Negotiating with Post-Soviet Military Officers

By Shea, Timothy C. | Military Review, November/December 2004 | Go to article overview

Negotiating with Post-Soviet Military Officers


Shea, Timothy C., Military Review


If you strike steel, pull back. If you strike mush, push forward.-VI. Lenin

It is the last [20] minutes of negotiation that counts.-Andrei Gromyko

In general, it may be a bad practice to take a sledgehammer to swat a fly. With the Russians it is sometimes necessary.-George F. Kennan

COLONEL Colin Dunn, U.S. Army, is credited with saying that every meeting that involves strategic leaders is a negotiation.1 By extension, each time a strategic leader encounters a foreign counterpart, he is involved in an international negotiation of sorts. Because strategy is contingent on the situation, there is no single best way to negotiate.

The United States had a long rivalry and rich history of bilateral negotiations with Moscow during the Cold War. Contact continues on a regular basis with representatives from the Russian Federation at multiple levels on numerous topics such as arms control, security cooperation, coalition operations, the Global War on Terrorism, and peacekeeping. But 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Soviet culture still strongly influences Eurasian officers. This tradition is actively promoted by Cold War-era educational institutions that suffer from arrested development and outdated Soviet doctrine. Especially in Russia, there has been disappointingly little opportunity to interact with U.S. officers. Post-Soviet military officers are often surprised by the basic premise of the U.S. negotiating model, which requires building credibility, finding shared interests, learning the other side's position in depth, and sharing information to persuade an opponent to agree to an outcome favorable to both sides.2

America's approach to negotiations often fails to recognize Russia's struggle of domination over submission. The Russians will often scorn and try to exploit American negotiators they perceive to be confused, weak, vacillating, or uncertain.3 Russians use obfuscation and deceit extensively to compensate for their own feelings of inferiority and weakness. Negotiators also must understand the Russian tendency to test authority. In practice and theory, post-Soviet military officers view effective negotiations differently. U.S. military leaders must study and apply effective negotiation principles and techniques. Power in negotiations is the ability to get what is wanted from a dispute or having a claim granted or a rejection upheld.4

Unfortunately, most published information describes negotiations conducted only at the highest levels. Negotiators involved in the normal bureaucratic process of government are not encouraged to record their views.5 The absence of such records dooms many officers to committing mistakes they could have easily avoided if they had learned from others' experiences.

Failing to employ effective negotiation principles can have devastating consequences. Although the U.S. is the world's only remaining superpower, weaker states can often achieve victory through superior negotiation skills.6 A negotiator can become effective through training and practice. The Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) recognizes the importance of negotiation skills for strategic leaders and devotes special attention to their development.7

Cultural Context

The cultural context in which U.S. negotiators operate and are taught negotiation strategies assumes like-minded individuals will be sitting across the table.8 But, whether dealing with Arabs, Chinese, or Russians, each officer must understand how bargaining culture plays a role in developing negotiating strategy and tactics. Negotiators from hierarchical cultures spend proportionally more time discussing power when resolving disputes and making deals than negotiators from egalitarian cultures.9 Culture, emotion, and strategy are three reasons why disputants focus on power in negotiation. Great negotiators make skilled use of explicit and implicit threats.10

Regardless of culture, when one negotiator focuses on power, the other is likely to reciprocate.

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