International Negotiation

Analysis, Approaches, Issues


Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7879-5886-7

Chapter One

Contributions of Applied Systems Analysis to International Negotiation

Howard Raiffa

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) has been cautiously and erratically inching its way into the world of negotiations. In some sense, the very creation of IIASA in 1972-or, going back five years earlier, the spawning of the idea for an IIASA-like enterprise-was in itself a move in the negotiating game of world diplomacy. It was an attempt to build a bridge and ease tensions during the Cold War: a confidence-building measure. The negotiations over the charter of IIASA dealt with a myriad of questions: should the enterprise have a central facility with in-house researchers, or should it be a loose federation, like the Club of Rome? What should be the governance of the institute? Its location? Its finances? Its membership? Its languages? Its research agenda? Its publications? Its policy regarding censorship, if any? The balance between its methodological and applied research? Its form-governmental or nongovernmental?

The negotiations were not isolated-they never are-from the roller coaster of external political events of the Cold War. But somehow the founders persevered and twelve representatives from twelve different countries agreed among themselves and convinced their constituencies back home to ratify the agreement. No representative was completely happy about all aspects of the agreement. On balance, it was a compromise; in the calculus of each country, accepting the charter was better than failing to reach any agreement. A modest amount of logrolling among issues was necessary to craft an acceptable compromise.

The two dominant negotiating players were the United States (represented first by McGeorge Bundy and then by Philip Handler) and the Soviet Union (represented by Jermen Gvishiani), and separate coalitions formed around each of them. But there were subcoalitions on some issues (such as location) that crossed East-West lines. Most substantial concessions were granted in informal meetings, outside the formal conference meetings.

When writing the charter was undertaken, several rough proposals (position packages) were floated around, and the process was quite confusing. Finally, the representatives agreed to have Sir Solly Zuckerman play the role of facilitator-mediator. Besides hosting and moderating formal meetings, his task was to fuse separate proposals into what can be thought of as a single negotiating text-a working shadow of a charter that started off with a lot of fancy boilerplate but also many unresolved parameters. The negotiators then nudged some of these in the direction of their preferences until the working charter became acceptable to all. It was a consensus process except the location decision, which required a vote. But everyone agreed that nothing is settled until all is settled.

One vexing issue was the name of the institute-or perhaps instead of "institute" it should be "center" or "centre" or "congress" or something else. In the first organizational meeting in Sussex, England, in 1967, we called ourselves "The Center for the Study of Problems Common to Advanced Industrialized Societies." But gradually doubts were raised. Are the problems common? What is an advanced society? Do we want to study, do research, or suggest prescriptive advice? For a year or so we discussed the "No-Name Center or Institute" or the "Bundy Institute" in the West or the "Gvishiani Institute" in the East. Gradually, a consensus emerged: we wanted to carve out some activity that belonged to the (set) union of such disciplines as operations research (operational research, as the British would have it), management science, policy analysis, cybernetics, systems dynamics, and systems analysis. Several negotiators were especially keen about global modeling as done by the Club of Rome, but others were vociferously opposed. The small problem of a name became our big problem for a while. There were cultural differences in emphasis, and the problem was exacerbated because such words as cybernetics meant one thing to the negotiators from the East and another to those from the West. We kept returning to the titles "Systems Dynamics" or "Systems Analysis," but these titles raised questions: Should we include in our purview the cardiovascular system or other bodily systems such as the brain, or the dynamics of the solar system? No: we wanted to study and understand dynamic, interactive systems involving people, systems that humans could influence for the benefit of humanity.

In the early sixties, I wrote a book called Applied Statistical Decision Theory (Raiffa, 1961) and hesitatingly suggested to the founding negotiators the title "Applied Systems Analysis." That caught on because no one had a previous conception of what it really meant. It was what I call "creative obfuscation," a technique that was used at several junctures in the writing of IIASA's charter.

Another example of creative obfuscation: since we got hung up on the term advanced societies, we substituted the term modern societies, and again no one really knew what that meant. After the charter was finally agreed upon by the negotiators, but before it was signed, Zuckerman asked a specialist of the Quai d'Orsay to check the "legalese" of the document, and back came the very natural inquiry, "What is meant by modern societies?" That held us up another three months. The problem was trivial, but it was a classical case of psychological entrapment: because it is trivial, why shouldn't the other side give in and adopt the interpretation?

What is applied systems analysis, broadly interpreted? It definitely cannot be defined operationally by saying, "It is what IIASA does!" because some would argue that "It is what IIASA should do!" As a first attempt at characterizing applied systems analysis, we could say that it is applying systematic analysis to complex societal problems with the intention of better understanding them and their outcomes.

Hugh Miser, one of the editors of the two-volume set by Miser and Quade, Handbook of Systems Analysis (1985, 1988), which really describes what applied systems analysis is, says in a letter to IIASA director Robert H. Pry dated August 10, 1988, "In the early days of systems analysis, all the elements of this threefold character were very much alive, albeit often in somewhat precarious balance. Lately, however, as institutional structures kept analysts at a distance from the realities of the problems they were treating, almost all attention has been focused on the descriptive aspect (witness the repeated emphasis on 'modeling'), with only a modest effort devoted to the prescriptive aspect, and often none at all to the persuasive aspect. This imbalance has dogged IIASA's work from the beginning."


In the literature documenting successful uses of operations research in real applications, the point is repeatedly made that communication channels have to be established early and kept open between the analyst and client. In the case of IIASA, if applied systems analysis is to be used in a prescriptive or advisory function, one should identify the client, and this presents a problem. It is important that analysis done under the auspices of IIASA not be used to benefit one nation over another, nor should IIASA preferentially select which country it should try to help. Early on, even before the charter was signed, the founders discussed two types of studies: universal and global.

Universal problems, such as transportation, education, and waste disposal systems, are faced by every nation separately. By examining universal types of problems in one country, one might gain techniques, models, and insights that could be transferable to another country. By contrasting how several countries each handle a common problem, one might be better able to give particular advice to each country. The trouble is that the representatives of country X become a bit impatient when the institute spends too much of its money on the problems of country Y. It is just easier not to try to give prescriptive advice to anyone and play with these universal problems in the abstract. The real-world problems may motivate the abstraction, but then the abstraction lives on.

Global problems are those that cannot be resolved by a single nation separately; for example, human beings' effect on the climate, acid rain, and management of large international river systems. Here again, it is hard for IIASA to come close to its clients. Analysis should not be used by IIASA to help one country to gain an advantage over another. So IIASA's tendency is to work on background modeling of the natural science phenomena. Thus IIASA expands a prodigious amount of effort in modeling a river system or developing a descriptive (predictive) model of acid rain, but it does not itself get involved in the negotiation process among nations. It remains a comfortable distance away from the decision makers.

These problems were discussed at length by the founders of the institute and by each director with the council. It was decided early on that IIASA's existence was precarious enough and that it should not be embroiled in the politics of diplomacy or the web of international negotiations. Over time, each director has tried to move the institute into a more balanced research program that would try to supplement IIASA's forte on descriptive (modeling) analysis with prescriptive (advisory) elements.

Early Interest in a Negotiations Project

In 1980, the council of IIASA formed a Steering Committee on International Negotiation, with distinguished representation from East and West. This steering committee in June 1981 unreservedly recommended that IIASA study the processes of international negotiations. The members thought that a research project on negotiations would be most appropriately pursued at IIASA, and they made those recommendations even after deliberating about the potential difficulties and dangers of embroiling IIASA in current political squabbles. They proposed that the conflicts that IIASA might address should involve strong, complex interdependence and interactions that are appropriate for applied systems analysis study. In a given complex international negotiation, the protagonists might welcome this neutral intervention of an analytical group that could structure the scientific facts and model the dynamic interactions of the physical reality. This is a mission that IIASA has performed on such projects as acid rain and the management of large river systems.

The recommendation of the Steering Committee on International Negotiation was partially implemented in the early 1980s; however, the effort did not blossom, because it would require additional funding, and funding became considerably tighter at that time. In addition, those few appointments that were made in an exploratory negotiations activity did not integrate well with other IIASA personnel. But still, the idea of a negotiations project was kept alive in the council of IIASA.

The PIN Project and Networking

In 1984, a proposal was accepted by the council to start a modest project on the better understanding and improvement of the Processes of International Negotiation (PIN), which would encourage the development of a network of PIN groups in the sponsoring nations of IIASA. The hub of the network would be at IIASA, which would provide loose coordination and dissemination of information. This volume is one product of that combined international effort. In appealing for funding of the U.S. PIN Project through the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we put our case as follows:

Modern technology, the speed of communications, the interdependence of nations through trade, and an increasing dependence on common natural resources have brought nations into constant contact. Most nations have developed traditions and institutions for the efficient and equitable resolution of internal conflicts, but these arrangements are not mature or robust enough to cope with the complexities of international strife, be it in security matters, in economic issues, or in the control of our global environment. We have to become much more resourceful if we are to cope successfully with the pace of the growing complexities of international interdependence. We now have the technological capacity and the knowledge to improve dramatically the lot of humankind. But, as nations, we have much to learn about how to engage jointly in mutual problem-solving activities and to seek efficient outcomes.

International negotiations are essential mechanisms for the peaceful resolution of disputes and for maintaining stability and some measure of predictability in international relations. The balance between war and peace may be a matter not of the nature of the differences that divide us but of the process we use to resolve these differences.

Not enough research on the processes of international negotiations is being done. What is being done is not adequately coordinated and disseminated. Present research efforts are not cross-fertilized: across disciplines, between practitioners and researchers, and across national boundaries.

Regrettably, a lot of profound theorizing by economists, mathematicians, philosophers, and game theorists on topics related to negotiation analysis has had little or no impact on practice. An important question for the PIN Project to answer will be why this is so. An important reason is clearly the lack of effective communication and dissemination of theoretical research results. Such communication could be improved if there were more intermediaries who are comfortable in both worlds and who could act as inventive go-betweens to facilitate the transfer of information that shows how theory can influence practice and how practice can influence the research agendas of theorists. The information must flow in both directions: many practitioners have developed valid, extremely useful, and often profound insights and analyses, which should help to guide the agendas of researchers in this field.

The U.S. PIN Project

The U.S. PIN Project was organized around separate but interacting task forces: international environmental disputes, international economic disputes, cultural differences, systems analysis techniques (including decision aids) for negotiation analysis, and a training program. The U.S. PIN task force on training was led by Professor Roger Fisher of Harvard Law School and myself.


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