Politics Magazine

The Personal Touch Needed for International Negotiations

Posted on the 18 March 2013 by Tracy Goodwin @TKGoodwin

It has been standard practice for many years to isolate countries which cause international problems. The prime examples are Iran and North Korea; both have created more than their share of challenges for the international community. The international community has responded with isolation, first diplomatic and second economic. Unfortunately this is opposite of the direction that should be taken.

Both Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons programs that are at the heart of the international dispute. In order to resolve the situation negotiations are necessary. Successful negotiations require communication and trust. The first requirement is communication. If the two parties are unwilling to even speak to one another then there is no way the conflict can be solved. There is no negotiation without communication. Beyond that the communication must be understood by all involved. Of course language differences must be translated but more importantly cultural differences must be translated. Different countries hold different frames of reference when dealing with life. What is a truism in America may be patently false in North Korea. So negotiations require cultural understanding. Second both sides must trust one another enough to believe that the negotiations are being done in good faith. If one side does not believe that the other side seeks resolution then there is no point in negotiations. But if both sides believe that everybody truly seeks a solution then negotiations can move forward. Furthermore both sides must be able to expect that any deal reached can and will be implemented by the other side. Without that basic level of trust there is no way that negotiations can be successful.

Yet in response to Iran and North Korea the international community has isolated them. This is contrary to the requirements of successful negotiation. Isolating them has stopped any direct communication with both states which eliminates the international community’s ability to negotiate a resolution to the conflict. Also the isolation inhibits the ability to understand the cultural environment of Iran and North Korea. Finally no trust can be developed without communication. Thus the international community has destroyed any possibility of resolution through negotiations. Instead the opposite approach should be taken. When relations are deteriorating then communications should become top priority. That way mutual understanding and trust can be fostered even before a situation is out of hand. Unfortunately this was not the approach taken. But that does not preclude the possibility of diplomatic solutions in both Iran and North Korea.

The international community needs to open the lines of communication with both Iran and North Korea. The communication needs to be directed toward fostering understanding and trust in order to build the foundation for diplomacy. If communication is purely focused on contention issues no trust can be built since it will seem like a ploy to manipulate the country. Rather communication needs fostered without concern for the current international dispute. Diplomats or even heads of state should make direct contact with the leadership in the country. They should spend time together getting to know each other without any negotiations. The whole point is to develop a personal working relationship with the key players involved in the conflict. The exactly means for developing that relationship will depend on the individuals involved. For example Kim Jong-un enjoys basketball. So if the US wanted to open up communication with North Korea a positive first step could be for President Obama to invite Kim Jong-un to a basketball game. In fact Obama should invite Kim Jong-un to a series of March Madness games. The two of them could spend several days going from game to game. The two leaders would be spending time enjoying themselves as individuals and they would be building a working personal relationship. This opens communication between the two leaders as they spend time together. It fosters understanding as both leaders get to know one another and learn how they each approach life. Finally it can build trust by providing a non-adversarial basis for their relationship.

Then when it comes time to talk about international issues both sides have a personal relationship to build on. They have greater understanding and trust. That sets the foundation needed for successful negotiations. It does not guarantee success but it does guarantee the possibility of success. Yet the possibility of resolution is far greater with trust and communication than it is with isolation.

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