The Art and Science of U.S. Negotiations

Negotiation stands in the crossroad between science and art because a viable negotiator has to have the qualities of an artist and be subjective as results sometimes are hard to measure. Negotiation is on the other hand scientific in its core, as long as its strategies can be studied and its results thoroughly analyzed. Negotiation seen as science cannot be studied in isolation because there are a series of external and internal factors that affect the success or failure of the negotiation itself. The perfect combination of art and science leads to measurable success in negotiations and is the only mechanism to solve a potential Gordian Knot such as a nuclear deal with North Korea.

Camp David is one of the most critically successful case studies in multilateral negotiations because it considered the proceedings and the outcomes evenly. Camp David was a turning point in the world’s history, affecting the politics in the Middle East as well as casting order on the method that is used to tackle complex negotiations and mitigate the internal and external challenges that such talks encompass. The multilateral negotiations led by the former American President Jimmy Carter was a landmark in diplomacy because they proved that diplomacy can be the right tool to bring peace and political stability into the turbulent waters of the Middle Eastern region. It was a firsthand example of a comprehensive diplomatic strategy that overcame the byzantine bilateral talks that had previously brought the Egyptian-Israeli relationship to a halt.

The former Egyptian President Sadat was instrumental to the proceedings and success of the multilateral negotiation because of his pro-activeness and vision to act first. By visiting Israel, he showed humility and most importantly, his capacity to negotiate towards a common goal. Former American President Jimmy Carter used all his empathy during the 13-day negotiations to put the two opposite sides – Egypt and Israel – under a common denominator. Carter made them reexamine their interests, which was a tool of orienting the negotiations towards relative gains. At Camp David, Sadat and Begin agreed to a solution that satisfied Israel’s need for sovereignty and Egypt’s demand for security. By discussing their needs, reconciling their interests and improving their relationship, both sides felt satisfied. It was a triumph of relative gains through diplomacy and an integral part of Carter’s legacy as a negotiator.

Although both Middle Eastern leaders, as a feedback to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, received a shared Nobel Peace Prize, Jimmy Carter not only provided one of the best examples of diplomacy in action but also established Camp David, metaphorically and practically as a summit of negotiations. Carter brought peace to the world and Egypt and Israel have maintained it since then. Carter foresaw the long run. As a result, the United States gained two allies in the region. In sum, Camp David was a multilateral negotiation that paved the way for the United States to become a world beacon of mediation.

One of the most hectic challenges towards US foreign policy objectives in Asia is the confrontation and the rise of tensions with the totalitarian regime of North Korea. Such a recent example of the need for diplomatic negotiation is the sole alternative short of violent military engagement which would gravely damage the fragile balance of power and the security of the region, both being at the core of US interests. The relations between North Korea and the US have deteriorated since the Korean War, but the hostilities were intensified under Kim Jong-Un. The Communist country proceeded with its armament and nuclear program, culminating in a successful supposable test of a hydrogen bomb from the Communist regime, threatening US allies in the region and posing a threat to international order.

Since the beginning of his administration, Trump committed to eliminate the nuclear threat from North Korea, by threatening to intervene militarily if necessary. Such a move, best characterized by the harsh rhetoric used by Trump in his first address to the UN General Assembly, served to materialize the threat in the North Korean perception, which in turn promoted a willingness to negotiate. Facing American intervention rooted in Trump’s willingness to act, Kim became more willing to abandon the double standard approach and make clear his imminent interests, which was regime survival and international legitimacy. Having this denominator in hand, the Trump administration now could act practically by expressing its goals and requesting a limitation on the North Korean nuclear program and the threat it posed to the region. In this prism, the diplomatic talks could be established, as long as they would take into consideration the conflicting interest and foresee a middle ground.

The Singapore Summit, which constituted the first meeting between the highest representatives of both countries, provided a common ground for an agreement that would provide security guarantees for North Korea, including discontinuing joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, addressing Kim’s primary interest, while stating the North Korean commitment towards a denuclearization of the Koreas. Consequently, Kim undertook a series of diplomatic steps with South Korea, with the aim to move towards a peace treaty between the neighboring countries.

Trump just like Carter, has had his administration attacked from all sorts of groups, as long as a negotiating approach always leaves space for constructive criticism and opposing opinions. However, the diplomatic talks with North Korea do validate the hypothesis that the most crucial component of successful negotiations is the correct definition of interest. During the Camp David negotiation, Carter successfully established a roadmap towards consensus by making clear to both parties the common and contradictory interests. This was an elaborate effort as long as the two countries shared traditional and cultural hostilities. On the other hand, despite the fundamental ideological difference between the United States and North Korea, a definition of interest can still be the only viable mechanism to achieve successful outcomes so an old common language of Realism knowledge that can be used to articulate relative gains and maximize the probability of success. It was that definition of opportunity that Israel and Egypt faced if the negotiations were to fail, that promoted agreement. It is the realization that the US is willing to act in a way that would threaten North Korea’s core interest, that has brought Kim and his regime closer to agreeing on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Achieving this standard as a negotiator requires both creativity of design, and practicality of enforcement. If history repeats itself, we would see a new order of security stability in the region and Trump, arguably a master of sticks and carrots, potentially nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Beyond the glamour of the Swedish Academy hall, scholars would have the opportunity to observe a diplomatic success as genuine as it can get, demonstrating once more the core power of diplomatic negotiations as the slow but sustainable weapon of peace.