Summary of "Prenegotiation Decisions"

Summary of

Prenegotiation Decisions

by CNCR News

Summary written by: Mariya Yevsyukova, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Prenegotiation Decisions". CNCR News. Rutgers, The University of New Jersey. Vol. 2, No. 3. Fall, 1989. Pp. 3-6.

This article discusses "the five structural barriers to successful negotiation of hazardous waste siting disputes" (p. 3). These barriers are the results of pre-negotiation decisions. Robert W. Lake, Assistant Professor at the Rutgers Center for Urban Policy Research, provides the example of a debate over the shape of a negotiation table, which took place prior to the negotiations that ended the war in Vietnam. The Vietnamese wanted to negotiate at a round table, while the United States preferred a rectangular table because sitting at the rectangular table would better reflect the power imbalance between two parties while round table would give Vietnamese a sense of recognition and legitimacy. Finally the parties decided on a round table. This story exemplifies the importance of the structural context of negotiations.

According to Lake, the failure of negotiations over placement of hazardous waste sites are caused by the structural barriers or prenegotiation decisions that put a community in an inferior position to a state agency or a developer. The first of those barriers is "the power of agenda setting", since the state controls the siting process, it also takes over the control of the negotiation issues, dictating its own agenda to community representatives. This produces "sanitized negotiations" with issues reduced to those which the state feels itself confident to discuss (p. 4). The second barrier is the "procedural dominance" of the state (p. 5). It issues procedures and rules for the removal of the hazardous waste and thus it decides on when in this process to start negotiations and who should participate. The community's prenegotiation decisions are limited to one -- whether to participate or not in negotiations under the conditions dictated by the state.

The third structural barrier is "geographical jurisdiction" (p. 5). Since the agenda is limited to the sitting issue alone, the community is in a position to negotiate from the local interests (property values and loss of status), while the state is arguing from the statewide and national interests. In addition, the community is isolated from other communities, which would rather have a hazardous waste site somewhere else, but not on their own territory.

The fourth barrier is "moral sanctions". The community is placed in the inferior moral position, since the state claims that it defends national and statewide interests, while the community is "self-serving" in having to protect its own interests.

The last identified structural barrier is "answerability". State and local negotiators have different constituencies to whom they are responsible for the outcome of negotiations. In the worst scenario, the local officials would accept the siting proposal on unfavorable conditions. As a result, they might lose popular support and their offices. State negotiators are responsible to broader and conflicting constituencies. They might not just lose popular support but also "support from economic institutions and sources of capital" (p. 6). Thus for state agencies the negotiation is not really about siting but about gaining or losing political support and status.