Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Referendum – How much power to the people?

To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens  with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.

But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003,  France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.


The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

, , , , , ,

Hard and Soft Bargaining – “The Applied Side: How to Bargain in Global Politics”

How do you actually behave in a negotiation setting? Which strategy do you intend to follow? Confrontational or cooperative? Are you willing to concede to the better argument?  Alternatively, will you be tough regarding your initial position? Do you perceive the other party/parties to the negotiation rather as opponents or as partners? Are you interested in the people and their underlying needs and interests? Will you give in eventually? These are some of the practical questions to be considered before entering a negotiation.

A first, rough distinction of strategic outlooks for negotiation is that between “hard” and “soft” strategies. It is often inexperienced negotiators that consider these to be the only existing alternatives while acknowledging that it significantly depends on the negotiator’s personal preferences (see unit 11) as well as on the context which of the two approaches is recommendable under which circumstances. (Fisher, Ury, Patton 1999, 8; Mastenbroek 1989)

Hard bargaining uses all instruments at hand in the pursuit of one-sided advantage. Pressure, threats, bluffing, tricks, etc. are tactics applied in order to outsmart someone or to make him or her do something that is not in his or her interest. Hard bargaining is about pushing through one-sided interests and it follows the competitive logic of zero-sum games in which one side’s losses are the other side’s gains.

Soft bargaining, on the other hand, recognizes the potential dangers hard bargaining styles have, particularly for the current and future relationship between the negotiating parties. According to Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1999, 8), soft negotiators see the other side as friends and instead of trying to reach victory at all costs, they aim at securing agreement by yielding to the other side and their demands if necessary. Cooperation becomes the leading principle whereas hard negotiation is based on competition. (Pfetsch 2006, 52-53) The result of soft bargaining will often be agreements that are reached quickly but that are not necessarily wise ones, as both sides might fail to reach their legitimate interests in the attempt to be more accommodating than the other side. Please see table 1 for a comparison of the characteristics of hard and soft bargaining styles.

Hard bargaining Soft bargaining
  • Participants are adversaries,
  • The goal is victory,
  • Demand concessions as a condition of the relationship,
  • Be hard on the problem and the people,
  • Distrust others,
  • Dig in to your position,
  • Make threats,
  • Mislead as to your bottom line,
  • Demand one-sided gains as the price of agreement,
  • Search for the single answer: the one you will accept,
  • Insist on your position,
  • Try to win a contest of will, and
  • Apply pressure.
  • Participants are friends,
  • The goal is the agreement,
  • Make concessions to cultivate the relationship,
  • Be soft on the people and the problem,
  • Trust others,
  • Change your position easily,
  • Make offers,
  • Disclose your bottom line,
  • Accept one-sided losses to reach agreement,
  • Search for the single answer: the one they will accept,
  • Insist on agreement,
  • Try to avoid a contest of will, and
  • Yield to pressure.

Source: Adapted from Fisher, Ury, Patton 1999, 9.

Most negotiation theorists, however, would reject this rather simplistic distinction between soft and hard bargaining. Many different terminologies exist in the literature, e.g. differentiating between distributive and integrative bargaining (e.g. Lewicki, Barry, Saunders 2007), and between the concession-convergence and the joint decision-making approach (Jönsson 2002), and many others. In this unit, we follow the distinction advanced by Fisher, Ury, and Patton (1999) between positional bargaining on the one hand and interest-based (or principled) negotiation on the other.

 

No (military) solutions for the Syrian conflict?

The Syrian conflict resembles an ever more unsolvable bloody quagmire with (too) many stakeholders whose interests, and behaviors, are not compatible. This is the case with the Assad regime and its opponents, but also for different groupings from the opposition. This also applies to the infighting between Saudi and Iranian interests, as well as for Sunni vs. Shia forces in general. In addition, the newly emerging Russian assertiveness is increasingly in contradiction not only to American and Western values, but also to the hesitant and partial involvement of the U.S.A.

The laudable efforts by dozens of NGO’s on the ground are more and more, rendered helpless against the never-ending raids of official Syrian and Russian fighter planes and the bombs. Collateral damage caused by American raids are not helpful either.

The rest of the world is watching this evolving catastrophe in shock and awe, not knowing what to do or how to react. We can just watch the unbearable TV footage of citizens, digging through the rubble of collapsed homes with their bare hands, trying to search for surviving folks.

What can be done apart from hand-wringing? Sometimes, it is overlooked that a clear victory on one side, caused by exhaustion of the other, often does lead to the termination of hostilities. Which side, then, should be the winner? Does it matter? As long as external stakeholders are involved, the engagement of ground troops also has to be discussed. Sending in airplanes and drones may be good for domestic consumption, but does not lead to a decisive shift between the fighting camps.

What are our respondent’s ideas regarding where to go from here?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

, , , , , , , ,