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What is principled negotiation?
Camp David Accords
Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
This essay will analyse the advantages and disadvantages of principled negotiation, using the 1978 Egyptian-Israeli negotiations at Camp David as a case study to support the arguments. The essay is divided into five main sections. The first will give a basic explanation of what principled negotiation is and how it works, including a brief summary of the Camp David Accords. The second section will go on to describe the strengths of principled negotiations. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks will be described before the third section, in which the weaknesses of principled negotiations will be explored. Both strengths and weaknesses are backed up by examples from the case studies. Finally, conclusions will be drawn, summarizing the discussion.
Principled negotiation is an approach to conflict negotiation. It is a concept that was developed as part of the Harvard Program on Negotiations and was set out in the 1981 book “Getting To Yes” by Roger Fisher and Bill Ury. Both are co-founders of the Harvard Negotiation Project. They achieved acceptable solutions for negotiations by determining which of the negotiator's needs are fixed and which are flexible; this method of focusing on the psychology of the negotiator allowed agreement to be reached without jeopardizing relations between the parties.
Their book advocates four fundamental principles of negotiation:
i) Separating the people from the problem
ii) Focusing on the interests and not on the positions
iii) Inventing options for a mutual gain
iv) Insisting on objective criteria
Separating the people from the problem allows relationship issues to be separated from the substantive issues, thus making it possible to deal with them independently. People problems, as observed by Fisher and Ury, tend to involve problems of communication, perception and emotion. They identified three types of communication problems. In the first one, the parties may not actually be talking to each other. They are addressing an external audience instead of communicating directly with the other party. A second communication problem is created when parties don’t listen to each other. The third communication problem is caused by misunderstandings or misinterpretations, even though the parties are both listening to and talking with each other.
Fisher and Ury suggest techniques for minimizing these kinds of communication problems. Perception problems are important since they define both the problem and the solution. Different people interpret reality differently in different situations, this is called an objective reality. Due to this, effective negotiations may be very difficult to achieve since different parties may have very different understandings of their dispute. Fisher and Ury suggest seven basic strategies for handling perception problems. Finally, difficult emotions can often be involved in people problems. Anger, fear and distrust are examples of such emotions. These emotions get interconnected with the substantive issues in the dispute, making both harder to deal with. Fisher and Ury set out five tactics for disconnecting and diminishing emotional problems in the negotiation process.
Interest negotiation means negotiating about what people actually need and want, not about what they say they need. This is because what people say they need or want is usually not the same as what they actually need or want. This is due to people's tendency to take and hold extreme positions, that are purposely planned to conflict with the positions of the other party. An interesting point made in the book is the fact that when asked why people take and hold these positions, the reason given is, time after time, that the actual needs are not mutually exclusive, but are instead compatible.
Thanks to the second principle, the parties should be able to implement the third principle much more smoothly. By focusing on interests rather than positions, negotiators can more easily find new solutions for the dispute. These new solutions should benefit both parties by allowing them both to win.
To simplify the negotiation progress, outside objective criteria are used. For example, if people negotiate over the price of a property, both sides can find out for what price a similar property was sold. This information provides both sides with advice regarding a reasonable price level and it also becomes more difficult to debate and disagree with the offers in the price range of the property used as an objective comparison. An issue with this principle is that objective criteria may not always be available.
Lastly, Fisher and Ury instruct negotiators to know what their Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is, as if the negotiator does not know their best alternatives (or walk-away position), he or she may possibly accept an agreement that is far worse than the one they may have obtained or reject the one that is far better than they may otherwise have received. For these reasons, Fisher and Ury accentuate the importance of knowing and developing your BATNA before the negotiations conclude.
Officially titled as a “Framework for Peace in the Middle East”, the negotiations became known as the Camp David Accords due to the fact that the negotiations took place at the retreat of the U.S. President at Camp David in the State of Maryland. These negotiations were between Israel and Egypt, and ended on September 17th, 1978, with agreements being signed between the two sides. The negotiations were brokered by the U.S. President Jimmy Carter and involved the Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin and the President of Egypt, Anwar el-Sadat. These successful negotiations led to the peace treaty between the two countries the following year. It was the first treaty between Israel and any of its neighbouring Arab countries. For their achievements, the Israeli and Egyptian leaders were jointly awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1978.
Principled negotiation is one of the most useful approaches to resolving a conflict. If the parties can achieve a positive relationship, the objective becomes one of finding common interests that can help generate options for mutual gain. Interests are a key concern since they are the factors that underlie the decisions. Fisher and Ury provide examples of how an understanding of the basic interests can lead to a win-win result. In the case study, the negotiations between Israel and Egypt, the parties seemed to have non-negotiable positions.
At the time, Israel was occupying Sinai and was not prepared to hand it over to Egypt - and Egypt was not about to sign a peace agreement until Israel had handed Sinai back. However, by examining the primary interests of Israel, it became clear that it did not want Sinai, but rather wanted to ensure its own security. And Egypt, similarly, wanted its territory back and did not want to threaten the security of Israel. After the interests were properly outlined in this way, the solution became relatively easy; Israel hand Sinai back to Egypt, on the condition that it was demilitarized.
Beside this advantage of using principled negotiations, there are many other strengths of this method, which can be summarized as follows:
- As it deals with the primary needs and interests of the parties, the method provides more satisfying results, and hence creates agreements which are more likely to be followed.
- It is more efficient, as it reduces the likelihood of delaying or withdrawing anything of value when at the negotiations table, since the parties take a more creative approach to the range of choices for dealing with their conflict.
- It serves as a foundation for a better relationship by taking into account the possible future relations between the parties and by dealing with sensitive and social dimensions of the conflict. Negotiators become partners, not antagonists. They are not competing with one another; instead, they commit to finding a solution together.
- It presents legitimate objective criteria for evaluating and accepting solutions for settlement of the conflict, without the parties unnecessarily compromising. Boundaries are set together, that are reasonable and acceptable to all.
When the negotiations end, both sides know that they have worked together to find a solution that fits both of their needs. That is why, after the negotiations end, they can continue to maintain a relationship based on mutual respect.
Against the background of the Cold War, the USA and the Soviet Union agreed a series of treaties aimed at reducing the nuclear arsenal of both countries. Called the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I or SALT I, the first of these strategic arms limitations talks began in Helsinki in November 1969, with the negotiations lasting until 1972. On May 26th of that year, two treaties were signed, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. The agreements had a five year validity period. Later the same year, SALT II negotiations began and lasted for a further seven years. The SALT II treaty was signed by the US and USSR leaders on June 18th 1979. However, with the start of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1979, the US Senate rejected the treaty, due to the increasing tensions between the two nations, which continued up until the end of the Cold War. Nonetheless, the SALT treaties lead to the STARTs or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties I & II during the 1990s, agreements which lasted until December 2009. The successor treaty, New START was signed in 2010 and ratified in early 2011.
Occasionally, principled negotiations fail to settle the dispute or prevent conflict, even when one of the parties has the highest intentions and outstanding negotiating skills. This happens due to the other side behaving inappropriately and there are many ways that they can do this, such as by means of deliberate deception tactics or psychological strategies and blackmailing. This creates trust issues, since it becomes irrational and illogical to remain confident that the other side is trustworthy or credible.
The two strategic arms limitations talks, SALT I and SALT II between the USA and the Soviet Union, are examples of such trust issues, notwithstanding the fact that SALT I resulted in the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed n May of 1972. SALT II, although it resulted in an agreement in 1979, was rejected, as both sides experienced increased tensions. This is despite the fact that both the US and the Soviet Union had a mutual interest in reducing the size of their nuclear arsenals, so as to reduce global risks and the cost of building and maintaining such weapons. A key reason for this was the high likelihood of deception by either country and the potential consequences of such a bluff, made it impossible for either side to trust each other. In such a scenario, principled negotiations would prove to be ineffective.
In addition to this argument, in regarding this strategy’s weaknesses, some critics have also argued that the second principle, “Focusing on the interests and not on the positions”, is irrelevant and unneeded. There is difference between interests and issue, and interests tend to be exclusive to particular parties. For example, the buyer wants to get a bargain and seller wants to maximize their profit. Issues, however, tend to be universal, since each party shares them in an argument or a conflict. In such a situation, the relationship is transparent and straightforward. It only becomes complicated when the issues greatly contradict the interests of the parties, thereby creating a difficult situation, where agreement between the parties is nearly impossible.
The example above of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty demonstrates this. At that time, the US and the Soviet Union had completely different political systems that were competing against, and were in opposition to, each other. It was foolish to think that both countries could ever be friendly partners as there was perpetual tension and conflict between the communist system and capitalism. This tension was only resolved when the USSR collapsed in 1991, though there is a new lack of trust with respect to the seemingly contradictory actions of the government of Russia. In cases where the issues greatly contradict the interests of the parties, it may be preferable to agree on a compromise and negotiate based on positions.
In their book, "Getting to Yes", Fisher and Ury demonstrate that almost all conflicts and disagreements can be dealt with using their approach to negotiation. From their point of view, principled negotiation is a win-win method for resolving arguments, i.e both sides win and they lose nothing in the process. This view contradicts the fact, as stated above, that some conflicts can only be settled through some form of a sacrifice being made by either one or both sides involved. In these scenarios, positional bargaining is preferred to principled negotiations, since these conflicts require compromises to be made. Despite this issue, principled negotiation is still considered by many mediators as one of the best strategies for resolving conflicts. This approach, however, is more suited to negotiations between Western parties, which have a similar philosophy and shared relationships and interests, rather than much of the rest of the world. Where countries see relationship issues as the primary cause of conflicts, the principled negotiation approach of Fisher and Ury will in all probability prove to be unsuitable.
- BBC News (2001): The Camp David Accords of 1979. Available at: Link
- D. Malhotra (2016). Negotiating the impossible: how to break deadlocks and resolve ugly conflicts (without money or muscle).
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Available at: Link
- Industrial College of the Armed Forces (1996). Strategic Leadership and Decision Making. Available at: Link
- J.W. Breslin and J. Z. Rubin (1991): Negotiation theory and practice.
- R. Fisher and W. Ury (1981): Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
- W. Ury (1991): Getting Past No: Negotiating With Difficult People.
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