Disarmament Insight


Monday, 19 March 2007

Paradigm shift in the negotiation chamber

Multilateral disarmament and arms control negotiations have achieved scant success in recent years. Based on this observation, a few questions come to my mind: Can we get beyond blaming political will and find innovative ways to shift today’s approaches towards more productive strategies? How can multilateral negotiations be made more effective? In particular, how can new insights about the dynamics of cooperation help us tackle complex negotiation dilemmas?

I recently read an interesting report published by the Institute for the Future, an independent, non-profit strategic research group based in California, whose aim is to identify emerging trends that will transform the global marketplace. This report, entitled “Toward a New Literacy of Cooperation in Business: Managing Dilemmas in the 21st Century”, is in my opinion highly relevant to the practice of disarmament and arms control multilateral negotiators. One point stressed in this paper is that it’s necessary to develop our understanding of cooperation by looking at it through the lens of various disciplines:

“In the last decade, scientists and social thinkers in a range of fields have independently discovered cooperation at the heart of a number of important phenomena. Evolutionary biologists, for example, have revealed how symbiosis plays a key role in everything from cellular evolution to speciation and ecosystem complexity. Mathematicians are revealing basic patterns that underlie synchrony and swarming at all levels of nature, informing our understanding of how cooperative actions and institutions can emerge from distributed actors. Sociologists have revisited the “tragedy of the commons,” illustrating how various commons have been transformed into successful cooperative ventures in different industries and environments.” (see reference below)
An interdisciplinary approach, including insights from physics, psychology, evolutionary biology and behavioural economics shouldn’t aim at developing recipes to insure success of negotiating processes. In fact, when it comes to understand social groups’ dynamics, there are no recipes or magical algorithms. However, it seems to me that these studies have a lot to teach us about complex problem solving. And I like to think that in 20 years, I’ll be able to say that I was among the first to believe in this paradigm shift.

Aurélia Merçay


Saveri, A. et al., available at http://www.iftf.org/docs/SR-851A_New_Literacy_Cooperation.pdf