Multilateral Negotiations

In which ways are multilateral negotiations special?

Term Paper, 2009

4 Pages, Grade: 1,2


Natalie Züfle International Negotiation

Task: In which ways are multilateral negotiations special? Are they fundamentally different from bilateral negotiations? Please refer to the compulsory reading. (1000 words)

Since the end of World War II, and more recently since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the number of negotiations on the international stage has drastically increased – as has the number of actors and topics to negotiate. In a growingly interdependent, globalized world, the system – and the process of negotiation likewise – has moved from a bilateral to a rather multilateral order (Kremenyuk 2002, p. 25f). Subsequently, I am going to outline by means of a literature analysis various aspects which are characteristic for multilateral negotiations, and how they differ from bilateral bargaining. On this note, I have to mention that my illustrations won’t be final, it will be rather a cut-out of many more possible facets.

One overarching, all-embracing argument for why multilateral negotiations can be denoted special is underlined by the fact that the existing scholarly literature is significantly less as compared to the process of bilateral negotiation. This goes first and foremost on the account of the high level of complexity of the overall structure being inherent in multilateral negotiations (see Kremenyuk 2002, Zartman 2002, Touval 1993, Hampson and Hart 1995 – just to mention a few). Simply put, “N-person interactions are far more complex” than two-party negotiations (Young, 1999, p. 808), hence making it more difficult for analysts to develop generalizing theories. By contrast, “the basic structure of the bargaining situation involves two parties seeking to determine a single joint outcome”, being described as bilateral monopoly by economists or as two-person game by game theorists (Zartman 2002, p. 72).

More in detail, multilateral negotiations show some of the following specific features, which are generally not or not as innate with regard to bilateral bargaining:

1. Actors

On the one hand, there are (needless to say) more actors than in a two-party negotiation. The number of actors has indeed grown during the last decades, partially caused by ongoing decolonisation processes, and furthermore through an additional number of sovereign states since the end of Cold War (Kremenyuk 2002, p. 26). On the other hand, new actors apart from the classical nation state (which still is the most important actor) became part of the bargaining processes: TNCs, newly founded international organizations, NGOs and other experts have gained in importance, often holding very influential roles (Kremenyuk 2002, p. 24). Experts or so called epistemic communities, for instance, help to find new ideas, indicate possible impacts, define agendas or develop consensus, and last but not least provide valuable knowledge in a more complicated, more specialized world (Hampson and Hart 1995, p. 37, p. 40).

However, “as N increases, the likelihood of encountering diverse preferences within the population also increases, negatively affecting the possibilities of reshaping those interests into a mutually satisfactory settlement” (Hampson and Hart 1995, p. 29f.). Such diversity in interests, belief systems and ideology can make it much more difficult to come to a consensual agreement compared to bilateral bargaining (ibid., p. 30).

2. Issues

Along with an increasing number of participants the “the scope of issues on the agenda of negotiations has also tremendously increased” (Kremenyuk 2002, p. 24). On the other hand, new topics of global importance have appeared – primarily since the end of the East-West-Conflict, which was dominated by military-security-issues (ibid, p. 24). These new issues by nature affect more than two states and comprise among others: environmental issues, economic affairs (just look at the actual financial crisis!), moreover new security threats in terms of international terrorism or proliferation of WMDs. This diversity in topics to be negotiated increases complexity “because the negotiators need to juggle different issues and positions instead of having time to digest them in manageable portions” (Raiser and Warkalla 2008, p. 11).

3. Communication

Such a high degree of “complexity also increases communication and information-processing difficulties”, which are more difficult to manage than in bilateral negotiation processes (Hampson and Hart 1995, p. 29). The more participants bargain a certain number of issues, and the more information has to be dealt with, the higher the probability that parties “simply lose track of important information and other players’ interests” (ibid., p. 29). The higher, of course, also the probability that interests diverge, or that they become dichotomous and conflicting, which in turn gives rise to communicative misunderstandings. In consequence, “inconsistent or contradictory messages, as well as errors in interpretation, may cause friction, generate distrust, and hinder the successful conclusion of negotiations” (Touval 1993, p. 355).

And last but not least, the more parties and issues have to be negotiated, the longer it naturally also takes to build a final consensus, due to the analysis of issues in length, due to the time-consuming and larger extent of communication and information processing, as well as decision making processes (voting procedures) etc. (see Touval 1993, p. 354ff. for more information, particularly with regard to the agreement phase). Compared to bilateral negotiations the time-factor multiplies many times over.


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Multilateral Negotiations
In which ways are multilateral negotiations special?
Free University of Berlin  (Center for Global Politics)
International Negotiation
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
432 KB
multilateral, negotiations, bilateral negotiation, Verhandlung
Quote paper
Natalie Züfle (Author), 2009, Multilateral Negotiations , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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