by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Contemporary Signaling in the War on Terrorism:
Separate sections below provide definitions of diplomacy, a set of clever aphorisms about diplomacy, and illustrations of various diplomatic techniques, e.g.: why do states negotiate when they do not seek an agreement?, what kinds of agreements can emerge from negotiations?, what preliminary steps precede negotiation?, what are some tactics used by states during negotiation?
Definitions of diplomacy:
"The art and practice of conducting negotiations between sovereign states for the attainment of mutually satisfactory political relations. Diplomacy... is normally based on considerations of national interest or expediency, and directed toward the maintenance or increase of national power and prestige."
Edward Smith and Arnold Zurcher, Dictionary of American Politics second edition (NY: Harper and Row, 1968): 116.
"The total process by which states carry on political relations with each other. The machinery of diplomacy includes a policy-making foreign office (Department of State in the United States) and diplomatic missions abroad (Foreign Service). Diplomacy may be carried on through open or conference negotiations, or in secret. Occasionally diplomacy is undertaken by heads of state, a process called 'summit' diplomacy."
Jack Plano and Milton Greenberg, The American Political Dictionary eighth edition (NY: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1989): 481.
Aphorisms about diplomacy:
"I wish to see the discovery of a plan that would induce and oblige nations to settle their disputes without cutting one another's throats."
Benjamin Franklin, 1780,
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and Jonathan P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 118.
"Be polite. Write diplomatically. Even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
Otto von Bismarck-Schoenhausen (1872),
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 117.
"The fact that talk may be boring or turgid or uninspiring should not cause us to forget the fact that it is preferable to war."
Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., (January 1954),
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 120.
"We're not trying to start a war; we're trying to send a political message"
Robert S. McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense (October 1962),
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 120.
"Diplomacy without arms is music without instruments."
Frederick II ("The Great"), King of Prussia (1770),
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 118.
"You can't get a diplomatic solution unless behind that is the threat of force."
U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), to CNN (Sept. 1, 1990),
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 119.
"Sincere diplomacy is no more possible than dry water or wooden iron."
quoted in Lewis D. Eigen and
P. Siegel, editors, The MacMillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (NY: MacMillan, 1993): 121.
As this selection of famous quotes about diplomacy (above) reveals, Americans' attitudes about diplomacy often have collided with more cynical views of this aspect of statecraft held in the foreign capitals they wish to influence. This webpage seeks to illustrate and describe some of the range of ways that states use diplomatic techniques, organized around a series of questions.
1. Why do states "negotiate" even if they do not truly seek an agreement?
- to stall for time
- to appear reasonable and thus win points in a propaganda war
- to seek other parties' later assistance
Stalling: States stall for time when conditions surrounding negotiations disfavor them. For example, in its negotiations over the question of the Palestinian refugees, Israel repeatedly employed stalling tactics, hoping that facts on the ground --Jewish settlements in formerly Palestinian areas-- would alter the environment surrounding negotiations. With the passage of time, settlements that initially (i.e., after 1967) were new acquired an aura of permanence. Over the nearly 40 years of settlement activity in Gaza, Israel acquired little international acceptance of its occupation there by stalling and withdrew unilaterally in August 2005. But the policy was not without its rewards: the U.S. government position about such settlements gradually evolved to accept the idea that some of the settlements elsewhere would remain after a final peace agreement, as U.S. President George W. Bush made clear in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in April 2004. Thus, stalling in the end led to a situation where new conditions surrounded the negotiation process, and an ally's position shifted to more favorably view the interest of the state that had elected to stall.
Appearing to be reasonable, disingenuously. Weak states seek to create division among their adversaries, and can take advantage of differences of style and interest among potential adversaries by acting as if they are willing to negotiate, even when they are not willing to compromise. For example, in 2002-05, the Islamic Republic of Iran faced stiff opposition from a United States convinced that Iran was secretly developing a capability to build nuclear weapons. With American ability to coerce Iran limited by its military campaigns in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. sought support of its hard line approach from its European allies. Germany, Britain and France engaged in a series of negotiations with Iran, designed to advance American goals through use diplomatic means. A series of high profile agreements between the Europeans and the Iranians each reinforced the view that means short of war could reduce the problem to one of international inspections. Iran conveyed its goals in a manner supportive of the view that Iran was a normal, not a renegade state, reinforcing a growing divide between the view of the U.S. and that of its European allies. Ultimately, however, the disingenuous elements involved in concealing the actual Iranian nuclear program through this charade overpowered the tactical advantages won by appearing to be reasonable. In the meantime, however, Iran may have bought itself enough time to have built itself a nuclear weapon to deter attack on its homeland.
Negotiating to win others' later support. Negotiation for the purpose of appearing reasonable, not to solve problems, is not an approach used only by U.S. adversaries. Sometimes, American diplomacy has appeared to be so motivated. Thus, when President George W. Bush returned to the U.N., seeking further U.N. authorization for an anti-Iraq campaign in the Fall of 2002, the goal now seems to have been less to design a more effective regime of weapons inspections to contain Saddam Hussein, and more to have been to win allies for the coming (i.e., March 2003) war on Iraq then being planned. By appearing to have first pursued all reasonable courses of action short of war, the U.S. in 2002-03 appears to have been trying to assemble the same type of broad coalition that it assembled against Iraq in 1990-91. Few new fighters, however, were drawn to the side of the U.S. coalition by this exercise during Fall-Winter 2002-03. But, by appearing to negotiate and by being willing to engage the U.N. Security Council on the matter, opposition to the U.S.-led war initially was weakened, and no state came to Iraq's aid when the U.S. and its coalition did invade in March 2003.
2. What kind of agreements can emerge from negotiations?Non-solution agreements to paper over fundamental, irreconcilable differences. For the sake of delivering "something" to anxious publics, states on occasion conclude negotiations by signing agreements that do not actually solve the problem under negotiation. Let us call these "non-solution agreements." An example of this would be the Paris Accords of 1973, which ostensibly signified that a "peace with honor" had concluded the American involvement in the Vietnam War. The agreement, notably, was only signed by the U.S. and North Vietnamese, not by the South Vietnamese government of Gen. Thieu. He would not agree to a peace settlement such as the Paris Accords that left large numbers of North Vietnamese troops inside his country. Thieu, an American ally, made his opposition quite clear to American negotiators. But the American negotiator, Henry Kissinger, well aware that his president and the American people were war weary and desirous of the end of an American role in hostilities, signed the Paris Accords as instructed by Pres. Nixon. The agreement did accomplish some American goals: safe return of U.S. prisoners-of-war was assured by the North Vietnamese. But, pointedly, the Paris Accords did not resolve the underlying issues dividing North and South Vietnamese governments, which were irreconcilable; war between them resumed within months. By presenting to the American people the Paris Accords as a "peace agreement," the U.S. Nixon Administration could portray positively the end of American involvement in the conflict as successful. Non-solution agreements in diplomacy, however, rarely last long. The "peace" of January 1973 had by May 1975 been transformed into a complete victory for North Vietnam. In that instance, military means, not diplomatic ones, determined the outcome.Playing the game of diplomacy nevertheless has advantages over fighting, and as long as states perceive these advantages to outweigh the costs, the game continues. Thus, we need to dissect the game of diplomatic negotiation.
Another type of non-solution agreements are those that are viewed as stepping stones to later agreements. Unlike the Paris Accords of 1973 which were seen at the outset by most observers as only a fig leaf covering up a critical malignancy, some agreements that do not solve a problem are openly entered into with it acknowledged that while they don't solve a problem, the expectation nevertheless exists that the agreement will help lead to further, better agreements, later. An example of this sort of diplomatic tinkering is United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (1967), enacted November 22, 1967, i.e.: several months after the conclusion of the 1967 "Six Day War" between Israel and its neighboring Arab states, chiefly Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Two four two articulated the sense felt by the great powers (and to a lesser extent that of the "global community") of what would need to be recognized in order to guide further peace negotiations. Filled with a range of precise and vague elements, Resolution 242 was a grab bag into which later negotiators could reach to find phrases of great significance to their special publics back home. In negotiations spanning decades after its passage, Arab advocates could emphasize the need felt by their governments and publics to achieve elusive elements promised by 242: clear reversal of territorial gains won on the battlefield by Israel consistent with the phrase "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" in 242, and firm language apparently demanding "Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict." Israeli negotiators, and negotiators for states supporting Israel (e.g., the United States) could point to the very same phrase (i.e.: "
territories occupied in the recent conflict") and
emphasize that the deliberate absence of the definite article the when speaking of occupied "territories," or still more clearly, omission of the phrase "all territories," meant that Israel did not have to give back every last captured acre. Moreover, Israeli negotiators could point to other guiding language of 242 that demanded"a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security," and the pregnant omission by the Security Council of the parallel need felt by stateless persons (i.e., the Palestinian Arabs), who only were regarded in 242 only insofar as the Security Council saw "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem" as part of an eventual settlement. By using finesse to include ambiguous phrases, 242 kept the door open to further rounds of negotiation, almost always said to be aiming to "implement" 242. We now have experienced nearly 40 years of such further rounds, with several further agreements also having been entered into (e.g., 1993 Oslo Accords) to similarly mixed results.
Thus, the central point of this discussion of diplomatic negotiations and inter-state agreements: problem solving agreements are extremely rare. The diplomatic arts largely are used to manage problems, not to solve problems. For problem solving agreements to emerge, several rare factors are needed:
- all significant actors in conflict must want a negotiated solution
- all significant actors' interests and their objectives in negotiating must be reconcilable
- the advantages of reaching an agreement must outweigh costs for all significant actors
- the process of standing down from belligerence and accepting a negotiated settlement must protect all significant actors' prestige
- the negotiators on behalf of the significant actors must themselves be both skillful players of the games of diplomacy and be willing personally to bear the costs (in terms of diminished influence within domestic politics) of having led the actor to a problem solving agreement in which compromise took place.
An example of what would appear to have been a problem solving agreement might be the Dayton Accords of 1995, which ended the Balkan Wars, 1991-95. In this instance, the strong hand of the convener of the peace conference (the United States) forced prolonged negotiation by Serb, Croat, and Bosnian government representatives. A settlement agreement was achieved: armies disengaged, a peacekeeping force was dispatched, refugees were given a legal basis to return to home areas they had fled, signatories pledged cooperation in war crimes investigations, and promised to protect human rights. Much of this proved unpalatable to publics back home in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, and implementation of some provisions (e.g., on refugees and on human rights) lagged substantially behind the demobilization of armies at one another's throats in Bosnia and Croatia. Another round of war within the Serbian Republic, chiefly in the province of Kosovo, did occur in 1998-99, and led to further intervention by NATO, and to Serbia's defeat. Nevertheless, ultimately the Balkan Wars ended, though the domestic repercussions within one signatory state, Serbia, contributed to such an erosion in authority that a revolution resulted, and the head of state's (i.e. Slobodan Milosevic's) arrest and trial for war crimes by a U.N. tribunal.
This mixed verdict on the Dayton Accords' role highlights the general issue: problem solving agreements are extremely rare in cases of international conflict. Or, put another way: war, not diplomatic negotiation, more commonly determines the terms under which international conflicts end.
Preliminaries. What are "preliminaries" in negotiations? Why are they important?Preliminaries are things like where a meeting will be held, who will be invited, the rank of negotiators, the shape of a meeting table, etc. Procedural issues such as these serve to set the tone and can affect later substantive outcomes. When a state will only attend if certain conditions difficult are met, they may be signaling that agreement is unlikely to occur even if those conditions are met. Before the meeting, disagreements about these issues and about what the agenda of a meeting will include, or what it must exclude, not only may convey information that will shape later discussions. The degree of reticence in getting to face-to-face meetings at all allows an additional layer of concession to strategically be peeled off when one of the parties has determined that movement toward a meeting suits its interest.Tactics in negotiating. Once international negotiation has begun, states employ a broad range of techniques in order to achieve their goals, goals that often do not include "settling" a problem in any manner that rewards their adversary. Here are some of the many tactics used in diplomatic negotiation once formal negotiations have begun.
For example, U.S. relations with Syria were problematic after 1967 and only briefly improved when Syrian Armed Forces joined the U.S. - led coalition that expelled Iraq from Kuwait in 1991. Routinely, in the 1980s and 1990s, the U.S. Government labeled Syria a sponsor of terrorism. With the outbreak of the Global War on Terrorism in 2001, Syria again edged toward cooperation with U.S. objectives and full Ambassadorial level relations were maintained for the first four years thereafter. Interestingly, in 2002, when Pres. Bush enumerated the members of the "axis of evil," Syria was not included. Despite such signals, relations were further strained in 2003 when Syria opposed the second U.S. invasion of Iraq and the continuing U.S. occupation there. The U.S. then publicly charged Syria with doing little to prevent international terrorists from crossing Syria to reach the battle in Iraq, but again: diplomatic relations were continued. Finally, after a February 2005 political assassination in neighboring Lebanon came to be viewed in the U.S. Government as traceable to Syrian agents, the U.S. Ambassador in Damascus was withdrawn. With only a Deputy Chief of Mission present to convey U.S. concerns to Syrian officials, the U.S. was signaling its displeasure with Syrian policy even before conversations began. Despite prompt Syrian defense of the U.S. Embassy compound during a terrorist attack on it (Sept. 12, 2006), full Ambassadorial relations still were not restored. Thus, the preliminary signal of sending an Ambassador to present credentials to the Syrian Government was withheld, pending better evidence that a Syrian - American dialogue might produce progress on issues of concern. In this instance, the "preliminary" act of sending an Ambassador would constitute a clear signal to the Syrian Government that the U.S. Government was serious about improving relations between the two countries. Or, alternatively, such a simple act might be a signal to third parties, e.g. Israel.
For further example, during the American phase of the Vietnam War, long months of wrangling between U.S. and communist negotiators ostensibly concerned the shape of the table at which negotiation conversations would occur. The Americans favored a long, two sided table which would force North Vietnamese and allied communist guerrilla representatives to sit alongside one another, facing the U.S. and South Vietnamese government representatives on the other side. The Communists, on the other hand, favored a four sided table: one side for U.S., one for the North Vietnamese, and one each for the two southern Vietnamese protagonists. Eventually, a compromise of a round table was agreed to, but only when all sides saw that moving talks forward in some form was a better tactic than not talking formally.
Thus, we should understand the long and difficult process in the current decade of bringing American and North Korean negotiators into dialogue in the same room. As a preliminary obstacle to negotiation, the U.S. insisted that any conversation about disarming North Korea occur with a "Six Party" context, where
representatives ofChina, Russia, Japan, and South Korean also all were present. North Korea was equally adamant that only face-to-face dialogue with the Americans would do. By having these "preliminaries" to deploy, both governments could save face and rebuff the charge that they did not want to negotiate a peaceful end to the North Korean- U. S. crisis. Each could claim they were willing to talk, if only the preliminary obstacles thrown up by the other side were taken down.
Actors make Promises of future behavior. In 1994, when the "Agreed Framework" was entered into between North Korea and the U.S., the U.S. pledged to provide interim supplies of oil so that electrical energy could be generated as nuclear power then in use was taken off line. These oil deliveries later were suspended. In any future agreement between the U.S. and North Korea, any U.S. promises of future help with energy are likely to be discounted by North Korea. The general principle: Inducements offered during negotiations must be credible, and must be believed, if they are to have positive impact on the negotiations.
Actors increase Pressure onto the negotiators of the opposite state. This may take the form of departing from the formal politeness of diplomacy to make calculated insults, to purposefully behave unpredictably, to insist their opposite attend fatiguing late night sessions only to use them to simply repeat demands, to play adversaries against one another, to reopen once settled issues after agreement on them, etc. The goal in using these tactics (and many others) is to keep off balance the team against whom one is negotiating. Such pressuring is actually a variant of the more generic phenomenon of sending signals to the other side during negotiations. Not all signaling occurs within the negotiating room, but it all is intended to affect the course and outcome of the negotiation.
Signaling by actors during negotiations can take many forms.
Declaring a military alert: During 1973 Arab Israeli War, the U.S. signaled its seriousness to the USSR by going to high worldwide state of war readiness in response to Soviet preparations to airlift aid Egypt and Syria.
Downgrading the level of expected diplomats at a meeting. For example, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the U.S. assumed a leading position in further negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But, after an outbreak of new violence in September 2000 became a "second intifada," the new Bush Administration in 2002 wanted to send a signal of displeasure to the Palestinian leader, Mr. Yasir Arafat. Thus, the U.S. sent Assistant Secy. Burns, not Secy. of State Collin Powell, to meet with Arafat.
Forgoing usual and expected denunciations, during a meeting or public speech. At Dayton in 1995, the U.S. sought to present itself as neutral facilitator of a peace conference, not the hammer in the fist of NATO that it actually had been when it just had bombed Serbs in Bosnia only months earlier. To facilitate this transformation of roles, the Clinton Administration temporarily discontinued its routine denunciations of Milosevic and the Serbs.
Going forward with a project that itself is an item of discussion. In Fall 2002, the U.S. undertook a mobilization of armed forces near Iraq, and entered into extensive logistical discussions with its neighbor, Turkey, even while asking the U.N. Sec. Council to authorize not war with Iraq but new inspections of Iraq by U.N. agents. The Saddam regime in Iraq was not fooled by this double game, and understood clearly the larger item in the American pattern. But the U.S. surely is not alone in employing this tactic. Little Lebanon, for example, in 2002 began to pump water from a disputed river even as the U.S. was trying to mediate this water rights disagreement between Israel and Lebanon.
Thus should be understood the context of Israel began in 2003 and continued to build a "security fence" between the "occupied territories" and Israel despite the fact that, under U.N. 242, all parties have agreed that negotiations remain needed in order for work to continue on resolving the the "Final Status" of these territories under the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Using “code words” to conceal differences.
When diplomats say a meeting was "cordial," it means one thing; when diplomats say "a frank exchange of views occurred," they mean to convey that disagreements were unbridged.
Using “code words” to quietly assert a fundamental shift in policy. E.g., after three years of non-belligerence under the Yeltsin Administration (1991-99), post-Soviet Russian officials in 1994 issued a National Strategy document that for the first time in an official document referred to the newly independent former SSRs of the USSR as the "Near Abroad" in which the Russians asserted they had "special interests." The U.S. also employed this type of signaling with North Korea in 2005, when in insisting on the return or North Korea to "6 party Talks" it allowed in May 2005 that "direct contact" between the U.S. and the North would be possible at such meetings.
Failing to use expected code words. The Sino-Soviet rivalry was well known for many years after their falling out in the early 1960s, but only after the USSR omitted China from list of “fraternal socialist states” it issued in 1976 was the rift formally confirmed.
Dropping mention of past bones of contention. After the first war between the U.S. and Iraq (1991), all the Western powers and a newly agreeable USSR (and later, Russia) diplomatically stood together in ostensible support of the U.S. policy of isolating Iraq. But the policy of isolating Iraq was costly, and some nations resented American leadership that pointed toward further confrontation with Iraq. Many formal demands made by the U.S. on Iraq had the patina of endorsement by the U.N. In 1996-98, France and Russia abandoned continued emphasis on U.N.-based Iraq issues such as the long missing abducted Kuwaitis who had been kidnapped and taken to Iraq by the Iraqi military in 1991, electing instead to advocate adoption of a new formula for lifting sanctions on Iraq in 1998 based solely on perceived progress about dismantling Iraqi weapons programs.
Reintroducing difficult issues settled earlier. The process of turning down the heat (above) can also be played in reverse: a state can turn up the heat by returning negotiations to points the other sides believed to have been dropped as the result of earlier negotiated agreements. Thus, Palestinian negotiators reintroduced refugees' “right to return” to live in Israel proper during Camp David meetings in 2000 about proposed final status agreement among the parties. Similarly, after elections in January 2006 brought to office the Hamas movement in the Palestinian Authority, earlier peace agreements between the P.A. and Israel all were called into question. Israel then insisted that for talks with the P.A. to resume, the new P.A. administration would have to again give explicit recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of the validity of earlier Israel-P.A. agreements (e.g., the Oslo Accords). Thus, issues once "settled" became obstacles to agreement once again.
In the real world of diplomacy, the categories above only are illustrative of some of the interactions of states. Combinations of these often are involved in actual cases of signaling among states. With the emergence of non-state actors (i.e., including terrorist organizations) signaling has continued, but with a few new wrinkles. Examples:
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