PON Open House Special Presentation: Crisis In North Korea – Is It Negotiable?
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The Program on Negotiation’s 2003 Open House introduced over 100 interested faculty, students, and community members to the work of PON through a substantive talk on nuclear proliferation and North Korea. In the presentation Crisis in North Korea: Is it Negotiable?, Harvard Law School Professor and PON Steering Committee Chair Robert Mnookin introduced a framework for evaluating the costs and benefits of engaging in negotiation, rather than ignoring the crisis or turning immediately to force. His address was followed by comments from Harvard Business School Professor and PON Steering Committee member James Sebenius and Harvard Business School Associate Professor Michael Watkins.
Defining negotiation as “a joint decision-making process involving interactive communication, in which parties that lack identical interests attempt to reach agreement,” Professor Mnookin explained how both the United States and North Korea had precluded the possibility of productive discussions by creating a deadlock situation of mutually-exclusive minimum requirements.
Professor Watkins called this the “Gary Cooper syndrome,” explaining that both sides have behaved as though they can expect compliance with any demand they make — a position that has hindered progress towards a resolution of the crisis. Despite significant concerns about the reliability of North Korea and the morality of bargaining with a regime that has caused so much harm to its own people, an analysis of six factors — the interests involved, the alternatives to negotiation, the potential negotiated outcomes, the reliability of the negotiation partners, the costs of the negotiation, and issues of morality and legitimacy — led Professor Mnookin to argue that negotiation should be pursued.
Building off of comments from Professor Sebenius, who presented example situations illustrating when negotiation is not a feasible option, questions from audience members addressed the difficulty of fully understanding North Korea’s complex perspective, the possibility that North Korea is engaging in a blackmailing strategy, and the uncertainty of achieving broad support within the United States for a serious process of negotiation.