Thursday, May 12, 2005

Negotiate with terrorists?

I've always been interested in the subject of negotiations, both from a theoretical perspective (it includes elements of game theory, decision theory, information theory and control theory) as well as a practical perspective (like when my wife and I went shopping for an engagement ring, I was "good cop" and she was hard...)

So, in line with recent events in my workplace, I've had to do some serious negotiating. There's all kinds of resources on the web, but this one caught my eye.

Negotiating with terrorists is possible, within limits, as the articles in this issue show and explore.
Limits come initially in the distinction between absolute and contingent terrorists, and then between revolutionary and conditional absolutes and between barricaders, kidnappers and hijackers in the contingent category. Revolutionary absolutes are nonnegotiable adversaries, but even conditional absolutes are potentially negotiable and contingent terrorists actually seek negotiation. The official negotiator is faced with the task of giving a little in order to get the terrorist to give a lot, a particularly difficult imbalance to obtain given the highly committed and desperate nature of terrorists as they follow rational but highly unconventional tactics. Such
are the challenges of negotiating with terrorists that this issue of the journal explores and elucidates.

Now I don't thankfully have to do hijack negotiations; my world is much smaller and happier, even if stressed from time to time.

But adversarial negotiation is a skill that comes in quite handy: what to do when there is a trust issue is extremely important.

In that case, openness and verifiability are paramount. A maximum amount of information is also necessary.

It may seem burdensome, but it is rewarding in the end.

But I won't disagree with anyone who says that when you've got somebody threatening to kill large numbers of people, and the threat is immediate, that taking them out is not only a good tactic, but compassionate.

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