Great Negotiators, Effective Diplomacy and Intractable Conflicts

Return to Course Catalog

Spring 2015 Course
Meets: M, T 1:30pm - 3:00pm
3 classroom credits

What can we learn from studying great negotiators and diplomats grappling with some of the world’s most challenging problems? This course explores how modern diplomacy and negotiation can effectively address seemingly “intractable” international conflicts and overcome high barriers to agreement in civil wars, interstate conflicts, as well as in trade and finance. We will draw on in-depth cases from global politics and business. We will also seek to develop diagnostic and prescriptive generalizations about effective negotiation as well as the potential and limitations of diplomacy as central policy instruments for addressing contemporary issues of war and peace.

An important but not exclusive focus of this course will involve case studies of men and women from around the world who have been honored as “Great Negotiators” by the Program on Negotiation—an active inter-university consortium comprising faculty from across Harvard, MIT, and the Fletcher School at Tufts University—and the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Kennedy School. We will also draw on an ongoing research project of ours to interview all U.S. Secretaries of State for their most important insights into negotiation, diplomacy, and statecraft on major issues such as China, Russia and the Middle East. We will study a number of different conflicts and challenges, including some where negotiation and diplomacy paid off and others where such efforts failed.

Class sessions will be devoted to analyzing cases and video material relating to conflicts and challenges such as:

  • Senator George Mitchell’s work in Northern Ireland leading to the Good Friday Accords;
  • Secretary of State James Baker’s negotiations relating to
    • German re-unification within NATO;
    • the coalition that ousted Saddam Hussein from Kuwait; and
    • orchestrating the Madrid peace conference.
  • Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s negotiations leading to the Dayton Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia;
  • Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky’s negotiations over intellectual property rights in China;
  • Nelson Mandela’s negotiations resulting in the end of Apartheid and South Africa’s transition to democracy and majority rule;
  • Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari’s negotiation efforts leading to
    • Kosovo’s independence and
    • The resolution of the decades long bloody conflict between the government of Indonesia and the province of Aceh;
  • Financier Bruce Wasserstein’s extended negotiations leading to the IPO of Lazard LLC.

We will also explore other situations where diplomatic negotiations have failed to prevent protracted and costly disagreements and bloody wars. Examples may include the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the genocide in Rwanda; and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, we may also examine diplomatic negotiations directed at nuclear arms control, including efforts during the Cold War and more recently with respect to Iran and North Korea.

We will pay close attention to the “how” of negotiation and diplomacy. How is diplomacy conducted at the highest levels? How can a country use negotiations and the combination of diplomacy and the threat of force effectively? How can a motivated individual most effectively overcome daunting barriers to a desired agreement? In service of these objectives, course readings beyond the case studies will be eclectic and interdisciplinary.

We will use class debates, case studies and student presentations to help class members practice the skills that are critical to success in public service as well as the private sector. Students should come to class having done all readings and prepared to engage in discussion and debate. We require active class participation with cold calling as the norm.

In addition, the course will require (a) three brief response papers (about two pages each) on the assigned readings; and (b) a Last-Class take home final exam with both time and word limits. With the advance permission of an instructor, a 15-20 page term paper on an approved topic may be substituted for the final exam. Grading will be on the basis of the quality and frequency of class participation, response papers, and the final exam or paper. For Law, Business and Kennedy School students, the final grade will be the responsibility of the professor from that school.

Each week, course faculty members will hold a one-hour optional discussion session. These discussion sessions will be scheduled at different times to offer maximum opportunity for class members with diverse schedules to attend.

Prerequisite:Absent the consent of an instructor, a pre-requisite is a prior negotiation course.

Note: The class will be limited to 75 students with the initial expectation of equal numbers of students from the each of the Law, Kennedy, and Business Schools.

Subject Areas: International, Comparative & Foreign Law .

© 2014 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved.