Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution, and Director of Conflict Management at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: What is ripeness, exactly?
A: Ripeness is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for negotiations to begin. It is a perception with some relation to an objective fact; it is a subjective fact with some relation to an objective fact. The two are not coincidental in that the parties find themselves within a hurting stalemate, and that they perceive that there is a way out of this stalemate. Those are the two components. That is, the word "perception" I find inherent within a hurting stalemate. They feel themselves to be in a hurting stalemate. They also feel that the other party is willing to grant them a way out and that they can see a way out, and that coincides with that other parties' perception. That does not mean that the way out is identified, but simply that there is one. This idea of a mutually hurting stalemate in which they can't escalate their way out of the situation to victory, and the situation in which they are locked, hurts. What they have is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for negotiations then to begin.
Q: Is ripeness something that should be recognized by the parties involved in a conflict or by an intervener?
A: It must be recognized by the parties involved eventually but if the parties involved initially do not recognize it then it is the intervenors job to heighten the parties perception of this situation. Hence, if a conflict is not ripe, that is if the parties do not sense that they are in a hurting stalemate, what the 3rd party can do, if they alone feel the situation is ripe, then is to ripen, in a sense alone, to heighten that perception. And if it's impossible to ripen, if there are not objective elements to refer to then what a 3rd party can do is to position themselves so that they are around when this stalemate occurs.
Q: So to ripen doesn't mean to increase the hurting of the stalemate? It means to recognize or to increase falsely the recognition of an already existing hurting stalemate?
A: No, to the 1st part. Yes, to the second. It may also include increasing the pain. It may be necessary for the 3rd part not simply to point out that the parties are in pain, but to increase that pain. That can be done by not applying military methods, but by condemnations of both parties for not seeing the opportunity, by putting pressure on them, or by increasing the pain by making them feel that in order for them to fell that there's no way for them to escalate their way out of the situation. I can cite lots of examples and it would take us lots of time for us to be on what we're talking about here. When the government of the first Bush administration refused the loan guarantees to Israel, it put itself.... The PLO, the Palestinians were already in stalemate and already hurting, but that put pressure on Israel to see itself too in a hurting stalemate; this made it easier to go to Madrid when the Madrid conference was called.
Q: Is it futile to attempt to intervene in a conflict that you might not classify as ripe?
A: It is futile to intervene, in the sense of trying to bring the parties to negotiation before they have a sense of ripeness. Yes. I think one of the best examples of this is Carter's intervention. Carter's a wonderful mediator, but his intervention in the Eritrian-Ethiopian war in the late 80's, when Ethiopia was on the ropes, and Eritria was on the role neither one felt themselves in a hurting stalemate. Carter did everything that a good mediator should do, but the conflict was not ripe at all. To nobody's surprise - it should have been to everybody's surprise and his surprise - it didn't work.
Q: So the idea is that if they don't perceive themselves in a hurting stalemate then they will continue to fight until there doesn't seem to be a better option.
A: They will continue to fight, or they will at least continue to hold out. For example, just to take one half of a non-hurting stalemate you would think by now there would be a hurting stalemate, but the Palestinians are hurting, but the Israelis don't respond, so this kind of mutual stalemate. It takes two to stalemate. A mutual hurting stalemate doesn't exist so the Palestinians say, "Ok, well in that case, I'm not interested in negotiating. I'm interested in holding out for the whole loaf. I'm gonna change my goals," as some of them are, "I want all of Palestine. This is because the chances of coming to an agreement for « of Palestine -- that is the West Bank and Gaza -- is not there. The way out is not present, because the other side won't give it to me." To which some Israelis say, "There's no sense negotiating with the Palestinians because they want all of Palestine," and so this absence of the mutually hurting stalemate just becomes more and more dominant in the situation.
Q: How hard is it to assess ripeness? In other words, in retrospect if there was an intervention and it failed can you say, it wasn't ripe, and if the intervention succeeded, it was ripe.
A: Yes, and this annoys me a bit. Not your question, but the fact that your question has to be there because a lot of criticism of the theory of ripeness hinges on that you can only tell it after it happened, and I think that misses on two points. First of all, that ripeness is not the prima facie evidence of an agreement, or even for negotiations to begin. There are plenty of situations
that may have been ripe, but since ripeness is only the necessary but not sufficient condition for negotiations to begin. There are plenty of situations that are ripe may not have been picked up by the parties or by a mediator to bring the parties to negotiations to begin.
Second of all, negotiations beginning therefore are really not the only sign of ripeness. Really what a researcher or what an intelligence officer should look for are signs of the parties' voicing some kind of expression of ripeness. We find it all the time that spokesman said out loud in public, "We realize that we're not going to win in this situation, and that we better start talking with the other side we better start looking for a solution." I don't have it in the book there, but Joe Slovo in South Africa, in a wonderful quote said, "We realized that we couldn't win in this situation and we realized too, that the other party couldn't win either, so the only thing to do was to negotiate." Well, there's the evidence, and people say this in more or less bald ways and sometimes they say it in internal communiqu‚s. That's why I say it's an intelligence process, but you can find, at the time, expressions of ripeness, in the parties' perception before negotiations begin.