On Bargaining and Negotiation

In sum, international society is essentially in a transition phase between a 500-year period defined by Western domination over the international system by virtue of military means on one hand, and a period that will be defined by bargaining, accommodation, and integration over the course of the next few years and perhaps decades. The aforementioned 500-year period of Western domination by virtue of military means came to an unceremonious end in August of this year, when the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thus, in August 2021, the current transition phase and thus the bargaining phase began, and this is where we are at the moment. And as mentioned in the previous blog post, bargaining gives way to accommodation and ultimately integration.

In turn, bargaining and negotiation require a strategy. One common definition of the term “strategy” is the means by which an entity or individual achieves a goal or objective. Many people have commented and have written about strategy, but in the end, “a book can’t teach you how to swim.” Thus, an effective strategy requires both seemingly irrational moves and intuition more often than not. There is no well-defined theory of strategy, whereas other concepts and disciplines such as politics, economics, and sociology have well-defined theories.

            Nevertheless, an effective bargaining and negotiating strategy can have resolute components and elements. And there are essentially two basic components or elements for an effective bargaining and negotiating strategy. For one, bargaining and negotiation – in order to be successful – requires getting the other side to believe and buy in to what you are offering or saying. In a book titled “The Strategy of Conflict,” the late game theorist and nuclear strategist Thomas Schelling wrote:

“How does one person make another believe something? The answer depends importantly on the factual question, ‘Is it true?’ It is easier to prove the truth of something that is true than of something false. To prove the truth about our health we can call on a reputable doctor; to prove the truth about our costs or income we may let the person look at books that have been audited by a reputable firm or the Bureau of Internal Revenue. But to persuade him of something false we may have no such convincing evidence.”

The other basic component or element of an effective bargaining and negotiation strategy is the ability to zoom in and out of “the big picture,” or the historical process. Everything is about the “big picture” and the historical process. And as Mao Zedong said, we have to know where we are in the “big picture” scheme of things and the historical process, and then act accordingly.

Because bargaining and negotiation are essentially shaped by a “big picture” and a historical process – which I have discussed in previous blog posts – the advantage in bargaining and negotiation is not always on the side with the biggest military or deepest pockets. Thus, bargaining and negotiation ultimately tie into history and strategy. But coincidentally, history and strategy have no resolute methodology or theory. As a result, the attainment of an optimal outcome in a bargaining and negotiating process that is defined by a “big picture” and historical process is more of an art rather than a resolute science.

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