The Negotiation of Agreements
By Louis Kriesberg
This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Louis Kriesberg. "The Negotiation of Agreements." chap. in International Conflict Resolution, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) pp. 121-50.
Kriesberg examines the situations in which negotiations produce agreements. While Kriesberg discusses background conditions and tactics, his main focus is on strategy.
Factors Influencing Negotiations
Timing and ripeness are important factors in successfully negotiating an agreement. Conditions are ripe for settlement when "the actions of at least one party to the conflict or an intermediary would result in an acceptable settlement among a significant set of adversaries."[p. 122] Background conditions may become ripe due to domestic pressure, or to shifts in the balance of powers. The tactics and competency of the negotiators or mediators are also important factors. Important tactics include listening, analyzing, formulating options, employing the problem-solving approach, distinguishing persons from positions, pacing negotiations and setting deadlines.
The strategic approach to negotiations focuses on careful choices of issues, parties and inducements. When considering which issues to negotiate, the strategist must decide whether to start with vital central issues, or peripheral non-vital interests. The strategist must also decide whether to link issues together, or negotiate issues separately. The choice of parties is also important. More parties make any agreement more comprehensive, but can also make it less likely that any agreement will be reached. Inducements include positive sanctions, coercion, threats, or persuasion.
Kriesberg examines de-escalation initiatives in U.S.-Soviet relations, and in Arab-Israeli relations. He identifies four basic patterns of negotiations. First, U.S.-Soviet relations have produced more de-escalation agreements. Second, in both cases early negotiations were less successful than later ones. Third, intermediaries played important roles in both cases. Fourth, early negotiations focused on peripheral issues. Comprehensive negotiations came later in the history of both relationships.
Kriesberg explains these patterns in terms of background conditions, tactics, and strategy. He observes that "background conditions seem to account in large measure for the discernable patterns."[p. 132] The U.S. and the Soviets were not set on the immediate goal of the others' destruction. Untimely interventions in the Arab-Israeli conflict hindered negotiations. In regard to the first pattern in particular, Kriesberg notes that later negotiations often build on earlier successes. The general improvement in later negotiations can be accounted for in part by this cumulative effect, and in part by the participants' better understanding of each other as their relationship develops.
After further review of successful negotiations in the U.S.-Soviet and Arab-Israeli cases, Kriesberg offers his analysis of the factors influencing negotiation success. Again, he focuses on background conditions, tactics and strategy. Kriesberg concludes that "external conditions are often dominant factors in the failure or success of negotiations."[p. 146] Unfortunately, it is often difficult to be sure whether a conflict is ripe for negotiation or not. Adversaries will sometimes enter into negotiations merely for the sake of appearing to seek peace, but without any real desire to settle. Negotiations are most likely to reach agreements when both sides perceive their condition to be unacceptable, but neither can improve conditions unilaterally. When background conditions neither favor nor disfavor negotiation, tactics can make a significant impact. Good negotiating tactics can keep negotiations running smoothly and speedily, and so make the most of the sometimes brief windows of opportunity. A skillful negotiator will also be better able to suggest mutually beneficial proposals. However, tactics alone rarely determine the success of failure of negotiations. Effective strategy can compensate for difficult background conditions. Kriesberg argues that "strategic choices probably play the largest part in determining whether or not negotiations conclude with agreements."[p. 147] The key to effective strategy is matching the choice of issues, parties and inducements to the background conditions. When choosing parties, intermediaries can be very helpful in the early stages of de-escalation. Intermediaries are often able to point out the costs of continued conflict and emphasize the benefits of settlements. Excluding intransigent major parties can be helpful in getting negotiations going initially. However, such exclusion may undermine the ability to reach a fair, enduring settlement in the long run. Kriesberg also finds that adversaries are more likely to agree over isolated, peripheral issues in the earlier stages of de-escalation, and to move from those issues to more comprehensive negotiations at later stages.
Finally, Kriesberg finds that positive sanctions and gestures of conciliation play a significant role in successful negotiations. The simultaneous use of coercive inducements can undermine the effectiveness of positive inducements. Fear of being seen by their constituencies as weak or as accommodating the enemy can limit leaders' willingness to offer positive inducements. Generally the public becomes more accepting of positive inducements once negotiations are underway, and as such inducements prompt reciprocal actions from the opposite side.