Category Archives: Conflict Management

Red Lines and Blurred Lines – When Do We Go to War?

Rhetoric and deeds are escalating, both in Washington, D.C. and in Pyongyang. It is clear that the regime of Kim Jong-un is trying to achieve nuclear status by all available means. And it is equally clear that the different voices from the Trump administration do not add up to a clear strategy.

Red lines are mentioned, but vaguely, and bombastic declarations (‘fire and fury’) are alternating with diplomatic invitations to negotiate.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is repeating the mantra that ‘there is only a diplomatic solution’. Similar words are used when it comes to China’s artificial reefs and new debates on sovereignty, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the continuing meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, which is a rather boring continuation of ordinary robbery.

The invitation to this week’s debate is to take positions on this mantra: That ‘there is no other solution’. Empirically, this is obviously wrong. There were and are military solutions to conflicts, and sometimes economic sanctions work as well. In addition, it is often not a good idea to take certain moves off the table, even when they are not preferred, because then an adversary can calculate how far the opponent will go in resisting him.

But to make things easier, let’s focus on the main problem: aside from matters regarding the DRPK, are there values or interests in the early 21st century for which it is legitimate (or even required) to go to war? Despite our sophisticated knowledge about escalatory risks and the disastrous effects of WMDs? If not, for what do we maintain armies, then?

– Klaus Segbers

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Diplomatic crisis – How to deal with Turkey?

 

Turkey seems to be on a rampage.

An aggressive rhetoric, diplomatic brinkmanship, and threats not only against Europe have made it ever more clear that this country under this leadership cannot become an EU member, and it is putting itself in an outsider role in Nato as well.

There is a problematic referendum calling for constitutional changes. While in normal times, this would not necessarily lead to an international crisis, Turkey presently plays an important role in the regional context, especially in the Syrian crisis, and in moderating flows of refugees.

So what can and should be done? Should Turkey’s neighbors and partners just leave it alone? Or rather, should they attempt to counter its policies?

– Klaus Segbers

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Tweets from the Oval Office – How should we react to Trump’s foreign policy?

As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.

There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Why should we study International Relations today?

Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”

So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:

‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.

Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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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

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The South China Sea Ruling – A Political Decision?

“An international tribunal in The Hague overwhelmingly backed the Philippines in a case on the disputed waters of the South China Sea, ruling that rocky outcrops claimed by China – some of which are exposed only at low tide – cannot be used as the basis of territorial claims. It said some of the waters in question are “within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China”.” (The Guardian)

China has said from the beginning that it wouldn’t accept the ruling of the tribunal, no matter the outcome. But this ignorance doesn’t matter much – there is loss of face, and reputational damage. China has always been interested in demonstrating its rise as peaceful, harmonious, and within the framework of international rules. This claim has been weakened by regional aversion to China’s unilateral moves and now, additionally by the Den Haag ruling.

What does the international community do with this court decision and Beijing’s insistence on moving forward? Is it legitimate and prudent policy to hedge against Chinese assertiveness politically, or even militarily? Or is it more sound to accept that China is now a global power that doesn’t care much about court rulings?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Ukraine and the EU: A Relationship in Distress

A few days ago, about 20% of the population of the Netherlands voted against the association treaty of the EU with Ukraine. Though this small number is by itself both insignificant and irrelevant, it is enough to put the fate of this treaty in dire straits.

Let’s leave aside why governments keep putting stuff for a referendum to start with. Everyone knows that the electorate doesn’t care about the concrete issues, nor is it modestly well informed about them, but rather uses the opportunity to express anger about the respective government.

The real issue here is where the relationship and attitude towards Ukraine from the EU side is standing two years after the Euro Maidan protests. We should also remember that the failure of the then Ukrainian government to sign an association agreement was the trigger for the civil protests in Kiiv and other Ukrainian cities, and also for the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, as well as for the emergence of rebels/ terrorists in two Eastern Ukrainian regions.

But now, things are looking different. Europe is engulfed in a row of crises (euro, migration, Russia, Brexit, terrorism, populism), and Ukraine is just one issue here, and not the most relevant one. At the same time, the current Ukrainian elites are involved in repeating their operetta from 2004 when they, for the first time, found the competition of their egos much more important than continuing to develop the first Maidan, and establish Ukraine as a European country. And now – here we go again.

What should the proper EU attitude be now, facing disarray in the political structures and economic situation of Ukraine?

– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers

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After Brussels – defeating terrorism without being terrorized

Terrorism has arrived in Europe, not as a temporary phenomenon, but rather as a cultural phenomenon that is here to stay. It can happen any time, any place.

There are certain differences between this current wave of terror and carnage, and previous incidents, like in the 1970’s: the current actions are framed mostly in Islamist and cultural terms, rather than in a political language. The actions are not state sponsored. The perpetrators are not (only) the poorest and most marginalized. Some of this terrorism is homegrown. And there is zero space for negotiating with the jihadists.

Now the obvious question is how to react. Apparently, there are two road posts that may provide orientation, but they (at least partly) collide with each other. The first principle is to not give way to terror and blackmailing – not an inch. Liberal and pluralist societies will continue with their lifestyles, without anticipating self-censorship or unacceptable compromises. And two, the perpetrators have to be found and punished relentlessly.

Yes, there are problems here. Searching for terrorists may sometimes put some civil liberties in danger. Defending and developing open societies may also offer spaces for talking, proselytizing and committing terrorist acts.

How can our societies solve this contradiction?

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