Power struggles, elections, civil unrest, the ongoing pandemic — the world has seen more than enough of everything in 2021. The phrase “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” penned by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in 1849, may prove to be true.
Donald Trump’s negotiating style with Iran is very different from that of the new President Joe Biden. The new German government has much less to do with democratic elections than with complex multiparty negotiations. The world doesn’t know whether to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan at all. And both Russia and China still claim they are merely exercising their rights and not trying to expand their borders through military action.
These and other reports on negotiations that changed the world in 2021 and will shape it in 2022 can be found here.
10, Trump v. Biden: The Iran nuclear talks
Is Iran seriously engaging in negotiations, or is Iran’s recently elected President Ebrahim Raisi just stalling for time to build up the country’s nuclear capabilities and gain additional leverage in negotiations?
Observers are quickly giving up hope that any kind of agreement could be reached soon.
Iran wants all current economic sanctions lifted before any agreement is considered. The Biden administration and U.S. allies are demanding that Iran first return to the JCPOA agreement reached during Obama’s presidency.
Who will give in first?
Critics of the original agreement, reached during President Obama’s last term, complained that “Iran can make as many nuclear warheads as it wants in a few years, as well as the missiles to deliver them anywhere in the world.”
In line with this stance (and after Obama sent $1.7 billion in cash to Tehran), President Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA overnight and tightened sanctions on the country.
The current talks are taking place in Vienna, where Iran, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the EU are still duking it out. Iranian negotiators are refusing to meet directly with the U.S. delegation, calling them “untrustworthy.” Iran relies on this stance and wants the United States to commit to never repeating Trump’s actions. But that is one thing the U.S. Constitution does not give President Biden the right to do. Now, limited powers can be beneficial to a negotiator.
9. Apple might not: Amazon negotiates purchase of MGM
Little is known about the talks at the negotiating table, but critics say Amazon may have paid $4 billion more than MGM Studios is said to be worth. That said, Amazon’s video catalog will be nearly twice the size of Netflix’s controlled repertoire once the deal passes scrutiny by federal regulators — a crucial step.
Other companies, including Apple, have courted MGM in the past. But with the announcement of the acquisition in May at a price of $8.45 billion, Amazon gets the nod. Possible.
MGM’s chairman, Kevin Ulrich, did not want to sell. And the deal is now under review by the FTC, with a consortium of union groups calling on the FTC to deny the purchase. “Amazon’s impact on the health and diversity of the film industry is likely to be negative if the company is allowed to get bigger,” this organization claims.
Complicating matters further is the fact that the famous James Bond films and related interests are under the creative control of Eon Productions. This company has been a constant headache for MGM Studios and will likely continue to give Amazon a hard time if the purchase is approved. But then again, if Netflix paid over $500 million for Seinfeld, what are all the Bond films worth?
Good business creates value: one plus one can add up to much more than two.
8. the biggest european takeover of the year: Vonovia acquires Deutsche Wohnen
In the largest takeover to date on the European real estate market, two German competitors are now united under one roof. Vonovia secured the majority of shares and 87.6 percent of the voting rights in Deutsche Wohnen.
However, it was not to be a hostile takeover; negotiations were initially on an amicable basis. In the end, the mood of the shareholders was not very worrying. The takeover gives Vonovia control over more than half a million apartments.
On the plus side of the purchase is the fact that combining the resources of the two companies should lead to a reduction in overhead costs — and these savings could potentially help to curb spiraling costs for tenants. The negative side, of course, is a reduction in competition among landlords.
Vonovia has already attempted to take over Deutsche Wohnen twice. Changes in tactics that eventually led to success included hiring advisors to support the effort and assuring Deutsche Wohnen’s shareholders that its intentions did not include a hostile component. Ultimately, however, the acquisition was initiated without majority approval.
It’s a simple negotiating tactic that often pays off: Persistence.
To make matters worse, many Germans believe that the two companies and others like them should be nationalized. This is a very emotional and political issue in Germany, a country with one of the lowest home ownership rates among advanced economies — Germans like to rent. After a successful referendum (with no legal consequences), a survey showed that a majority of Berlin citizens actually favor nationalization of large-scale landlords. Vonovia is trying to get around the problem by promising, among other things, to sell 14,000 apartments to the city of Berlin and to forgo rent increases until 2026.
7. a negotiating success at last: the World Trade Organization
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai called it “the first successful WTO negotiation on services in years” and concluded the WTO Joint Statement Initiative on Services Domestic Regulations (DR JSI) in December.
The new provisions of the DR JSI, which focus on clarifying rules for global trade, aim to improve regulatory practices and increase trade participation by removing barriers for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). In addition, non-discrimination on the basis of gender is now required for access.
What made the difference? Why did it take more than 20 years to introduce these measures? It is possible that concern about the coronavirus pandemic tipped the balance in a positive direction.
The WTO General Council cancelled the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) in 2020 and again in 2021. This delay could have encouraged DR JSI participants to formalize the work already done on the new measures instead of waiting until the pandemic was over.
It’s sad but true: live negotiations can be less effective than a series of smaller email, videoconference or phone negotiations if too many parties are involved.
6. negotiation the Russian way: Putin threatens Ukraine
Here’s a negotiating tactic that few can muster: Deploy more than 100,000 troops to the region you want to conquer. Russia is keeping the West on edge to fend off a threatened invasion by Vladimir Putin on Ukraine’s eastern border.
Last fall, negotiators from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France met in Paris to ease tensions between the two countries. However, these talks failed to achieve more than a rather weak ceasefire.
Russia is now pressing the United States to provide certain security guarantees-including ending military aid and the West’s economic desires in Ukraine. Putin is also demanding that Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky reject Ukraine’s interest in NATO membership.
The Biden administration responded to the increase in troops along the border by threatening drastic economic restrictions and a sure response from NATO members in the region. Even if Ukraine’s NATO membership is still a long way off, Biden can hardly accept a veto by Russia.
Putin’s troops are ready, and if we look at the scenario as a game of Hazard, who would you bet on — Putin or Biden? With his brazen preparations for war, Putin has shifted the negotiating position in his favor.
5. How far will the dispute go? China-Taiwan negotiations
Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations in 1971 and replaced by the communist government in 1949. The People’s Republic of China (PROC) has long wanted to readmit the “breakaway province” into the fold of the United Nations, but Taiwan considers itself a sovereign nation. Beijing demands that any nation seeking to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic must not recognize Taiwan’s claim. This dispute is at the heart of the Sino-Taiwanese conflict and makes for difficult negotiations.
But it gets thicker: The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 obligates the United States to assist Taiwan “in maintaining its defense capability.” Although the U.S. is not obligated to actively defend Taiwan in the event of an attack, it is clear that it would not stand idly by and watch a Chinese takeover.
In October, Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuocheng noted that Chinese aircraft are now breaching Taiwan’s air defense zone in record numbers. “Military tensions with China are higher than they have been in more than 40 years,” Chiu said.
That same month, five members of the U.S. House of Representatives visited Taiwan-one of whom reported receiving “a blunt message from the Chinese Embassy telling me to cancel the trip.” In response to the trip, Zhao Lijian, speaking on behalf of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, announced, “Let me give some Americans some advice: don’t play the Taiwan card. Because that is a bad card. You will not win.”
In November, U.S. President Biden and PROC President Xi Jinping met virtually. Regarding Taiwan, which Speaker Zhao called the most important and sensitive issue in China‑U.S. relations, Biden assured Xi Jinping that he would stick to the “One China” policy. Xi reportedly warned Biden, “If you play with fire, you will get burned.”
In December, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there would be “dire consequences” if China invaded Taiwan and that it would be “a potentially catastrophic decision” by China. Adding fuel to the smoldering fire, Taiwan received an invitation to the U.S. Summit for Democracy that same week. China was not invited. Wang Ting-yu, a member of Taiwan’s legislature, called the move a “clear signal to Beijing.”
It is possible that the dispute over Taiwan’s sovereignty is proving to be far more important to world affairs than many now believe. It is not just a territorial dispute, but an issue that could shake the world and cause nations to take one side or the other of a ticking time bomb. Let us hope that the problem can be resolved at the negotiating table.
4. North and South Korea formally end the war — or do they?
Vague and enigmatic wording can sometimes be the key to agreement: Henry Kissinger called this “strategic ambiguity.” This seems to be the case with a December statement by South Korean President Moon Jae-in: “The United States, China, and North Korea agree in principle to declare the 1950–53 Korean War over, and Seoul will work to make that happen.
An “agreement in principle” is not quite the same as an agreement on a specific issue. It does, however, open the door to a reduction of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean War officially ended in 1953, but through an armistice rather than a peace treaty. North and South Korea have technically been at war for more than 70 years.
In September, North Korea rejected Moon’s request to officially declare the war over. According to North Korean state media, Deputy Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song said, “Nothing will change as long as the political circumstances around the DPRK remain unchanged and the hostile policy of the U.S. is not changed.”
However, South Korea’s desire to officially end the war opens the door to peace a little wider. Formal negotiations have not yet begun, apparently in anticipation of a U.S. move to end hostilities. The Biden Administration’s public position is that it remains committed to lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Moon said, “Although North Korea has recently asked to stop using double standards and to refrain from pursuing hostile policies toward the North to declare the end of the war, it has also shown positive responses…”
3 A Strange Coalition: German Government Negotiations
With an electoral system that has resulted in more than a half-dozen parties in the German parliament, forming a government is less in the hands of the people than in the hands of good negotiators. Smaller parties, such as the Free Democratic Party and the Green Party, were able to choose the chancellor: They chose Olaf Scholz, the leader of the Social Democratic Party.
Although the Social Democrats received more votes than the Christian Democratic Union (25.7% versus 18.9%), this was still the second-worst result in the history of the party, which needed coalition partners to form a government. Consequently, the smaller parties outperformed the Christian Democratic Union, the party of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The Greens were the last party to agree to the coalition. Twenty-two working groups then met to work out issues. Their recommendations were then passed on to a six-member negotiating team, which made the final decisions.
Adopted goals include raising the minimum wage, affordable housing, lowering household electricity costs, lowering the voting age to 16, and legalizing recreational use of cannabis.
Commentator Roland Tichy had the following to say about the priorities of the Four-Year Plan: “Inflation? Crisis on the Polish border? Energy shortage? Unemployment? Budget deficits? Not important. The main thing is that grazing animals and people make room for the wolf.”
Multi-party coalitions are highly interesting from a negotiator’s point of view. From the perspective of the citizens, however, they are not, because the formation of the government does not reflect the will of the people, but rather the abilities of the negotiators. Moreover, the coalition is fragile and the two smaller parties could change chancellors at any time‑a four-year negotiation.
2 Negotiating with the Taliban: Is it even possible?
Rarely can you choose your negotiating partner, especially when it comes to large corporations — or nations. So how should the world negotiate with the Taliban, once eliminated by U.S. military intervention? After the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban were given a direct path to rule — a path they quickly took. Two decades of trying to stabilize the war-torn country were ended in a matter of days. As a result, Afghans are now suffering severe food shortages, poverty is rampant, and the country is once again in deep trouble.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have been negotiating with Iran and other adversaries of the West. One of the oldest tenets of international negotiations is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Will previous negotiations with the Taliban even matter if these enemies rally?
In 2014, an American Enterprise report summarized the problem as follows: “The Taliban’s negotiating record is rife with deception. Over the past two decades, the Taliban has used negotiations as a ploy to gain political and military advantage rather than as a means to resolve conflicts.”
In the words of U.S. President Biden, Afghanistan has been given “every tool it needs to maintain stability.” Those tools are now in the hands of Taliban soldiers. Former Afghan official Hamdullah Mohib says the United States “betrayed” the country by negotiating independently with Taliban leaders and shutting out the old government — something we pointed out in last year’s list. The list of mistakes committed by the international community is too long for a Forbes list. To make matters worse, there are fierce internal negotiations within the Taliban factions.
Many ask: “What was the war about in the first place? If we’re negotiating with the Taliban now, shouldn’t we have negotiated and saved thousands of lives much earlier? And shouldn’t we have been negotiating and making deals when they were still guerrilla fighters and not de facto rulers?”
The tide has turned.
1. coronavirus vaccinations: Why are so many resisting?
On the one hand, the issue makes no sense. Why would anyone reject a vaccine that could save their lives and the lives of others? On the other hand, why should people trust the expertise of government officials and scientists whose track record is less than stellar? Last year, we reported on complaints about vaccine availability. This year, vaccination opponents are in the spotlight.
Why are so many of those who have the opportunity to be vaccinated still not? There is no single reason, but commonalities include doubts about the safety of vaccines given their rapid development, concerns about the side effects of injections, general distrust of government mandates, and — of course — rumors of a dark conspiracy spread by the world’s richest evildoers.
To make matters worse, many health care professionals, community leaders, and politicians do not want to be vaccinated themselves. In Michigan, more than 400 health care workers quit their jobs rather than submit to mandatory vaccination. In Washington state, more than 1,900 state employees chose to separate from their jobs rather than be vaccinated. These decisions sound ridiculous to some, but smart to others.
How might we reduce tensions and promote unity rather than disunity? Here’s an idea: public officials should realize that they are in the middle of a negotiation — to borrow a book title from my colleagues Larry Susskind and Patrick Field, “Dealing with an Angry Public.” Any time we want someone to do something and they have a veto, we are in effect negotiating.
And as with any well-organized negotiation, instead of expecting people to just eagerly do what they say, governments need to use the modus operandi of good negotiators: looking behind each other’s positions to uncover underlying interests and fears. Treating negotiators like idiots may cause bystanders to nod their heads in agreement, but it never leads to a “yes” from the other side — especially when we all have to get along after that negotiation.