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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: October 2009

7 - Structures of Escalation and Negotiation


Escalation is an augmented effort to prevail. It can be either unilateral or bilateral, but in either case it is a responsive action. Unilaterally, a party escalates on its own, in response to its previous action or to that action's insufficiency. Bilaterally, the more common understanding of the term, each party responds to the other's increasing effort to prevail. Thus conceived, escalation is an expression of power, a rational approach to conflict, as parties take increasing actions to change the other party's behavior. Escalation is the pursuit of conflict designed to end conflict, but the designed end can be either on the escalator's own terms, as in victory, or on jointly decided terms, as in negotiation. Escalation ends when the parties can or will escalate no more; that is, when one or both run out of resources, when one prevails, or when both come to an agreement that removes the incompatibility of positions.

Escalation and negotiation are opposite actions, one to increase conflict and the other to decrease it. Not only do they head in different directions, but they also demand different attitudes and convictions: one to beat the enemies and the other to come to terms with them, sometimes referred to as a winning versus a composing mentality. They thus seem to be mutually incompatible. On closer look, this absolute incompatibility does seem to be conditional, since some escalations appear to be designed to bring the other party to negotiation while others appear designed to prevail.