A Call to Apply the TRANSCEND Method to the Middle East Conflict

Human Wrongs Watch

By Diane Perlman, PhD – TRANSCEND Media Service*

Before the UN Conference on a Nuclear Weapons [WMD] Free Zone in the Middle East

Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1834, oil on canvas – Lion with Lamb

In the spirit of TRANSCEND co-founder and friend Dieter Fischer, I’ll start with a joke. When Arafat and Rabin die they ask God, “When will there be peace in the Middle East?” God says, “Not in my lifetime.”

In 1995, after being asked when Israel will give up nuclear weapons, Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said,  “Give me peace, and we’ll give up the nuclear program. That’s the whole story.

Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “As far as a nuclear weapons-free zone, you know, when the lion lies down with the lamb, and you don’t need a new lamb every day to satisfy the lion, then we might have this kind of transformation in the Middle East.”

Understandably, many Israelis, with their earliest self-image as a tiny country surrounded by a sea of enemies (less accurate now) believe that without nukes Israel would not exist. Peres believed that even the perception, “in itself, can act as a deterrent.” He added: “Let them suspect. I don’t see any reason to allay their suspicions.

Stumbling Blocks to a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone

After decades of controversy and opposition, there will finally be a UN Conference on a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (MENWFZ) in New York, November 18 – 22, 2019.

Israel will not attend.

UN resolutions have called for a MENWFZ since 1974. In 1995, at the 25 year mark of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), it was granted an indefinite extension, calling for “the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.” with a commitment to hold a conference on a MENWFZ. The 2010 NPT Review Conference (RevCon), held every 5 years, adopted a plan of action including a conference on the establishment of a MENWFZ and all WMDs to be held in Helsinki in November of 2012. It didn’t happen.

At the end of the 4-week 2015 NPT RevCon at 9 o’clock on May 22, the last Friday night, delegates failed to reach consensus over the MENWFZ, opposed by the US, UK, and Canada. Virtually all NGO civil society representatives and most states parties were deeply disappointed and frustrated with the opposition to this conference, with no shortage of mutual blame.

The US supports other nuclear weapons-free zones that emerge from a process reached with the mutual consent of all states in the region. Rose Gottemoeller, then U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, stated that there was no consensus and the process did “not build the foundation of trust necessary for holding a productive conference that could reflect the concerns of all regional states.” Secretary John Kerry claimed there could be no agreement without the consent of all states. Canada demanded that Israel be included in any negotiations.

There is some legitimacy to the rationales of the US, UK and Canada, although they do not resolve or transform the conflict, I believe because our field is not well known. Foreign policy is dominated by external pressure, or at best, carrots and sticks, the way you treat a donkey.

Those who have desired a MENWFZ for decades perceive this opposition as US protection of Israel from pressure to give up their nukes. Note that Israel is not the only issue for this conference which will deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional issues.

From the perspective of eliminating the symptom, i.e. nuclear weapons, opposing the MENWFZ conference was a terrible thing. From the perspective of considering the underlying conflict dynamics, those opposing the conference have a point.

For Israel, not a party to the NPT, a durable peace is a prerequisite to giving up its nuclear weapons, which will not happen in God’s lifetime.  For the Arab states Israel giving up nuclear weapons is a prerequisite for peace.

Reframing the Debate: First and Second Order Change

Most foreign policies primarily focus on eliminating symptoms, i.e. nukes. This is known as First Order Change, a concept from family therapy, systems theory and organizational transformation. Second Order Change addresses the relationship system.

FIRST ORDER CHANGE                                        SECOND ORDER CHANGE 

Old way of thinking                                                         New way of thinking

Adresses symptoms                                                      Addresses causes

Quantitative change                                                       Qualitative change

Change in behavior                                                         Change in relationship

Change within a system                                                 Transformation of the system

Linear, partial                                                                  Multidimensional, multi-level

External                                                                            Deep

Transactional                                                                  Transformational

Continuous change                                                        Discontinuous leap

Conflict resolution                                                         Conflict transformation

Compromise, unstable                                                  Create new reality, win-win, enduring, stable

The TRANSCEND Method and Second Order Change

We have been stuck with no way out of the Middle East Conflict or the threat of WMDs.  After decades of efforts, peace processes, agreements and treaties, we have fragile progress, setbacks, escalation and increasing existential threats. Our global politics focuses on the symptom and not on causes.

When I first discovered TRANSCEND and the concept of conflict transformation, creating a new reality (as opposed to conflict resolution), a light went on. It opened up a new category of thinking and possibilities. When I raise this idea at think tank events, people get it. Our old paradigm is crumbling, failing to solve problems or increase security. We are overripe for a new paradigm with sound and superior solutions.

Einstein said, The splitting of the atom has changed everything except the way we think. Thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.  We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

Old Paradigm, Arms Control and First Order Change

The 2020 UN NPT Review Conference will mark 50 years of measures to control and eliminate nuclear weapons, all on the level of First Order Change, including bilateral and multilateral arms control agreements, nuclear test bans, fissile material cutoffs, limiting numbers, restricting ranges, nuclear-weapon-free zones, de- alerting, no-first-use policies, risk reduction, inspection, verification, and a treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons (not yet in force, passed with votes of 122 countries and opposed by nuclear weapons states and their allies). See: https://www.transcend.org/tms/2017/10/transcending-nukes/

Powerful countries use coercive policies including deterrence, sanctions, maximum pressure, punishment, isolation, threats, military actions and so on which provoke fear, anger, moral outrage, resistance, instability and escalation.  This is not sustainable, and perhaps not survivable.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”— Albert Einstein

If You Need Brain Surgery, You Don’t Go to a Podiatrist 

Our approaches to addressing deep, enduring conflicts mostly fail, often making matters worse. They rely on superficial, concrete, black-and-white thinking and coercion. The conflicts we face are more like political brain surgery – they are deep, complex, partially invisible, with two hemispheres connected by a Corpus Collosum (thicker in females), dendritic connections (deficiencies associated with depression), synapses and so on.

Let’s approach every conflict using higher level brain functions, performing political brain surgery and “political therapy,” like family therapy but bigger.

The Galtung/TRANSCEND Conflict Diagram

New Paradigm, Conflict Transformation and Second Order Change

For enduring security, let’s apply variations of the TRANSCEND Method, including analysis, diagnosis, prognosis and therapy, identifying all parties’ legitimate goals, just grievances, and basic needs including safety, identity, dignity, self-determination, and sovereignty, using creativity to bridge incompatible goals, creating a new reality, as Johan Galtung has taught us. We also value the ancient Hawaiian model of Ho’o Pono Pono, meaning “setting things right, very right” and other processes for healing after protracted collective trauma.

I detect much receptivity to these ideas when they are clearly articulated, framed and presented in a way that people understand as self-evident. The concept of Second Order Change is compelling solutions oriented and off the left/right axis.

Motivated by my experience living in DC in the think tanks and at the UN nuclear conferences, I am beginning three initiatives to help facilitate the paradigm shift and invite your comments, ideas, collaboration and support.

  1. Coalition for Second Order Change

At the UN I have represented TRANSCEND, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, GMU School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, and Mediators Beyond Borders, often the only person. There is far more power in building a coalition.

  1. Interdisciplinary Symposium on Second Order Change Approaches to Overcome Barriers to a MENWFZ

Anticipating the dynamics of the November UN Conference on the MENWFZ I am beginning to plan a an interdisciplinary conference on second order change in the Middle East Conflict in DC before the UN Conference with experts in social and behavioral sciences, conflict analysts, historians, and regional experts committed to deep, comprehensive analysis and problem solving. As far as I know, this has never been done.

  1. Interdisciplinary Task Force/Study Group on Second Order Change

This group will prepare and design the conference and continue to analyze dynamics in real time, like a grand rounds or ongoing case conference.

 I invite readers to send ideas about solutions in the comments section. As a point of reference we can begin with Johan Galtung’s solutions in his book, 50 Years, 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, Ch. 16.

“There’s been a quantum leap technologically in our age, but unless there’s another quantum leap in human relations, unless we learn to live in a new way towards one another, there will be a catastrophe.”   — Albert Einstein

Can the TRANSCEND Method be the quantum leap in human relations?  It is up to us to collaborate to facilitate the transition to a more sustainable, survivable paradigm.

Israel will not attend, but at least one Israeli will, Sharon Dolev, the courageous Director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement, and not the most popular woman in Israel. I will be there too, representing TRANSCEND.

The Middle East Treaty Organization

Sharon Dolev, along with Paul Ingram, former executive director of BASIC, British American Security Information Council, and Emad Kiyaei, of the American Iranian Council are leaders in a new initiative, the Middle East Treaty Organization, the METO Project, an open-ended, evolving text, undergoing continuous revisions.

They held a side event at the UN NPT PrepCom on May 8, 2019 with the support of the Irish Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Achieving the Possible: a WMD-free zone in the Middle East: Presenting Different Approaches to Overcome the Stalemate Concerning a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East.

There was a constructive discussion about the need for innovation, new thinking, and described here.

More information about the METO Project and its Draft Treaty can be found on their website: www.wmd-free.me


*Diane Perlman, PhD   is a clinical and political psychologist, devoted to applying knowledge from psychology, conflict studies and social sciences to designing strategies and policies to reverse nuclear proliferation, to drastically reduce terrorism, reduce enmity, and to raise consciousness about nonviolent strategies for tension reduction and conflict transformation.

She is a visiting scholar at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, is active in Psychologists for Social Responsibility, the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, and on the Global Council of Abolition 2000.

Some of her writings can be found on her websites, www.consciouspolitics.org  and  www.SanityandSurvival.com. Email: dianeperlman@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 15 Jul 2019, TMS: A Call to Apply the TRANSCEND Method to the Middle East Conflict

2019 Human Wrongs Watch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: