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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

Preventive Negotiation: Avoiding Conflict Escalation
I. William Zartman (ed.)

Lanham, MD and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001
352pp. Index. Hb.: $69.00; ISBN 0-8476-9894-7. Pb.: $28.95; ISBN 0-8476-9895-5.

Zartman is a prominent author in the literature on conflict prevention and resolution and in this work he brings together research on preventive negotiation done under the umbrella of the Process of International Negotiation (PIN) Programme of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

This book presents an interesting theoretical framework for comparing negotiation strategies as played out in different issue areas. It succeeds in its stated aim of focusing on the negotiation process itself and further limits the definition of "conflict prevention" to a more manageable "preventing escalation" of conflicts (cf. Chapter 1). Eleven issue areas are treated: boundary problems, territorial claims, ethnic conflict management, divided state unification, state disintegration, co-operation disputes, trade wars, transboundary environmental disputes, global natural disasters, global security disasters (armaments and alliances) and labour disputes.

In all the issue area analyses, specific attention is paid to the stakes of the conflict, the attitudes of the parties to the conflict and the tactics employed in negotiation. While these issue areas present a wide scope for testing the theories of preventive negotiation discussed in this book, the conclusion synthesises the common conditions and processes required for successful preventive action. Zartman concludes that preventive negotiation rests on an awareness of impending conflict and the willingness to act before it becomes reality. Therefore the negotiation process stands or falls by the ability of negotiators to change the stakes involved in the conflict, by e.g. reframing the problem or adding new benefits to co-operation, thus enabling a change in the attitudes of the parties towards the conflict. Only then can negotiation tactics be utilised efficiently to mobilise the parties in an integrative manner.

Chapter 4 broaches the topic of preventive negotiation in ethnic conflicts by citing the examples of the conflicts in South Africa and Sri Lanka. The main argument here is that preventive action should be applied in a much broader way by becoming involved during various stages in such situations, not only at the very beginning, but throughout peace-building processes when old animosities threaten to re-ignite. In this way, an inclusive regime of some kind can be constructed to motivate and remind the parties that repeated preventive negotiation remains preferable to a return to violent conflict.

Although it refrains from making normative judgements on the analysed issues or the power relations involved, this work makes a valuable contribution to concretising the theory on preventing conflict escalation.

Hesta Groenewald.

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