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Negotiation (part 2): working attitudes

In the previous entry we looked at some elements of Dag Hammarskjöld’s personality and approach to negotiations. In press conferences and many other venues, he often discussed negotiation in very practical terms. On some occasions, of course, he rose to what we now call ‘30,000 feet’ to take in the larger landscape of political processes, in which negotiation is a central element. Both the practical and the lofty are reflected in this week’s collection of working attitudes.
Joseph P. Lash, Hammarskjöld’s earliest biographer and a journalist on the UN ‘beat’ since 1950, reported a passage on negotiation that doesn’t seem to be recorded elsewhere:

[Hammarskjöld] had been brought up to think of negotiation…, "not as something immoral but as a responsible and sensible activity—as a process of working out a mutually satisfactory arrangement with someone I had to live with. To negotiate with someone never meant to me I had to like him or approve of him, much less that I was willing to sell out my principles." (Lash, 148)

Hammarskjöld’s first major diplomatic effort as secretary-general was a negotiation with the premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Enlai, in 1954–55. Under the authority of the UN General Assembly, he was asked to seek the release of 13 Americans who had been convicted of spying by a military tribunal. The larger context was the Korean War and the absence of direct US–China diplomatic relations. The following three remarks all stem from his challenging mission to Beijing, whose success prompted many governments to trust his judgment and ability.

In a negotiation, is not the very first step to make your own attitude, and the basis for your own attitude, perfectly clear? (Public Papers 2, 443)

The contact…does reflect an attitude of…playing fair on the basis of objective study of facts. It is obvious that it’s a rather tender plant when you open talks of this type, and under a blast of strong emotional reactions which, so to say, wreck the basis laid in one respect or another—that is to say, to introduce an element of propaganda on either side—the other one would of course find it rather difficult to continue. (Public Papers 2, 448)

When one prepares a soup, it is sometimes part of that preparation to take the soup off the fire. That may also be the case in this special kind of field. There are times when one furthers the purpose of negotiation by not sitting at the table all the time. I do not know whether, just at this moment, any discussion is going on….  But, if there is an interval of silence, even such an interval may result in a wider perspective, greater calm, and lesser heat, and in that way may serve the purposes of negotiation. (Public Papers 2, 479)

Under the topic of common ground we have seen this passage before, but it belongs here also:

It may be quite possible that there are points in this whole setup where an Israel interest and an Arab interest, because of some development, happen to coincide because it happens to fit in with the plans on both sides. If that is so, … it obviously would be nonsensical not to try to get it down and, at least, to get somewhere.
Public Papers 2, 290)

Hammarskjöld had no illusions about creating through political processes "the best of all possible worlds". His realism about the outcome of many negotiations is reflected in the following:

We have to maneuver…in such as way as to give free swing to those forces which are constructive and conciliatory. And if we can do that, we shall do well enough. Nature has a certain healing quality and ability which is likely to bring us to a state of affairs where people may still be grudging and unhappy but where they see what is irreversible. (Public Papers 3, 56)

Toward the beginning of this online exploration of Hammarskjöld’s thought (see "A political primer"), we heard him warn against rigidity of mind, which he equated with unwillingness or inability to remain a lifelong learner. In the two comments just below, made to a university audience, he relates this issue to the needs of negotiation.

Self-righteousness and intellectual self-sufficiency produce a rigidity which is the best ally of our adversaries because it blinds us both to our own weakness and to their strength. But it is also a source of conflicts. (Public Papers 2, 303)

Those who are inspired by idealism to work for freedom should first of all—as an expression of their faith and in the interest of their ideals—have the strength to admit their own limitations and the possible justice of the cause of others. Ultimately this flexibility is but a reflection of our insight into the essential unity of all mankind. (
Public Papers 2, 303)

In an extended passage from a talk with students in New York City, Hammarskjöld touches on many points, notably the issue of good faith in negotiations:

The other day I read some observations on the perennial laws of peace-making made by an outstanding observer of foreign affairs. He enumerated what he called the fundamentals of good negotiation—careful preparation, truthfulness, precision, patience, impassivity, and modesty. These are good qualities on all roads of life. They are essential in dealings between nations or inside nations where we have to carry responsibility for the fate of others. There is a widespread view that diplomacy is a game where it pays to be shrewd, where moral laws are somehow suspended, and where it is laudable to fool your adversary. Need I tell you that such a view is wrong? Diplomacy of this kind may yield temporary and limited successes, but it will never lay the foundation for lasting agreements or understanding. Frankly, how can anyone believe that the road to a world of justice and peace is one of deceit and the destructive use of force? In international politics the right road is to defend to the best of your ability the interests which you are called upon to represent, but always in ways that uphold the principles which you want to see realized in the world of tomorrow. The laws applicable to constructive politics are not different from the laws applying to a game based on fair play: fight for your team but remember that your adversaries of today were your friends of yesterday and will have to be your friends of tomorrow. (Public Papers 2, 464–65)

Hammarskjöld took many opportunities to restate the fundamental values of the United Nations—here in terms of the challenges of negotiation:

We bow before an ideal of life, and an example of profound faith, faith in the dignity but also in the good sense and fundamental decency of men. Without this ideal and this faith, who would seek to follow the course of patient negotiation, of ceaseless effort to conciliate, to mediate, to compose differences, to appeal to men’s reason in order to build agreement? This ideal of public service and this faith in the ultimate triumph of good will are a living reality. They are the foundation upon which the United Nations itself is built.
Public Papers 2, 78, at a July 1953 ceremony recalling the Swedish martyr, Count Folke Bernadotte)