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January 24, 2012, Tuesday

The method called negotiation

The main purpose of negotiations between states is to resolve an issue by peaceful means. That is why the minimum requirement for starting a negotiation is that all involved parties must have the will to find a peaceful resolution to their problems.

In international relations, the objective of negotiations is not always to find permanent peace but to at least reduce the risk of armed conflict. States are more inclined to negotiate when they notice that the cost of conflict is bigger than that of talks. When one decides to initiate an armed conflict, no one can guarantee the outcome; that is why those who chose to negotiate believe discussing will be less costly and more predictable than fighting.

Negotiating is a bargaining process that is shaped according to the negotiators’ identity. The negotiations on Cyprus or Palestine, for example, look like a discussion between a couple who live in the same house and are discussing whether or not to end their relationship. Their decision will definitely affect other people around them and sometimes lawyers will intervene in the process, too. If the couple decides to go on with their relationship, they have to promise each other that past mistakes will not be repeated, and if they decide to split, they have to decide what to do with their common belongings. In both cases, the one who leaves the negotiation table first will lose or sometimes, as it happens frequently in Turkey, the one who is sure to lose kills their partner and goes to jail. In other words, both of them lose. Similarly, the one who first leaves the negotiation table on Cyprus, Palestine or even Nagorno-Karabakh will lose. However, there is one other risk: During protracted negotiations, staying at the table may become the only purpose of pursuing negotiations.

Negotiations on the Syrian crisis or Iran’s nuclear efforts are another kind. Here, we witness an effort similar to that of residents trying to put an end to unrest and discord in their neighborhoods. The problem is that, in order to interfere, the concerned neighbors need to get authorization from the troubled household first. Those who intend to resolve the crises in Iran, Syria and even in Pakistan are not the actors themselves but neighbors. These countries haven’t made their final decision on whether or not to accept foreign help for their problems, even though they sometimes agree to sit at the same table with them.

If there is a heavy dispute in one house in a neighborhood and the neighbors are incapable of intervening, they may decide to call the nearest police station at some point. On an international level, the UN Security Council is often considered the neighborhood’s police department. However, it is not certain that this institution will be able to help because it has members that are not at all disturbed by unrest and who are even happy that others are disturbed by it.

It is doubtful that the issues in Syria and Iran will be resolved through negotiations, as the parties involved do not trust each other. This lack of trust makes them believe that the negotiations may be more harmful to them than starting an armed conflict. Having doubts about the benefits of the negotiation increases the intensity of a given conflict, causing the number of victims to multiply. As no one can be sure about the outcome of an armed conflict, the parties involved are generally trapped in a lose-lose equation.

Experience shows that sorting things out through talks is almost always the less costly method. However, when one uses this method to “triumph” and not to settle the disagreement, the negotiation process becomes a conflict itself.

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