When will armed conflict stop destroying lives and communities? Unfortunately, not this year, but thanks to the willingness to negotiate, we are indeed getting closer and closer to world peace. There are still obstacles, such as the “ghosts” at the table — invisible interest groups that each negotiating party must take into account. When world leaders work together for the common good, they have an incentive, even a moral obligation, to act in the interests of those who elected them. Despite all these difficulties, many desirable results can be achieved through negotiations, and have been — but only if promises are kept and honesty prevails.
Negotiations are not always instant solutions, and the issues selected for this year’s top ten list underscore that fact. Even the most critical agreements — those aimed at securing peace and economic stability across an entire region — often end up being ignored. One or both parties may use negotiations as a stalling tactic or to grab advantages for themselves and deny agreed-upon concessions to others.
- 10. for the next decades? — The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan
- 9 First the missiles, then the peace — The struggle for control over Afghanistan
- 8. who gets the vaccine? — Coronavirus remedies
- 7 Brexit: A Done Deala
- 6. India maintains an independent stance in regional trade agreements.
- 5. Iran’s nuclear capability may prove to be a huge bargaining chip.
- 4. the Nobel Peace Prize winner who shows no willingness to negotiate — Ethiopian turmoil
- 3. Israeli-Arab Relations — A Delicate Deal
- 2. U.S. Justice Support for a Chinese Company — The Battle for TikTok
- 1. the election poker — will there be a Trump walkout?
10. FOR THE NEXT DECADES? — THE WAR BETWEEN ARMENIA AND AZERBAIJAN
The people of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, in the southern Caucasus of the former Soviet Union, are well acquainted with uncertainty. Their lives have been disrupted for decades by ethnic and territorial disputes. Despite the recent agreement, an end to the unrest does not yet seem to be in sight.
Russian negotiators brokered a cease-fire for the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994, but subsequent talks under the auspices of the OSCE’s Minsk Group failed to produce a peace treaty between the opposing parties — the nations of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Sporadic skirmishes marked the years since the 1994 treaty before heavy fighting broke out again in late September 2020. Russia once again stepped in as mediator, and a full cease-fire went into effect in early November. However, the terms of the agreement met with widespread opposition from Armenians, who viewed the cease-fire as a surrender rather than a fair and productive negotiation. The agreement included the return of certain lands to Azerbaijan, the exchange of prisoners of war, the opening of economic and transportation links, and the inclusion of a peacekeeping force from the Russian Federation. Armenian protesters called their negotiator a traitor for capitulating to the other side, but Russian President Putin praised the prime minister’s “personal courage.”
Armenia had a weak hand in the negotiations. Turkey supported its ally Azerbaijan with military force. Armenia’s strength is a well-connected diaspora around the world, but the United States, France, and other nations that could have helped did not see the value in angering oil-rich Azerbaijan or Erdogan.
This negotiation provided a temporary peace, but has already proven that it is not a permanent solution to the hostility.
9. FIRST THE ROCKETS, THEN PEACE — THE FIGHT FOR CONTROL OF AFGHANISTAN
Qatar hosted negotiations to end a two-decade conflict between Afghanistan and the Taliban. The tentative agreement signed in early December 2020 committed both parties to further talks but fell short of a cease-fire. The next round of talks is scheduled to begin Jan. 5 in the Qatari capital of Doha, despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Among the issues at stake are humanitarian issues, the future of Afghanistan’s central government and finding a path to peace. The Taliban had previously signed an agreement with the United States to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 in return for a decrease in Taliban terrorist acts. For now, however, bombings, rockets, and other violent attacks continue.
Additional pressure from the West and the promise of about $12 billion in aid over the next four years (depending on the progress of the talks) are helping both parties see the benefits of a cease-fire and attempts to stop the violence.
It was a foolish mistake by the Americans to exclude the incumbent Afghan government from the first rounds of negotiations. It has since come to the negotiating table, but now there is also pride at stake and (most importantly) Taliban leaders risk losing their acceptance if they give in too much. Local Taliban militias, for example, have openly announced that they will join Daesh (ISIS) if they are not satisfied with the outcome.
8. WHO GETS THE VACCINE? — CORONAVIRUS AUXILIARY MEASURE
Most U.S. lawmakers agree that distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to their constituents is a good idea, but negotiations over funding for the distribution — along with other pandemic relief efforts — have proven tough. Democrats want to provide significant funding to states and cities, while their Republican counterparts tend to favor a more limited package that would focus more on helping citizens, cutting foreign aid, and providing a direct path to vaccination.
Meanwhile, lawmakers beat health care workers to the punch to get the first round of vaccinations — a move that did not go over well with health care workers. Elsewhere, accusations surfaced that some hospitals and clinics were not following established guidelines, instead giving vaccinations to preferred individuals.
Globally, Canada leads in the number of vaccine doses acquired per capita. AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer say they can produce enough vaccine to immunize about three billion people by 2021. Other pharmaceutical companies are still working on their versions of the vaccine.
The Duke Global Innovation Center says low-income countries could still be two or three years away from acquiring the vaccine, as richer nations get first dibs due to direct negotiations with manufacturers. Paying for the vaccines is a contentious issue that desperately needs to be resolved, but how available doses are distributed will likely continue to generate controversy and concern.
These negotiations illustrate a typical moral dilemma in negotiations: Governments must consider the global consequences of their actions, but they are primarily responsible for the people they represent.
7. BREXIT: A DONE DEAL
Negotiations on the post-Brexit relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union took on a particular urgency with the looming year-end timetable set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. The deadline for extending that document ended in July, and negotiators reached a last-minute agreement.
Time pressure may have worked against British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In a BBC commentary on the negotiations, the headline reads “Brexit bows out with a whimper, not a bang.” President Trump’s defeat in the U.S. election also weakened Johnson, as Trump vowed to strengthen economic ties with Britain. He believes it is possible to be free of EU laws and still maintain free trade with EU countries.
Brexit bows out with a whimper, not a bang
Key issues at stake included trade agreements, immigration policy, travel regulations, fishing regulations, security protocols and judicial autonomy. After ups and downs that dragged on for nearly a full year, the parties signed a more than 1,200-page agreement on Dec. 24.
Provisions include no tariffs on trade between the UK and the EU, the abolition of trade quotas (although the impact on services is unclear), and confirmation of the UK Parliament’s right to take action on behalf of the English people rather than the region as a whole. The UK will no longer have to abide by rulings of the EU Court of Justice.
Critics of the deal fear new and unforeseen trade barriers that will result in lower GDP for the UK and limit the ability of UK residents to work or study in the EU. Was it wise for the UK to leave the arms of the European Union? Time will tell. However, the deal is done.
6. INDIA MAINTAINS AN INDEPENDENT STANCE IN REGIONAL TRADE AGREEMENTS.
Fifteen members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five of its regional partners have opted to continue participating in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), but India was not among them. Originally pushed by U.S. President Barack Obama as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the move was reorganized and renamed after President Donald Trump withdrew U.S. support for the agreement.
The RCEP agreement is now led by China and aims to provide smoother access to trade across the region. Member countries account for nearly one-third of the world’s population and contribute nearly 30 percent of global GDP. Indian negotiators, however, walked out of the talks and reaffirmed their opposition in November 2020. The main problem: Indian negotiators fear that RCEP membership would limit their nation’s ability to defend itself against market manipulation by the Chinese.
Since India was part of the original negotiations, the country can join at any time (without waiting the 18-month waiting period required for new members), but India can instead continue bilateral agreements with some RCEP members instead of joining with all of them. Currently, the only RCEP nations with which India does not have a trade agreement are China and New Zealand.
Either way, the situation is a classic example of how a “no,” can be leverage in a negotiation.
5. IRAN’S NUCLEAR CAPABILITY MAY PROVE TO BE A HUGE BARGAINING CHIP
While U.S. President-elect Joe Biden assures the world that he is committed to further negotiations with Iran to curb its nuclear program, Iran announced an expansion of its uranium enrichment program and further restrictions on United Nations monitoring of its nuclear program. Britain, Germany, and France declared Iran’s ambitions “deeply troubling.”
The Trump administration has decided to pull out of the previous Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement and instead pressure Iran with economic sanctions. Biden is seeking to revive relations through the Obama-Biden-era JCPOA, but Iran’s ambitions to acquire nuclear capabilities (for peaceful purposes only, according to Iranian leaders) could provide the Biden administration with an excellent bargaining chip.
Tensions heightened with the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the country’s leading nuclear scientist, in November. Iran blames Israel for the act. In January 2019, U.S. forces assassinated an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander. Will the Biden administration’s efforts convince Iran to comply with the terms of the JCPOA, or will its nuclear ambitions gain momentum from recent progress in the country’s nuclear program and outrage over last year’s blatant attacks?
4. THE NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE WHO SHOWS NO WILLINGNESS TO NEGOTIATE — ETHIOPIAN TURMOIL
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach a peace agreement with the state of Eritrea in 2019, but he has shown no signs of willingness to negotiate in his country’s conflicts with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the main force in Ethiopia’s government from 1991 until early 2018. Instead, government forces now control all major cities in the African nation and have taken the fight to rural areas, where thousands of battle-hardened TPLF fighters live.
The originally Marxist-Leninist TPLF has dominated Ethiopian politics since 1991, when it ousted the government of Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. It was also the TPLF that waged war against Eritrea from 1998–2000 and continues to regularly fire missiles at Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, to this day. The country’s autocratic leader, Isaias Afwerki, with his 200,000 troops, is an important bargaining chip for Ethiopian President Ahmed.
Many observers are amazed that Ahmed’s army is able to eliminate the TPLF threat so quickly. Some predict even bloodier confrontations between the two parties and perhaps even the geopolitical division of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country after Nigeria and — although still very poor — one of the region’s fastest growing economies.
As with the Armenia-Azerbaijan confrontation, the underlying tensions may resist resolution given the strongly conflicting desires between the current government and the displaced rulers. 40,000 Ethiopians have fled across the border into Sudan, and aid agencies are preparing for 200,000 refugees.
If negotiations do not take place, it is entirely possible that Ethiopia will suffer a split-even if the TPLF is soundly defeated.
3. ISRAELI-ARAB RELATIONS — A DELICATE DEAL
The U.S. has helped broker agreements to normalize Israel’s relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. With the September signing at the White House, Bahrain, Israel and the U.S. said they would continue their efforts “to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that allows the Palestinian people to realize their full potential.”
While the Palestinian leadership sees this as a betrayal of the Arab cause, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Donald Trump, saying, “It took 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more,” referring to the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan.
It took 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more
While any diplomatic relationship that allows for negotiation rather than aggression is to be commended, this one is particularly delicate.
While the U.S. has never been neutral in this conflict, it has surprised the world with a series of pro-Israel actions, such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, and closing the PLO offices in Washington, DC.
According to the United States Institute of Peace, “The rifts between the Israeli and Palestinian positions, wider now than at any time since 1967, are approaching the point where they were unbridgeable.”
Are the rifts between the Israeli and Palestinian positions, wider now than at any time since 1967, approaching the point where they were unbridgeable.
Donald Trump has called the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the “deal of the century.” And indeed, if the Arab states were to normalize their relationship with Israel, the Palestinian negotiating position would suffer enormously and, if more countries follow suit, even implode.
2. US JUSTICE SUPPORT FOR A CHINESE COMPANY — THE FIGHT FOR TIKTOK
Concerns over national security and the popular Chinese-owned app TikTok led to a U.S. demand that TikTok sell its rights to operate in the U.S. to a U.S. company or cease operations altogether. India outlawed TikTok in June 2019, citing similar issues.
Aside from the Trump administration’s demands, negotiations with TikTok ran past the December deadline, and a U.S. federal judge blocked a ban on the TikTok platform. Trump critics say the president is using TikTok as a bargaining chip against China, but the move is not without precedent. India banned TikTok and a number of other Chinese apps last summer on the grounds that they “engage in activities that affect [India’s] sovereignty and integrity.” Critics accused India of the same political motives now imputed to Trump.
TikTok and other Chinese apps are involved in activities that affect [India’s] sovereignty and integrity.
TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, is in the process of negotiating a deal with Oracle and Walmart to acquire the U.S. business, a move not favored by China. The injunction provides more room for negotiation and will likely keep the TikTok controversy going, perhaps to gain a more tolerant view of Chinese business activities by the incoming Biden administration. Given the recent crackdown on Facebook and other social media platforms, concern about TikTok’s ambitions does not seem extraordinarily far-fetched.
1. THE ELECTION POKER — WILL THERE BE A TRUMP WALKOUT?
The votes are in and Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States … or will he? Before the election, President Donald Trump expressed fears that his opponents would use the coronavirus pandemic to exploit the absentee ballot to hedge their bets on the outcome of the election. And as soon as the swing states swung toward Biden, Trump began to question the authenticity of the votes cast.
Appeals appear to be nearly exhausted at the state level, but Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has filed petitions with the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decisions of lower courts in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The dispute is likely to culminate on January 6, 2021, when the election results are expected to be certified (or not) by the United States Congress.
While many of Trump’s supporters, both political and civic, continue to fight alongside him, expressing outrage at reports confirming seemingly fraudulent activities, many others have caved in to the seemingly inevitable outcome — especially as the courts seem to have little interest in intervening. His hand is weakening, and many of his former allies are abandoning him.
In a classic move, Trump hesitated to sign a coronavirus bill that was presented to him just before Christmas 2020. He drew heavy fire from both sides of the fence, but his actions could serve as a textbook case in the art of negotiation. By linking his objections to the package to a desire to see more money go to the people, Trump effectively forced his Democratic opponents to agree to a president they have consistently fiercely opposed throughout his tenure.
There is a negotiation technique named after the 45th president, “The Trump Walkout.” Donald J. Trump was a strong negotiator because everyone knew that if he didn’t get what he wanted, he would get up and leave. I am sure he will know when to use it.
In 2021 Jack wants to give live seminars again. Some dates are already set and will be postponed if necessary, but Jack hopes to meet with people again next year. You should register as soon as possible, because you won’t learn to negotiate really well for less.