The answer is "Yes", but when it does, this is not necessarily a failure of those trying to prevent conflict. At times, this is simply a result of the motivations of the belligerent.
In response to my post on the blog "Stones Cry Out" about the delusions of negotiating with Iran, commenter Dan Trabue responded with why negotiation and pressure should be able to convince Iran not to go nuclear, and if it didn't then it was a failing on our part. If we go to war, it is an admission of failure on our part "that we’ve failed to outsmart this particular unreasonable leader."
I disagree. Let's look at some major cases.
Saddam Hussein had been negotiated with for decades. Not even the first Gulf War was enough to keep him back. Iraq regularly fired at coalition planes enforcing the No-Fly zone after the liberation of Kuwait (a country, by the way, that we liberated even though they had been a close ally of the Soviets and were extremely anti-Israel). The UN and most Western governments (and in the US, both Democrats and Republicans) believed that Hussein was hiding WMDs. He hindered UN weapons inspectors. The threat of war from the US didn't even move him. This was a madman bent on both personal power and funding anti-Semitism. There was nothing to give him that would take away those desires.
Let's go back a little further...
The Clinton administration, via former President Carter, thought it could buy off North Korea with food, in exchange for their not pursuing nuclear weapons. We thought we could negotiate with a despot and a megalomaniac. Now he has our food and international attention to get what he wants. He bought the time he needed to get the power he sought.
The Clinton administration thought that offering Yassir Arafat 90% of what he had been asking for would seal a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. To his shock, it didn't. For Arafat and his allies among the Arabs, peaceful coexistence with Israel isn't the issue. It should have been no surprise when negotiations broke down when one party is a genocidal maniac.
Dan, in his comment, responds to one of Eliot Cohen's remarks, that pressure won't erase Iran's nuclear program.
Pressure “will not” work? Why not?
I see no reason why one would not believe that the appropriate pressure could work. IF, as reason would dictate, the people of Iran (leaders included) are indeed people (ie, human creatures), then we can count on some amount of reason. IF we can help them see why it is not in their best interests to pursue this path, then why would we expect reasonable people could not be persuaded?
Now, one might make the case that their current leader is not reasonable - that he is perhaps insane or lacking in basic rational capacities (although, truly, even crazy people can be reasoned with, it’s just more difficult). But this leader won’t be in power forever. EVEN IF he were unreasonable, we can go around the leader and approach his allies and others with the ability to influence him.
The folks on the street in Iran do not have much influence. Not when the mullahs decide who may or may not run as political candidates. If Ahmadinijad pushes the nuclear button, the people of Iran will have little say in the matter.
His allies in the region? They're rooting for him. They, too, want to see the end of the state of Israel. You think we can influence the Middle Eastern countries with similar designs, and who have had them for over 60 years, to drop that goal? Israel forcibly removes its own citizens from settlements in hopes of peace, and what happens? The Palestinians, who could have turned Gaza into a Mediterranean beach resort, have instead made it a launch pad for missiles directed at Israel.
This is the virulence of the hate that is in the region against a tiny country that has been more than accommodating over the years. "But this leader won’t be in power forever", you say. Fine, let's wait for Kim Il-Sung to die. Oops, now there's Kim Jong-Il. Let's wait for 40 years for Yassir Arafat to die. Oops, now Hamas is voted in. Let's wait for Stalin to die. Oops.
At least, when Saddam Hussein died, as justice prevailed, his reign of terror ended. And while the Iraqi people were waiting for that, the torture and rapes continued. And while the North Korean people arewaiting, they are starving to death. And while the Palestinian people wait, they continue to live in squalor while their government builds bombs instead of buildings. And while the people in the Soviet Union waited for almost 70 years, they were economically and culturally and religiously oppressed with Communism.
And now the Iranian people are waiting. Waiting for the talk and the pressure and the Sternly Worded Letters(tm) from the UN, while their most recent re-election of their madman has signs that it was fixed. How much time is left on their clock?
War, indeed, should be a last resort, but resorting to it is not necessarily a failure. Sometimes, after the negotiations and the pressure and the sanctions, sometimes you just have to do it, because no form of influence or concession will assuage what the aggressor wants. Oh, it might delay, but delay only the inevitable, as with the North Korean nukes. It may delay enough to give the aggressor time to carry out his plans.
You cannot negotiate with everybody. Some will only listen to force, or at least the credible threat of force. As George Washington once said, "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." Ask Osama bin Laden, who never thought we'd respond to being attacked. If he had, he likely wouldn't have been so bold, and 3,000 people might still be with us today.
Oh, and don't forget Neville Chamberlain. His negotiations and containment strategy are the rest of the story.
Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.