Monday, September 13, 2010

Negotiation is nonviolence

More strategic nonviolence practitioners are finally beginning to make the clear connections between nonviolent action and negotiation--both are pieces in what some simply call constructive conflict. Even some of the skills overlap, but they are not identical, certainly. For instance, as Gandhi showed, the best strategic nonviolent planners and executors of a strategic campaign designed to elicit, at last, an invitation to the negotiating table, those planners and actionists do not necessarily make the best negotiators. Gandhi came back from the 1931 Roundtable negotiations in London with results that vastly disappointed his fellow leaders and it was another 17 years until freedom.

Each skill bank is complex and variable. What about the related third set of competencies for mediation, another nonviolent role, at least potentially? A mediator's approach can often increase the effectiveness of a nonviolent campaign by greatly equalizing the power at the negotiating table. Indeed, that is one central role of the mediator, to preserve the dignity of all parties at all times so that honest and productive negotiations can happen. If one party feels disrespected and devalued, the negotiations are in danger.

Dr. Andrea Bartoli, a native Italian directing, teaching and researching at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University, has looked closely at the ways that nongovernmental organizations have conducted mediations toward transforming destructive conflict to constructive conflict. He describes three basic styles that these mediators have taken.

“Communication facilitation: a strategy in which the mediator simply facilitates the process of conflict resolution, which is fundamentally driven by the involved parties themselves; refrains from intrusive techniques; offers physical space for meetings; and opens channels of communication.
Procedural: a strategy characterized by a mediator’s substantive contributions to the peace process by not only convening and setting the agenda, but also influencing the outcome by making suggestions and conceiving of an effective process.
Directive: usually identified by the tendency of mediators to use their own power to broker an agreement that, while possibly being the best of all possible outcomes, is achieved by a certainly degree of pressure leveled by the mediator” (Bartoli, 2009, p. 393).

When a nonviolent struggle reaches that maturation point, then, of engaging in negotiation with the more powerful party--or the party with official power, as opposed to the irregular but demonstrably real civil society power--the choice of a mediator is crucial. Most nonviolent campaigners would benefit most often from the procedural style of mediation, if such a powerful but non-intrusive mediator could be found.

The facilitator is fine, if that is all that can be obtained, but often that style of mediation tends to allow the usually more sophisticated power to control the agenda more effectively. Further, those mediators seem loathe to offer their wisdom, when they could counsel the negotiators from the nonviolent campaign to avoid pitfalls that almost certainly doom the talks--pitfalls that are often invisible to inexperienced negotiators, such as excluding certain parties from talks, as was done in Oslo, virtually guaranteeing the eventual erosion and collapse of any agreement.

Again, the directive style is acceptable quite often, if that is the only choice of mediator, but those mediators sometimes have their own agendas, even if they try to disavow that. Directive mediation can produce more agreements that have fairly short shelf lives, once the parties are out of the room and back to reality. Further, directive styles, while occasionally achieving a lasting agreement, can simply substitute one power player for another and engender resentment in the grassroots who struggled hard to get to the table and don't feel as if they are now being heard by the one who is supposed to be mediating. Who wants a Henry Kissinger mediating when he has his finger on the trigger and his bosses sent him with instructions to achieve an outcome favorable to them?

But the middle path, the procedural approach, can bring resources that help further the likely transformation of a conflict by equalizing the field yet not making substantive demands on any party. The best procedural outcomes involve mediators who help construct an informed process that tends toward fair results and a valid, long-lasting agreement. It's best if any agreement is essentially a robust umbrella under which authority further sets of minor agreements can be reached, sometimes involving the mediator, sometimes just the parties negotiating in good faith with each other. The procedural mediators help formulate the process but are not wedded to an outcome, which means they have no agenda other than the creation of an environment in which excellent agreements might be fashioned. So, for instance, you have a Johan Galtung, who isn't there to mediate in a hands-off fashion, just allowing parties to stumble, nor is he looking to bring home some position favorable to the Norwegian government. He can be quite powerful procedurally and even possibly bring promises of aid and cooperation to the parties who can proceed in good fashion. This is the style, usually, that will most effectively aid a negotiator from civil society challenging the state or a corporate interest.

Bartoli, Andrea (2009). NGOS and conflict resolution. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 392-412.

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