This four part series examines how NATO and the rebels can effectively negotiate with Gaddafi to end the Libyan War through a principled collaboration process.
PART 1: UNDERLYING INTERESTS
As the war in Libya reaches the four month mark the NATO coalition and the Gaddafi regime have both reportedly expressed an interest in commencing peace talks. If these overtures are genuine, the alliance ought to embrace a principled negotiations approach like the one developed by Roger Fisher and William Ury from the Harvard Negotiation Project, which is outlined in their magnum opus, Getting to Yes.
Since its publication nearly 30 years ago a number of world leaders have successfully employed Fisher and Ury’s philosophy. The principles they espouse are grounded in pragmatism and objectivity rather than subjective morality, and their process is focused on satisfying legitimate underlying interests while avoiding getting bogged down in what they refer to as “positional bargaining”.
Such an approach will, however, require Western leaders to undergo quite the paradigm shift because it demands abandoning a Manichean predilection to frame debates in terms of good and evil.
Instead, negotiations with the Libyan dictator should be viewed as a contest between parties with diverging interests. Rather than an adversarial exchange the negotiations should be seen as a collaborative interaction centered on the spirit of compromise. Ury and Fisher do not advocate a “soft” approach but recommend being firm without being hostile. Unless one has massive leverage on the other party, too aggressive or acrimonious a posture typically ends up being self-defeating.
Although many depict Gaddafi as a madman, despite his bravado he has consistently acted based on rational self interest. Otherwise he wouldn’t go through the motions of requesting dialogue in the first place. It is critical to walk in Gaddafi’s shoes and understand his perspective. Empathy, regardless how distasteful it might be to some people, is a useful psychological tool and much more productive than continually casting the opponent as a pariah.
As a former management consultant I’ve trained corporate executives on a multi-step negotiations process derived from Ury and Fisher’s principles which consists of (1) defining underlying interests, (2) understanding leverage, (3) establishing clear objectives, (4) calculating benefits and (5) devising creative tactics.
A classic case study illustrating the dangers of negotiating based on positions was the collapse of nuclear test ban treaty talks between President Kennedy and the Soviets during the 1960s. According to Ury and Fisher, negotiations fell apart over the issue of how many on-site inspections should be permitted each year.
The Soviets wanted three facilities inspected per year while the Americans demanded no less than ten. However, they failed to define what “inspection” meant. Was it a one person daylong review of a nuclear facility or an intensive assessment conducted by 100 inspectors for a month? Little effort was made to design a procedure that could reconcile true underlying interests as both sides remained mired in arbitrary positions.
NATO leaders have already fallen into this trap by not only demanding that Gaddafi cede power, but they are persistent that he face criminal charges for human rights violations before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Gaddafi being prosecuted for war crimes will not have much of an impact on whether or not the future Libyan state will be able to provide adequate governance and security. Instead of focusing on underlying interests that include achieving peace and ensuring post-Gaddafi Libya is stable, the Western powers, primarily for political reasons, aren’t willing to compromise.
Making the endeavor even more complex is the number of stakeholders involved with colliding interests. NATO collectively as well as each coalition member individually– especially the U.S., France, England, Italy, Russia, China and Turkey – have agendas they’d like to pursue that satiate the demands of their respective domestic constituencies.
Stakeholder-specific interests must be subordinated to the collective overriding mission of establishing a viable Libyan state. Priority must be placed on the needs of the Libyan people over local political squabbles or else it will produce an outcome that is unsatisfactory to all nations involved. The bottom line is that if peace is achieved in Libya, everybody wins.
The process will also help NATO present a more unified front. To date, the alliance has been plagued by incoherent messaging and infighting made public related to the confusing UN mandate, which morphed from an initiative to protect Libyan civilians to a systemic bombing campaign aimed at regime change. The appearance that UN members are not on the same page has emboldened Gaddafi, who seems confident the dysfunctional coalition will be unable to sustain its mission. [Click here to go to Part 2]
Part 1 – Negotiating with Gaddafi: Underlying Interests
Part 2 – Negotiating with Gaddafi: Leverage
Part 3 – Negotiating with Gaddafi: Objectives
Part 4 – Negotiating with Gaddafi: Benefits & Tactics