Negotiations: The Best Way Forward?

Negotiation (Source: Google Images)

"Negotiations are the best way forward" -- EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

To negotiate is to open a communication channel through which the parties exchange information which helps either side gain a more complete picture of the disputed issues. During this process, both parties work together to gain something that is unavailable through unilateral action.
This is the general definition of negotiation in international relations. But when we look at world events, we can't resist asking ourselves whether politicians really get a complete picture of what is being disputed or if they work together at all.


According to Prof. Siniša Vuković, the main purpose of any negotiation activity is to "reduce the differences [that are core of the dispute] between the parties", followed by decreasing conflict escalation, help the parties reaching a stable and durable peace or promoting and protecting particular interests. I would certainly agree with professor Vuković that negotiations serve the purpose of reducing an escalation of tensions (for instance, if Israel and the Arabs of Palestine hadn't engaged in "peace" negotiations the situation on the ground would be much worse than already is - the Arabs would've probably carried out a second Holocaust in the Middle East [ME] by now); they also help promoting and protecting particular interests (for example, the ME peace process has served, over the years, to protect the interests of the West in the region many times in detriment to those of Israel's), however negotiating may not promote a stable and durable peace, particularly when the mediators involved in the negotiation process have an agenda that challenges the interests of the disputing parties.

Lady Ashton says that negotiations are the best option always. She is not entirely wrong, however although an option it may not always be the best one - what happens when negotiations cause even more violence?
Peter Neumann, in his piece "Negotiating with Terrorists", wrote that some cases reveal that "attempts to bring about negotiated settlements often provoke violent challenges both from the in-group (dissident factions of the terrorist group or reactionary elements of the government's security forces) and from outsiders (rival or splinter groups)" which most of the times cause the death of thousands of people, that is the very same outcome that negotiations are supposed to prevent.
Since the 70's, we have been watching the political universe changing its colours and shape: before the emersion of liberation movements, governments would negotiate with governments on equal standing; however, after the emersion of such non-state actors governments many times saw themselves forced to sit at the table and negotiate with them. Then came the 80's, 90's and the new century, when religiously inspired non-state actors started focusing on terror as their main tactic to force governments to comply with their demands.
Many scholars (e.g. Paul Wilkinson, Walter Laqueur and Martha Crenshaw) defend that negotiating with terrorists equals to legitimising their actions and rewarding them for making use of violence - so, in case of terrorism, how are negotiations the best way forward? They are not, because officially negotiating with such groups is the same as declaring in public that terrorists are in equal standing with governments, which they can't be; and that is why the state will often engage in back-door deals with terror groups as a way to mitigate the conflict between the two parties and avoid an utter catastrophe.
Nevertheless, in cases like Boko Haram, people are starting to wonder whether negotiations aren't a viable solution to end the growing violence in Nigeria.

When it comes to terrorism, negotiations may represent a further polylemma:
I. negotiating with terrorists is a predicament when there lacks an entity to whom a government can negotiate with.
II. Global Jihadist Groups will often operate in cell-like structures, many of whom are sleeping cells; meaning that there is no interest in presenting a unified front with a known spokesman to present solid demands and bargain. In such cases, negotiations are not viable and governments have no other option but to apply military force (and do so with minimum collateral damage).
III. Hybrid Terrorist Organisations (e.g. Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah) are a challenge: how to negotiate with a political organisation knowing that its aim is to blur the political lines (so that it is able to acquire weapons, recruit, train and act under the umbrella of a legitimate political entity)? So far, the protocol has been to support, fund and negotiate with Hybrid Terrorist Organisations in order to manage tensions (be it by either upholding the status quo or by controlling the use of limited force to give the impression that everybody is getting their way and thus preclude an all-out war).

Many see the negotiation process as a Holistic measure (i.e. focusing on the whole picture rather than in the analysis of separate parts forming the unit); however it may not be so, especially when during the negotiation activity violence proceeds (as it happened, for example, during the most recent peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government).
Negotiating is important but experience and history have shown us that it is not always the "best way forward" but simply an instrument to achieve an end.


Comments

  1. Negotiations at best give temporary relief from hostilities when vastly different ideologies are involved. In my fairly long life on this planet, I am yet to find some "best way" to end conflict. Every single one has caused post resolution problems.

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    1. Hi Rummy :D!

      Indeed. I think your life experience supports the notion that not always negotiations are "the best way forward" yet they are still important.

      My dear friend, thank you for your comment, I loved it :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Negotiations most of the times are used to stall a political process or an imminent action, so they are not always the best way forward. You asked a very good question: how do we negotiate with terrorists? If we look at PLO and Israel, negotiations actually legitimized PLO's actions and look where it got them! They now are a legitimate political organization and even managed to form lobbies to delegitimize Israel! Quite a feat!

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    1. Hi Celeste :D!

      True. Excellent example, indeed. And you know what is more troubling? That legitimacy was provided by western governments who have been pushing Israel over the years to legitimise its own enemy. Question: would they do the same? Answer: probably not.

      Celeste, thank you so much for your comment :D. Always a pleasure.

      Cheers

      Delete
  3. Holistic measures is another form of political correctness! Yeah sure, let's not look at the elements of terrorism let's just look at the whole picture if we attack terrorists we'll kill innocents and war is so bad! Give me a break. So, no negotiating with terrorists cause only force will deter them!

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    1. Hi Anon :D!

      Maybe, maybe. LOL yeah, that's the usual stance...
      Would you say that force alone has prevented insurgent groups from regrouping and re-arming? Or do you think that each case is a case?

      Anon, thank you ever so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  4. It's complicated cause when you don't have a partner to negotiate with how can anything go forward? Catherine Ashton's words are a reflection of her obsession with soft power, for her everything must be talked over even if talks don't work, but hey at least she took the picture in those meetings, right? All it matters is to show that Europe is all about talk talk talk. When it comes to terrorism, no government should negotiate.

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    1. Hi Mike :D!

      That is a very good question. Surely because Lady Ashton's background is trade, so negotiation is some sort of culture in her. lol well, photo-ops are important to politicians, right?
      Europe is about too much talk, but again that's how they manage to keep peace since 1945...although history has proved that Peace is not forever (and if we think of the sub-wars, then we have to conclude there is no such thing as peace).

      Mike, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  5. My general concern is that democracies tend to elect populist leaders with a considerably lower IQ than the terrorists. The Bergdahl case is looking like a classic example, but I should probably withhold judgment until we know all the details. OK, that means I should wait until after I am dead.

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    1. Hi Looney :D!

      So, so true. I would say you do well to withhold judgement until more details are available :).
      LOL LOL well, we are all familiarised with the word "classified", so you may never know the kind of details you want lol.

      Looney, thank you so much for your comment :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  6. Al-Baghdadi is refocusing on Iraq. His move begs the questions: when he went to Syria did he go there to remove the Shiite supportive structure, to al-Maliki, and after doing so he was able to strike where he needed? And if so, did Al-Qaida fail to see this move when it disowned ISIS?
    I am against negotiating with terrorists cause it legitimizes their cause. Looney mentioned the Bergdahl case: how do we know the negotiations didn't boost the Taliban confidence resulting in the increased attacks in Karachi?

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    1. Hi Carl :D!

      Excellent questions! I will have to think about it - thanks, Carl.

      Thank you, my friend, for your outstanding input :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  7. Oh man, Looney and Carl said it all. I just want to say one thing: negotiating may be good and all, to keep peace but what kind of peace? I mean, diplomats want peace agreements signed at a click of a finger and then they'll leave the mess for others to clean. Yeah, negotiating is great but since Israel and the Arabs went back to the table attacks against civilians resumed and since Pakistan decided to talk to the Taliban Karachi and other parts of the country started being targeted every week. This being said, negotiations can be a green light to attack, so how can that be the best way forward?

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    1. Hi Adam :D!

      Excellent points, mate! Indeed, indeed...let's ponder on that.

      Ben-adam, thank you so much for your input :D.

      Cheers

      Delete
  8. Not much of a fan of negotiation as we always have to give of some value we hold dear. It's a tough process that sometimes generates more problems than solutions and when we think of those who use the process for their own purposes, it's even worse! Anyway, about ISIS: is it what it seems to be? I don't know but something is not right. I think there is something more than meets the eye!
    Shabbat Shalom to all.

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    1. Hi Joseph :D!

      That's the spirit of negotiation: compromise.
      You may be right about ISIS...let's see, right?

      Joe, thank you ever so much for your input :D.

      Cheers

      Delete

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