Structuring Negotiations for Durable Peace: Madhavi Bhasin


The paper attempts to look at the role of negotiations in ensuring peace. The durability of any peace process depends on the how the peace accord is made. Through the NAN (Negotiation About Negotiation) Approach an attempt is made to analyze the process of peace making rather than peace implementation. The NAN Approach clearly focuses on the role on the civil society in creating a convergence of demands before actual negotiations can take off. This is expected to be an improvement upon the cosmetic measures designed to involve the people in the conflict resolution process.
The views of prominent theorists like R. Fisher, J. Burton and H. Kelman on the negotiation process are combined with Edward E. Azar’s analysis of protracted social conflicts to evolve a theoretical framework for managing the highly critical pre-negotiation dynamics. During the negotiations political leadership prepares the overall framework and inputs are sought from the local level. In NAN strategy the framework is fashioned at the local level within which macro-level actors would operate. The basic rationale of the paper is that managing the micro-elements at the pre-negotiation phase can provide ample room for the macro-elements to structure durable peace during actual negotiations.

A common theme of international discourse in contemporary times is conflict resolution and peace building. From Kosovo in Europe to Kashmir in South Asia; from Darfur in Africa to Arab-Israel in the Middle East; from the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka to issues of power sharing between Britain and Northern Ireland; from humanitarian challenges in Somalia to international concerns over nuclear proliferation, conflicts, crisis, political discords, national rivalries dominate international news. Following Hobbes’s analysis and the realist rationale the source of this international anarchy can be traced to the characteristics of human nature. But according to psychological reasoning if the desire for power is inherent in human nature so is the craving for peace. International politics adequately reflects this duality of human nature as the occurrence of conflicts parallels the desire for peace. From the Dayton Accords to the Lahore Declaration; from Norwegian mediation in Sri Lanka to international treaties like CTBT and NPT; from the Good Friday Accord to the Bonn Agreement every conflict scenario has witnessed a corresponding peace process. But for ending conflicts rather than merely managing them it is imperative to make peace irreversible and durable. Most of the above stated conflicts and subsequent redressal measures have resulted in erratic peace. In turning this erratic peace into an enduring one the present study examines the process of structuring negotiations.
The paper attempts to make a theoretical contribution to the process of peace building in North-East India. The region has a distinct character and no generalized approach can resolve the prevailing crisis. Nevertheless certain theoretical insights could help in reviewing the conflictual dynamics of the region. The North-East has witnessed numerous peace accords, some of which have been partially successful while some have miserably failed. These challenges increase the need to explore new alternatives for bringing peace to the region. One of the obvious approaches to peace is open discussion and interaction which can lead to proper negotiations and subsequent peace proposals. The substantive portion of this paper deals with the specifics of the negotiation approach. This approach could be further refined and contextualized to address the challenges to peace and stability, which unfortunately are too numerous in this region. This paper in no way presents a peace plan but merely discusses the essentials of a general peace plan which can be applied to the region. Since the journey towards peace traverses through unknown and challenging terrain innovation and experimentation are unavoidable. It has been widely acknowledged that conflict resolution requires the engagement of numerous actors, including those in civil society, to re-knit the fabric of society at all levels from grassroots to the political elites. (Ronald Fisher 2006) The present paper seeks to discuss a mechanism that facilitates this engagement.
There are two discernibly observable phenomenon in conflicts around the world. One is that the root of every conflict lies in the desire for greater freedom, autonomy, sovereignty either by an ethnic group, a regional group or a state. (Daneil Fisher 2005) Second, the mechanism for bringing peace to conflict situations around the globe is negotiation. Despite the aggression and violence discussions, deliberations, information exchanges are central to any peace attempt. It is on these foundations of real freedom and open discussion that the peace approach of this paper is based.

Negotiations Dynamics

In essence, negotiation is a creative activity in which the parties involved discover information about each other’s needs and interests and come to common decisions on some issue or set of issues. (Bruce Hemmer 2006) Negotiation includes all cases in which two or more parties are communicating, each for the purpose of influencing the other’s decision. Nothing seems to be gained by limiting the concept to formal negotiations taking place at a table, and much to be gained by defining the subject broadly. (Fisher 1991, quoted in Breslin and Rubin 1991) Though the concept of negotiation is central to peace making, the fact remains that peace in the real sense is still elusive. This makes re-looking at negotiations vital. A few prerequisites and facts about negotiations need to be reasserted.

In a successful negotiation, everyone wins. The objective should be agreement, not victory. This mantra stands in opposition to the common tactics employed during negotiations in contemporary times. Any negotiation which aims to defeat the other party would not result in durable peace. The desire to negotiate implies the willingness to agree in contrast to the desire to win as exemplified in conflict situations.

Without common interests there is nothing to negotiate for; without conflict there is nothing to negotiate about. This implies that in every negotiation situation common interests and conflict are inevitably interlinked. The need for negotiations arises from the existence of conflicts, while the hope in negotiations is sustained by possibility of discovering common interests. Rather than the issue divergence it is the anger, frustration, resentment, mistrust, hostility, and a sense of futility that complicate the negotiation process.

Negotiations should focus on interests not positions. The purpose of negotiations is to achieve particular interests and satisfy specific demands. Minor compromises and concessions can help achieve desirable results and hence innovative solutions should not be scarified at the altar of sacrosanct positions. The Negotiation Approach discussed in this paper focuses attention on the process of interaction rather than on the content of the negotiated positions.

A critical element in negotiation is to come to understanding the other party's underlying interests and needs. Negotiations imply interactions between two or more parties. For interactions to be fruitful it is necessary that each side acknowledges the needs and interests of the other side. Without such acknowledgement no discussion can take place and interactions become mere political gimmicks.

Negotiation is a sequence of events, not an incident. Negotiations can succeed only when continuity and diligence of dialogue is maintained. Once negotiations are initiated every event, including disruption of dialogue, forms a part of the on-going process of negotiated interaction. Incorporating lessons from failed negotiations not only link one stage of negotiations to the other but also provide a self corrective mechanism. Negotiations need to be approached as an exercise in ‘image-restoration’ (Raymond Friedman 1994) by all parties which requires consistent innovative input.

Negotiations should focus on resolving not merely managing conflict. Negotiations can lead to disastrous results if approached as temporary time buying tactics. Sustained and comprehensive negotiations are vital for understanding, discussing and addressing the root causes of any conflict so as to resolve it rather than merely regulate crisis.

If the above discussed essentials are followed a genuine negotiating mechanism can emerge. The general principles of negotiations need to be contextualized for resolving contemporary conflicts. Given the fact that modern day conflicts are usually ethnic, religious or regional in origin certain additional concerns figure in ensuring successful negotiations. These issues have been discussed in greater details in the book by R. Fisher and W. Ury. (Fisher and Ury 1983)

Separate people from problems. The structural features of any conflict need to be viewed as distinct from its human components. Although an organic partition of the two is difficult a minimal degree of separation can be managed and is desirable.

Soft on people and hard on the problem. In an attempt to address a crisis most of the current peace accords follow rigid and unyielding measures, the implementation of which creates hardships for the common people. The resolution mechanisms worked during negotiations have to target the problems rather than those facing the problem.

Integrative bargaining to replace distributive bargaining. (Heidi Burgess 2004) Most negotiations fall-out on the issue of diving the pie or the pay-off. Since resources are usually scarce optimal utilization warrants creating greater stakes in sharing the pay-off rather than dividing it.

How you approach a negotiation will play a key role in how the negotiation proceeds. The foundation determines the character of the super-structure. Likewise the intentions and ground work leading to actual negotiations would determine the nature of peace. Pre-negotiation stage is critical in terms of determining the actual content of negotiations and subsequent peace plans.

NAN – Meaning and Rationale

Having established the centrality of negotiations in building peace and having reviewed the essentials of a proper negotiation approach it is vital to work out a viable negotiation mechanism to address various conflicts. The present paper attempts to focus on a critical dimension of negotiations in evolving a theoretical approach for structuring peace. The approach is called the Negotiation About Negotiations Approach – NAN (John Burton 1990). There are several prominent theorists like R. Fisher (1983, 1989), J. Burton (1986), E. Azar (1990) and Galtung (1996) who have referred to different aspects of the negotiation process. Based on the writings of these theorists, the conflictual dynamics in various crises and Edward E. Azar’s study (E. Azar 1990) on protracted social conflicts, this paper discusses the NAN approach to peace.
For the purpose of conceptual clarity it is important to note that NAN is not negotiation about the problem, but emphasizes on the pre-negotiation dynamics. It is an exercise in suggesting on how to approach the problem rather than outlining the final resolution of the problem. The NAN Approach concentrates on the immediate environmental variables so that actual negotiations can be initiated from a point of convergence. The bargaining space in terms of participants and issues is delimited during the NAN phase. The overt politicization of conflict situations and peace processes has diminished prospects of any positive outcome. NAN allows to shift the focus of attention from the macro political determinants to the micro human demands. In doing so NAN leans heavily on the support and involvement of Track Two elements in the negotiating process.
The nature of contemporary conflicts and its complexicity vindicates the need for a NAN approach. It is an innovation necessitated by circumstances. Most of the conflicts have got frozen in a historical space; NAN helps the respective positions and demands to reconnect to reality. In conflicts where combatants and victims of war are largely civilians, citizen-based peace processes are crucial to healing the deep wounds of the communities and thus finding lasting solutions. A study by Paula Garb and Susan Allen Nan (2006) shows how participants in multiple peace building initiatives systematically negotiated mutually satisfactory arrangements that progressed from information sharing to joint strategizing; several organizations managed to take that cooperation further to share resources and cooperate on joint initiatives and projects.
Harold Suanders (2001) contends that peacemaking cannot focus solely on the negotiation of agreements between representatives, but must involve changing relationships among societies. Thus many other activities need to occur prior to, around and after negotiation in order to secure a lasting and comprehensive peace, particularly in deep-rooted human conflicts where people will not negotiate about their identities, historic grievances, dignity and so on.
The basic idea of NAN is to reverse the current strategy. During the negotiations political leadership prepares the overall framework and inputs are sought from the local level. In NAN strategy the framework is fashioned at the local level within which macro-level actors would operate. The greatest potential for preparing societies for peace comes from the grassroots. Peace cannot be imposed but rather must grow from the bottom up. NAN as a bottom up approach aims at four objectives in devolving a peace approach.
• To evolve the underlying consensus in the multiplicity of demands.
• This consensus on the political, economic, strategic, ethnic and religious issues would then emerge as a charter of demands.
• The Charter is presented to the political leadership at different levels.
• Political level consultations have to take cognizance of this charter of demands.

Guidelines for NAN

After having re-looked at negotiations and established the importance of pre-negotiation stage in determining the durability of the peace process the following guidelines would help in giving practical shape to the NAN Approach.

Hegemonic dialogue is to be replaced with a multilogue: In a hegemonic dialogue the structure and substance of negotiations is pre-determined and rigid. The dialogue process is opened to the various parties having a stake in the resolution of the conflict. An inclusive dialogue process acknowledges plurality, transparency and flexibility and ensures the sustainability of the peace plan.

Non-Political in Character: The inclusivity of the dialogue tends to de-politicize the process making it an open interaction involving representatives from different regions, ethnic communities, separatist groups, state and national political parties, members of the local police force and armed forces and international actors. Such interactions can be chaired by a recognized neutral international forum or civil society group at the national or international level. Wider participation expected due to the non-political character of the interaction. For too long has the desire for peace been hostage to the lack of political will. A wide range of intermediaries like a diverse collection of non-governmental organizations working in the humanitarian, development and religious domains are already engaged in the process of facilitating negotiations. The NAN Approach seeks to increase their involvement at the stage of structuring negotiations rather than merely assisting in implementing it.

Unit of Analysis is the Group: Demands of the regional, religious, ethnic and cultural collectivities should be discussed at the NAN stage. Group is not to be viewed as a competitor to the state. Attempts are made to discuss the insecurities and apprehensions of the group rather than labeling them as illegitimate demands. Identity politics is central to any ethnic conflict and if the other party attempts to overlook this fact the latter are commitment to negotiated settlement may dwindle.

Concentrate on the enduring features of the Conflict: Most conflict studies are based on the analysis of immediate events of violence and ceasefire. The real roots of the conflict are contained elsewhere in the unintegrated social and political systems, economic deprivation, technological underdevelopment, communal insecurities. NAN approach focuses on the events of violence as merely the symptoms rather than the causes of the malady.

Emphasis on micro-level actors and their demands: Simple issues of peace and development affect the people in conflict situations the most. Highly political and technical issues of resource sharing, autonomy etc are rarely the immediate concerns of the real conflict bearers. Socio-economic concerns like minority groups and their demands of organized safeguards, issues of child and women development, youth empowerment and constructive employment emerge as more critical demands. Over-emphasis on the macro-level factors has led to politicization of the problem turning a dispute center into land of empty promises.

Convergence on the issue of denial of human needs: The NAN strategy is not to seek compromises from one set of concerns over others, but to find convergences; every regional, ethnic, religious and cultural concern needs to be respected, Deprivation of group rights need to be viewed and projected as denial of human rights. Divergence needs to be tackled by working on Habermas’s insights on disagreement as both threat and remedy.

NAN and Real Conflicts

It is interesting to see how NAN performs when applied to real conflict situations. Though the approach may sound too ambitious various peace attempts contain certain elements of the NAN approach. There are numerous examples where either NAN has been ignored or partially applied to result in fragile peace. Similarly certain peace attempts owe success largely to the decisions made during the NAN phase.
The Sudan conflict demonstrates that any consensus on basic principles makes the road to peace a little smoother. The Declaration of Principles signed in 1994 between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan helped in clarifying the claims and plans of each side. Resolution of the Indo-China boundary dispute according to many is making no head-way. But the fact is that both countries are working on an Agreement on the Principles guiding the resolution of the dispute which characterizes the NAN approach. Rather than rushing into unworkable agreements, NAN allows concerned parties to freely interact for arriving at certain agreeable principles. Most of the features of the Good Friday Agreement are drawn from the vigorous civil society interactions and the ensuing reports. The Jan Andolan in Nepal is an example of how convergence in civil society can ensure rapprochement among the macro level leadership. The peoples’ uprising in June 2006 forced the Seven Party Alliance and Maoists to come together and work for a durable political resolution of the internal crisis. Though the peace process in Nepal is still continuing NAN has given it a good start. NAN is merely the first stage in the peace process; it prepares the groundwork for actual negotiations to take place.
The Innovative Problem Solving Workshop employed in the Peru-Ecuador (Kaufman and Sosnowski 2005) peace process clearly highlights the degree to which the civil society can contribute to peace making. Herbert Kelman (1995) maintained that the 1990-93 continuing workshop helped to lay the foundation for the Oslo Accord. In US sessions of the of the Secretary’s Open Forum (State 2002) are held under the auspices of the Department of State since September 2002 to encourage popular discussion on various issues in foreign affairs including global peace building. Dialogue processes have contributed to the official pre-negotiation efforts, helping to build the legitimacy and/or support for official negotiations to take place, as in the dialogues between representatives of the ANC and influential white South Africans that were organized by the South African leaders in the period leading up to official negotiations. (Lieberfeld 2002)
NAN is also susceptible to misuse in certain cases to stall the peace process. The Norwegian mediation in Sri Lanka has facilitated the NAN phase between Tamil and Sinhala fractions. But there appears to be a stalemate at the NAN stage. There is no urgency for charting a peace plan and implementing it with sincerity. Hence graduating the NAN to the phase of actual negotiation is imperative.
Another very important area concerning international peace is the issue of international involvement in crisis situations. We have the most vivid examples of Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq among others. These regions are still facing several challenges in terms of establishing durable peace - ethno-religious co-existence, unsatisfactory power-sharing arrangements, problems of economic development, stability and security after the international forces withdraw.
For such situations an International Forum for Durable Conflict Resolution can be created. The idea of this forum draws inspiration from John Burton’s Human Needs Model (Burton 1990) and Conflict Transformation Approach of Folger (Folger 1993) and Lederach (Lederach 2003). The basic aim of the forum in every case is to create the ‘humanitarian space’- a space of freedom in which we are free to evaluate needs, free to monitor the distribution and use of relief goods, free to have a dialogue with people. To create such a space the humanitarian agencies will have to assume pseudo-diplomatic functions, which would further ensure space for the politico-strategic variables to operate with least friction. The Forum can comprise of the following structures.

Permanent Wing:

Officials from agencies like UNHCR, UNOCHA, ICRC, WFP, WHO, MSF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International- will form the permanent arm of the forum. All areas experiencing or threatened by any major crisis will be reviewed by the wing and for handling the politically areas of the crisis the following wings will be constituted. Depending on the nature and geographical location of the crisis the constituents of these wings will change.

Diplomatic Wing:

Representatives from the international community, which will include countries like direct interests and facilitating countries. Personnel from the humanitarian agencies will also be included to ensure that the whole process is not solely dominated by political concerns of some selected countries. Representatives of the donor agencies and countries can be actively involved in the discussions of the wing, where their concerns regarding accountability of the projects can be addressed. The basic task of the wing will be to work out an ad hoc engagement to restore order within the concerned country and utilize the resource wealth of the country in a mutually beneficial manner.

Military Wing:

This wing will consist of forces drawn from countries willing to contribute to the peacemaking efforts under an international command. The peacekeeping role is redefined to provide defensive cover for humanitarian assistance programmes, apart from observing the ceasefire. The forum can over a period of time create an autonomous defense wing comprising of personnel drawn guerilla and paramilitary forces of areas where conflict resolution is underway. A special reorientation programme will have to be designed and followed by the Permanent Wing for suitable preparing the forces for the required tasks. This would gradually reduce the dependence on individual states for contributing to the protection force and will help to stabilize the peace process by gradually inducting disbanded guerilla and para-military forces.

Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Wing:

This would include the donor and Humanitarian agencies along with private companies’ consortium. Reconstruction of public utilities like roads, schools, hospitals, and water and food supplies can be given to interested consortium of private companies, with a revenue sharing agreement with their respective governments. The priority areas and necessary plans are to be prepared jointly by these consortiums and humanitarian agencies. These plans will be submitted to the donor agencies for seeking necessary financial assistance. Responsibility for ensuring the completion of the projects will be shared by all wings of the Forum.

Concerned Party Wing:

The country facing a conflict needs to be substantially represented on the Forum to comprehend the ground situation and communicate possible solutions. Based on the specificities of the conflict and available strategies an ad hoc arrangement will be proposed by the other wings, to which the other parties will have to respond with their suggestions. Through negotiations and bargaining a roadmap will be evolved, which will be implemented through guarantees by each country represented on the forum.
The example of Bosnia-Herzegovina highlights the costs of neglecting the NAN phase. The Dayton Accord was essential for stopping the ensuing violence. But Dayton did not, and some may argue could not, involve an input from the real conflict bearers. One of the enduring problems of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina is to difficulty in getting the Bosnians to face up to their problems and contribute to the resolutions. Expert analyses hold that unless solutions grow indigenously out of the political culture of Bosnia, they are unlikely to be respected by population the once the international community leaves. People who have not contributed to the solution can abdicate the responsibility for its failure. The Dayton Accords have failed in the essential task of creating a political community that takes responsibility for resolving its own problems, which is perhaps the most damming evidence that a peace, with a life and logic of its own has not been created in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Once Dayton had established conditions of relative peace the NAN approach could help to work out possible contours of durable peace.
NAN is necessary not only in particular conflict situations, but is also vital for the general conduct of international relations. Negotiations and treaties on issues like non-proliferation (NPT, CTBT), environmental protection (Kyoto Proposals), economic interests (WTO negotiations) have failed in achieving the desired objectives primarily because the NAN phase has been ignored.

NAN- A Rational Approach to Durable Peace

The above examples clearly highlight the flexibility and adaptability of NAN. Essentials of the approach can be applied in several conflicts ranging from intra-state ethnic differences to inter-state boundary disputes. NAN even holds promise of emerging as a more acceptable pre-emptive mechanism to tackle conflicts. The flexibility of the approach is drawn from the fact that it is a dialogue promoting approach rather than a rigid problem-solving mechanism.
While activating the NAN strategy it needs to be reasserted that this not a solution to actual or potential crisis, but merely a mechanism to approach the crisis. To turn this mechanism into a solution generating platform participation of the non-political elements is essential. At the onset of the paper it was stated that the desire for greater autonomy or freedom lies at the root of all conflicts. Autonomy literally means empowerment. NAN empowers the conflict units by enabling them to the structure negotiations. Hence NAN guarantees autonomy in the true sense of the term and thereby addressing the basic cause of every conflict. And the durability of peace generated by the NAN approach rests on this fact.

• Acknowledgements: I am highly indebted to Global India Foundation for giving me an opportunity to present this paper. Without Prof. Omprakash Mishra’s guidance and Dr. Tania Dass’s involvement the paper would not have been possible in its present form. Due acknowledgement needs to be given to my parents, especially my mother for helping me to conceptualize and write this paper.

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