Jacob Blaustein Professor of International Organizations and Conflict Resolution and Director of Conflict Management at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Topics: negotiation, ripeness, conflict analysis
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
- Negotiation and Formula
- Examples of Ripeness
- Negotiation Preparation and Conflict Analysis
- Conflict Resolution Gaps
A: There needs to be a bridge made between the realists and their hard-nosed notion of power and state interest. Even more so than the idealists, the peacemakers, or the peace school, which aims at values that we think are important, but in a way that I think are sloppy and soppy. Power is important. As I say, use it in negotiation. At the same time peace is a universal value, and I think we really should realize that that is one to which we aspire. My work has been to try to bridge those two. People have tried to bridge realist politics and religion, or something of that kind.
Q: Let me make a quick technical adjustment. When you say bridge between realists and idealists, what form has that taken?
A: My writings.
Q: And are you trying to convince realists in peace or idealists about ???
Q: Do you consider your work to be influential in the realists' realm?
A: I really haven't spent much time to run back and see how many people are sniffing my tracks. I know that the thing I'm currently most associated with is this idea of ripeness and people from both schools seem to have a tendency to seem to take it into account and at least discuss it. Before that I was associated with the concept of formula. I think that has taken over and has not been used in its absolutely technical sense in the way that I defined it, but it's still been used pretty much in the way that I introduced it or introduced the definition of it. I didn't by far invent the words, I think I invented the concept as a tool of analysis and that's been my concern. I'm most interested in the conceptual understanding of the negotiation process and the conflict management process more broadly.
Q: And in regard to some of your theories and research, what experience has especially touched and inspired you?
A: Well, there are experiences and that refers more to the rare occasions in which I've actually done something in regards to conflict management or negotiation. I don't think there are any occasions in the analysis. The most inspiring thing in the subject of negotiation and conflict management, more broadly speaking, is that its an open growing field. It's alive. There are lots of contributions to be made for the improvement of this world. I think we are in this world to make life better for others and for ourselves as apart of the otherness. Therefore it's an area where everything is not known and contributions can be made. The areas which I've actually done some kind of practice and the idea of trying to make a contribution to improving a situation and to ending violence has been a learning process. I don't think that I've had any really 100% successes. I think that I've contributed to a process and if what I have done has not ended a conflict then it has helped to move it along.
Q: Can you explain to me the concept of formula?
A: Yeah. I started out in the negotiation business by being trained in international relations. I was also trained in part and developed a specialty as an area specialist. The first books that I did were on international relations and area studies. I did a book on the international relations of Africa, which I thought was interesting because it showed that the concepts of international relations could be applied to a new developing area. Then somebody said in a review that this was all unimportant because the relations that were important were not among African nations, but between Africa and Europe. So I said, "Ok. Well, I'll do a book on that." So I did a book on commercial trade relations between Africa and Europe. In the process came the word negotiations and the politics of trade negotiations, and so I looked at all the theory of that time in the early 70s and mid-70s on the subject of negotiation. I found it unreal, because it assumed parties started in fixed positions and by concessions worked towards a particular outcome. I had found that that's not what they did. They first started by scouting the terrain and then came to a general notion of what they were going to agree on. A general notion in terms of trade, a commons sense of justice or a definition of the problem and its solution and that's a formula. Once they had a formula, they could talk about details. I think that holds pretty well and if that's what people do then -- if they don't do it to negotiate badly or like in trade negotiations -- the formula is already established and then they negotiate with it within that definition.
Q: So, in other words, before parties will negotiate about the substance they need to define the framework within which the negotiations are going to take place?
A: Loosely spoken, yeah.
Q: And if you could also talk a little about ripeness, what is ripeness exactly?
A: Ripeness is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for negotiations to begin. It is a perception with some relation to an objective fact; it is a subjective fact with some relation to an objective fact. The two are not coincidental in that the parties find themselves within a hurting stalemate, and that they perceive that there is a way out of this stalemate. Those are the two components. That is, the word "perception" I find inherent within a hurting stalemate. They feel themselves to be in a hurting stalemate. They also feel that the other party is willing to grant them a way out and that they can see a way out, and that coincides with that other parties' perception. That does not mean that the way out is identified, but simply that there is one. This idea of a mutually hurting stalemate in which they can't escalate their way out of the situation to victory, and the situation in which they are locked, hurts. What they have is a necessary, but not sufficient way for negotiations then to begin.
Q: Is ripeness something that should be recognized by the parties involved in a conflict or by an intervener?
A: It must be recognized by the parties involved eventually but if the parties involved initially do not recognize it then it is the practitioners job to heighten the parties perception of this situation. Hence, if a conflict is not ripe, that is if the parties do not sense that they are in a hurting stalemate, what the 3rd party can do, if they alone feel the situation is ripe, then is to ripen, in a sense alone, to heighten that perception. And if it's impossible to ripen, if there are not objective elements to refer to then what a 3rd party can do is to position themselves so that they are around when this stalemate occurs.
Q: So to ripen doesn't mean to increase the hurting of the stalemate? It means to recognize or to increase falsely the recognition of an already existing hurting stalemate?
A: No, to the 1st part. Yes, to the second. It may also include increasing the pain. It may be necessary for the 3rd part not to point out that the parties are in pain, but to increase that pain. That can be done by not applying military methods, but by condemnations of both parties for not seeing the opportunity, by putting pressure on them, or by increasing the pain by making them feel that in order for them to fell that there's no way for them to escalate their way out of the situation. I can cite lots of examples and it would take us lots of time for us to be on what we're talking about here. When the government of the 1st Bush administration refused the loan guarantees to Israel, it put itself ???. The Palestinians were already in stalemate and already hurting, but that put pressure on Israel to see itself too in a hurting stalemate; this made it easier to go to Madrid when the Madrid conference was called.
Q: Is it futile to intervene in a conflict that you might not classify as ripe?
A: It is futile to intervene, in the sense of bringing the parties to negotiation before they have a sense of ripeness. Yes. I think one of the best examples of this is Carter's intervention. Carter's a wonderful intermediary, but his intervention in the Eritrian-Ethiopian war when Ethiopia was on the ropes, and Eritria was on the ??? neither one felt themselves in a hurting stalemate. Carter did everything that a good mediator should do, but the conflict was not ripe at all. To nobody's surprise, it didn't work.
Q: So the idea is that if they don't perceive themselves in a hurting stalemate then they will continue to fight until there doesn't seem to be a better option.
A: They will continue to fight, or they will at least continue to hold out. For example, just to take one half of a non-hurting stalemate you would think by now there would be a hurting stalemate, but the Palestinians are hurting, but the Israelis don't respond so this kind of mutual stalemate. It takes two to stalemate. A mutual hurting stalemate doesn't exist so the Palestinians say, "Ok, well in that case, I'm not interested in negotiating. I'm interested in holding out for the whole loaf. I'm gonna change my goals," as some of them are, "I want all of Palestine. This is because the chances of coming to an agreement for ø…™ ø ™Í of Palestine -- that is the West Bank and Gaza -- is not there, it's not present, because the other side won't give it to me." To which some Israelis say, "There's no sense negotiating with the Palestinians because they want all of Palestine," and so this absence of the mutually hurting stalemate just becomes more and more dominant in the situation.
Q: How hard is it to assess ripeness? In other words, in retrospect if there was an intervention and it failed can you say, it wasn't ripe, and if the intervention succeeded, it was ripe.
A: Yes, and this annoys me a bit. Not your question, but the fact that your question has to be there because a lot of criticism of the theory of ripeness hinges on that you can only tell it after it happened, and I think that misses on two points. First of all, that ripeness is not the prima facie evidence of an agreement, or even for negotiations to begin. There are plenty of situations
that may have been ripe, but since ripeness is only the necessary but not sufficient condition for negotiations to begin, situations that are ripe may not have been picked up by the parties or by a mediator to bring the parties to negotiations to begin.ø…™ ø
Second of all, negotiations beginning therefore are really not the only sign of ripeness. Really what a researcher or what an intelligence officer should look for are signs of the parties' voicing some kind of expression of ripeness. We find it all the time that people say, that spokesman said out loud in public, "We realize that we're not going to win in this situation, and that we better start talking with the other side we better start looking for a solution." I don't have it in the book there, but Joe Slovo, in a wonderful quote said, "We realized that we couldn't win in this situation and we realized too, that the other party couldn't win either, so the only thing to do was to negotiate." Well, there's the evidence, and people say this in more or less bald ways and sometimes they say it in eternal communiquø…™…ø ™ s. That's why I say it's an intelligence process, but you can find, at the time, expressions of ripeness, in the parties' perception before negotiations begin.
Q: You mentioned you had a long list of examples when ripeness has or has not been assessed appropriately, can you give a few, to sort of color the concepts?
A: Yeah, one very good case, a classic case was at Kilometer 101 in the October War when the Israeli and the Egyptian armies literally had each other circled, it was a mutual encirclement. They were caught like 2 hands together and neither of them could break their way out, although the Israelis were more toward moving toward breaking that encirclement. The parties met together and it was at that point that Kissinger came in and said, "It's silly to start talking about breaking this encirclement, why don't we talk about breaking a larger stalemate which exists between Israel and Egypt on the whole border issue." There's a couple of good examples in the book that Jed Crocker edited, "Herding Cats." Don't accept a stalemate with the cats. When he talks about his own experiences negotiating in Namibia and Angola, there he just showed that six years of enormous patience and hanging in there.ø…™ ø
Finally, at the end of 1986, we had a stalemate in which neither side was able to break the siege around Kuntakana Valley, the South Africans. UNITA were not able to break the Angolans hold, and Angolans and SWAPO were not able to kick the South Africans out of Southern Angola. Then the Angolans went to Russia and they were able to get the Cubans to double their troops that were in Southern Angola and got the Cubans to say -- and we knew this at the time -- that in the first place, they didn't want to be there but if they had to be there, they were going to go hot pursuit into Namibia. It was at this time the first time that the South Africans got some white body bags from a couple deaths from the encounter. So here was an indication that it was going to get worse, neither side could dislodge the other because of that stalemate. Things could possibly get worse, but the side that didn't want to wanted to go home. They were annoyed with the Angolans, a perfect example of a herding stalemate. To no one's surprise, with Crocker standing there and being very active, he was able to pull this into an agreement
Another example was in the late 1980s, early 1990s -- I forget the date exactly -- in El Salvador, when Alver Desoto was the UN mediator and the Farbundi National Liberation Movement made an attack on the capital. They were able to get into the capital and do damage, but they weren't able to hold the capital. They were pushed back. Then the army realized that they could not dislodge them. They realized that they could not take the capital, and both sides realized they were in a stalemate. It hurt and the UN mediator was there to seize on this perception, and that was the beginning of the peace process.
Q: What about conflicts today that seem to be in a hurting stalemate? Places like Columbia, Northern Ireland, Russia and Chechnya, things like that, they would appear, at first glance anyways, to be in a severe hurting stalemate, but why aren't those situations ripe?
A: Well, some of them are, some of them aren't. Let's take the one that is most so, and that is Northern Ireland. Since the movement that led up to the Good Friday Agreement, they have realized that neither one is going to prevail, that the stalemate is costly and that it is better to come to a political agreement. So we've got this jagged process to the Good Friday Agreement, and then it's kind of a semi-collapse. Now, we're in the process of putting it back together again. I think it's a good example of the messiness of ripeness. It wasn't just clearly ripe. Then they went to work, and it was kind of a sloppy and perceptional process. They played on it and either side for tactical advantage. Each perceptional side felt less in a stalemate then other parts and so on.ø…™ ø
In Chechnya, I don't know about the details of this one as well, but I would say this would be a good place to see if there isn't a perception of a hurting stalemate in the present time with the Russian sponsored referendum, and with the agreement of the Chechnyans probably out from under the leadership to participate in the referendum. I believe the participation was very high, because they saw that there was a possibility of a way out that contributed to this perception of a stalemate of the conflict as it went on, so without being able to fight the evidence. I haven't studied that particular place in detail, but it would be interesting to look into and see if this theory doesn't help us understand what happened.
Whereas in Columbia, there is not hurting stalemate. The FARK is not hurting at all; it is enjoying itself. It has a Robin Hood existence in it's territory. It feels righteous in its cause. It's making lots of money. It gets knocked in the head, every once in a while, but it's still leading a very successful campaign. It doesn't see anyway out that's consistent with it goals, and of course the government is hurting badly, but doesn't see anyway out. The government still has more or less control over the territories that it controls and its troubled more by the militia, hence the present attempts to negotiate with the absence of room to negotiate with the FARK. We mustn't confuse our notion of hurt with bystanding populations with the parties sense of hurt.
Q: That actually moves to my next question about leadership. Which is constituents and extremists? When you say one side, you're talking primarily about the leadership, or is there a broader conception about who is hurting in the stalemate?
A: No. It can be. There's been some good kind of 2nd generation work that Steve Stedman and someone else who did some work on this work, indicating that the sides were pluralistic, that sometimes it was the supporters of the parties that had to feel the stalemate. That was Stedman's contribution. As we've seen for example in Chechnya, it may be that the populations that felt they were in a hurting stalemate and abandoned their leadership; that's a hypothesis. Therefore, they, in this case, had not negotiated but voted a possibility of settlement. It has to be somebody who can speak in the name of somebody on one side of the dominant part of the conflict, but there's certainly a lot of internal maneuvering on one part of what I'm calling a side. A side is not homogenous, and I don't meant to suggest that it is.
Q: Would then extremists ??? of populations or refugee populations confiscate the appearance of ripeness or the ability of a party to declare itself ripe and not in those words?
A: Confiscate? No, but they would probably complicate. They would be apart of the internal dynamics. Take an example of the present time, such as the US is going to war with Iraq. Well, what do we mean? We know that within the US government there were a number of different currents and debates, some of them tactic, some of them strategic and so on. From the outside, the US went to war with Iraq, but when you get inside the black box you find out there was a Wolfowitz and then a Rumsfield faction, a Powell faction and not quite sure where Bush stood faction, whether he was with one or the other or if he was up for grabs and so on. That is simply the dynamics that go into the making of a decision. That complicates, and that makes more realistic the process of finding out, but that doesn't affect the theory.
Q: So we talked a little about formula and a little about ripeness. Are there theoretical insights from your research that you think practitioners should have in mind?
A: I did something once, it hasn't been developed as much, but it was on pre-negotiation, in which I looked at conditions that had to be settled before negotiations could begin. In order for those negotiations to be fruitful, and if they weren't settled before, they would have to be settled during and would slow down and complicate the negotiations. I would say that hasn't been picked up very much except in that one book called Getting to the Table. I think that it was also very useful, in an analytical as well as practical sort of sense.
Q: So in terms of advice, what you would give to someone who is about to approach international conflict? What would you say?
A: I'm doing a book on that now. We had a conference last year in Aspen and asked people to bring in their 6 points to tell to a negotiator and we got 12 people. Now I have a course scheduled in the same way and I'll have to put them together. I can't answer that question in interview time, because it's a complicated business
Q: Some highlights, maybe?
A: Be clear about the facts of the situation, is one that comes up very often. Keep the eye on the ball of your goal. And at the same time, be aware of the other parties' goals, third. Then fourth, try to find a way in which you can find the 2 goals compatible rather than looking at them as competing with each other. Reframe if necessary or compensate rather than looking at relative gains, that is, zero sum types of outcomes where your goals will be achieved at the expense of the other. Those are some to begin with.
Q: That first one, about being clear about the facts, who's facts?
A: Be aware of the facts as seen by both sides. One of the things that I think is importantø…™ ø ™ I need to step back a sentence. Formulation takes place within a 3-phase understanding of negotiation, which begins with Diagnosis, then Formulation and then getting to details and things. Diagnosis means asking what kind of conflict is this and what are the facts about this conflict? Then asking each of these questions about my side and then the other side, so what is the other side as what kind of conflict this is? And here is another piece I think is important for negotiators, what is this conflict like? I think people who get caught up in the idiosyncrasies of the conflict see very clearly how you couldn't possibly get out of it. So many people who look at conflicts in a comparable way are able to see how other conflicts like this provided some way out. Some kind of suggestions of solutions that may not have or may have worked, one may ask, what paths should we not pursue, and what paths should we pursue? What is this conflict like? What precedence are there for solving conflicts like this one? All these are a part of the bundle of facts of understanding of a conflict, and I also mean that the technical facts. If this is a conflict about borders then, what's the terrain like? What are the operatives of international treaties? What's international law that governs borders? What can you really do on the ground? Where is that river? And so on.
Q: Last question. I was wondering if you could span a little on your first statement, and that was on the bridge between realists and between peace activists. What should realists take away from peace and conflict theory development, research and practice, and what should peace and conflict activists and academics take away from realist theory?
A: Well, there are 2 bridges that I think are worth talking about. One is between realists, or people who read the realists analysis, and the peace activists, or peaceniks, or whatever you want to call them. I think the realists need to clean up their theory and explain a little more how cooperation is possible, and how and why parties would want to manage or regulate their conflicts? Realists love wallowing conflict and that's what their business is about. They get puffed up in their understanding of international relations as they claim it and they think that everything is conflict when it isn't. Most of relations between any parties is non-conflict. Here we are you and I and we haven't conflicted yet. A realist would find this a boring situation. Yet this is a day-to-day situation not only among people, but among states. I did a book, of which I'm very proud, and I can say that because I edited it and not wrote it - it is called Preventative Negotiations.ø…™ ø
We looked at how did negotiations prevent conflict from erupting in some 12 different issue areas, because not every border is a conflict. How did negotiations handle borders so that most borders do not become conflicts? Not every situation of a defense army is a conflict. How do negotiations handle that so not every army and defense budget becomes a conflict and so on over these 12 different areas? That's extremely important for us to know because conflicts as we see them these days are expensive. It's much cheaper to manage your conflict, and often much more successful. Not all conflicts can be managed. I don't think there's anything to be negotiated between the United States and Saddam Hussein. It wasn't our fault. We tried, although there are things we could have done much earlier that were different. I think we could've changed that conflict, but that's another subject.
On the peacenik side, just sell their trade so short by decrying interests, by decrying power, and they walk off the real plank in this world. They're not talking about a real world or at least a day-to-day world, no more then realists are if they're talking about people who want to solve conflicts. If you want to solve a conflict, it's relatively easy to if both sides want to solve it. I'm interested in parties who are interested in pursuing their conflicts because they think they are in there for the right reasons,
and finding out how I can contribute to deterring them from a violent pursuit of that conflict and still realize their goals. How they can make use of the power they have, because everybody has some kind of power. So I think the peaceniks make themselves irrelevant, just as do the realists. The realists are noisier about it and so people pay more attention to them. Peaceniks make themselves irrelevant by refusing to recognize these issues of power and interests. This is not, however, you pointed to another gap that needs to be bridged. You said, realists on the one hand and academics on the other. There is another gap that is important, and that is between the practitioners and the analysts or the academics. This makes me cry. This is the saddest gap of all, because still after all these years, the general feeling among many practitioners is that you can't teach conflict management.ø…™ ø
You can't teach negotiations, but you have got to learn it on the job. They've got the secret to it, it comes in the feel of their fingers, and the analysts are just messing around in their
business. That of course turns the analysts off. They in turn, quite often talk in disciplinary jargon, a word I don't like, but which is applicable in some cases. They analyze conflict and conflict management and negotiation research and so on in terms that are absolutely inapplicable, and that turn off the practitioners. Many game theorists, not all of them, are particularly adept in expressing their analysis in a way that is inapplicable to practitioners. Many game theorists are uninterested in the practical application of it, and then they wonder why people don't listen to them.ø…™ ø
There is this non-dialog between the deaf of the 2 sides, when in fact all the analysts study is at least the empirical data, or at least the logic of which the practitioners do. Practitioners give us all the data we have -- even experimental data is done by pseudo-practitioners -- and the analysts try to distill from that generalizations that are valuable for practitioners. There should be much more cooperation between the two and listening to each other and an attempt to talk to each other, and lots of places do. I mean, the Peace Institute does very well and some of the Crock Centers do, and a number of other programs. This is what we try to do, the Cy Eason in our program, said that there's a lot of work done to try to bridge the gap. Alex George wrote a book for the Peace Institute, called Bridging the Gap. Despite those efforts that exists, and I think it's a crying shame.
Q: Are ripeness and formula concepts that are used with the practitioners?
A: Oh yes, and the term ripeness comes from practitioners, but the practitioners didn't know what they were talking about in a very literal sense. They sensed what they were talking about, but weren't able to define what they were able to talk about. I think in defining ripeness, we have helped them specify a thing that they felt. It was a part of the fingertips business. Kissinger said something like, "I like to deal with crises when they are hot." He referred to stalemates as a situation for dealing with them. He was a particularly unusual person in that he was both an analysis and a practitioner, and that he could articulate things and a formula as well. As I said, I didn't invent the word, I just helped to define it. It is just the same thing as pre-negotiation. What the analysts can do is give content to these terms that the pracitioner uses.
Q: Well, thank you very much Professor Zartman. Is there anything else that you think we should add that would be useful to people?
A: Maybe one other thing, and there is another gap to be bridged, between Track I and Track II. I think it's a good example of the sort of self-generating, or reciprocate generating, arrogance when Track I and Track II people came in. I don't know how it started, but Track II people came in saying that Track I people are arrogant and naturally their useless. Of course the Track I people bridled that sort of description and so they became arrogant and useless as the Track II people said they were. The Track II people continued their arrogance and on and on it went. We've gotten much more to a kind of truce now, I think, in this and a sense of cooperation of the two sides by showing how Track I and Track II efforts have come from management. Each has a certain role. Each has a certain limitation. Each can do things that the other can't do and they can't cooperate in all situations, but they can frequently cooperate and reinforce each other. There still is a little sense of turf that's usual in any business, but I think it's important for each to cooperate with the other and respect. There's a lot of bridging to do in this peacemaking among ourselves.
Q: Well, thank you so much professor. I appreciate this.