Event Date: Thursday December 9, 2010
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The Program on Negotiation’s 2010 Great Negotiator Award was given to former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, for his many significant achievements in the fields of negotiation and diplomacy. He was central to the Namibian independence negotiations in the late 1980s. He also served as chief United Nations negotiator to Kosovo from 2005-2006, and was instrumental in ending the hostilities between the province of Aceh and Indonesia that had claimed between 12,000 and 50,000 lives during a 30-year war. President Ahtisaari received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 for these efforts.

This was the 10th year that PON’s Great Negotiator Award has recognized an individual whose lifetime achievements in the fields of negotiation and dispute resolution have had significant impacts. And, each time, along with the award, the Program on Negotiation has developed a set of teaching materials that focus on the efforts of the Great Negotiator involved. Past recipients of the award include former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke.[1]

Professor James Sebenius (Harvard Business School and Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project), who co-chaired this year’s event and moderated the Aceh panel, has for the last decade chaired the award selection committee and been responsible for the overall event design and intellectual content. This year he co-presented the award with Professor R. Nicholas Burns, Faculty Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project, who also moderated the Kosovo panel. The award was presented jointly with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Future of Diplomacy Project, which is dedicated to promoting the study and understanding of diplomacy, negotiation and statecraft in international politics.

The teaching materials developed this year in conjunction with the award are two case studies about President Ahtisaari’s instrumental role in the Aceh negotiations and the negotiations aimed at establishing Kosovo’s sovereignty. Two interactive panels on the Kosovo and Aceh negotiations – with in-depth reflections from President Ahtisaari and related panelists – were videotaped and will be available from the PON Clearinghouse along with the teaching cases.

The Aceh case challenges students to ask how the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian government could be negotiated in an atmosphere of bitter distrust, especially given a legacy of military violence and human rights abuses. The Kosovo case contains both local and international stakeholders with complex and conflicting positions regarding the question of Kosovo’s future status, as well as issues of minority rights and self governance. These cases challenge students to grapple with the tensions of high stakes negotiations from President Ahtisaari’s skilled perspective, including consideration of what process choices will be most promising, and how to help parties deal with many conflicting positions.

President Ahtisaari said that the key to success in diplomatic negotiations is clarity of objectives and time management. Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, US Special Envoy to the Kosovo talks and a member of the discussion panel, underscored this point by saying that what makes President Ahtisaari’s diplomacy quite extraordinary is the combination of his clarity of objective and his flexibility of tactics. He went on to say, “I think one of your great attributes as a negotiator was the fact that you pursued a negotiation with extraordinary modesty…Martti, you built confidence in your team and in the parties around you by your own personal comportment.”

Mr. Ahtisaari remains hopeful and determined about the promise of negotiation and diplomacy. Indeed, he said, “I want to say still now that there’s not a single conflict in the world that cannot be solved. I don’t buy that argument that we have to have frozen conflicts like we have still today. They can be solved.”

When he presented President Ahtisaari with the award, Professor Robert Mnookin, head of the Program on Negotiation, pointed out, “We teach our students that great negotiators are purposeful. We also teach that great negotiators combine the virtue of empathy and assertiveness.  I happen to know, having read about you, that you’re an extraordinary listener.  You have the capacity to put yourself in the shoes of people with very different perspectives.  And you work hard to try to understand the world through their eyes.”

Great Negotiator Case Series

Part of the PON Great Negotiator Case Study Series, these two-part cases by James Sebenius (Aceh case co-written by Alex Green and Kosovo case co-written by Phillippe Leroux-Martin) examine Martti Ahtisaari’s involvement in settling the future status of Kosovo and in the Aceh negotiations. Part “A” contains background information about the situation facing Ahtisaari and his team at the beginning of the formal negotiations and can be used to push students to imagine strategies and tactics for success. Part “B” describes Ahtisaari’s approach and how the subsequent events actually evolved. Part “A” of the Kosovo case is eleven pages and part “B” is nine pages. Part “A” of the Aceh case is ten pages and part “B” is eleven pages.

Martti Ahtisaari and the Kosovo Final Status Process

When President Ahtisaari was appointed Special Envoy for the Future Status of Kosovo in November 2005, the challenge before him was formidable. Opposing claims from Serbs and Kosovar Albanians appeared irreconcilable and had been a source of instability in the region for decades. The US supported independence while the EU was divided, and Russia and China, two permanent member of the UN Security Council, had reservations about granting Kosovo independence. Ahtisaari set pre-determined parameters that required any settlement to be compatible with human rights standards and international law, and to ensure the protection of minorities in Kosovo along with the region’s cultural and religious heritage. Ahtisaari led a complex negotiation process that reduced the potential for renewed violence, encouraged dialogue between Serb and Kosovar Albanian leaders, and allowed time for the relevant international community members to work out their differences. The resulting proposal asserted that an independent, democratic Kosovo was the only viable option and outlined a structure to protect minority rights.

Everything or Nothing: Martti Ahtisaari and the Aceh Negotiations

In January 2005, Marti Ahtisaari convened negotiations between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government. The 30-year conflict over independence for the province of Aceh had left tens of thousands dead and a bitter legacy of grave human rights abuses. The barriers to success were daunting given the deep distrust, incompatible positions and potential spoilers on both sides. Two weeks before negotiations were scheduled to take place, Aceh was hit by a devastating tsunami that heavily damaged the province’s infrastructure and economy. Despite these challenges, negotiations were held and governed by the concept that “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. With characteristic clarity, Ahtisaari suggested “special autonomy” as the goal, discouraging GAM’s demand for independence. He also pressed the Indonesian government to take responsibility for ongoing human rights abuses in Aceh, allowing talks to advance. The resulting agreement outlined a system for internal self-governance while deferring to Indonesian foreign policy and the Indonesian military.

Great Negotiator Teaching Materials

2000: “To Hell with the Future, Let’s Get On With the Past”: George Mitchell in Northern Ireland, featuring former U.S. Senator George Mitchell’s work on the all-party talks in Northern Ireland between 1996 and 1998 that culminated in the signing of the historic Good Friday Accords.

2001: Charlene Barshefsky (A) and (B), featuring former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefky’s work from 1994 to 1996 negotiating a trade agreement with China.

2002: Lakhdar Brahimi: Negotiating a New Government for Afghanistan, featuring former United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi’s involvement in negotiating an interim government for Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

2003: Stuart Eizenstat: Negotiating the Final Accounts of World War II, featuring former EU Ambassador and Special Representative to the President Stuart Eizenstat’s work facilitating the award of $8 billion in reparations from multiple European governments, banks, and companies to victims of World War II.

Written by Carrie O’Neil, taken from the bi-annual e-newsletter Negotiation Pedagogy at the Program on Negotiation E-Newsletter (NP@PON), which can be found here.

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