Back-channel Communication in the Settlement of Conflict

In: International Negotiation
Dean Pruitt Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, 3401 Fairfax Drive, MS 4D3, Arlington, Virginia 22201 USA;, Email:

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Secret back-channel communication is often employed in severe conflict to explore the feasibility of front-channel negotiation. It can also be used as an adjunct to front-channel negotiation when talks become deadlocked or as a substitute for front-channel negotiation. Its value lies partly in the flexibility and future orientation it brings to talks. In the prenegotiation phase, it also provides political cover, is cost-effective, does not require formal recognition of the adversary, and allows communication with adversaries who do not meet preconditions for negotiation such as a cease-fire. Intermediaries and intermediary chains are sometimes used in back-channel communication. Heavy reliance on back-channel communication can produce flimsy agreements that are too narrowly based or fail to deal with major issues. But this problem can be avoided if enough time is spent assembling a broad central coalition.

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