How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
International negotiation is as it says: inter-national. It is about negotiation between countries. International negotiation occurs all the time between governments and is the main subject of this page. It also happens between individuals and companies, where the traps and tricks of cross-border negotiation can ensnare even the most experienced home-country negotiators.
International negotiation is often not just between individual people, but between large delegations, each of which is well organized and where every person has specialized and skilled work. There may be cultural experts, linguists and subject specialists as well as a chief negotiator and support negotiators. In a complex negotiation, there may be multiple and interlined sub-negotiations going on at the same time, for example where a trade negotiation includes a deal involving various industries and interests.
A big trap in negotiation lies in misunderstanding the culture of other countries, especially in the rules they use to negotiate. While one country may emphasize politeness and integrity, another might use deception and coercive methods as a norm of negotiation (although they may still be polite and friendly outside the negotiation arena).
It is easy to offend people from other cultures without realizing what you are doing. Body language, and particularly gestures, can have very different meaning, and what may seem an innocent movement to one person can be extremely rude to another.
International negotiation, done well, takes very careful notice of local cultures and customs, and is often conducted with remarkable diplomacy and tact. Good international negotiators are very smooth and practiced in their art, and ensure they are extremely well informed not only about national cultures but also about the very individual perceptions of the people on the others side.
The complexity and care of international negotiations may mean that the process can take an inordinately long time, quite likely months and possibly even years. Some negotiations never conclude, but the very fact that the two sides are talking is sufficient to distract them from more violent interplay.
International negotiation often happens between many countries at the same time. These may band together into economic blocs (such as the European Union) or develop shorter-term strategic alliances, such as where smaller countries band together to confront a dominant larger nation.
Such collective negotiations are often as much marriages of convenience as the joint action of true friends. Whilst international relationships are essential, each country eventually puts its own needs above the needs of others. Even when countries go to war on behalf of one another, the ultimate goal is still national at root.
International negotiation can be about life and death, literally, and even survival of the entire planet. In the cold war period, Russia and America engaged in an endless series of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) to prevent the horrors of mutually-assured destruction (MAD). More recently, negotiations on limiting global warming have met with limited success that may yet (depending on who you believe) lead to even more damaging outcomes than nuclear war.
The madness of not agreeing on matters of global survival illustrates well the difficulties of international negotiation. It is easy on the international stage to paint yourself into a corner, and for personal posturing and political ambition to morph into extreme and ultimately foolish acts.