Trucks filled with food and medical supplies rumble and bump over a road in the Balkans. Before the cargo can be delivered, a warlord stops the convoy under the guise of weapons smuggling, and will turn whatever he can find into profit.
With lives at stake, negotiators begin talking, trying to find the best compromise to move the humanitarian aid to starving and injured citizens without getting anyone on the convoy hurt. Will the warlord let them pass? What will he take? Only students in this class taken at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies know the outcome for sure.
The elective at this Department of Defense Regional Center is one of a handful offered to complete the Program in Advanced Security Studies, a 10-week look at international law and the frame work for the program’s namesake. The elective’s 12 two-hour sessions last four weeks.
Ten of them chose to take Professor James Wither’s course on “Negotiations in International Conflict.” Participants get a range of basic negotiating tactics plus insight to what Wither called “conventional wisdom.”
“A short elective like this won’t make them experienced negotiators,” said Wither, a Marshall Center professor. “We want them to appreciate the kind of skills negotiators need and to give them insights into the role that negotiators can play.”
In this exercise, students were given the task of “confronting a hard bargainer.” Tamir Sinai, who builds exercises like these for the Marshall Center, played that role. Four students were selected using four separate styles and others observed. Sinai said they all understood what was happening.
“The fear is that my soldiers and I might loot the convoy,” Sinai said, adding that the key to the exercise is human interaction. “There’s so much subtext.”
As an added degree of difficulty, this is the first time the elective has been conducted in English language only. “There are lots of linguistic and cultural differences in how individuals from different countries approach negotiations,” he said. “Negotiating across countries, language and cultural differences will always be difficult.”
Sinai said that the participants were given four separate negotiation styles appease the warlord. Some would work. Others would not. As warlord, Sinai set the ground rules.
“I established that I am in charge, but I am open to negotiations,” Sinai said. “I was in command of the area and nothing was going to get in without my consent.”
Pakistani army Lt. Col Fiaz Khan was one of the negotiators during the exercise. A former United Nations observer in the Congo, Khan said the elective offered him the opportunity to more detailed information about negotiations.
“There are many circumstances in which we interact with armed rebels … sometimes with terrorists where you need to negotiate,” said Khan, citing Pakistan’s role as an ally to the United States in attempting to thwart terror as well as work in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In different scenarios, you have different techniques. You cannot apply one technique to all the scenarios.”
Wither praised Khan and others who went through the crucible. “They did very well. They had a plan of what they thought they would say to the individual, and they were also warned that their plans might not work when they encountered him.”
Khan gave the exercise the highest marks. “It was a wonderful litmus test of what we learned.”
The participants graduate from the program May 31.