JUST when it was getting a bad name, quiet diplomacy has proved its mettle.
Cyrus Vance's new linchpin agreement in the south Balkans - settling down the conflict between Macedonia and an excitable Greece - limits the chance that the Yugoslav civil war will spread south.
The accord's importance is reflected in the tragedy of Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, seriously injured by a car bomb on Oct. 3 in downtown Skopje. Despite the attempted assassination, the Macedonian parliament convened on Oct. 5 to vote a change in Macedonia's national flag, keeping faith with the agreement. Macedonian lawmakers approved the pact by 102 to 1.
This case study in conflict prevention began with the first-ever "preventive deployment" of UN peacekeepers - recommended by Mr. Vance in the fall of 1992 - along Macedonia's border with Albania and Serbia.
The delicately crafted Macedonia-Greece diplomatic package - an "Interim Accord," seven side letters, and mediator's statement, negotiated in 28 months of non-stop talks - has lifted the embargo on Macedonian commerce and renounces any territorial claim by each country against the other. It stabilizes political geography in the same manner as the Polish-German accord of 1990.
The settlement was not brought to earth by bluster diplomacy. It's worth reviewing a few of the lessons that skillful negotiations teach.
Rule 1: Sense the opening. Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's Pasok party inflamed the issues of Macedonia's country name, flag design, and supposed irredentist ambitions to win a hard-fought Greek election in 1993. But by last January, his attempt to pressure Macedonia through an embargo on north-south trade was also ravaging the economy of northern Greece. This allowed former Secretary of State Vance, deputy UN envoy Herbert Okun, and American envoy Matthew Nimetz to probe for an opening in almost constant meetings in New York and Geneva.
Rule 2: Protect your parties. Opponents will walk away from the table if they believe the process undermines their political standing at home. Guarantee confidentiality in the negotiations - keeping the ups and downs away from the press and political constituencies so the parties feel comfortable coming back. During the Macedonian mediation, there were virtually no leaks to the press in either country, and the mediators kept a low profile.
Rule 3: Find an extra carrot. The US recognized Macedonia after its secession from Yugoslavia in 1991, but unlike European countries did not immediately establish full diplomatic relations. Macedonia was eager to have an American ambassador. The mediator's ability to sweeten the pot can push negotiations along even when progress is not forthcoming.
Rule 4: Create a deadline. In August, Vance obtained the commitment of both foreign ministers to come to New York in September - even before the final terms were nailed down. It's embarrassing for any foreign minister to return home empty- handed. The meeting was scheduled for a date before the UN General Assembly opened, so no other cover for the visit was available.
Rule 5: Lock up early success. The disputed name of the country to the north of Greece was apparently insoluble. The mediators persuaded both parties to tackle the feasible issues first - mutual recognition, diplomatic relations, guarantee of the borders, and redesigning the flag of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in de facto exchange for Greece's lifting the embargo and allowing Macedonia to join international institutions. An "Interim Accord" announced these settled terms Sept. 13 in a treaty without time limit. Talks on the name can be pursued ad infinitum in a low key.
Rule 6: Understand honor and symbolism. Realists to the contrary, in international disputes a great deal turns on maintaining honor and on the right to name things. The mediator's voice and off-ladder position can finesse delicate issues. In the Macedonian-Greek settlement, Greece refused to deal with any country called "Macedonia" since that name is also used by Greece's northern provinces. Using real estate patois, the Interim Accord refers to Macedonia as the "Party of the Second Part," and only in a Greek side letter is this party admitted to have the "provisional name" of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The 16-pointed star to be eliminated from the Macedonian flag is also named in a Greek side letter to Vance as the "Star of Vergina," a name Macedonia could not directly abide. Rhetoric is warfare, in the minds of the players, and one can't ask the other side to agree.
Rule 7: Maintain trust. Greek and Macedonian representatives refused to meet face-to-face until the day of signature. Vance's reputation for straight-forward dealing was thus crucial - describing the state of play without fudging differences, educating the parties on possible common ground, intervening at key points to break logjams. Insisting that all commitments be made public has allowed each government to maintain the confidence of its electorate. Private negotiation and open covenants is a formula for success.
Like good cooking, fine conducting, or painter's chiaroscuro, the high art of diplomacy is worth study - as a proven means of conflict prevention.