Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Syria talks: no 'bargaining space' means no bargaining

The title of this post is a somewhat jargony way of making an obvious point: two sides can't negotiate if they can't agree on what the issues are. This is where the Syria talks are now. The opposition wants to discuss a transition of power; the Assad government wants to discuss 'terrorism'. And fighting continues, with regime airstrikes intensifying near the Lebanese border and ongoing use of barrel bombs.

The linked WaPo article says that a meeting between U.S. Undersec. of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Dep. For. Minister Gennady Gatilov has been pushed up to Thursday. But it won't matter unless the U.S. and Russia shift their basic stances in some way, which seems unlikely.

A widely used international relations textbook (I'm quoting here from a 10-year-old edition) tells its readers that in "a bargaining process" there are
one or more issues on which each participant hopes to reach agreement on terms favorable to itself, but the participants' interests diverge on these issues, creating conflicts. These conflicts define a bargaining space -- one or more dimensions, each of which represents a distance between the positions of two participants concerning their preferred outcomes. The bargaining process [when successful] disposes of these conflicts by achieving agreement on the distribution of the various items of value that are at stake. The end result is a position arrived at in the bargaining space. (J.S. Goldstein, International Relations 5th ed., 2003, pp.78-9)
This description of bargaining does not apply to the Syria talks. There are no "issues" on which the parties' interests "diverge"; rather, there are two completely incompatible notions of what the issues are. By the same token there is no bargaining space within which the distance between positions can be measured and then narrowed via trade-offs with respect to "the various items of value that are at stake."   


Noted (unrelated to the above): An Australian soldier has been awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his actions in Afghanistan (link).


Anonymous said...

"the Assad government wants to discuss 'terrorism'"

Pro or contra? ;)

LFC said...

Funny, but of course wd be funnier if the whole situation weren't such a tragic mess.