Disarmament Insight


Monday, 4 June 2007

Take Me To Your Leader

Disarmament Insight note: this is part 1 of a 2 part posting.

In his contribution to the DHA project’s third publication, Daniël Prins argued that the chair of a multilateral negotiation should not be seen as “primarily responsible” for its outcome as “the task of making progress happen really remains with delegations.” However, he argued that the chairperson can “have a decisive hand, remaining the master of business.”

These observations reminded me of something I read when I first started working on the DHA project in 2004. In his personal account of the Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations Ambassador Bo Kjellen had this to say about Chairman Jean Ripert’s leadership style:

I believe that style certainly plays an important role for a chairman – and Jean Ripert’s style certainly fit the challenges of this negotiation. Most of the time he acted with an almost palpable slowness: but this was on the surface. While explaining technical or legal details pertaining to the negotiation in painstaking (some would say irritating) detail, his mind was searching out solutions and anticipating ways to avoid blocked solutions. It became clear that this was his method of work. The overall effect inspired broad confidence in his leadership. In the final stages, when heads of key delegations were invited by the chairman to negotiate the final texts and thrash out the last difficulties, we were all impressed by the sharpness of the picture he laid out before us. Ripert’s leadership style did not exclude the human touch. He was able to remind the negotiators of the real issues beyond the drafting and of their responsibility to the international community without sounding condescending or offensive.
I’ll take a chance here and suggest that Ripert’s leadership style is precisely Daniël Prins’ idea of how to be the “master of business”, while allowing the group to arrive at consensus themselves.

More broadly, leadership in multilateral negotiations is not something that is subjected to much systematic analysis. The description of Jean Ripert’s chairing style has always remained with me because it’s one of the most candid and forthcoming accounts I’ve come across in any of the literature I’ve read on multilateral processes.

Most analyses give only a cursory account of a chairman’s “weak leadership” or “forceful personality”. Details are not forthcoming – not surprising when political sensitivities are at play. Moreover we rarely get an insight into the chairperson’s perspective. I, for one, would like to learn of the techniques which enabled these individuals to foster consensus among so many negotiating parties. Is there a right or wrong time to introduce a chairman’s text to the plenary for example? If there is a Chairing Multilateral Negotiations for Dummies out there, I haven’t found it.

Moreover, as John Borrie and I pointed out in a paper we co-authored in our first volume of work, strong leadership is just one of the many ingredients required to make a multilateral negotiation successful. Successful processes usually benefit from having patient, knowledgeable and diplomatic principals nudging negotiating parties along. But how important is a chairperson to fostering consensus in a multilateral negotiation process? This question is of particular interest to me because I’ve attended multilateral negotiations where even the most seemingly capable chairperson was unable to broker consensus among the parties.

There may be no definitive explanation for this. But in my search I’ve been reading a lot of work in the realm of organizational and leadership theory, which has led to some interesting (well, I think they’re interesting...) insights which I’d like to share in my next blog entry.

Vanessa Martin Randin


B. Kjellen, “A Personal Assessment”, in I. Minter and J.A. Leonard (eds.), Negotiating Climate Change: The Inside Story of the Rio Convention, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 153.

V. Martin Randin & J. Borrie, “A Comparison Between Arms Control and Other Multilateral Negotiation Processes”, in J. Borrie & V. Martin Randin (eds.), in Alternative Approaches in Multilateral Decision Making: Disarmament as Humanitarian Action, Geneva: UNIDIR: 2005, pp. 67-129. (Click on the cover of the book at the bottom of the left column)

D. Prins, “Engineering progress: a diplomat’s perspective on multilateral disarmament”, in J. Borrie & V. Martin Randin (eds.), Thinking Outside the Box in Multilateral Disarmament and Arms Control Negotiations, Geneva: UNIDIR: 2006, pp. 109-128, p.118. (Click on the cover of the top book from the column on the left)

Photo retrieved from Flickr.