War and Negotiation

War and negotiations, although they are opposites, often turn out to be side by side. As Thomas Schelling, a Nobel laureate, pointed out, “most conflict situations are essentially bargaining situations” (The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980, p. 5), and military force can be used as bargaining power (Schelling, T.  Arms and Influence. Yale University Press, 1966, p. xxii). Indeed, many wars ended in negotiations, and during many wars, the fighting sides negotiated. However, most often they did so through secret channels, or covertly with the help of third parties. The belligerents rarely conducted formal negotiations during the war, and if that happens, it, of course, gives some hope.

At the same time, negotiations, in fact, do not always turn out to be real negotiations, that is, actions aimed at reaching a certain agreement between the parties. Sometimes negotiations are conducted in order to gain time, or to deceive the other party or the general public, or to justify the further escalation of the conflict (indicating that the opposite side didn’t want to reach an agreement).

There is another aspect of negotiations in the conditions of any conflict, including military conflict. This is the so-called tacit bargaining (which was brilliantly investigated by Thomas Schelling). Tacit bargaining does not take place at the negotiating table but can be carried out through various actions, including informational, military, economic, political, and others. In fact, the involved parties conduct certain bargaining by their actions, although they do not openly talk about it as bargaining moves. As a result, they may come to some point of tacit agreement (focal point, or Schelling point), which indicates the position of a certain equilibrium or settlement that suits the parties.

Usually, the escalation phase of war/conflict excludes any negotiations, or, at least, effective negotiations; and real negotiations begin only after escalation and deadlock. And one more point related not only to the war but also to negotiations in a military conflict: the morale of the parties and their negotiators is of great importance. Morality turns out to be one of the most important sources of negotiation power. 

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