Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Why Negotiation Doesn't Work

In “Preventive Statecraft: A Realist Strategy”, Bruce Jentleson wrote that: "In all the cases in the Carnegie Commission Study I led there were specific and identifiable opportunities to limit, if not prevent, conflicts." “Preventative Statecraft,” a chapter written by Dr Jentleson in the book Turbulent Peace, was published in 2001. The study Dr Jentleson referenced was published 4 years earlier in the book: Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized: Preventative Diplomacy in the Post Cold War World. Although Jentleson seems definitive in
his later assessment of the judgments from Opportunities Missed, the text of the study itself reveals some nuances.

The Carnegie Study looked at 10 different conflicts around the world, some conflicts inside borders, some across borders. Jentleson and his group looked at conflicts in the former Soviet Union, the Baltics, the former Yugoslavia, Africa and in Korea. Although Jentleson is correct to assert that every study showed points early in the conflict where aggressive diplomacy could conceivably have had some effect, in every case, with the exception of the remarkable success in the Baltics, 1) the timing of those points was not as clear to those in the conflicts as it was to researchers after the fact. There are two other issues to note about Jentleson’s points: 2) In other hot spots, the only time to intervene in the conflict, is before the conflict has actually occurred. 3) Often, successful intervention in a conflict sometimes only postpones a conflict until later, essentially “kicking the can down the road.”

Regarding point 1, the Carnegie researchers of the 90’s Congo conflict noted that “As is perhaps common in regard to this topic, there was plenty of early warning of this crisis, and yet it took everyone by surprise.” (Pg 268) This observation also relates to last week’s discussion about foretelling conflicts. Indicators that are crystal clear in retrospect seem somewhat more ambiguous when a policy maker has to use those indistinct indications of potential conflict to determine his policy. Another difficulty facing policy makers who are trying to determine a future course of action to deter a conflict is that those policy makers must shift from appearing tough to finding some way to reach common ground for negotiating. Such a change has a way of undermining a leader’s authority because negotiating requires giving something up. The negotiating paradox is that in order to get what you want, you have to give some of what you have. Many times, followers are loathe to give anything to a traditional rival, so leaders proceed along such a course at considerable risk. Nonetheless, negotiators strive for the time when circumstances will allow bold participants, with the help of mediators, to reach an agreement to prevent conflict. Jentleson calls this time during a crisis when intervention would do the most good, the “ripe” time. The problem is seeing ripeness as it is occurring, vice after the fact when it is too late.

Related to this is a second component of Jentleson’s analysis that dovetails with Chester Crocker’s observation in the discussion question. Crocker argues that the best time to negotiate a settlement is before the bullets start to fly. Jentleson explicitly endorses this point of view on page 331 of Opportunities Missed. “Jacob Bercovitch and Jeffrey Langley, in their study of 97 disputes of various types involving 364 separate mediation attempts, found a declining success rate for mediation as fatalities increased. Roy Licklider goes further, arguing that once civil wars get going a military victory tends to be a more stable “solution” than a negotiated settlement.” Jentleson calls the idea that once a conflict reaches certain level of violence, that “the Rubicon has been crossed” referring to the river north of Rome that no Roman General was allowed to cross with his army, lest rebellion be declared and one or the other side was successful. When the level of violence “crosses the Rubicon,” there is little hope that negotiation will work until one side is defeated, or both are exhausted.

Both Jentleson and Crocker are right on in their assessments. It is best to negotiate when both sides are cool, rather than during the heat of battle. But this time we face a conundrum similar in kind if not degree to the problem of picking the ripest moment of a crisis to attempt negotiations: if there is not yet really a problem nor a shooting war, what incentive is there for anyone to spend the time and effort to meaningfully negotiate? Some negotiators call the process of negotiating prior to “ripeness” as “negotiating for negotiation sake.” Jentleson points up another danger of this strategy, on page 337, a danger which is of failing to give full attention or concern to the process. The danger of failing to fully engage in negotiation is that it displays a lack of commitment and a lack of political that looks a lot like weakness that another side will attempt to exploit and perhaps precipitate a crisis.

Regarding point 3), often times, the successes in negotiating peace only postpone a conflict until later. The classic example occurred in the Congo where a peace treaty in 1994 prevented a wider conflict, but also allowed some of the actors to strengthen their positions and others to lose cohesiveness and become independent and uncontrollable. In 1997, tensions escalated again and were unable to be negotiated away. All sides decided to use their strengthened positions to fight it out. As Jentleson himself says on page 330, “prevention is more difficult when the interests of major domestic actors are served more by perpetuation and intensification of the conflict than its resolution.”

The views of Jentleson and Crocker are certainly not in opposition, and Jentleson and Crocker quote one another and anthologize one another in each other’s books. In fact, Crocker credits Jentleson on page 4 of Taming Intractable Conflicts with some of the “...excellent recent work on conflict causes [that] has prompted the scholar-practitioner community to devote more attention to what third parties should do to prevent the eruption of violence, in new places...” There is not much daylight in the views of the two men. I think both would agree that negotiation can prevent or limit conflicts, but the negotiation has to occur “early, early, early” (Opportunities Missed pg 337). The problem, as we are beginning to see as a trend, is with intelligence being able to tell us definitively that we are at the beginning of a conflict, and when the ripe time is to intervene.