Summary of "Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process"

Summary of

Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process

by Harold Saunders

Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "Prenegotiation and Circum-negotiation: Arenas of the Peace Process," in Managing Global Chaos, eds. Chester Crocker, Fen Hampson and Pamela Aall, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996) pp. 419-432.

Saunders argues that the peace process includes more than just official negotiations. "Peace requires a process of building constructive relationships in a civil society not just negotiating, signing, and ratifying a formal agreement."[p. 420] Saunders describes the different arenas in which the peace process is pursued, and describes the basic phases of the peace process.

Prenegotiation and Circum-Negotiation

Prenegotiation refers to "the times and the tasks apart from negotiation that have the purpose of beginning, sustaining, and nourishing a peace process by changing relationships and paving the way for negotiation or other peaceful steps to resolve conflict."[p. 421] Since the term 'prenegotiation' has been used by some theorists to describe a fairly specific set of tasks undertaken just prior to official negotiations, Saunders prefers to use the term 'circum- negotiation.' While formal negotiations may play a role in the peace process, many modern conflicts are not amenable to negotiation. People are often unwilling to negotiate over issues of identity, justice, security, and dignity. For this reason the goal of pre- or circum-negotiation is not just to start negotiations, but to "start a political process that can change relationships and lead to the end of violence, to peace, and to reconciliation."[p. 421]

Arenas for Peace Building

Saunders views the peace process as spanning four different but interconnected arenas. The most familiar is the official arena of government negotiations and diplomacy. Second is the quasi-official arena, where individuals and groups cooperate closely with the government, but have no official status or authority to negotiate. In 1993 the Israeli-Palestinian peace process began with such quasi-official meetings in what became known as the Norway Channel.

Public dialogue is a relatively new arena for building peace. Public dialogues seek to "engage representative citizens from the conflicting parties in designing steps to be taken in the political arena to change perceptions and stereotypes, to create a sense that peace may be possible, and to involve more and more of their compatriots."[p. 423] A final arena is civil society at large. Civil conflicts tend to fragment society and sunder relationships. In order to achieve peace, relationships between and across group differences must be reestablished, and social coherence restored.

The author argues that no one of these arenas is primary. They are interconnected and complementary. To be effective the peace process must be pursued in each arena. Saunders also notes that third parties intervention may be helpful in any of these arenas.

Phases of the Peace Process

The peace process can be described in terms of five cyclical phases. Successfully concluding the final phase often opens the way to begin the first phase in some new area or aspect of conflict. Each of these phases can be pursued within each arena. However, each arena approaches each phase in a somewhat different manner. Saunders offers examples of each phase as it occurs within the public and the official arena.

In the opening phase of the peace process citizens and officials make the decision to work toward peace, and attempt to define the conflict problem. In the public arena, individuals seek ways to reach out to members of the other side, and to open a dialogue. Such direct contact is often politically impractical in the official arena. During the first phase the official arena focuses on researching and framing issues.

In phase two people move on to mapping relationships and issues. In the public arena maps are developed in direct communication with the opponent. In the official arena such mapping is often carried on unilaterally. Often the political costs of speaking with the enemy are still too high at this phase to permit direct official communication.

Phase three seeks to solidify the will to pursue and implement a joint solution to the conflict in question. In public dialogues, participants seek to develop specific ways of changing conflicted relationships, and to decide which ways should be pursued. In the official arena, this phase is devoted to making substantive and logistic preparations for negotiations. Some authors use the term 'prenegotiation' narrowly, to refer simply to this phase in the official arena.

Phase four is the negotiation phase. In the official arena, negotiators attempt to generate a written agreement which presents a formal solution to the conflict at hand. The public arena addresses relationships more directly in this phase. Public dialogues seek to "design a scenario of interacting steps which can be taken in the political arena to change troublesome relationships."[p. 430]

In the fifth phase citizens and officials act cooperatively to implement their agreements. Individuals begin to taking the interacting steps toward changed relationships which had been developed over the course of the dialogue. Governments act to implement the formal terms agreed to during negotiations. Saunders points out that the official process deals primarily with formal issues, such as changing judicial and physical arrangements. Dialogue in the public arena focuses primarily on changing human relationships. Since the goal of the peace process is to improve violently conflicting relationships, public participation is crucial to the success of the overall peace process.