23 Jan 2014  Working Papers

Tommy Koh: Background and Major Accomplishments of the ’Great Negotiator, 2014

Executive Summary — Tommy Koh is a diplomat, professor, and international lawyer currently serving as Ambassador-at-Large for the Government of Singapore. He will be the 2014 recipient of the Harvard Program on Negotiation's "Great Negotiator Award." In this paper, the authors discuss Koh's life, career, and major accomplishments as a negotiator. They summarize several of his most significant negotiations to date, exploring his successes at forging creative, lasting solutions to complex challenges and disputes. The authors discuss Koh's leadership in establishing the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), developing and ratifying a charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), resolving territorial and humanitarian disputes in the Baltics and Asia, and successfully leading two unprecedented global megaconferences: the Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea and the U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit. As part of the 2014 Great Negotiator Awards program, negotiation faculty and students will analyze several of these experiences in much greater depth in order to extract their most valuable lessons for theory and practice. Key concepts include:

  • A native of Singapore, Koh's early interest in law and diplomacy led to his appointment as the youngest ambassador in the history of the United Nations.
  • As a representative of Singapore and the United Nations, Koh has been instrumental in crafting creative agreements on complex matters of international law, environmental policy, trade, and dispute resolution.
  • Koh's chairmanship of two global environmental megaconferences resulted in unprecedented treaties on resource allocation, human and environmental rights, and international law.
  • Koh's successes demonstrate a profound ability to produce durable and adaptive solutions in response to a significant and noteworthy array of challenges, from international trade agreements to the restructuring of regional and global political organizations, the resolution of territorial and humanitarian crises, normalization of bilateral diplomatic relations, and the ratification of global environmental legislation.

 

Author Abstract

Significant negotiation-related achievements from career of Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore are highlighted in brief form along with elements of his background and career. In light of these accomplishments, Koh was selected as the recipient of the 2014 Great Negotiator Award, presented by the Program on Negotiation, an interuniversity consortium of Harvard, MIT, and Tufts that is based at the Harvard Law School. Summaries of several of Koh's negotiations are presented in order to stimulate further research and analysis. Among numerous other activities, the episodes described include his leadership in forging the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), the development and ratification of a charter for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the resolution of territorial and humanitarian disputes in the Baltics and Asia, and successful chairmanship of two unprecedented global megaconferences: the Third U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea and the U.N. Conference on the Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit.

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