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What Northern Ireland Teaches Us About Ending the Ukraine War

While no party in Northern Ireland achieved everything it wanted during these negotiations, every faction could realize some of what it sought – and more than any could hope to accomplish through fighting. The war between Russia and Ukraine will begin to end only when both sides come to the same realization.

NEW YORK – There are many reasons to celebrate the recent 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Reached in 1998, it has provided a political framework that has dramatically reduced violence in a part of the United Kingdom that experienced something very close to civil war for the preceding three decades.

Some of what explains the accord’s success is specific to Northern Ireland. But other factors have broader relevance, providing guidance for approaching conflicts elsewhere, even the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The most fundamental lesson is that diplomacy can succeed only where and when other tools cannot. Successive British prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair – created a context that by the late 1990s gave diplomacy a chance. This required two things: First, the UK introduced sufficient security forces so that those in Northern Ireland who sought to shoot their way to power could not succeed. Violence could not be prevented from disrupting lives, but it was not allowed to create political facts.