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.

Negotiations within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Source: Official organization websites.

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.

Model United Nations negotiation simulations, 2013-2018

Source: mymun,

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.


To quote this article

" Negotiation " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:


  1. Bercovitch, Jacob and Rubin, Jeffrey (eds), Mediation in International Relations: Multiple Approaches to Conflict Management, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 1992.
  2. Berton, Peter, Kimura, Hiroshi and Zartman, I. William (eds), International Negotiation: Actors, Structure/Process, Values, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
  3. Bourque, Reynald and Thuderoz, Christian, Sociologie de la négociation, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2011.
  4. Grosser, Pierre, Traiter avec le diable? Les vrais enjeux de la diplomatie au XXIe siècle, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2013.
  5. Hampson, Fen Osler and Hart, Michael, Multilateral Negotiations: Lessons from Arms Control, Trade, and the Environment, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  6. Narlikar, Amrita (ed.), Deadlocks in Multilateral Negotiations, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  7. Petitevill,e Franck and Placidi-Frot, Delphine (eds), Négociations internationales, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2013.
  8. Schemeil, Yves et al., “Quand simuler stimule. Innovation pédagogique et recherche décisionnelle,” Revue française de science politique, 64 (3), 2014.
  9. Starkey, Brigid, Boyer, Mark and Wilkenfeld, Jonathan, International Negotiation in a Complex World, Lanham (Md.), Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.
  10. Walker, Ronald, Multilateral Conferences: Purposeful International Negotiation, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  11. Zartman, I. William, Negotiation and Conflict Management: Essays on Theory and Practice, London, Routledge, 2007.

Continue in the Atlas

ResourcesSustainable energyRegulatory EffortsMultilateralismback to top