The Right Coast

April 26, 2004
By Mike Rappaport

An excellent post by Steve Den Beste on negotiations. He argues that negotiations lead not necessarily to moral results, but to results based on the balance of power. Moreover, the parties must agree on who has the balance of power:
    [The] negotiation will be about dividing power and influence. It will have nothing to do with "justice" or "fairness" (any more than any other negotiation does); it will rather be a power struggle. And while in most negotiations there will be a weak party and a strong party, even when there is an agreement it won't emerge until the parties themselves determine which side is stronger and by how much. That is what the agreement itself is based on, since the balance of strength largely determines the balance of concessions. That's why negotiations sometimes take a very long time. Until both sides generally acknowledge who has the upper hand and by how much, there is little progress.

    The "Paris peace negotiations" for the Viet Nam war lasted for years primarily because the two sides did not agree on who had the upper hand, as well as because the balance of power between them was changing (as the war went on). That's also common; sometimes it takes armed conflict for the two sides to learn their relative strengths.

    That problem of identifying who has the upper hand, and by how much, is also the reason why Old Europe's diplomacy with the US has been such a fiasco. To listen to their rhetoric, you'd think they were in a position of strength, and that the US needed them more than they needed us. Because of that, their rhetoric also implies that it should be the US which makes the most concessions. Given that the Bush administration, and the majority of Americans, don't view it that way that means there has been no agreement which healed the trans-Atlantic divide. As long as old-European rhetoric continues to be dominated by superciliousness, there won't be.