Prenegotiation Development of Optimism in Intractable Conflict

in International Negotiation
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Except when there is substantial third-party pressure for settlement, participants in intractable conflict will only enter negotiation if they are motivated to end the conflict and optimistic about negotiation’s chances of success. The sources of such optimism are explored using case material from three intractable interethnic conflicts that were ultimately resolved by negotiation. In all three cases, optimism developed during prenegotiation communication between the parties. Also there were two main channels of communication, each channel providing credibility to the other and serving as a back-up if the other failed. In two of the cases the communication was face-to-face and friendly, but in the third it was distant and mediated by a chain of two intermediaries. A possible reason for this difference is that the parties were positively interdependent in the first two cases but not in the third. The paper concludes with a summary of three psychological experiments that demonstrate the impact of positive vs. negative interdependence.

Prenegotiation Development of Optimism in Intractable Conflict

in International Negotiation



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See Pruitt (2008) and Wanis-St. John (2006 2011) for discussions of why secrecy is so common in the prenegotiation of intractable conflicts.


See Mitchell (2000) and Zartman & de Soto (2010) for other ideas about the sources of optimism in negotiation. Readiness theory predicts that optimism about finding an agreement will encourage readiness to enter negotiation if one is motivated to escape the conflict but will be discounted and forgotten if one is not. Indeed if one is not so motivated some sources of optimism (e.g. conciliatory behavior from the other evidence that the other has experienced a setback) may instead encourage a perception of the other as weak producing more vigorous hostilities against the other.


  • View in gallery
    Four-part communication chain in the Northern Ireland prenegotiation period
  • View in gallery
    A prisoner’s dilemma (a) and two contrasting decompositions: (b) showing apparent positive interdependence and (c) showing apparent negative interdependence

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