Multilateral negotiation is one of the most exciting activities at the United Nations. Diplomats adjust their positions repeatedly in response to the changing environment. They may use posturing to gain maximum position or wait until the deadline for an agreement before introducing fantastic demands. Diplomats are pressured to make concessions while promoting their national positions. At the same time, they work to prevent negotiations from turning against their national interests. Preventing things from getting worse is important since an extra few years spent in regaining lost ground can be politically and financially costly.
In The Practical Negotiator authors Zartman and Berman outline three stages in negotiations:
Diagnostic Stage, in which future participants in a negotiation agree that there is an issues that should be addressed in a negotiation and that all are better off with and agreement than without one. In the United Nations, this stage is largely complete, since U.N. member states come to the meeting ready to starts negotiations.
Formula Stage, at which the framework for an agreement is reached, leaving details to be worked out at a later time. In many cases, the negotiations at the U.N. are left at the Formula Stage with the adoption of a declaration or resolution that articulates fundamental principles.
Detail Stage. Once diplomats are convinced that a more detailed agreement is possible, they proceed by putting together specific and discrete items of an agreement. Governments usually make exchanges of strategic interests and concessions at the Detail Stage.
There is no clear point that separates the Formula and Detail stages. If the diplomats cannot reach a final detailed agreement, it is always possible to return to the discussion of general principles, moving back and forth until they reach an agreement satisfactory to all the diplomats. In the process of negotiation it is important to work within a scale of progress, both positive and negative. Although diplomats concentrate on moveing forward in negotiations, it is equally important not to move backward.
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