Summary of "Starting Negotiations"

Summary of

Starting Negotiations

By Louis Kriesberg

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Kriesberg, Louis, "Starting Negotiations," chapter in International Conflict Resolution, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) pp. 91-110.

Kriesberg draws on the history of U.S.-Soviet relations during the Cold War to illustrate various de-escalation strategies. Strategic choices accompanying a de-escalation initiative include the use of inducements, the selection of parties for negotiation, and the choice of issues.


De-escalation initiatives may be accompanied by major or minor positive inducements, no inducement, or by coercion. President Kennedy's 1963 speech at the American University was a major conciliatory gesture. His speech called for a reexamination of American attitudes toward the Soviet Union, and included a promise to stop atmospheric nuclear tests. Similarly the Soviet peace initiative of the mid-1950s included major positive inducements. The USSR substantially reduced their uniformed military, withdrew from Finland, and reopened diplomatic relations with West Germany. President Johnson's 1964 decision to limit U.S. production of fissionable materials was a minor inducement. It was aimed at encouraging the Soviets to negotiate further, mutual reductions. The Cold War offers many examples of de-escalation initiatives which were not accompanied by any particular inducements. Poland's 1957 Rapacki Plan proposed to make Central Europe a nuclear-free zone. Proponents stressed that implementing the Plan would benefit everyone, however no additional gestures or positive inducements were made. De-escalation initiatives have also been accompanied by threats. Krushchev backed Soviet calls to normalize the Berlin situation with a threat. If the Berlin situation were not improved, the USSR would turn access to West Berlin over to the German Democratic Republic. U. S. President Reagan argues that the threat of his Star Wars military build-up was a key factor in bringing the Soviets back to arms control negotiations.

Choosing Parties

When a de-escalation initiative calls for talks, it must specify who such talks would include. Big Four negotiations held during the early post-WWII period were multilateral. Big Four negotiations were direct negotiations between American, French, British, and Soviet delegations. In later year the Soviets insisted on bilateral negotiations, seeking more parity. Either the Soviets would negotiate directly and solely with the U.S., or each side would bring its allies to negotiations. Two-sided, multilateral negotiations, involving coalition partners from each side of the conflict, have been rare. Krushchev proposed non-aggression negotiations between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations, but such negotiations were never held. Multilateral negotiation proposals were more successful when they involved use of an intermediary. In the 1960s the UN succeeded in bringing together American, Soviet and unaligned nations for talks in the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee.


Issues may be central or peripheral, isolated or linked. U.S.-Soviet de-escalation initiatives have tended to focus on central issues, such as arms control and human rights. However, progress may be possible on peripheral issues even when there is no agreement over central issues. For example, the U.S. and USSR agreed to make Antarctica a demilitarized zone in 1958, long before they had made any headway on more central issues.

Kissinger's approach to détente is an example of linking issues. While formal, official negotiations were addressing issues separately, Kissinger also cultivated back-channel negotiations which linked the issues together in an effort to achieve a more comprehensive agreement.