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APRIL 2016



Successful solutions will invariably include a reasonably equal application of the rule

of law and an effective effort to ensure “parity of esteem” between the parties.


AndrewD. Sens, a Foreign Service officer from1966 to

1997, served inUganda, France, Norway, Iran, Pakistan,

Argentina andWashington, D.C. His last assignment was

as executive secretary to the National Security Council. Fol-

lowing retirement, he served as the Americanmember of the Independent

International Commission on Decommissioning, set up by the British and

Irish governments in 1997 in Belfast and Dublin to facilitate the disposal

of paramilitary arms fromboth sides of the Northern Ireland conflict. He

also lectures and consults.


early a decade ago, I wrote in

these pages that the opportu-

nity to end the long-running

sectarian divide in Northern

Ireland that opened up in the

1990s came about only when

leaders at both the national

and local levels accepted the

inevitability of a discussion of

legitimate local grievances and fears, and parties and people

on both sides of the conflict took part in the conversation that




ensued (“Lessons from Northern Ireland’s Peace Process,” September 2007 FSJ ).

The “Troubles,” as that conflict was called, reflected deep

dissatisfaction by minority nationalists (usually Catholic) over

widespread social and political discrimination by majority

unionists (usually Protestant), and their fear of intimidation

from violence-prone paramilitary gangs that unionists, at least

tacitly, often supported. For their part, unionists protested

strong nationalist opposition to their time-honored traditions

and religious convictions, their determination to maintain a

constitutional link to the United Kingdom, and the very real

despair caused by the Irish Republican Army’s violent anti-

British campaign.

Under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, British policy

toward Northern Ireland had been heavily oriented toward

security. The idea was that the IRA not only had to be defeated,

but be seen as vanquished. But this approach only led to a

seemingly endless cycle of death and destruction, provoca-

tion and retaliation. Moreover, children sent by their unionist

parents to school in England and Scotland during the Troubles

tended to stay there, threatening the majority’s very existence.