Can Peace Be Copied?

At cold war's end, ethnic wars took the stage. Now, the Irish deal yields a model some hope can work elsewhere.

As the United States basks in multiethnic prosperity and once-war-prone Europe pieces together an ever-larger union, both might echo Henry Higgins and ask:

Why can't the rest of the world be more like us?

Meaning more peaceful, tolerant - more able to unite disparate ethnic cultures in a prosperous whole.

In the wake of the historic Good Friday agreement between leaders of Northern Ireland's Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists, there has been an understandable rush to urge a similar solution upon Arabs and Israelis. And, by extension, project it to other feuding peoples that upset the relatively orderly and expanding worlds of trade, tourism, technology, cultural exchange, communication, and monetary flow.

Such calls to end historic conflicts should be nothing less than an obligation for world leaders.

An obligation, perhaps. But how realistic?

Is it just Panglossian naivet to project elements of the Belfast settlement to Cypriots, Basques, Kashmiris, Quebeckers - and eventually Bosnians, Talibans, and others? Possibly, if you see it as an athletic-socks formula: One size fits all. But that's not necessary.

Let's examine what elements of the Irish deal might apply - and which of the many supposedly intractable, self-centered battles might yield to a pertinent approach.

Cyprus is the subject of much despair. More than three decades of UN, European, and US efforts have failed to unite the barbed-wire-divided island. Now the European Union is negotiating possible membership. But minority Turkish Cypriots won't cooperate because Turkey has been spurned by the EU.

The Irish settlement suggests that if Turkey can be brought into a closer relationship to the EU, something like the dual links of Northern Ireland to Britain and Ireland might eventually emerge. That would require improved relations between Greece and Turkey. Their foreign ministers have tried to break the ice. Sustained support from European leaders and the US president would help. Ultimately, a body like the new Northern Ireland assembly, joining majority and minority communities, plus cross-border units linked to Greece and Turkey, might be adapted to Cypriot sensitivities. It's time for this long-running Trojan cold war to be brought to a close.

Basque separatists in Spain might also be encouraged by European leaders to cease revolt and place their distinct culture peacefully within Spain and the EU. That, in essence, is what Northern Ireland's Celtic Catholics and Protestants will be gaining with links to both Britain and Ireland within the larger EU realm of trade, travel, education, labor, and culture.

Kashmir saw a glimmer of hope last year when the leaders of India and Pakistan began sincere discussions of how to settle that long territorial dispute without maiming the Solomonic baby they both claim. US, British, and other leaders should push India's new government to continue those negotiations. Again, cross-border links tying Kashmir to both "parent-claimants" would make sense.

Southern Sudan's black Christians and animists may at last be on a course to remain within Muslim Sudan but gain political and religious autonomy. The difficulty will lie, as in Belfast, in running a national legislature joining majority and minority faiths.

Neither UN, US, Pakistani, or neighboring former Soviet republics have effectively influenced Afghanistan's Talibans and their opponents. But all of the above should continue efforts to wring a compromise from war-weary Afghans. Safety of world oil supplies would rise and Islamic extremism decline as a result of success there.

Quebec has bolstered its provincial power and identity. But French language and culture are hard to preserve on a national scale as mass communication and immigration influence Canada's cultural future. Nevertheless, Ottawa and Quebec are haltingly beginning to strike the right balance. Washington should continue to lend quiet encouragement.

Mention of French culture leads to a cautionary note. Three days after the Belfast agreement, France observed the 400th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes. That declaration by King Henry IV ended the Wars of Religion, the long Catholic-Protestant struggle. It was, in its day, a model settlement like that of Belfast. It guaranteed civil and religious liberties and set up a joint Protestant-Catholic court to settle disputes. But majority resentment soon undid the pact, and some 400,000 Huguenot Protestants fled to other lands, robbing France of some of its most productive citizens.

That, in essence, provides the best argument to end ethnic hot-and-cold wars. Discarding ancient prejudices and trusting compromise with others are worthwhile precisely because those leaps unleash the productivity - and natural instinct for neighborliness - inherent in the human race.

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