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Negotiate, or… ? What are the options for the West over Syria?

As David Cameron and Barack Obama met last week to discuss, amongst other things, the unfolding crisis in Syria and what their possible next steps might be, it seems a good time to pause and consider whether negotiation can still play a role in a potential solution here.

Obama has been keen to stress that military action in Syria would be premature and could lead to all out civil war. There is an even more worrying concern that this could turn into a conflict which destabilises the whole region with evidence that the Sunni rebels are backed by their co-religionists in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Equally, Iran’s support for the Syrian regime has been well publicised and this could extend to active military support should the West intervene.

So what are the alternatives to military action? Unfortunately, it is impractical to consider negotiation at the moment. As a rule, when only one side wants to negotiate, it’s hard to conduct any meaningful discussions and this seems to be such a situation. In his own mind, maybe Assad still believes (as Gaddafi did before him) that he can win by sheer application of power alone. Or maybe the stern example of his father who ruthlessly held power before him inhibits him from contemplating genuine negotiations. Or maybe he just can’t see a negotiated way out of the current crisis, since any negotiation would involve a diminishment or removal of his powers which would leave him and his allies highly vulnerable.

What then are the options available to the West which might bring Assad to the table and/or force a regime change?

1. Encourage Russia and China to stop blocking UN action

These two […]

By |March 19th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Negotiate, or… ? What are the options for the West over Syria?

Conflict looms if Iran and West persist with ‘Pressure Tactics’

Looking at the increasing tensions over Iran, a game of brinkmanship seems to be playing out.

Iran and the West seem to be swapping moves calculated to put pressure on the other. Pressure tactics are fine in a negotiation as long as they are used constructively and selectively. When pressure tactics are the only tactic deployed then the negotiation becomes quite attritional, and getting an edge over the other side becomes more important than finding a solution that suits all parties. On any analysis the situation in Iran requires a negotiation in which the parties focus on the needs and interests of each other. The most effective negotiators “fuse” the interests of the parties to create currency for both parties. However exclusive use of pressure tactics by “users” tends to result in both parties ending up as “losers”.

Here are some of the pressures that have been applied over the last few months;

Sep 04 – Iran announces that their first nuclear power plant is ‘online’ , sparking increased UN concern.
Sep 28 – Iran claims they will be sending ships near U.S. waters.
Oct 11 – US says it has broken up a ‘terror plot’ by agents linked to Iran to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington using explosives.
Nov 21 – Iran is hit by fresh sanctions by the West (US, UK and Canada) over concerns about their nuclear programme, backed by a UN report. Hillary Clinton speaks of a “significant ratcheting-up of pressure” on Iran.
Nov 24 – Iran arrests 12 people for ‘CIA spying’.
Nov 29 – Iranian students storm the UK embassy, throwing around papers and replacing the British flag with an Iranian one.
Nov 30 – UK retaliates by warning […]

By |January 23rd, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Conflict looms if Iran and West persist with ‘Pressure Tactics’

Bargaining Deficiencies Make it Tough Going for Ed Miliband

Poor old Ed Miliband is under a lot of pressure right now with Unions questioning his policies and even his credentials to continue as Labour leader. Len Mcluskey of Unite suggested last week that Labour is on course for electoral defeat and warned of a leadership coup. GMB General Secretary, Paul Kenny, warned that backing the pay cap policy for the Public Sector could have profound implications for GMB affiliation to the Labour Party (and its funding). The ever- combustible Bob Crowe of the RMT added “Ed Miliband has just jammed Labour’s self-destruct button into top gear”. Colleagues have piled in with criticism as well, with Lord Glasman saying Miliband has ‘no strategy, no narrative and little energy’. A recent Sunday Times Poll revealed that 49% of labour supporters feel he is doing a bad job.

From a negotiating point of view a political leader is in a constant state of negotiation for positive attention and good will, with both his own party and its members (and of course the electorate). In any negotiation it’s crucial to have sufficient bargaining power at your disposal – enough “aces” in your hand. If you don’t then, consciously or otherwise, you will not feel confident in that negotiation and the other side will pick up that sense of vulnerability and instinctively start to push you around. From Ed Miliband’s point of view he is a bit short of bargaining power at the moment…

Stuck in the Middle

The Tories and Lib Dems have pitched their coalition tent in the centre ground of British politics. This makes it difficult for Miliiband. If he agrees with the Coalition (as on Public sector pay) he sounds weak. But how can he […]

By |January 23rd, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Bargaining Deficiencies Make it Tough Going for Ed Miliband

Strikes highlight important lessons about using ‘Push’ Negotiation tactics

Once again strikes are in the news – but are they just an old fashioned pressure tactic in negotiating terms?

It’s not just in the public sector that strikes over reforms to pension plans are taking place. Unilever is facing a rolling wave of strikes as Unions mobilise against reforms of its final salary pension scheme.

Unions such as Unite, the GMB and Usdaw have said the stoppages will hit production of a number of leading brands and products including Marmite, Flora, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and PG Tips.

The strike action commences in the same week that strikes have been announced at tax offices and the National Gallery. The strikes at tax offices – timed to disrupt the January 31st self-assessment tax deadline – are directed at alleged privatisation of work at call centres and Inquiry offices. The strikes at the National Gallery are all about staff cuts.

From a negotiating point of view, strikes are a pressure tactic. This is a form of “push” behaviour – all about “my” agenda rather than “yours” in the negotiation.

There is nothing wrong with using “push” behaviour as long as it is used at the right time, and in the right way, when it can be most effective. Here’s some pointers on how to best implement ‘Push’ behaviour:

1. Don’t use pressures too early in a negotiation, or the other side won’t feel pressurised. If they are used near the end of a negotiation when the other side feels it has something to lose if the deal isn’t done, then pressures are far more likely to be effective. These strike actions feel like they may be coming too early in the respective disputes.

2. If pressure tactics like strikes are applied too early in […]

By |January 17th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Strikes highlight important lessons about using ‘Push’ Negotiation tactics

Who has the most ‘bargaining power’ in Succession Negotiation?

As the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee approaches, there is mounting excitement around the Royal Family and the special events which are taking place. Amid the well-deserved plaudits and commendations for the marvellous job done by the Queen and Prince Phillip over the last 60 years, attention may also focus on the succession. The Queen, aged 85, is in remarkable health but cannot go on forever and Prince Phillip’s recent heart scare, at the age of 90, shows that even his resilience has its limits. This could give rise to a very interesting negotiation.

Who should succeed the Queen? Will it be the current rightful heir, Prince Charles, or will the Crown skip a generation and pass to his own son, Prince William?

The subject may be too delicate to raise around the dining table at Buckingham Palace, but a tacit negotiation must surely be going on. However selfless the Queen is, securing a smooth succession will be her priority – just as it has been for any Regent since the Middle Ages and earlier. For this reason she may want to delay the decision for as long as possible, feeling that if she steps down then this will inevitably provoke a debate about the nature of the monarchy itself, and whether it is still a relevant concept for a modern age. That said, there must also be a time coming when she feels she can no longer carry the burden herself – particularly if Prince Phillip were to be too unwell to support her anymore, or, worse still, if he was to die.

So, who would she choose to succeed her when the time comes? Both Charles and William may feel strongly that they should be chosen. Prince […]

By |January 15th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Who has the most ‘bargaining power’ in Succession Negotiation?

More of the same should seal the race for Romney

As the US Republican nomination race continues, the key issue remains which candidate can provide most “reassurance” for mainstream America. At a time of great economic uncertainty, and with the US’ role in leading world affairs under scrutiny, the Republicans need to find a candidate who can make a majority of the US electorate feel that everything’s going to be ok in the end.

Mitt Romney’s campaign to become the Republican candidate looks to be right on track following his recent win in New Hampshire. He managed to pull off a commanding victory in the New Hampshire primary, winning 39% of the overall vote and his strong message, to shake the country out of its economic doldrums, seems to be striking a chord with the public.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen various Republican candidates representing the more ‘extreme’ side of the party come to the fore in several of the State votes, only to fall away again just as quickly. With Rick Perry and Herman Cain having already fallen by the wayside due to well-publicised ‘blunders’, the most recent challengers to Romney’s position as leading candidate havebeen Rick Santorum (who surprisingly polled second Iowa), Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul (second in the New Hampshire vote).

The problem seems to be that aside from Romney, the other candidates are campaigning for policies that seemingly alienate large portions of US society. Rick Santorum, along with Newt Gingrich openly opposes same-sex marriage and Ron Paul strongly opposes abortion, even in the case of rape. Following his surge into second place in Iowa, Santorum proceeded to shoot himself in the foot by stating that marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, was a ‘hazard […]

By |January 15th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on More of the same should seal the race for Romney

Scottish Referendum on Independence – When Push and Push Collide

The manoeuvring over the Scottish referendum on independence is going to show what happens when two “pushers” are involved in a negotiation. It looks as though Cameron is trying to push Scotland into an agreed early date for a referendum, and some say over what question is asked, in return for giving the referendum legal effect from Westminster.

“Push” behaviour is all about your own agenda and not about the other side’s agenda. It involves behaviours such as stating expectations, using pressures (and incentives) to get your own way, proposing with reasons, and testing and probing the other side’s position.

David Cameron does not seem to be a natural “pusher” as a negotiator, but he does seem to be driven by big ideas for which he will push. The saving of the historic Union between England and Scotland is a big idea for a man with an achievement drive. The move to “push” the Scots towards an early and decisive referendum on independence is an example of a “push” pressure tactic.

Alex Salmond is a much more natural “push” negotiator – in fact, it is probably his default behaviour. In asserting Scottish independence he constantly “states expectations” as to the Scots’ entitlement, which is a classic push tactic. Like many Nationalist movements, the SNP (and indeed Salmond himself) seem motivated by a desire for recognition, and are prepared to push for this agenda.

So, what happens when two pushers meet?

1. We can expect Salmond and the SNP to push back – as indeed has already happened. The Scottish Government has already announced that it wants the referendum to be held in 2014 – later than the UK Government has proposed. And he and other SNP colleagues […]

By |January 11th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Scottish Referendum on Independence – When Push and Push Collide

Liverpool wrong to maintain defiant stance over Suarez

Following the debate about Liverpool’s reaction to the Luis Suarez case, it may be worth observing that when you negotiate and lose, it’s often better to be gracious about it rather than sulky. There is usually another deal to be done at some later point on the same issue or some other matter, so it’s better to be patient and bide your time rather than be bitter and burn bridges.

It was an independent regulatory commission that found Suarez guilty having investigated Patrice Evra’s complaints of racist comments made against him. The Commission’s findings were pretty clear – suggesting that Suarez called Evra “negro” on no fewer than 7 occasions, and dismissing Suarez’s evidence as unreliable and inconsistent. However, there has been a strident reaction from Liverpool, claiming that “the FA and the Panel it selected constructed a highly subjective case against Luis Suarez based on an accusation that was ultimately unsubstantiated …” And that the FA “chose to completely dismiss the testimony that countered their suppositions”.

This kind of peevish response may be the result of a genuine sense of grievance, but it comes across as rather graceless, and inappropriate when dealing with an issue as sensitive as racism in football. It also makes the club seem strangely reluctant to condemn racism. It’s very hard to believe that anyone in the Liverpool hierarchy is actually racist but the grudging acceptance of the findings create the impression that the club will allow racism rather than criticise their own player. This in turn puts the spotlight on the attitude of the club and its supporters to this issue. The furore around racist remarks alleged to have been made by a Liverpool supporter to Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi […]

By |January 10th, 2012|Blog|Comments Off on Liverpool wrong to maintain defiant stance over Suarez

Union Negotiations – Progress still hindered by a focus on ‘Content’

The movement in the dispute between Government and Unions over pension contributions is to be welcomed, but the way the negotiations are heading this still feels like an opportunity missed.

Some Unions, commencing with NHS Unions (including Unison), appear to have signed or be close to signing heads of agreement which allegedly provide that there will be no further strike action whilst the Unions consider the Government’s latest proposals. Other Unions appear to have joined the nascent consensus, including the GMB. Various teaching Unions have yet to sign up, though the Government is confident about their participation, and Mark Serwotka’s PCS is sitting outside the process altogether, with its leader calling for fresh industrial action and the Union consequently barred from the talks.

The initial optimism around these developments was immediately dampened by a spat caused by a rogue letter from Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles which appeared to impose fresh conditions, but this letter was hastily withdrawn by Danny Alexander and apparently will be replaced by a fresh letter.

So, let us assume some progress is being made. What can we say about the negotiation process?

1. The climate seems to have improved. Initially the Government seemed to have decided on the outcome of the issue on pension reform before engaging in a negotiation process. One of the consequences of this was that the climate was very hostile with Unions and their members feeling excluded from the outcome even though they are key stakeholders. In the wake of the strikes there does seem to have been a concerted effort to improve the climate so that at least it is now a “cool” climate – very objective and data driven. Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, talked of […]

By |December 24th, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Union Negotiations – Progress still hindered by a focus on ‘Content’

Occupy Movement Lacks key Ingredients to reach a Negotiated Outcome

I have often been asked recently whether it is possible for the Occupy Movement outside St Paul’s to turn their protest into a negotiated outcome? The answer is probably not, since some key ingredients for a successful negotiation are missing:

1. The Occupy protestors don’t appear to have a defined outcome in mind. Any effective negotiator will tell you that it’s important to set a goal during the planning stage of the negotiation, or at least a bottom line – otherwise it’s impossible to assess whether or not you have been successful. The Occupy protestors express a range of sentiments – including a desire to change the perceived amoral imperative which drives the banking and financial world and which they hold responsible for many of the western world’s current economic problems. However, there is not just one sentiment involved, and there is certainly no consensus around what the desired result of their protest should be. Recent woolly demands on the Corporation of London to remove “secrecy practices”, and establish a “truth and reconciliation commission” to examine allegations of corruption” do not seem to constitute a considered or practical outcome.

2. Equally the Occupy movement is not organised to the point where it has a representative authorised to negotiate, or even a negotiating team. Effective negotiations depend on there being one authorised representative who can speak for each side, or an organised team who share tactics and strategy. Occupy has none of these characteristics. One might equally say the same of the financial institutions which are the subject of Occupy’s attention. Who are “they”, and who would Occupy negotiate with on “their” side, were such intuitions minded to have a negotiation?

3. This really leads on to the […]

By |December 21st, 2011|Blog|Comments Off on Occupy Movement Lacks key Ingredients to reach a Negotiated Outcome