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Escalation is the other side of settlement, and negotiation links them together. To escalate means to increase by steps, referring to the dynamics of conflict. A party escalates – thus transitively – to hurt the opponent and make it change its behavior, either entirely (to give in) or partially (to negotiate). It may also escalate, less instrumentally, simply to retaliate or to punish, without any particular purpose in terms of making the opponent do something. In either case, it raises the opponent's cost of holding out or of seeking to win. In the process, it probably also raises the cost for itself, since escalations are generally not cost free to the escalator. It may continue to escalate on its own in this way, “turning the screws” on the opponent (to change the metaphor) until the latter changes its behavior in the conflict. In the simplest case, the party continues to escalate until it can go no further, either until the costs (or the depletion of resources) of escalation outweigh the benefits it seeks to obtain or until the opponent changes its behavior.
More likely than one-party escalation is for the opponent not to simply hunker down and resist, but to escalate in reaction, for a double purpose – to retaliate or halt the first party's escalation and to make the first party change its behavior in turn and give in or negotiate. Then escalation becomes a two-dimensional spiral – one is tempted to say “a double helix” – and the parties’ calculation becomes more complicated.
How can an escalation of conflict lead to negotiation? In this systematic study, Zartman and Faure bring together European and American scholars to examine this important topic and to define the point where the concepts and practices of escalation and negotiation meet. Political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, and war-making and peace-making strategists, among others, examine the various forms escalation can take and relate them to conceptual advances in the analysis of negotiation. They argue that structures, crises, turning points, demands, readiness and ripeness can often define the conditions where the two concepts can meet and the authors take this opportunity to offer lessons for theory and practice. By relating negotiation to conflict escalation, two processes that have traditionally been studied separately, this book fills a significant gap in the existing knowledge and is directly relevant to the many ongoing conflicts and conflict patterns in the world today.
Conflict is a roller coaster, with its ups and downs. The roller coaster is exhilarating because it is a simulation of danger: we have our hearts in our mouths in anticipation as we go up and a scream in our mouths in excitement as we go down. But it is only a simulation (or we would not have bought the ticket), and not an accurate one at that. While we know where the top of the roller coaster is, we do not know how extreme the conflict is going to become before it starts to decline. It is that unknown and the dynamics of getting there that make for the deadly excitement of conflict.
Escalation is the dynamics of determining where the conflict peak is and if it has been reached. The conflict occasioned by apartheid in South Africa escalated from the repression of the Defiance Campaign in 1952 through the spontaneous Sharpeville demonstrations and massacre of 1960, the Rivonia Trial of Nelson Mandela of 1963, the intensified police measures, the Black Consciousness movement, the Soweto riots of 1976, and the Umkonto we Sizwe attacks that challenged surveillance and repression through the 1980s. But it also saw the constitutional changes of 1983, followed by attempts to talk with Mandela and others of the African National Congress, until finally the apartheid policy began to crumble in 1990 and negotiations began.
One day, a clam opened its shell to sunbathe on a beach. Suddenly, a snipe stuck its beak in the clam. The latter closed its shell immediately, and trapped the snipe's beak. The clam refused to open its shell, and the snipe refused to remove its beak. Neither of them would make a move to overcome the deadlock. Finally, a fisherman came along and caught both of them.
“The Snipe and the Clam,” A Chinese folktale
Escalation and deadlocks share complex mutual causal relations. On the one hand, escalation may lead to a deadlock; on the other, a deadlock may trigger an escalation strategy. In the first case, a deadlock appears to be one of the few possible ways to escape an escalation process as both parties start to fear that the consequences of a bidding war will lead far beyond what was expected. The escalation may also have mobilized so many means of action that the parties feel resources have been exhausted, which thus greatly limits further escalation. Then may come a stage of equalization in threats, in pain inflicted or endured. In the second case, in the midst of a negotiation, a deadlock may trigger an escalation strategy from one party with the goal of moving out of the impasse and forcing the other party to restart the process. Thus, functionally deadlock can be a producer and a product of an escalation process.
Escalation may stop as a result of a swing in the process orientation.
Confronted with the possibility of an escalation or caught in the gears of an escalation process, the practitioner, whether statesman, diplomat, politician, lawyer, or businessperson, has to react in real time. He or she must understand the situation, but also has to act and to do this within a set of constraints. Henry Kissinger, having been both an analyst and a statesman, provides an extremely instrumental description of the particulars of the task of each one:
The analyst can choose which problem he wishes to study, whereas the statesman's problems are imposed on him. The analyst can allot whatever time is necessary to come to a clear conclusion; the overwhelming challenge to the statesman is the pressure of time. The analyst runs no risk. If his conclusions prove wrong, he can write another treatise. The statesman is permitted only one guess; his mistakes are irretrievable. The analyst has available to him all the facts; he will be judged on his intellectual power. The statesman must act on his assessments that cannot be proved at the time that he is making them; he will be judged by history. (Kissinger 1995, pp. 27–28)
What makes this book especially relevant in terms of added value is that it offers to practitioners something more than they can draw from their own experiences. The point is to induce from research, which is based on real-world cases, effective actions.