Level II Negotiations: Helping the Other Side Meet Its ‘Behind the Table’ Challenges
Executive Summary — Many situations make it important to productively synchronize "internal" with "external" negotiations. In fact, much research to date has focused on how each side can best manage its internal opposition to agreements negotiated "at the table." Often implicit in this research is the view that each side's leadership is best positioned to manage its own internal conflicts. Traditionally, a negotiator does this by 1) pressing for deal terms that will meet its internal objections, and 2) effectively "selling" the agreement to its key constituencies. However, James Sebenius argues that to achieve your own goals in negotiation it is also vital to understand all the ways in which you can help the other side with the its "behind-the-table" barriers (and vice versa). Independent of any altruistic motives, helping them to solve "their internal negotiation problem" is often the best way to get them to say yes to an agreement that is in your interest. To do this, negotiators should explicitly probe the full set of the other party's interests including the other side's interest in dealing effectively with its internal, behind-the-table challenges and conflicts. This requires you to deeply probe the context in which they are enmeshed: the web of favorable and opposing constituencies as well as their relationships, perceptions, sensitivities, and substantive interests. By way of a number of challenging case examples, this paper details a number of ways to develop this fuller understanding and to act effectively on it. Key concepts include:
- Each side can help the other side with its internal conflicts.
- One side can help the other side by, for example, the form of the negotiating process (to send a useful signal to constituencies); by avoiding (or making) statements that inflame (or mollify) the other side's internal opponents; by constructive actions at the bargaining table informed by knowledge of the other side's internal conflicts; by acting to directly affect the other side's internal situation; and so on.
- The term "Level II" comes from Robert Putnam (1988), who developed the concept of "two level games" in the context of diplomacy and domestic politics. In Putnam's conception, "Level I" games focus on traditional diplomatic agreements, while "Level II" games focus on the formal or informal domestic ratification of such agreements.
- Sebenius extends the meaning beyond diplomacy to focus on Level II domestic constituencies or other internal factions-whether in the public or private spheres-that can support or block "across the table" agreements.
- Level II factions frequently act on behalf of small but influential minority interests.
A long analytic tradition explores the challenge of productively synchronizing "internal" with "external" negotiations, especially focusing on how each side can best manage internal opposition to agreements negotiated "at the table." Implicit in much of this work is the view that each side's leadership is best positioned to manage its own internal conflicts, often 1) by pressing for deal terms that will meet internal objections, and 2) by effectively "selling" the agreement to key constituencies. Far less familiar territory involves how each side can help the other side with the other's "behind-the-table" barriers to successful agreement. Following Robert Putnam's (1988) two-level games schema, I characterize such "behind the table," or "Level II," barriers more broadly, offer several innovative examples of how each side can help the other overcome them, and develop more general advice on doing so most effectively. As a fuller illustration of a Level II negotiator helping the other side with its formidable behind-the-table challenges, I pay special attention to the end-of-Cold-War negotiations over German reunification in which former U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker, played a key role.