Expert negotiators offer insights based on their research and field experiences in some of the world’s most violent conflict zones. Participants include current and former officials of the U.S. government, academic theorists, the United Nations, and international NGOs.
Participants: Andrea Bartoli, Gabriella Blum, Prudence Bushnell, Chester Crocker, Melanie Greenberg, Joyce Leader, Sandra Melone, Robert Oakley, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, John Roth, David Scheffer, Stephen Stedman, Donald Steinberg, Paul Williams, Howard Wolpe.
Narrated by PBS Newshour correspondent Ray Suarez.
Produced with generous support from the Everett Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
“From three decades of negotiating with unsavory individuals, I have found that this work takes a diplomat into uncharted psychological and moral territory. Negotiating with Killers provides an exceptionally useful and comprehensive road map of the challenges and practical approaches to this task.”
— Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Vice-President, International Crisis Group
Audio and transcript:
DECIDING WHEN NOT TO NEGOTIATE (13:33) »
MANAGING SPOILERS (10:49) »
MAXIMIZING ONE’S LEVERAGE (7:01) »
PROMOTING CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION (6:05) »
BALANCING THE DEMANDS OF PEACE AND JUSTICE (8:01) »
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience was created with the mission to “alert the national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt genocide and related crimes against humanity.” In 2004, the Committee on Conscience established the Academy for Genocide Prevention to help foreign policy professionals better recognize and respond to threats of genocide and mass atrocities.
In September 2005, the Academy, in joint sponsorship with the U.S. State Department and the U.S. National Intelligence Council, convened a two-day seminar in Warrenton, Virginia which focused on the topic “Negotiating with Killers.” Participants included academic theorists along with current and former officials of the U.S. government, the United Nations, and international NGOs who have worked in conflict zones around the world. Together they discussed the diplomatic challenges of responding to genocide and mass atrocities.
The audio program you are about to hear draws from discussions in the seminar and follow-up interviews with several of the participants. While there are no easy answers to the practical challenges confronting diplomats who negotiate with killers, the experts presented here offer their insights into the strategies they have used as third-party mediators in such instances, to provide foreign policy professionals with practical advice when they are confronted with similar situations in their own work.
Section 1: DECIDING WHEN NOT TO NEGOTIATE
By engaging in negotiations, one may confer legitimacy on war criminals, but by refusing to negotiate, one may consign innocent civilians to suffering or death. An ill-considered negotiating strategy may also backfire by empowering the killers and perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Professor Chester Crocker of Georgetown University served as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs at the U.S. State Department from 1981 to 1989, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace from 1982 to 2004. While at the State Department, Crocker was the principal diplomatic architect and mediator in the prolonged negotiations among Angola, Cuba, and South Africa that led to Namibia’s transition to independence and the withdrawal of Cuban forces from Angola.
Crocker notes that it can be difficult to draw a clear line between atrocities and other forms of mass violence. He points out the need to clarify the nature of the conflict and the parties involved before deciding how to engage in efforts to resolve it:
In most of these conflicts, there are two parties engaging in violence that affects directly civilians…. I spent, in the African experience, eight and a half years of my life where I lost all my hair, negotiating with people on all sides: Cubans, Angolans, South Africans, Russians, you name it. I wouldn’t want to live under any of them. I consider them all to have been on the other side. Not that I equated them in a moral sense, but that they were all tough guys, they all lived by the gun. And they were all quite prepared to use the gun, and did so with frequency.
[B]efore we enter into the process we’re trying to do a very thorough conflict analysis of where is this case, where is this conflict, and is it one that lends itself to the possibility of a worthy compromise that would be in our interest and would be good for the people of the country concerned, would represent the best possible course forward.
Crocker believes that policymakers must avoid any preconceived notions about the desirability of engaging in negotiations:
[L]et’s decide where this case is on the spectrum; how ripe is it, ... what are the equities, what are the issues, who are the parties… It may be that you would look at some cases and say, they’re not good for mediation, they don’t lend themselves to mediation, and what’s called for is a strong arm, or a coercive threat of some kind.
Professor Stephen Stedman teaches at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. He served from 2003 to 2005 as Research Director for the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change. Stedman elaborates on Crocker’s point:
So you want to create really good agreements. You want to have very transparent processes that will bring them in. But, if in the end you have leaders and parties that simply show that they are incapable of accepting something less than complete power, then it is absolute folly to continue down the path of negotiations. At that point it is incumbent upon “international actors” to make a stand in terms of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of these characters.
As an extreme case, Stedman cites U.S. policy debates over Rwanda in May 1994, a month into the genocide, when Hutu extremists had already massacred several hundred thousand Tutsis.
The most absurd example I remember was during the genocide in Rwanda when there were several people urging a return to negotiations…. My reply was, “Well, what would the génocidaires have had to have done at this point to convince you that they don’t want a negotiated settlement?”
Melanie Greenberg is President of the Cypress Fund for Peace and Security and has assisted conflict resolution processes in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Northern Ireland. She cautions that perpetrators of atrocities often possess a sophisticated understanding of how to play the international system in order to maximize their own advantage:
“They can often use the negotiating process to play for time; it can be a fig leaf to cover up events that are going on on the ground.”
Choosing whether or not to negotiate is always a strategic decision. Parties to a conflict choose to negotiate only if they believe that it is in their best interest. Gabriella Blum, former senior legal adviser to the Israeli Defense Forces, has co-authored a study on “When Not To Negotiate.” She emphasizes that negotiation must be understood as simply one tool of statecraft among others:
The negotiations always take place in the shadow of more coercive opportunities and options. Everybody who sits in the room understands it. That also necessarily shapes your preferences, your interests, and your positions.
Blum and her co-author, Robert Mnookin, point out that choosing negotiation is not a neutral or risk-free course of action. Negotiations cost both money and diplomatic resources. A participant’s own credibility can be undermined if he or she appears to be appeasing perpetrators of war crimes or atrocities on the other side. Finally, certain conflicts might be better resolved by other courses of action than negotiation. But Mnookin and Blum ultimately conclude that the benefits of negotiating outweigh the disadvantages, and stress that parties in a conflict should choose to negotiate with one another unless there are clear reasons not to do so:
... [A] lot of times parties, especially in conflict and especially when these conflicts are more personal and more bitter, will tend to exaggerate the cost of negotiations and limit their benefits or underestimate their benefits. Because there is this bias in how we estimate the cost of negotiation in conflict situations, we suggest, okay, why don’t we start from a rebuttable presumption, a rebuttable presumption in favor of negotiation? So to place the bar higher, and then if you decide to refuse to negotiate, you will have to really make sure that you are sufficiently right in making that decision.
Even if the decision is made not to begin formal negotiations, it can be useful to establish informal channels of communication with one or more parties to a conflict. Andrea Bartoli helped negotiate an end to the civil war in Mozambique in 1992 and is the founding Director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University. He draws a distinction between what he calls the pre-negotiation stage, which involves open listening to all interlocutors, and the negotiations themselves, which require a mutual agreement to try and resolve a conflict.
It’s important to realize that talking and listening is not negotiating; that negotiating is a much more formal engaging, committing exercise…These channels of communication are key, and do not necessarily mean that we are giving up the shop simply because we are talking to people.
For Bartoli, the very act of listening can help build trust in the mediator and lay a foundation for communication among enemies.
Even if you are a killer, even if you are the “Khmer Rouge of Africa,” you will probably appreciate somebody talking to you respectfully and listening to you respectfully, giving you an audience and just being able to listen. You get less mad, less crazy, less violent if you just have a channel where you can talk...
I think that the process is fundamentally establishing mechanisms of communication.
Should we do this with [a] killer? Absolutely. I think that we should try to do it all the time… I think that the more we can keep them close, I think the better it is for everybody, for them and for us...
Violence is in the end just a way for people to express themselves. If you don’t listen to me, I get violent. If you listen to me, the chances of me being violent are a little less.
But some negotiators believe there are limits to listening openly to the perpetrators of atrocities. Donald Steinberg is Vice-President for Multilateral Affairs at the International Crisis Group. From 1995 to 1998, he served as U.S. ambassador to Angola, where he worked for the implementation of a peace agreement between the Angolan government and the UNITA rebel movement.
I think there is a continuum here between parties that are still legitimate interlocutors and others that have delegitimized themselves, that have by their actions indicated that they’re not freedom fighters; they are terrorists. They are killers who have, essentially, given themselves a red card and taken themselves out of the game entirely.
On the extreme of the other side are political movements that need to be negotiated with, and indeed there is a continuum between them... I would definitely draw the line to the side of Lord’s Resistance Army and say this is not a group that you can negotiate with. This is not a group that should be brought into the process; it’s a group that should be defeated.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah strikes a middle ground between the views of Bartoli and Steinberg. In the early Nineties, he played a critical role in stabilizing Burundi while neighboring Rwanda descended into genocide.
For me, dealing with extremists is not an easy exercise, politically and ethically. You know, morally it is not easy. Because on one hand, you know they have red hands, because they have killed, and they start killing in their own group to intimidate and impose themselves as leaders. And then they move to what they perceive as [the] enemy in the other camp. So you have to deal with this kind of people, butchers. At the same time, because they have been killing, intimidating, they have imposed themselves as leaders and they represent something. So you have at one point to deal with them...
My personal opinion is you make them feel the heat; you try discretely to fight them, by intimidation, defamation, trying to isolate them. I tried to do that in Burundi, I had my own media, clandestine, which is not allowed by [the] UN but I did it. And if really you see they are resistant, you have to discuss with them...
[W]hat I don’t agree with is this idea that you end up by negotiating with the extremists, so do it right now. I think you take time to see what they represent. If really they represent something, they are consistent, persistent; shamelessly we have no other choice than to discuss with them. But if it is a bluff I think you try to show muscles and see.
[ANDREA BARTOLI] The more formal your engagement is, the less room you have to just engage, to just listen, to just talk.
There is a clear constraint that comes from being formally committed to the process…. If you are the U.S. government, most probably you do not want necessarily to speak with people or to listen to people just for the fun of it; but if you know that somebody is speaking with somebody, why shouldn’t you gather intelligence and be connected with people who know something about it? … Negotiating with killers is particularly difficult, needs to be done with great care; you probably want to have a little division of labor in which, you know, everybody does a little piece.
Section 2: MANAGING SPOILERS
To forge a durable peace, key political stakeholders must be committed to the process. How can one best respond to parties that seek to disrupt the transition to peace?
Stephen Stedman uses the term “spoilers” to describe leaders and parties who use violence to undermine a negotiated peace. He lists three categories of spoilers to peace processes: limited, greedy, and total spoilers. These categories are fluid, and individuals or groups can inhabit more than one of these category over the course of a conflict. Their ability to spoil depends upon their power to influence political conditions on the ground, whether or not they are participating in negotiations. They can also operate inside or outside a peace process; sometimes they do both at once.
Total spoilers are irreconcilably opposed to any compromise peace; any commitment to peace by a total spoiler is tactical. Limited spoilers can conceivably be included in the peace processes, if their limited nonnegotiable demands can be accommodated by other parties to the conflict. Greedy spoilers can be accommodated in peace processes if their limited goals are met and high costs constrain them from making added demands.
The interests of limited spoilers might be accommodated in a peace process, and a greedy spoiler might be bought off and/or deterred from escalating their demands. But Stedman argues that any negotiated agreement with total spoilers is likely to unravel, so it is best to avoid engaging in negotiations with them. However, even if total spoilers are excluded from negotiations, it may be necessary to take active steps to prevent them from derailing the whole peace process.
But some negotiators reject Stedman’s notion of the “total spoiler.”
[SANDRA MELONE] [Well,] it’s certainly our natural propensity to demonize the other -- it feels easier.
Sandra Melone is Executive Director of Search for Common Ground which promotes conflict transformation and collaborative problem-solving. She has extensive experience in conflict transformation projects in Burundi and other countries. She notes that parties to a conflict often draw absolute moral distinctions between themselves and their foes, seeing their own conduct as beyond reproach, while viewing the conduct of their enemies as aggressive and deceptive.
And that fuels directly into sacrificing our ultimate ability to be able to engage effectively and to be able to engage with the impartiality that’s needed…. By differentiating one group from the other and saying we can engage with X group but not with Y group, we fail very often to bring into the fold of the process of reconciliation and resolution of conflict parties who are actually key to resolving said conflict, and they then become spoilers, alienated and antagonistic to a process that ought to include them rather than exclude them.
Conflicts are often volatile: today’s “total spoiler” may be tomorrow’s “greedy spoiler.” Diplomats dealing with these conflicts need as complete and accurate information as possible.
Careful study of the personality and background of individual leaders can also yield important clues about their receptiveness to a negotiated peace. Ambassador to Angola Donald Steinberg observes that “total spoilers” are often more isolated than limited spoilers – whether physically, culturally, or by their ideological zeal. He compares his 1995 encounter with the leaders of two African insurgencies, Afonso Dhlakama of the RENAMO insurgency in Mozambique, and Jonas Savimbi of UNITA in Angola. Both had committed massive atrocities during their respective conflicts- and both went on to sign peace deals with their respective national governments:
To me the difference between the two, was when we walked in to visit Dhlakama in Maputo, he was in his villa. He walked us through the villa very proudly. He even sent his driver in a Mercedes out to pick us up.
He was delighted to show us all the little electronic gizmos that he had received from the international community, and we all said, “There is no way this man is moving back to the bush.”
I later went to visit Savimbi in Andulo in a bombed out building. We had just visited the villa that had been built for him in the capital of Luanda, which was even more luxurious than the one in Maputo. Savimbi announced that he would not come to Luanda, that the peace process was not advanced enough. He had no interest in those material advantages.
Steinberg says that Jonas Savimbi’s physical isolation and bunker mentality made it more difficult to engage him in productive conversations. In 1998, Savimbi resumed UNITA’s war against the government of Angola, and he continued the rebellion until he was killed in combat in 2002.
In addition to studying the combatants in a conflict, it is equally important that the mediator examine his or her own emotions and attitudes toward one’s interlocutors. Prudence Bushnell served as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and Guatemala, and as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. She met repeatedly with African leaders including Charles Taylor of Liberia and Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda.
You have to know yourself well enough to be able to manage yourself, so that your attention is not on whether you’re feeling frightened, or whether you’re feeling mad, or whether you’re feeling revulsion; your attention is completely focused on the interlocutor and on the present, and on what it is you want to accomplish…. You have to be completely focused, and the work that’s been done on emotional intelligence I think would be very useful for people to look at...
Ambassador Bushnell notes that the perpetrators of atrocities often have charismatic qualities:
It is all about them, and it is so much about them that they are willing to kill in order to have their way, or their worldview, prevail...
Everything is a show... Now it’s fine to say … Charles Taylor has the capability of being very charming. Osama bin Laden has the capability of speaking very gently and holding his tongue, but that’s neither here nor there, it’s like saying your eyes are brown. But to say it in this appreciative tone is something that to me feeds right into what these killers want to do, which is to influence you...
Being taken in by a killer means that you are ceding your power to the killer, essentially, which is exactly what the killer wants ...
Donald Steinberg agrees:
Let me say we haven’t even talked about the notion that you as a negotiator are walking into a room and you’re well aware that the person on the other side of the table has no compunction about taking you out.
I also want to say something I hope doesn’t get misinterpreted. There is a fascination that you as an observer and a participant have with someone on the other side of the table who is willing to kill people to achieve his results...
The notion that this person is willing to violate all social norms for some belief or even some personal ambition really fascinates you. Indeed, there is almost a form of respect even with the abhorrence that you feel for this. You have to resist that urge.
Beyond staying aware of the impact of one’s own attitudes and emotions in the negotiating environment, an external mediator must take into account the perspectives and equities of each of the parties. Ambassador Joyce Leader was Deputy Chief of Mission in Embassy Kigali on the eve of the Rwandan genocide of 1994:
Along with … the issue of the local actors and how we look at them and the impact that we have on them, I think it is also interesting and important to turn the tables and think about how they are looking at us.
While we are trying to manage them, our very presence is causing them to have to manage us, if they want to achieve their goals. They have to be conscious of what our goals and expectations are. That means that they have to use our framework, our approach and see how within that they are going to be able to make it work for them.
Sandra Melone points out that mediators must be alert to the roles of outside actors in either spoiling or helping to move a peace process forward:
We can’t omit to analyze and to clearly express the role of not just local actors, but also of the international community.
I think often we look way too locally and don’t actually state clearly the spoilers who are actually on an international level and who directly or indirectly, willingly or non-willingly, honestly or not honestly, are actually fueling killers.
To better understand other parties’ motivations in a conflict, it may be useful to engage in role-playing exercises, where participants assume the role of the various parties and attempt to view the conflict from their perspectives. Such scenario gaming can provide insights into the interests and political strategies of competing factions, and help negotiators better anticipate and prepare for potential pitfalls in a peace process.
Negotiators should also reflect upon their own attitudes and emotions and how they influence the negotiating environment. This means frequent self-examination of what one does, why one does it, and how well it is working. Negotiating with killers provokes intense reactions. Being constantly aware of one’s own attitudes regarding a conflict can help the negotiator maintain objectivity.
Section 3: MAXIMIZING ONE’S LEVERAGE
Genocide and atrocities often occur in regions where the U.S. and other governments have few economic investments or foreign assistance programs in place, and where international actors cannot credibly threaten the use of military force in order to back their demands. Such resource constraints can force negotiators to be creative in thinking about the resources at their disposal. Ambassador Donald Steinberg:
I remember in the peace process in Angola always having essentially one single threat that we could use with the parties, that if they were being intransigent, we could remove the international peacekeepers.
I always thought that was the equivalent of saying if there is a babysitter and the kids are misbehaving, the alternative is to have the babysitter leave, and then they burn down the house.
Seasoned mediators offer several suggestions for maximizing one’s leverage in a negotiation:
First, it is important to establish one’s personal credibility. Robert Oakley served as U.S. Ambassador to Zaire, Somalia, and Pakistan. In 1992 he went to Mogadishu as U.S. Special Envoy during the first four months of the UN humanitarian mission to Somalia. Oakley stresses that a mediator who is perceived as personally trustworthy can often operate effectively even when the interlocutor distrusts the government that the mediator represents:
In addition to being what I would call even-handed, it’s very, very important to keep your word, and don’t tell somebody something that you don’t mean and don’t tell somebody something that you’re not going to do. It’s extremely important in situations like this.
Ambassador Oakley describes the delicate balancing act of negotiating with the Somalian warlord Mohammad Aidid, whose obstruction of humanitarian relief shipments had played a role in the starvation of hundreds of thousands of Somalis. In the course of these negotiations, he says it was critically important to deliver on his promises and on his threats:
I felt as if Aidid sort of had a good angel and a bad angel, one on either shoulder, and he was very, very volatile, like a vial of nitroglycerine, he could go off at any moment, so you had to be very, very careful in the way you handled him; on the other hand, if you were careful, you could point him in a direction and encourage him to move in that direction. We didn’t in any sort of direct blunt way try to impose our will on him, but we could use carrots and sticks to give him a little support, take away a little support, work with him, not work with him so closely, so as to move him in the right direction, but at all times, allowing him to retain the thought that was his great ambition, that he would be the ruler of all Somalia. We never said yes, we never said no, but we didn’t say to him … we push you out, you have no future in your own country.
[MELANIE GREENBERG]: These perpetrators need to know that there’s some other leverage, some other control over their behavior, or else it’s not effective.
Melanie Greenberg of the Cypress Fund for Peace and Security emphasizes that when atrocities are being committed on the ground, the mediator cannot exercise influence simply via his or her impartiality or personal prestige:
If you’re in a situation [where] you have a neutral low-power mediator where all he or she can bring to the table is a credibility or personal charisma, that really doesn’t take you very far.
Greenberg points out that this leverage need not always involve hard military or economic power:
I think that we often tend to think about sticks as either high-power military or even economic sanctions, and I think that there are other ways of thinking about leverage than simply those options... In smaller conflicts, if we’re looking at Uganda, perhaps even at Darfur, it’s clear, we don’t have quite as much leverage. But there are a number of intermediate steps which often have to do with the perception of these leaders in the world that can change. There’s the shame and blame, spotlighting atrocities, highlighting in the media, setting up intense public interest, ... Most people don’t like to be under a spotlight, even if they fully believe what they are doing is right or in some kind of interest.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah agrees that negotiators in such situations need to be imaginative when thinking about the range of resources at their disposal:
[T]he first way to deal with extremists is to fight them on their own turf. Discretely of course, because you are a mediator and you should not be seen as taking sides or you should not even take sides even if you are not seen. But the extremist as I said starts by terrorizing his own group. So when I identified the main extremist I knew in his own group, the political bureau of his party, they were more than 80 percent against him. But they were afraid. So you go after him, either by leaking information, checking on his background, has he paid debt in the past, has he done this; it is not fair but it is part of a trick you have to do...
So the stick is not necessarily a big stick, but you fight him the way they fight. Not that I would like to defame, but I would like to weaken his position. So you start this kind of, not demonizing him, just saying this guy is a jerk, he’s nobody. Not you, but your assistant, a friend, or you leak it by inadvertence and so on. This is before confrontation…. You know, to summarize, fighting extremists you use many means. Some are ethical, some are less ethical… So flexibility in sanction, flexibility in carrots and sticks to adapt to the situation.
Expert negotiators also emphasize the need to prevent what is known as “forum shopping.” When different international actors have conflicting agendas or policies in a region, parties to the conflict can often play one mediator off against the other, effectively cancelling out the capacity of each. Says Melanie Greenberg:
A tricky question of leverage, and how you develop leverage, is how do you make the peace train, how do you make your process the legitimate one, how do you rein everyone in to say, we’re all in the train going to the same place, that you can’t forum shop?… Certainly in Northern Ireland … the Mitchell process became the process, there wasn’t a sense of forum shopping. In Yugoslavia, you had EU, you had NATO, you had the United States, it was a mess, until the United States came in and said, we’re the game in town, we’re coordinating with NATO, this is it.
Section 4: PROMOTING CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION
A key question that comes up in negotiating with killers is, how do we ensure that what results are not just resolutions on paper but a truly just and lasting peace?
Ambassador and former Congressman Howard Wolpe is Director of the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He was President Clinton’s Special Envoy to Africa’s Great Lakes Region. He identifies a fundamental weakness in many negotiated settlements to civil wars:
We have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on the leaders in a conflict to come to the table, to sign agreements, but we do nothing to really work directly with their mindsets. There is no reason, therefore, to believe that the day after they have signed an agreement that they will see their conflict or each other any differently than the day before they signed that agreement, and so it is not surprising that within five years, most societies that have signed agreements are back at war.
Ambassador Wolpe believes that conflict resolution requires the competing factions to move beyond a zero-sum paradigm, in which they believe that their own success can come only at the expense of others:
[U]nless people can begin to see that their own self interest requires collaboration with others, I do not believe peace is sustainable in any society...
Chester Crocker agrees with Wolpe that any mediation effort can succeed only if it leads the competing factions to rethink the stakes of the conflict:
[T]he purpose of a negotiation or I should say a mediation, is to put in front of the parties – and I want to underscore this parties plural – choices they would rather not face in order to confuse them, to complicate their agenda and to make them think through pathways that they’re not currently on and to actually come up with hard decisions. So you’re actually asking them to think outside their own boxes and that’s what you should be doing. And if you can succeed in doing it you may well transform along the way their calculus of risk-reward, their behavior patterns, and be able to do interesting things with them.
Melanie Greenberg notes that conflict transformation often requires not only formal state-to-state negotiations, but also “track two” work involving representatives of civil society and nongovernmental organizations:
There is a need for the leaders to realize that life can’t go on the way it is, that something has to change, in a way that’s easier to do at the second-track level, because you have time, you can have kind of creative exercises, you have ways of having people think about what the world will look like for their grandchildren. It’s much harder to do in a standard first-track mediation setting, where you’re concentrating on solely an outcome document.
In 2003, Ambassador Howard Wolpe created a training program in Burundi, which teaches conflict transformation skills to top political and military leaders in Burundi’s government, as well as former rebel groups. The program has been successful in Burundi, and Wolpe and his colleagues have started similar programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia:
The training is directed at communications, negotiating skills, at the analysis of conflict, understanding the basis of perceptions, at techniques for group problem solving and negotiation. The process is very interactive. We do not think it is very useful to lecture people, to preach to them about human rights or about democracy. The challenge is to get people to begin to comprehend their interdependence, to see other as part of the same political universe so that they will not dehumanize their adversaries.
Mediators must always remain alert to the views of the leaders who are directly involved in the negotiation- and pay attention as well to the demands of the constituencies those leaders represent. Melanie Greenberg:
Any mediation or negotiation process will eventually need political support. And in the negotiations that I’ve been involved with, much of the negotiation focuses on how each party is going sell the ultimate outcome to its own constituency. There has to be some softening, some change, some transformation in the political landscape in order for a successful … implementation of a peace agreement. So I think one of the most useful forums can be, are there a series of dialogues, of processes going on within the political environment, at the grassroots level, at the one-and-a-half track level, really looking at all the issues that are involved. Often they deal with schooling, education, justice, reconciliation. What does a joint future look like for groups that have been in conflict? And being able to communicate the outcomes of some of those dialogues with the negotiators is extremely important…. There has to be communication; you can’t just have a handoff from a set of negotiations to reconciliation activities afterwards.
For Andrea Bartoli, the only peace process worthy of the name is one that transforms enemies into partners:
Negotiation is not just an exchange, it’s not a quid pro quo, it’s a change in attitude, it’s an openness to the possibility of a quid pro quo. It’s a change in attitude that means the exploration of something possible as a solution, you know, it’s not a solution, it’s an orientation to a solution...
[I]f you look at the IRA, if you look at ETA, if you look at RENAMO, fundamentally what this communication first and negotiation later do is to transform military formation[s] into political actors. This is the fundamental transformation you make.
Section 5: BALANCING THE DEMANDS OF PEACE AND JUSTICE
One of the most troubling dilemmas involved in negotiating with killers is whether to place the highest priority on securing peace or achieving justice. Perpetrators of war crimes and atrocities often demand amnesty from prosecution for these crimes as a condition for laying down arms. If an amnesty from war crimes prosecution helps speed an end to violence, can such a concession be justified? Or are there some crimes so heinous that they should never be forgiven? By allowing the perpetrators of atrocities to escape judicial accountability for their crimes, do we reinforce the “culture of impunity,” thereby signaling our silent acceptance of the cycle of violence in conflict-torn regions?
John Roth is Director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College. He reflects on the moral complexities that confront diplomats who deal with the perpetrators of atrocities:
Where, if at all, is the place for straightforward moral discourse in negotiation, naming it what it is, where mass murder is taking place or where killing has taken place and destroys lives of defenseless people?
Ambassador Donald Steinberg argues that the quest for justice is a moral imperative, whether or not it supports a lasting settlement of violent conflict. Negotiators who neglect the mandate to seek justice inevitably undermine future prospects for peace and the rule of law:
I am one of those people who firmly believes that “amnesty” means that men with guns forgive other men with guns for violence committed mostly against civilians and particularly women.
Professor Paul Williams at American University Law School is director of the Public International Law and Policy Group, which provides legal advice to countries in peace negotiations. He served on the Bosnian delegation at the Dayton peace talks of 1995 and on the Kosovar delegation at the Rambouillet talks in1999. Williams believes that justice is also a pragmatic requirement for a lasting peace:
I tend to argue justice first for practical reasons, that you will actually get a better peace agreement, you will get a better deal, if you are guided by justice or norms of justice as opposed to a purely pragmatic saving lives, getting the deal done, “getting to yes” type of approach.
Williams says that instead of taking effective coercive action against the aggressor, third-party states often pressure the victims of the aggression to accept agreements that enable the aggressors to achieve their primary objectives. He calls this diplomatic approach “coercive appeasement”:
[C]oercive appeasement begins when politically and militarily powerful third parties or states, such as the United States and the European Union, seek to resolve a conflict by accommodating the primary interests of a rogue regime despite the regime’s use of force and the commission of atrocities to achieve its objectives.
This is something that is very common among peacebuilders and peacemakers is, “Let’s engage in an approach of accommodation. It’s a legitimate approach.” It often slips into coercive appeasement.
Now, peacebuilders seldom intentionally set out to implement a strategic approach of coercive appeasement. Rather, it is frequently the case that tactical decisions along the way, taken in an ad hoc fashion, which are designed to achieve very short-term objectives, cumulatively come to frame and perpetuate this approach of coercive appeasement.
Williams recalls his experience as a State Department lawyer in the early 1990s, when he worked on policy toward the former Yugoslavia:
Now, by most professional and historical accounts, this approach was a failed one with the consequences that over 200,000 to 250,000 individuals were killed, thousands were raped, and millions were displaced.
The reluctance of the international community, in my view, to invoke a norm of justice as a viable alternative to this approach of coercive appeasement facilitated the ability of the Serbian regime to carry out the genocide in Bosnia and the attempted genocide in Kosovo.
Yet some observers argue that there can be no “one-size-fits-all” solution to balancing the demands of peace and justice. Nor can the perpetrators of atrocities always be sidelined from negotiations. Donald Steinberg says that
...they assume that because they put a low value on human life that others do the same. In movements that are dominated by a killer there tends to be a centralized power structure. It is almost impossible to negotiate with anyone else other than the leader involved. No one else in the movement will stick out his neck because it can literally be chopped off.
But negotiators in these situations also have opportunities to shift the focus from the killers and diminish their influence. Prudence Bushnell:
We should no longer put our emphasis on preventing conflict.... We should be putting our emphasis on promoting peace. And what happens if you do that, if you start looking through the prism of promoting peace versus preventing conflict? One of the things I think that happens, is that you take these killers out of the spotlight. As long as you are trying to prevent conflict, they are the main actors, because they’re the ones who are performing the conflict. If you then say, well, forget that, what we want to do is promote peace, you end up putting the spotlight on an entirely new group of people, and you end up taking those people to five-star hotels and feeding them good meals, and giving them resources and high-level attention.
As the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues from 1997 to 2001, David Scheffer confronted a cold logic in his dealings with perpetrators ranging from Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia to Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone:
Even in the presence of evil one may still make a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis as a negotiator about “how far can I proceed with this individual for the benefit of other objectives?”
We can deal with the issue of evil as long as we don’t let the benefit of negotiating with a war criminal overcome our recognition that he still embodies evil and we have to confront that evil at some point and achieve accountability.
Negotiating with Killers was made possible with generous support from the Everett Foundation and the Ford Foundation. To learn more about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience and its Academy for Genocide Prevention, visit our website at www.ushmm.org/conscience.