Should They Listen to Us? Seeking a Negotiation/Conflict Resolution Contribution to Practice in Intractable Conflicts
Missouri Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2017)
27 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2017 Last revised: 11 Aug 2017
Date Written: January 14, 2017
Conflict resolution (CR) has had its successes, particularly in what has become common negotiation and mediation practice in divorce, civil litigation and small to medium scale public policy disputes. Yet despite these practical inroads and increasingly successful dissemination of the ideas of our field, CR practitioners in politics and policy (and other fields) are still less than effective in the largest, most consequential conflicts. Negotiation remains the vehicles for addressing international conflicts nonviolently. However, as of 2007 when we first questioned the relative lack of practical impact (at the highest levels) of negotiation scholarship, the international relations practitioners did not seem to acknowledge any debt to, draw inspiration from, or request assistance from negotiation theory. We propose here that in this respect, there has been change. Indeed, as we write in late 2016, the US presidency has just been contested under some quite remarkable conditions. Among them, not the least interesting for our field is that the prevailing candidate centered his claim to fitness for the world’s highest office on competence in negotiation – even while dismissing many key notions and ethical precepts found in the field’s literature. These changes together raise the question, how should we go about contributing positively to conflict management practice in public and international conflicts?
This article revisits our 2007 initial effort to examine what seemed at the time to be the negotiation field’s failure to influence the handling of large-scale international and public conflicts. With the benefit of ten years’ mulling, and with the impetus of two related symposia in the fall of 2016, we will identify some possibly new symptoms of this failure. We call for new attention to a modified list of underlying causes for the lack of marked progress in many of the conflicts around the world that have yet to be resolved.
Our field’s adherents don’t readily see our imprint on the world, perhaps because many world conflicts continue despite our insights. We had expected our insights to lead to their resolution — or at the very least, to set in motion steps toward their nonviolent management. But perhaps this observation is overly pessimistic. Running the risk of exaggerating our field’s importance, we propose that since we wrote the first article on this subject, our contemporaries collectively have become successful at communicating negotiation wisdom — possibly, beyond our dreams. Why then do decision makers and interveners, having arguably heard us all well, continue in their failure to manage contemporary international and other large-scale conflicts according to our field’s wise advice?
We begin with observations from our 2007 chapter, in support of the notion that the larger “we,” — that is, we negotiation scholars — should shoulder some of the responsibility for the rather abysmal record of practitioners in helping resolve public and international conflicts. We used the example of the Arab-Israeli conflict to illustrate some of the issues we identified at that time. We add here the example of global climate change negotiations to suggest that while the Middle East conflict is unique in many ways, some of the reasons for failure to manage it are shared with other intractable conflicts. Then we offer some reasons for our updated argument, that we negotiation scholars have been heard, only too well, by conflict management practitioners. We conclude with some suggestions for moving forward in the quest to inform practice about how to implement research insights and prescriptions and contribute to the management of intractable conflicts.
Keywords: Conflict Resolution, Dispute Resolution, Negotiation, International, Interventions, Theory
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