Joshua Weiss

Associate Director, Global Negotiation Project, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: You know, it's interesting, because I would definitely want to be careful about saying that one approach is better than another or whatever it might be. In Mozambique, for example, the gradual approach worked fairly well, actually. So I would start with that premise that just because it didn't work in one place doesn't mean it can't work somewhere else. In Burundi, Mandella used what I would term a boulder in the road approach. And that was after a lot of gradual approaches had been tried. One of the nice things about the boulder in the road approach is it kind of says to the parties in the process, we're going to be able to determine whether the other party is serious or not very quickly. Because if they're not willing to agree to this large issue, or at least to engage in talking about it, then you know they're not serious about this process.

One of the problems with peace processes is that people use them as tools for manipulation. That's one of the bigger problems about gradualism, is that more powerful parties can use the peace process to manipulate the weaker party. And the boulder in the road approach, or other approaches that really try to bind people with commitments, like Schelling??? talked about a long time ago, get you to another level. These approaches allow the parties to say, "I knew they were not serious about it," or "Wow, I'm surprised that they would make that commitment, and show their seriousness." So there is also that element of it that's important.

Q: It sounds like you're beginning to line up a schema of when certain approaches might be more useful. In other words, if there's a large asymmetry in the power between the parties negotiating, you might say probably the graduated approach has large potential for abuse in this case.

A: Yeah, and in fact I actually made a distinction in my dissertation between the concepts of a palliative and creative gradual approaches. A lot of these ideas came from economic change and also political science about how leaders should govern. And in fact Henry Kissenger, who is the sort of poster child for the gradual approach, if I can put it that way, he very clearly said that gradual processes were preferable because they could be managed much more easily and statesmen don't have to make the kind of commitments that statesmen don't like to make, the big ones.

They want to go from four years to four years or whatever the election cycle is, and so it's much easier to manipulate. One offshoot that I am going to explore is how you can tell when a creative gradual approach is happening. Creative means that people genuinely want to be in it, as opposed to palliative, which is a false process.

Q: Sort of good faith versus

A: Yeah, what might be some benchmarks or indicators that people could look for? I do think that is a dynamic of why parties agree to engage in a peace process, with regard to power, and why they want to use a gradual approach. You know, sometimes it's hard because the approach, the process, usually needs to mirror at least some of the dimensions and dynamics on the ground, or a more powerful party isn't going to do it. And so the challenge is to keep the more powerful party engaged and not have the less powerful party feeling like they're getting just steamrolled into everything. Power is clearly a dynamic at play here, and I think that's an area for more research.