The Doha Agreement for Lebanon
Analysis of a negotiation situation from contemporary international relations
Research Question: Please choose a negotiation situation from contemporary international relations (after 1990) and analyze it along the concepts, theories and aspects presented in the module – max 4.500 words.
We provide a few questions that can help you to structure your paper:
Why was there a need for negotiations? What was the problem? High or low politics? What was the salience of the issue?
What was the context of the negotiations? Was the onset of the negotiations precipitated by a crisis? What were the legacies to the negotiations? Did the negotiations take place in an institutionalized setting? Was the context determined by a strong influence of the respective domestic political levels? Was it an ad hoc negotiation setting? Was there any media or public attention?
Who were the key actors? What was their composition - monolithic or heterogeneous? Have there been any coalitions? On which political level did the negotiations take place? Was the bargaining facilitated by the presence of leadership in the negotiations? Was there a third party intervention?
How did the actual negotiations proceed? What happened in the pre-negotiation phase? How did the negotiations start? Which negotiation techniques, strategies and tactics have been applied? What were the turning points in the negotiation process? Was a settlement reached?
Did the negotiation process correspond to any of the theoretical approaches presented in the module?
The Doha Agreement for Lebanon
In May 2008, the tense political situation in Lebanon came to a head, almost turning into a new civil war, which for sure would not have excluded severe implications for the country as well as its adjacent states and moreover, for stability in the Middle East in general. To avert this imminent danger and to end the crisis as soon as possible, the disputing parties were brought to the negotiation table in Qatar under the auspices of the country’s Emir and the Arab League committee of foreign ministers. They finally negotiated an agreement to regulate Lebanon’s political future.
In the following, I am going to illuminate the context as well as process of the negotiations, its key actors, and last but not least some strategies and tactics that were applied. This will be done with the help of an analysis along the concepts, theories and aspects of negotiation literature. But first of all, I let me outline some aspects of the events that preceded these negotiations in the Qatari capital.
The problem: a stalwart political crisis
Lebanon, a complex country in which the political system is based on a stringent constitutional sectarianism1, has been marked by a political logjam for about 18 month. It all began when several ministers of the Shiite opposition2 resigned within the constant struggle for power in this country in November 2006 (“battle of wills”, Rabil 2008). There were large differences over power-sharing in the government and over a new electoral law. Moreover, president Lahoud’s regular term ended, but no successor could be appointed as a result of the above mentioned resignation. A power vacuum arose, paralysing the whole country.
The situation finally culminated in a violent crisis in May 2008, when a Hezbollah organized demonstration degenerated into deadly clashes, after the head of government Siniora (majority) had decided to suspend the Shiite security chief of the Beirut International Airport after an illegal video observance system and a private telephone net had been detected and against which the government planned to take action. Hezbollah adherents collided with Sunni Muslims, leaving many people dead. These clashes spread over the edges of Beirut towards the mountains, claiming all in all more than 60 casualties and resulting in an absolute standstill through the blockade of the (sole) international airport (BpB 2008, Rabil 2008).
For this reason, urgent action was necessary in order to stop the violence on the one hand, and to end the political deadlock by managing all the conflicting interests among the different parties on the other hand. The Lebanese population, but also the neighbouring states, had a strong interest to resolve this situation. Therefore, the Arab League committee of foreign ministers convinced the feuding factions to continue talks under the aegis of Qatari mediators in order to find a workable solution for the political situation (Al-Jazeera 2008a).
High politics and Issue Salience
The given critical situation entailed a certain pressure to come to an agreement. Unambiguously (even from a “traditional” point of view), the issues to be negotiated in the upcoming talks could be subsumed under the domain of high politics, because in the end the political “survival” of the Lebanese state was at stake, threatened by the question of war or peace (compare Starkey, Boyer and Wilkenfield 2005, p. 86). The urgency to find a quick solution to the preceding occurrences resulted in the participation of high-level politicians.
Moreover, the unstable security situation in the country was considered by the majority of the population an issue which needed to be solved immediately. After 18 months of constant political ups and downs the desire to end this state reached a top level priority. The exiguity of the situation forced the involved parties to have all the more interest in finding an appropriate solution – last but not least because in the long run also trust and credibility into the political system and its parties (future votes) were at stake.
The salience of the issue (which Starkey, Boyer and Wilkenfield describe as “the importance given to an issue by a particular actor or set of actors – the perceived stakes of the issue”, 2005, p. 90) was also increased by the fact that the events were broadcast all over the Arab world by an explicit media scene (Al-Jazeera & Co., Al-Jazeera 2008a), thus making the society aware of the possible risks for regional stability, emanating from this conflict. Pictures of burning tires, blockades and a fighting mob spread discomfort and longed for action through the international community. The once internal problem turned into an issue of international importance, which had to be handled quickly.
All in all, when regarding the four influencing factors mentioned by Starkey, Boyer and Wilkenfield, especially the urgency of the situation for action and the high level of media attention, which sensitized the population about possible consequences for the region, played a decisive role for contributing to a heightened issue salience. And after all, also to a reinforced pressure to achieve an agreement, which would be accepted by all sides (see 2005, p. 92ff).
Context and Legacies
The main goal in these talks was to defuse the country’s political crisis by concentrating on the formation of a new government (i.e. power-sharing) on the one hand, and on electoral reforms on the other hand, i.e. a reorganisation of the electoral districts, especially in the capital where both parties have a lot at stake (Al-Jazeera 2008b). But also the use of violence and weapons for internal goals (Hezbollah’s arms in particular) had to be discussed.
Due to the preceding crisis, the urgency of the situation demanded a fast solution in order to contain the clashes and to avert an escalation. Such a severe crisis can have various effects on an upcoming negotiation process. It can impede, but also facilitate the arrangement of an agreement. Watkins concludes that many negotiators are already negatively influenced by bad experiences from previous meetings, thus bringing reservations against the other parties into the negotiation, and moreover distorted perceptions, which could seriously impair the ongoing process (1999, p. 252).
In the Lebanese case, the participating parties had, of course, intense and confronting relationships before the start of the talks in Doha. Relations in terms of opposing views as to the mentioned issues, finally culminating in the political logjam with all its negative consequences (BpB 2008). This legacy of the past the quarrelling sides brought into the upcoming negotiation process. In other words, it could be seen as a relocation of the negotiation locality, however this time under changed conditions: high time pressure in order to prevent an escalation of the situation. On behalf of this fact, the enlistment of a third (international) party in form of the Qataris was maybe the last and the best chance to end this political dilemma in Lebanon.
Furthermore, the parties would have to deal again with each other in the (very) near future. Hence, a successful outcome was all the more in everyone’s interest, which would create a positive legacy for future meetings between the opposing parties. It was the Qataris’ challenge to build up trust in order to improve the relationships for the future.
Nevertheless, such a crisis can also facilitate agreements. The sides were under high pressure to find an acceptable solution for this crisis as soon as possible in order to prevent escalation, last but not least because own vital interests were endangered. As Hampson and Hart observe, crises present “new costs and risks (or magnify the existing ones) by underscoring the need to take remedial action” (1995, p.34). This pressure to achieve an agreement after all took certain positive effects on the dynamics of the negotiations in Doha. Such an integrative crisis “enhances perceptions of mutual vulnerability or joint losses while reinforcing the perceptions that potential costs to all parties can only be reduced or eliminated via cooperative measures and solutions” (Hampson and Hart 1995, p.35).
All sides were concerned. Accordingly, they all had to turn a blind eye on their differing stances if they wanted to prevent another civil war. Despite of a tense atmosphere, they were forced to think over their attitudes, at least for a temporary while. This crisis helped to finally break the logjam of blocked preceding negotiations between majority and opposition. And from this point of view, the crisis helped the parties to come to an acceptable agreement ending stagnation.
Structure and Setting
The Doha-talks can be categorized as classical bilateral negotiations, i.e. “the basic structure of the bargaining situation involves two parties seeking to determine a single joint outcome” (Zartman 2002, p. 72). This bipolar setting, in which these talks took place, was marked by a rather low extent of institutionalization. The reason substantiates in the ad-hoc basis, on which the talks were arranged due to the instancy sparked off by the violent clashes (Naharnet 2008). There were no predefined formal rules or norms that would govern the interactions between the feuding factions. Nevertheless, it was the Arab League that called for negotiations and provided for the frameworks by clearing the decks for action, with the Qatari leaders being about to mediate between the two disputing groups.
The talks should over and above take place behind closed doors in order to relieve pressure which was additionally exerted by the public and the media (Uni-Kassel 2008). The sides should be able to bargain without further disturbances. The media was informed later on in press conferences about the progress of the confidential talks (Now Lebanon 2008b).
The key actors in these negotiations were high-ranking representatives and political leaders of the disputing Lebanese parties3 (Al-Jazeera 2008a), all of course endowed with wide competences as to making decisions. In this case, representatives were chosen on the basis of power relationships (Hampson 1995, p. 42), with the leading and most powerful Lebanese politicians to defend the interests of their respective parties.
In fact, representatives of a good many parties were present, which in the sense of Zartman also “opens the possibility of grouping on the basis of affinities, ultimately to the point where the negotiations become bilateral encounters” (2002, p. 80). Basically, this multitude of parties was organized into two major coalitions or alliances of comparable strength: the pro-Western governmental majority and its pro-Syrian opposition (for political unions in detail see footnote No. 2). Such a formation of bilateral teams of representatives simplifies negotiations, rendering them less complex as compared to multilateral ones (Touval 1993, p. 356, Hampson 1995, p. 42).
The composition of the coalitions was rather monolithic, as in the Lebanese case the internal positions were already clear and relatively homogenous before the talks in Doha began. In this sense, one could also speak of institutionalized coalitions that were previously formed based on overlapping political interests and values. However, there was one critical aspect in relation to these legacies of the past: political leaders in this country were deeply emotionally entangled, especially when referring to the issues that had to be dealt with. And last but not least, in this country often personal interests stand in the foreground without necessarily showing great consideration for others, let alone the population’s common weal.
Due to the priority of finding a quick solution, the meeting was arranged on a quite high international political level. It was put under the leadership of the Arab League (Uni-Kassel 2008), i.e. headed by the Secretary General of the League, and by the Prime and Foreign Ministers from Qatar as well as the Qatari Emir Hamad bin Jassem Al-Thani, whose personality and motivation for achieving a realizable solution were in Rubin’s terms important factors for coming to a favourable outcome in the end (2002, p. 102).
1 18 different confessions are officially registered. All posts in public administration and governmental institutions are allocated according to religious confession in compliance with a complicated key. Taking decisions is only “legitimate”, if the confessional representation in the cabinet is given, otherwise the system becomes easily blocked (Rabil 2008).
2 The government comprises ministers from the majority and from the opposition. These two larger blocks are in turn made up of coalitions between different parties. The coalition of the governmental majority includes among others the following parties: Lebanese Forces (Christian), Phalange (Christian), Future Movement (Sunni), Progressive Socialist Party (Druze). The opposition: Free Patriotic Movement (Christian), Hezbollah (Shiite), Amal (Shiite), Lebanese Democratic Party (Druze).
3 It must be mentioned that political party heads in Lebanon play a special role. Many enjoy a similar status like a state leader. They are received by other states with the highest honours and protocol (see e.g. Free Patriotic Movement leader Aoun’s recent reception by Syrian president Bashir Al-Assad, The Economist 2008)