Negotiation is a decision-making process for peaceful resolution of a fundamental disagreement. It has become omnipresent on the international scene, the aim being to bring the positions and interests of both sides closer together to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The upsurge in multilateral negotiations has been accompanied by increased diversification of the actors involved, as well as by a heightened interdependence of the themes and arenas of negotiation. Mediation involving recourse to external agents may be undertaken in the face of the tensions encountered, particularly when seeking a way out of certain armed conflicts.
Negotiation, constantly fluctuating between cooperation and conflict, is a central, omnipresent process for decision-making and peaceful dispute settlement on the international scene. Its aim is to bring the protagonists’ divergent viewpoints and interests into alignment, in order to achieve a mutually acceptable solution. In this respect it is inseparable from diplomacy (one of its primary activities), law (producing texts with varying degrees of legal scope) and trade (etymologically “negotiation” derives from the Latin word for business or trade). Negotiation is also deployed in the labor sphere (collective bargaining) and in business (mergers and acquisitions, etc.).
International negotiation expanded in range and complexity during the 20th century, yet it still prompts a number of fundamental questions: Who negotiates, and why? Can anything be negotiated? With anyone? And what pace and time frames governs the process?
The rise of multilateral negotiations
The context, protocols and aims of negotiations have evolved since they were first codified in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), while retaining the goal of resolving armed conflicts (suspending, stopping, or even preventing hostilities), negotiations have also been used to lay down the building blocks of global governance. And although bilateral negotiation (between two parties) still exists, and indeed is growing as there are ever more actors present on the scene, it is above all multilateral negotiation (involving at least three parties) that is on the rise and influencing behaviors. Modern diplomacy’s institutionalization and globalization have multiplied the number of institutions and negotiating arenas involved, with the rise of intergovernmental organizations, summits, conferences and clubs as a key factor in this expansion.
As a standard social practice of multilateral cooperation, negotiation is bringing together ever more numerous and diverse protagonists. Some global negotiations can involve virtually all the world’s 190-plus states, regional and global organizations, experts, NGOs, corporations, interest groups, social movements, identity entrepreneurs, media, etc.
Increasingly specialized negotiations are taking place at various levels (from local to regional to global) and in all areas (peace, disarmament, non-proliferation, terrorism, trade, environment, human rights, health, etc.), generating multiple configurations of actors as the latter participate in various coalitions and alliances and growing interdependence of the issues at stake.
However, this does not necessarily mean that these negotiations consistently involve all actors nor that they have an equalizing effect on power relationships. Peace and the workings of the international system are still often negotiated among victors and imposed on the vanquished (Covenant of the League of Nations in 1919, UN Charter in 1945, etc.), while the rules of global trade are written, suspended, paralyzed and revoked by the main protagonists (Bretton Woods agreements in 1944, World Trade Organization cycles, etc.).
Negotiation and mediation
When negotiations are deadlocked or fail to start at all, recourse to an external agent may be considered. Such attempts at mediation have been undertaken in nearly two-thirds of conflicts since 1989, by a variety of actors: representatives of international organizations or states, NGOs (Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, International Crisis Group), foundations (Carter) or religious communities (Quakers, Sant’Egidio, etc.).
Mediators can intervene to a greater or lesser extent in the process, according to whether they deploy communication-facilitation (facilitating communication and information flows between negotiators), procedural mediation (influencing the negotiation protocols) or directive mediation (becoming involved in the content and exerting pressure, if needed, on the negotiators).
Negotiation and mediation have been intensively and eclectically explored in the academic and pedagogical literature in this area, which ranges from mathematical modeling (how to optimize negotiations) to more sociological or psycho-cognitive approaches (how to interpret negotiators’ behaviors), and the use of simulated negotiation as a means of learning and socialization.
Comment: United Nations modeling (UNM: negotiation simulations) is organized by universities or high schools, and inspired by different UN institutions. These initiatives were launched in the United States and then successfully expanded into Europe and, to a lesser extent, into countries of the Southern hemisphere.
Many parameters impact the process and outcome of negotiations. Besides those already mentioned, factors relative to the actors’ material resources can have a decisive influence. These factors include the experience and socialization of diplomatic personnel, available expertise around both the formal rules (drafting texts, deliberation, voting, etc.) and the unwritten rules of negotiation (private discussions, sequencing, segmentation and/or overall compromise on the issues), perceived interests and potential reconfigurations of those actors present, leveraging of domestic constraints, attention paid to negotiators’ value systems, styles and roles, and consideration of scene-setting and media conventions.
- peaceful dispute settlement
- A set of legal and political mechanisms enabling an international conflict to be resolved without the use of force. The peaceful resolution (or settlement) of disputes can occur through direct bilateral or multilateral negotiation between the protagonists or through the intervention of a third party (state, international organization, international jurisdiction, private, religious or individual actor, etc.) in the form of mediation, good offices, arbitration or judicial investigation. Codified in the early 20th century, these mechanisms were developed under the aegis of the UN, whose Charter established the respective competences of the General Assembly and the Security Council, and the primacy of the second in considering a dispute.
- Violent confrontation between armed groups over values, status, power or scarce resources, in which the aim of each party is to neutralize, weaken or eliminate their adversaries. This organized, collective, armed violence can be undertaken by states (via their national armies) or by non-state groups; it can bring several states into opposition (interstate war) or occur within a single state (civil war). The former, progressively codified within a legal framework, have become rare, while the latter, today primarily caused by state institutional failure, are tending to become more international in scope, to last over time (sometimes decades) and to be extremely devastating, especially for civilian populations.
- Inspired by management and entrepreneurship, the expression global governance refers to the formal and informal institutions, mechanisms and processes through which international relations between states, citizens, markets and international and non-governmental organizations are established and structured. The global governance system aims to articulate collective interests, to establish rights and duties, to arbitrate disputes and to determine the appropriate regulatory mechanisms for the issues and actors in question. Governance takes various forms: global multilateral governance, club-based governance (restricted to members, e.g. G7/8/20), polycentric governance (juxtaposition of regulatory and management mechanisms operating at various levels), and so on.
- To see multilateralism as international cooperation involving at least three states reduces it to a mere technique. In fact, it also has a qualitative, normative aspect which has been evident since the time of the League of Nations. According to Franck Petiteville, this makes multilateralism a form of international collective action which aims to produce “norms and rules seeking to establish a cooperative international order governing international interdependencies.” The adjective “multilateral” first appeared in the late 1940s which is when awareness of the concept began to emerge.
- Modernity, characterized by the increasing importance of the economy, of technical innovation, of Western-type democratic regimes, and of rational-legal bureaucracy, is defined from an evolutionist perspective according to the model prevalent in the most industrialized countries, and is a trend toward which all the so-called less advanced societies are seen as converging. This viewpoint, widely denounced for its naïve evolutionism, remains nonetheless implicitly present in much political discourse and within a good deal of research. “Postmodern” is used of artistic and philosophical currents of the second half of the 20th century that critique and deconstruct the concept of modernity.
- Institutionalization refers to the process by which society’s workings are organized on a long-term basis. It includes the creation and implementation of systems of rules, standards, routines, roles and beliefs shared by a social group. This process concretizes generally held values in the form of enduring institutions, generally formal and codified (law, courts, parliament, currency, church, marriage, etc.). The term is also used of the creation of organizations charged with implementing a political decision. Conversely the permanence of institutionalized practices can be challenged by a process of institutional dismantling in which the codified system is transformed, replaced or abandoned.
- The term globalization refers to a set of multidimensional processes (economic, cultural, political, financial, social, etc.) that are reconfiguring the global arena. These processes do not exclusively involve a generalized scale shift toward the global because they do not necessarily converge, do not impact all individuals, and do not impact everyone in the same way. Contemporary globalization means more than just an increase in trade and exchanges, an internationalization of economies and an upsurge in connectivity: it is radically transforming the spatial organization of economic, political, social and cultural relationships.
- Use of this expression became more widespread following its inclusion in Article 71 of the United Nations Charter. NGOs do not have an international legal status and the acronym is used in different contexts to refer to very different kinds of actors. It generally designates associations formed by individuals over the long term in relation to not-for-profit goals, often linked to values and beliefs (ideological, humanist, ecological, religious, etc.) rather than financial interests. Active on a wide range of issues at both the local and global levels, NGOs now number tens of thousands, but vary greatly in the scale of their budgets, staff and development.
- identity entrepreneurs
- An entrepreneur, as defined by Max Weber, manages an organized group that has an administrative management and pursues a specific goal. An identity or religious entrepreneur, then, is an actor who mobilizes symbols of identity or religion for the benefit of their political, social or economic capital.
- This subject has occupied the internal agenda since the nineteenth century (The Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907). Disarmament is a process that aims to reduce or remove a state’s weapons and armed forces. It is different from arms limitation or control, which is about restricting their quantity, nature, and use. Disarmament may concern certain categories of weapons (conventional, light, chemical, biological, nuclear, antipersonnel mines, cluster bombs, etc.) and apply to certain regions (definition de denuclearized zones, bi- or multilateral treaties).
- human rights
- These are the fundamentally inalienable and universal rights and duties of human beings, which are indefeasible and universal. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these were limited to “natural rights” (basic freedoms considered to be allied to human nature) but human rights have now been expanded to include civil, political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights on the basis of human freedom and dignity. Human rights have been enshrined in the constitutions of most democratic regimes. They are also subject to many protective provisions at both regional and international levels.
- An alliance is a commitment between two or more states that are seeking to ensure cooperation in the areas of international security and defense. Its purpose is to create a deterrent in the face of a third-party state, to increase the power of its members when there is the prospect of war, or to prevent allied countries from forming other alliances. Alliances may be institutionalized or more informal, permanent (NATO) or ad hoc (coalitions in Middle-Eastern wars). They can be appeasement factors when the deterrent effect comes into play, but they also create instability when rigid alignments can lead to military escalation, as in 1914.
- Mode of relationship based on dense, continuous interaction between social and political entities, leading to reduced autonomy for each of them individually as they are partially reconfigured in relation to each other. Used of states primarily in the context of globalization, implying a reduction or modulation of sovereignty as well as a relativization of power: after all, interdependence goes both ways, implying a reliance of the strong on the weak just as much as of the weak on the strong.
- Ability of political actors to impose their will on others. Comparable to the notion of authority within a nation, power is never absolute but has its existence in a relationship, since power relations are a matter of each actor’s perception of the other. Power is key to the realist approach to international relations, where it is understood in geostrategic terms (hard power is based on force and coercion, especially of a military nature). The transnationalist approach offers a more diversified vision including factors of influence (Joseph Nye’s soft power exerted in economic, cultural and other terms) and emphasizing the importance of controlling different orders of power, from hard to soft (Susan Strange’s “structural power”).
- The definition of peace is much debated. A restrictive definition sees peace simply as an absence of conflict (negative peace). Peace Studies reinterpreted this definition to include the conditions necessary for peace – positive peace must be an integral aspect of human society. Combined with the concept of structural violence, positive peace was then defined more broadly to include social justice. Among the different theories of peace, the sometimes criticized notion of democratic or liberal peace asserts that the liberal democracies do not go to war with each other and only fight against non-liberal states (this approach qualifies Kant’s postulate in Perpetual Peace, 1795).
- international system
- Key concept of the realist approach to international relations, the international system is a term referring to all the actors that are interconnected in such a way that “the behavior of each is a necessary factor in the calculations of the others” (Hedley Bull). Built by the actors’ perceptions, it consists of subsystems that can be geographic or functional (strategic, commercial, energy-related, etc.) that interact with each other.
- Peaceful mode of resolving disputes involving the use of an intermediary, the mediator, to help the conflicting parties find an outcome negotiated through mutual concessions. Mediators are expected to operate impartially and with complete independence. Regulated internationally by the Hague Convention of 1907, mediation was used by the League of Nations (LoN) and has since been deployed, in particular, by the UN. Mediation is also practiced within democratic states in order to resolve minor disputes (i.e. family mediation, judicial mediation, etc.). Cultural mediation is used, for instance, in providing support to migrants.
- international organizations
- In the words of Clive Archer, an IO is “a formal, continuous structure established by agreement between members (governmental and/or non-governmental) from two or more sovereign states with the aim of pursuing the common interest of the membership.” Marie-Claude Smouts identifies three characteristics of IOs: they arise out of a “founding act” (treaty, charter, statute), have a material existence (headquarters, finance, staff), and form a “coordination mechanism.
- The state is a political system that is centralized (unlike the feudal system), differentiated (from civil society, public/private space), institutionalized (institutions are depersonalized), territorialized (a territory whose borders mark the absolute limit of its jurisdiction), that claims sovereignty (holding ultimate power) and that bears responsibility for ensuring its population’s security. In public international law, the state is defined as a population living on a territory defined by borders subject to a political authority (the national territorial state).
- According to the German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936), community (Gemeinschaft) is the opposite of society (Gesellschaft) and denotes any form of social organization in which individuals are linked by natural or spontaneous solidarity, and driven by common goals. According to current usage, it applies to any social grouping that appears to be united, whatever its mode of integration (international community, European or Andean Community, or adherents of a religion). The ambiguous term of international community describes an ill-defined set of political actors (states, international organizations, NGOs, individuals, etc.) based on the idea of that humanity is united by common objectives and values or an allegiance to central political institutions, which is far from being the case.