issues for successful peaceful conflict resolution. The fourth assumption states that negotiating on a high level, without publicity and with few participants, will lead to rapprochement. The fifth assumption deals with the process of negotiations: taking uncompromising positions on central issues, then offering concessions, and finally, using ambiguous formulations on principal matters will lead to successful rapprochement.

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